Monday, November 27, 2006

Tariq Ramadan

A few weeks ago, I went to hear prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan speak on "The Future of Islam in the West". These are some of my quick reflections.

TR drew a strong distinction between the central tenets of Islam and certian cultural expressions of them. He said that faithfulness to the central tenets was what mattered from a muslim point of view, however that might be culturally expressed.

He then said that many of the problems with Islam in the West are because many of the muslims here are trying to use cultural expressions of Islam from their previous cultures (e.g. traditional Pakistani culture) in the West, rather than the longer and more difficult process of finding a Western cultural expression of Islam.

There was also a fair bit of stuff about using the central tenets of Islam to critique cultures, both in the West and in countries more used to Islam.

There were too many silly or boring (from my point of view) questions, so I didn't get a chance to ask mine. However, it seems to me that his arguments have some interesting consequences...

Firstly, he was careful not to criticise anyone's cultural expression of Islam. So if someone's cultural expression is to blow up anyone who disagrees with Muhammed, I'm not at all convinced he'd criticise them for that.

Secondly, and more seriously from a logical point of view, he didn't define how to tell the central issues apart from the cultural issues. The Qur'an clearly contains what he would say are both cultural and central, and it's hard to see why he'd put eating pork as something that is absolutely forbidden, but shaving as something only culturally forbidden (which I think he does).

This is also interesting because it kind of parallels some questions in Christianity, especially with regard to interpreting the Old Testament laws. Except there I think it's easier, and it's pretty obvious that the Bible says we should love our enemies rather than killing them.

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