Wednesday, February 22

City Circle: Concept of Citizenship, Professor Tariq Ramadan Click for more info

The second in a series of monthly talks by Ramadan, hosted by the CC. This session was about citizenship, at times specifically British citizenship, and was mainly an introduction to Ramadan's concept of the European Muslim. In a nutshell we were told how justice was more important than allegiance and nationality. To do this he explained how Islamic laws, cultures and values could be reconciled with their European/British counterparts.

Culture and values were the easy bits. The first most of us have managed to do pretty easily anyway, and it's not hard to see that good British values exist and are shared with Islamic ones. Law is much more difficult and so as a result a bit harder to harmonise, if possible at all.

Ramadan's reasoning here was, again, based on justice. His argument goes that since the objective of Shariah is justice and equality, any seemingly non-Shariah based law that promotes these concepts does in fact come under it's banner anyway. And any that don't should be changed using existing processes till they do. The historical precedent he gave for this was from The Prophet's time, where he adapted the existing laws of Madinah and made them Islamically valid rather than totally replace them with a new Shariah Law. In this way it's perfectly acceptable for Muslims to live under a (formally) non-Islamic system of law. Great, no?

I'm not sure. On the surface this seems ok. After all, if the result of two laws are the same, does it matter how each came about or what their implementation are? On the surface, possibly not, but look a bit deeper and there are some issues. Firstly we're assuming that we're able to objectively evaluate laws that already exist and have been possibly for a long time; it's easier to accept and justify things which have been established by others than to criticise them. Muslims have been doing that for years.

And how does this process fit in with the idea of worship (which we are taught is all that life is supposed to be)? Shouldn't Muslims themselves be actively establishing a "good" law rather than accepting those of others? After all The Prophet was the head of Madinah, not a resident like we are. Or are we implicitly determining the validity of law anyway by following them? The more astute of you will realise it's the age old question of intention versus action, and keeping a balance between the two is probably the answer here too (even though it's still a bit of a cop out).

This concept of "justice over all" doesn't just solve the problem of Shariah Law. Ramadan also uses it to determine whether Muslims can wage war against other Muslims (the conclusion being "it depends on whether the other Muslims deserve it"), and whether we should vote, protest or boycott and for what reasons (freeing Tibet being as much a Muslim cause as freeing Palestine). The talk concluded by giving practical (albeit non-specific) advice on how to provoke the changes required in our host countries' laws, culture and values by increasing our knowledge and participating in social, political and civic affairs. Pretty obvious stuff, but that just goes to show how much sense it all makes.

It's the silver bullet for all our problems; but the fact that justice itself is inherently subjective and sometimes needs to be externally defined by scripture seems to have been forgotten. Not that that's a fundamental flaw with the concept in general, and sometimes it's obvious what is right and what is wrong even without a reference. Overall I found myself agreeing with Ramadan more than disagreeing with him, but then I am more reformist than traditionalist. Slightly. Possibly.