The charismatic Geneva-based Tariq Ramadan dominates current European discussion on Islam like no other Islamic intellectual. A critical study of the work of Ramadan has now been published. A review by Jürgen Endres
The extensive 170-page study by the Berlin political scientist Ralph Ghadban aims to analyze Tariq Ramadan's key positions and methods. Ramadan's considerable writing, consisting of some 20 books and 700 articles to date, serve as the basis for this analysis. Ghadban leaves no doubt as to his assessment of Ramadan – the grandson of Hassan al-Bannas is clearly an "Islamist" and his goal is the Islamization of Europe and the establishment of Islamic rule.
Against this backdrop, the principle claims made in Ghadban's study can hardly come as a surprise. For the most part, at least, he presents what seem to be well-founded arguments against Ramadan's reputation as a liberal reformer. It is somewhat unfortunate that so much emphasis is given to issues of Islamic scholarship in Ramadan's work. The book title raised other expectations, and many of the arguments tend to leave the "political" Ramadan neglected in the background.
Context within the Islamic history of ideas
Nonetheless, Ghadban convincingly succeeds in setting Ramadan's thought within the tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood by elaborating its fundamental positions, historical context, and its place in the Islamic history of ideas. According to Ghadban, these ideas include the classification of the West as "godless" and the restriction of thought to a prescribed framework, Ramadan's "Islamic universe of references."
Ghadban argues that there is no room at all for theology in Ramadan's conceptual scheme, whereas it offers Islamic philosophy an extremely marginalized place. Ghadban concludes that Ramadan’s position is primarily "Islamic-juristic" and essentially limited to the "classical doctrinaire Fiqh."
In contrast to modernization, a position often attributed to Ramadan, what remains is merely an "updating of the eternally valid Sharia" by adapting to specific contextual conditions. Instead of a reformer, Ghadban presents Ramadan as a traditionalist, who, according to the argumentation of the study, recognizes neither human rights nor the separation of church and state.
Islamization, not integration
In this context, Ghadban questions Ramadan's understanding of the concept "integration" and concludes that Ramadan's Euro-Islam aims not at integration, but rather Islamization.
In his numerous publications, Ramadan provides a uniquely peculiar and often very eclectic account of history. Ghadban succeeds in aptly analyzing this as one of the various forms in which the history of Islamic thought has been manipulated.
Ghadban engages in long digressions in which he contrasts Ramadan's account of history with the consensus of Western Islamic scholars. Certain statements made by Ramadan, claims Ghadban, are just "patently false," and much of what he writes is consciously formulated in an ambiguous manner due to political considerations. Ramadan's "interculturalism" allows him to characterize jihad as liberation struggle, the headscarf as an expression of the emancipation of women, and criticism of Western decadence as anti-imperialism.
A man without a mandate?
Ghadban's assessment of Ramadan's role in the so-called Islamic world is also worth considering. After all, "Time" magazine in the USA chose Ramadan as one of the 100 most important personalities of the 21st century. In contrast, Ghadban sees the significance of Hassan al-Bannas' grandson as being much overrated.
Although he serves as an important figure for Islamic youth in France, he nonetheless is not recognized as a religious authority by Muslim scholars. As he is not a theologian, he is not qualified to interpret religious doctrines nor does he possess the necessary mandate to act as a spokesman for Muslims around the world.
Despite its many strengths, Ralph Ghadban's book is not completely without its flaws. Alongside the more or less aggravating minor details, such as irregularities in the transcription of Arab names, reading pleasure is especially dampened by excessive digressions on scholarly Islamic topics, such as the history of Islamic thought and the development of Islamic law. These only serve to distract from the stated intention of the book, namely, the critical examination of Ramadan's work.
It would have been desirable had the author here continuously worked to reestablish the connection of these arguments to the writings of Ramadan as well as presenting them in a clearer light.
In short, whoever would like to learn more about Tariq Ramadan and especially about his basic positions, as well as his place in the history of Islamic thought, is thoroughly advised to consult this study. Yet, even Ghadban's book is no substitute for undertaking one's own analysis of Ramadan and his extensive body of work. This is particularly true as Ghadban categorically characterizes Ramadan from the very start as an "Islamist" and completely excludes other interpretations proposed by various authors.
© Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by John Bergeron
Ghadban, Ralph 2006: Tariq Ramadan und die Islamisierung Europas, Verlag Hans Schiler