A case of selective hearing – A response to Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Tariq Ramadan

A case of selective hearing

By Tariq Ramadan
Sunday, December 16, 2007

OXFORD, England:

In her opinion page article on Dec. 8, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch legislator and author of “Infidel,” accused the so-called “moderate” Muslims of remaining silent instead of condemning acts done in he name of Islam by individuals or governments. Surprisingly, I was mentioned among the “moderate” Muslim scholars who did not condemn what happened in Saudi Arabia (the lashing sentence of a female rape victim) or Sudan (the indictment of a grade school teacher for allowing her students to name their teddy bear after the Prophet). All the while, I have been paying the price of my regular criticisms of such kinds of actions these past few years by being banned from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and . . . (for reasons still not explained to me) the United States.

Let us start first with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s quotation of the Koran.The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)

What kind of message does she want to convey by quoting a verse referring to corporal punishment? That Islam, per se, is advocating violence? That violent Muslims or the so-called Islamic governments acting undemocratically are in fact genuinely implementing the Islamic message? Through her text, the message becomes clear: Islam is an archaic religion, the Koran is a violent text and the only way to reform Islam is simply to “de-Islamize” the Muslims.

Would it not be possible to quote dozens of passages from the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah and the Gospels that are violent without reaching the conclusion that Hinduism, Judaism or Christianity are violent per se? Is it difficult to understand that this is a question of interpretation and that to condemn a religion in such a way is not only unjust but deeply counterproductive? It does not help the inner dynamic of reforms.

Contrary to what Ayaan Hirsi Ali said – that no “moderate” Muslims, and in particular myself, had spoken out in protest over these incidents – I wrote a piece as the story in the Sudan was unfolding about the situation in Sudan, in Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia. I started by rejecting any kind of victim mentality on the part of Muslims, for it would have easily been possible to claim that the media were once again covering only damaging stories about Muslims and Islamic countries. For Muslims to simply blame this “ongoing campaign against Islam, its Book, its Prophet and its values and practices” is no longer enough.

There comes a time, I wrote before Hirsi Ali’s accusation of silence among Muslims, where one should take a hard look at the state of affairs of the legal system in Islamic countries and draw some imperative (and constructive) conclusions. It is simply a shame! In the name of Islam, innocent people are accused, jailed, sometimes beaten and sometimes executed with no evidence and, moreover, no way to properly defend themselves. A woman, victim of a rape, becomes the accused in Saudi Arabia while a British teacher is jailed because her students decided to name a teddy bear “Muhammad”! And then, in Algeria, two recent suicide bombings have killed innocent civilians. If all this is done in the name of Islam, where are we heading?

In Islamic countries the judiciary system is often used for political reasons or so-called “religious concerns.” The problem is much more serious and deep than the stories we have been getting in the media. These countries need profound reform. Let’s face it. A rape is a rape. While all the evidence has not been shown, it remains unacceptable to start by blaming the woman. To use the story of an innocent British teacher to show how much “we care about Islam” is nonsense and should be rejected.

It is as if the teacher had become a government vehicle for showing its dedication to Islam and for some Muslims to convey their anger toward the West. First, anger is not good in itself; second to send it through a wrong and unjust means must be condemned. Did not the Prophet Muhammad say: “What is built on wrong foundation is wrong”?

One must ask these Islamic majority societies to be more consistent with their own values and to stick to justice by refusing to abuse Islam.

They must protect the independence of the judicial system and protect innocent people, poor or rich, Muslims or non-Muslims, men and women equally. We cannot remain silent when we read about such unacceptable situations either in petro-monarchies or in poor Islamic countries. These actions are not done in the name of one of the accepted interpretations of Islam. Because they are plainly unjust, they are anti-Islamic.

My condemnation – as well as those of many other Muslim scholars around the world – has apparently not been heard. In Western countries as well as in Islamic countries, we witness a kind of selective hearing. People are invited to listen only to what apparently comforts their prejudices or suits some ideological agenda.

This polarization is dangerous because it engenders enmity. Our world needs more courageous, but also more consistent, voices. The reason why voices such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s are not heard in Islamic countries is not because she raises irrelevant questions (some of her arguments are indeed very relevant) but because her criticisms appear to be obsessive, excessive and unilateral. It is as if she wants to please the West and, yes, the West is pleased. But the Muslims are deaf to her voice.

The future belongs to those who are able to consistently exercise self-criticism in the name of shared universal values and not because of blindly belonging to the artificial construct of “Western” or “Islamic” civilization, or because of a hidden ideological agenda.

All betrayals of faith and principles must be denounced with the same energy: those of the Muslims when they kill or imprison innocent people, as well as those of democratic Western societies when theyillegally invade another country, or use torture or extraordinary renditions. It would be good, indeed, to hear more often these non-selective – and non-selected – voices.

Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University, is the author of the forthcoming book “Radical Reform, Islamic Ethics and Liberation.”


7 Replies to “A case of selective hearing – A response to Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Tariq Ramadan”

  1. i don’t know why our scholars waste their precious time to answer these fools. This Ayyan Hrsi Ali has been stripped off her citizenship by the Dutch Government for lying to get the citizenship. Only thing she seems to know is lying and maligning others and she uses her ability at her best to make money. Muslim haters just don’t know that they are actually fooled by these frauds. If Muslims offer them more money I am sure Hisri Ali will now start barking against her Zionist masters

  2. first of all there is no such thing as an islamic country and there hasn’t been one for hundreds of years. it would be more appropriate to call them muslim countries. the word islamic is used for that which is pertaining to the religion of islam, the book of allah and the sunnah of muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalaam. second of all there is a word being circulated an awful lot lately in western circles, that word is islamist. this word is used to describe a muslim who believes that islam should be applied in all spheres of life (personal, social and in government). now isn’t every muslim supposed to be an islamist? you would think so but apparently that is not the case. i believe this is the underlying source of all our problems. when we allowed ourselves to be divided into muslims and islamists we set ourselves up for another disastrous civil war.

  3. So one of the reasons I sent this to you is because for 1) there are still those people who think Muslims are not doing anything about the at times backwardness of other Muslims. I’ve gotten tired of hearing it because you know how many times
    2) I don’t know if you know much about Ayaan Hirsi Ali but she’s the person who”
    a) proposed the special screening of any Muslim applying for any job for possible links with terrorist groups
    b)said, “Muhammad is, seen by our Western standards, a pervert”
    c) made it clear that in her opinion it is not “a fringe group of radical Muslims who’ve hijacked Islam and that the majority of Muslims are moderate. […] Violence is inherent in Islam—it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

    It’s really pathetic that people like her get more of a voice than those Muslims who peacefully disagree with her and put her arguments to shame… but those voices are out there for anyone who truly wants to listen.

  4. Masha’Allah, I love Tariq Ramadan.

    What makes people think that middle-eastern governments, and those throughout the entire Islamic world, who can barely manage their own affairs, barely provide any political goods, barely keep their economies from collapsing, and can barely keep their states from disintegrating somehow are the same entities that have captured the essence of Islam and are to be looked to by outsiders as what proper Islamic government is?

    People should know better, and the smart ones probably do, they just look for any opportunity to criticize Muslims.


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