Rethinking Reform

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Event Name: Rethinking Reform
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Rethinking Islamic Reform conference on behalf of Oxford University Islamic society.



SHAYKH HAMZA YUSUF HANSON: Bismillah al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Allahumma salli wa sallim 'alaa Sayyidina Muhammad wa ‘ala alihi wa sahbihi wa sallim tasleeman katheera. Wa la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah al ‘aliy al ‘adheem In the name of  God, the merciful, the compassionate and peace and prayers be upon the prophets of God and upon our prophet Muhammad. Alhamdulilah. #00:16:25-9#


YUSUF*[1]: I'm going try to address each one of these points that I've been asked to address but before that I would like to preface my remarks by talking about a specific problem that we have when we look at the Islamic tradition, when we look at Islam as a faith and when we are addressing an audience that contains both peoples from the Islamic faith of various obvious types and backgrounds and then of western people. In science, you have what are called 'non-complementary paradigms' and to give an example of that, Newtonian Physics is a certain way of viewing the world and it works at a certain level, but if you attempt to apply Newtonian Physics to Quantum Mechanics, it doesn't work - you have a non-complementary system attempting to address things that are very different and need a different language to describe them and a different theoretical basis to make sense of them. In many ways, the post-industrial, increasingly post-modern Western Liberalism is akin to Quantum Mechanics and the Islamic tradition is more akin to Newtonian Physics; and so when the two of us attempt to talk, we're speaking completely different languages and it really creates a massive barrier.


YUSUF: Let me give you one example: one of the fundamental premises of the Islamic tradition is that human activity has metaphysical impact; that what we do in the world is actually reflected back to us through the world, so natural disasters are not seen as events that happen because of tectonic plate shifts but there's actually a relationship between human behaviour and between what is happening in the world. For many, many western peoples now, that idea is a quaint, superstitious, historical idea from a previous time; something very difficult for western peoples to actually relate to. One of the problems with that idea however, and I do put this caveat, is that many Muslims will use that as a way of pointing the finger at people and saying ''this is why it's happening! You're an evil person and therefore God is zapping you!'' That is also a major problem because there is nothing in the Islamic tradition that permits one to do that, because it is arrogating to one's self the judgment of God and that is simply not in the realm of a human being to do and that's a very important point.


Another*[2] aspect that is very difficult for western peoples to relate to is the fact that the primary texts of Islam are fourteen hundred years old and it is very difficult for western people to understand how you can use a text that was written fourteen hundred years ago to have anything to do with modern legislation. This seems really quite incomprehensible for many people and - to give you an example - in the United States, we have a two-hundred year old document (it's actually older than two hundred years) but we have a document that is a little older than two hundred years called the Constitution *[3]. It's the basis our legal system!


In the arguments that we have in the United States of America, we have arguments around what they call 'strict construction' and 'loose construction' - how we interpret the constitution - 'originalism' versus a 'living constitution', the idea of what's called 'textualism' in our tradition, 'intentionalism' - what was the intent of the framers when they said these things? Should we base it on their intent even though they were speaking two-hundred years ago in a very different context? Or is it a 'living constitution' that can be re-interpreted based on the changes of time? The founding fathers didn't really leave a lot of explanation about how they wanted it to be understood, although there are some remarks - Thomas Jefferson said that ''you can't expect an adult to wear the coat of a child'' and ''countries grow, and therefore our understanding will grow and there needs to be changes'' but he also said ''but don't allow the constitution to be wax'' in the hands of the government to where they can shape it to fit the way they want. This dilemma that exists in the United States is very similar to the dilemma that Muslims are going through today. There are many Muslims that are arguing for a 'living' Qur'an as opposed to a type of textual approach or an intentionalist approach to the Qur'an: how do we interpret the Qur'an in the light of modern society? #00:21:23-5#


Now, the reason that I really wanted to drive that point home is because the problems of Law and language are perennial problems. We still study Plato because Plato raises questions which are still pertinent to people living today; we still study Aristotle because Aristotle also addresses issues that are pertinent to people today and so in light of looking at the past to illuminate the present, I would like to honour a graduate of Oxford and an Oxford don who I really like, and that is the great Arnold Toynbee. Arnold Toynbee studied at Balliol College (and I'm speaking about Arnold J. Toynbee, not the great economist of the 19th century who also has that same name). Arnold Toynbee wrote an essay in 1947 called - he wrote a series of essays in a book called Civilisation On Trial'.


One of the things that he said in th at book*[4] is that when civilisations are confronted with challenges, they tend to respond in different ways and their responses will determine their success or their failures; but he said one of the common characteristics of a civilisation when they're under great stress is to find what he called 'bug-bears' - people to blame for their problems - and he mentions now the capitalist west, it uses communism: he said "in the divided world of 1947, communism and capitalism are each performing this insidious office for one another. Whenever things go awry in circumstances that seem ever more intractable, we tend to accuse the enemy of having sewn tears in our field and thereby implicitly excuse ourselves for the faults of our own husbandry. This is of course an old story; centuries before communism was heard of, our ancestors found their bug-bear in Islam. As lately as the 16th century, Islam inspired the same hysteria in western hearts as communism in the 20th century.''


It's very interesting in this same essay he actually argues that Islam is also going to become a problem again and he address what is very fascinating to me; the fact that Islam *[5] is 'up against the wall' these of the western civilisation, and because it's up against the wall it responds in one of two ways. He calls one of the responses 'herodianism' and the other 'zealotism.' Herodianism, he said is mimicry; it's attempting to find the secret of the people that have conquered you and to become like them: this is the Japanese response to the post-world war situation, where the Japanese now have better Rock and Roll than the Americans! They can imitate Elvis Presley - even their Prime Minister when he came to America, he wanted to go to Graceland! That was the first place that he asked George Bush to go to and he actually did go and visit because apparently he is a great fan of Elvis. They have some of the finest classical musicians... This is very common for conquered peoples to imitate those who have conquered them. This is why Native Americans are often the last people to wear cowboy clothes; literally wearing the Levis and the cow - they will embellish it with traditional beads and things but this is something that happens.


But he says that the other response is 'zealotism', which is an attempt to fall back on the past in this rigid nostalgic structure and he identifies three places*[6] where he feels that this will be the biggest problem for the west in dealing with the Muslims: Saudi-Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen; and it's quite stunning that he did this in 1947, and I would attribute that to the Oxford education! (laughing). #00:25:28-1#  So, we're looking forward to such prescient understandings of the future from these young Muslims that are coming out of here. But one of the things that he says is that the problem with Herodianism, is that the mimicry is always pale imitation; they can never become really as 'good' as those that they are trying to imitate and he says that the problem with Zealotism is that it is invariably a dead end and it comes to a failure.


Now, in terms of looking at Islamic reform today, I have a problem a word and I clarified it with Dr. Ramadan and the word that he understands will form is 'Islah' in Arabic, which is a good Arabic term. ‘Islah’ is the idea of rectifying something after it's corrupted, and it's a good word because the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, actually used that word when he said 'blessed are the strangers' - and he was asked who the strangers were, and he said 'they are people who rectify my 'Sharia' (my way) after people have corrupted it.' So he said: ‘Al-latheena yuslihuna shariati ba'da ma afsadaha an-nas’. The importance of that tradition is two things that can be immediately gleamed from it: one is that his Shar'ia does get corrupted by his own testimony - that it can be misunderstood; it can be - it can deviate from its original intentions, but then the other thing is the need for people to rectify it, this 'islah' - this idea of rectifying it.


Now*[7], for me with the language 'reform' is that it is more of a Christian term coming out of the Protestant Reformation, which was a response to the abuses - and I know it's the most radical of the Protestant Reformation came out of Switzerland, so you know...[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] #00:27:28-2# Zwingli was actually more radical than Martin Luther, but the end was the banking state of Switzerland and this is often the danger of reformations because there is a wonderful statue of Calvin in Geneva because the bankers love the fact that the protestants allowed for usury, whereas the Catholics opposed usury and now we're living in a world that is economically disintegrating before our eyes because of this hegemonic banking madness that is out of hand. But, the idea of 'reform' - Islamic Reform is an old idea and the idea of using a language that comes out of another set of historical problems for me, is problematic.


My own teacher, SHAYKH Abdullah Bin Bayyah we spoke about this, I asked him and he speaks French and he knows the history of the reformation and the use of the term, and he said that he preferred the word 'renovation,' and used that as French, because it's closer to the idea of ‘tajdeed’. The idea of reformation - because reformation can be a complete restructuring of something, whereas in the Islamic tradition the idea is that the house is of fundamentally of sound - it's of sound foundation, but it often needs renovating: sometimes the faucets aren't working anymore, the water's not flowing, people aren't getting fresh air because the window can't be opened; so you need people to come in and renovate the house, and this is the idea.


Now*[8] this process has been going on for centuries; there's than idea like ''What's wrong with the Muslims? Why won't they change?'' If you look at the Muslims today, the Muslims of the 19th century would not recognise the Muslims of today. The radical changes that have occurred in the Muslim world in the last thirty years, let alone the last hundred years are beyond belief. If you look at Arabic culture and the fact that MTV, there is a Muslim version - well not a Muslim but an Arabic version of MTV which is as racy as the MTV that people experience in the western hemisphere. Now people like Osama Bin Laden who turns that on and sees that, literally will pull their beards out! [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] because it's incredibly traumatic to see something like that happening in their culture. The Arabs pride themselves on what called 'gheerah'. In Urdu, it's translated as 'ghayrat' . Urdu people say that's where the Arabs got it from, but it's actually the other way around! [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] #00:30:15-5#


'Gheerah' is the concept of - it's a type of jealousy. It's the idea of coveting something so much that you're willing to fight for it. I don't think people in the west can really appreciate any more the degree to which this virtue in Islamic and Arabic tradition is still upheld. I certainly believe that that was a far more dominant virtue in the 19th century in the west, but it's certainly something - now it's a very live and let live attitude; and there are reasons for that. Two world wars in Europe have led to a certain way of looking at the world. The crisis that happened in the west because of a hundred and eighty million people dying - we tend to want the Muslim world to 'catch up' with us. ''What's wrong with you? Why can't you catch up with us?'' And yet we don't realise that we have been through, in the west, so much trauma to get to this point that we're at, and the Muslim world had a different set of historical traumas, much of it in fact a result of colonialism. So we have very different historical circumstances.


Now, in terms of what is legitimate renovation*[9] or ‘tajdeed’, I would argue that the Islamic tradition is a vast tradition. The Islamic tradition is largely un-read. Even people now that are studying in ‘madrasahs’, studying at Shar'ia colleges do not go deeply into this tradition. This is simply a fact. One of the things - I'll give you one example. When I wrote a paper on female prayer, because this was an issue a few years ago, years ago when I was a student in Mauritania, I remembered in a book that Ibn Ayman from the Malaki madhab considered female prayers was permissible, and I remember as a twenty-one year old student underlining that; and I actually went back to the book and found my underlining of that statement. When I studied the prayer issue, I was so stuck by the fact that not only was it debated early on, but there were multiple opinions. Imam Tabari considered it permissible for women to lead the prayer if they were more qualified than men - to lead men in prayer. Ibn Taymiyah himself permitted women to lead men in prayer if they were illiterate and she was literate. He just said that she should lead from the back because she might distract the men if she was leading from the front. Ibn Taymiyeh! Permitting a woman to lead men in prayer! #00:33:11-3#


This is the tradition, it's all there. People have no idea how many of these issues were already examined and discussed, and erudition and energy went into this so if you look, I would argue*[10] that the Islamic tradition has within itself all of the needs to renovate the house, but it's going to take an immense amount of intellectual energy, it's going to take very highly qualified people which necessitates institutions that can train and produce the types of people that are needed to engage in this activity.


‘Usul ul –fiqh’, which is one of the great - it is essence the philosophy of legislation in the Islamic tradition - much of the Qur'an and the hadith is in fact closer to what we would call 'constitutional Law' in the west. It's not Statute Law. The Prophet, peace be upon him, gives far more constitutional expressions in legal injunctions than he ever gives cut and dry statute law - 'do this, don't do that.' He leaves things open. There's an immense amount of ambiguity in the hadiths; this was known early on. There are very few verses of the Qur'an and hadith that are considered as what is known as ‘qat’iatil dilala’, which is where the understanding of the expression is absolute; that we know exactly what it means. It often holds two, three, four, five, six meanings and you get all these multiple interpretations.


The other thing that is so extra-ordinary about our early scholars is that they were very well aware of what we would call 'fallibalism' - that they were not dictating 'God's Law' in their jurisprudence. They were dictating the ‘mujtahid’ or the individual's understanding of God's Law. In fact even Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya in I'laam ul Muwaqqi'een has a chapter entitled ''The Prohibition of Calling a Fatwa 'The Ruling of God ". The Prohibition of Calling a Fatwa the Ruling of God! The ‘fatwa’ is a personal opinion of a ‘mujtahid’ in attempting to understand the intention of a text.


Moreover, the fatwa was known and understood to be specific in many cases to time and place. This is another aspect of fatwa's that are rarely understood even amongst people that are trained in classical Islamic education. The Hanafi*[11] school believes that the place actually affects the ruling, even though the other schools do not in the Sunni tradition. So if you're in England, there are certain rulings that would be permissible here that might not be permissible in another place. Other scholars argue 'no', but these are the differences of opinion and nuances - this is another aspect - the Muslims have always recognised diversity and differences of opinion, but we have what are called ‘thawabit’ and ‘mutaghayyirat'’ in our Islamic tradition. The ‘thawabit’ are things that do not change: they cannot be reformed. One of them is our basic understanding of God, our basic understanding of Prophecy, our basic understanding of eschatology, of what happens after life; these things are fixed and eternal, they do not change with time and place. God is all powerful, omniscient. He speaks and he has no gender even if we use gender language to express the divine by the limitations of language, but Muslim theologians  were always clear that there was no gender to God - God is neither male nor female. Transcendent. #00:37:00-7#


YUSUF: So that aspect cannot change. What changes then? The changes are our understanding, but*[12] those understandings have to be based on following rigorous principles. The first and foremost is they have to be within the context of the language in which the revelation was revealed and this is why, as opposed to living constitution, the idea that the language and the intent of the framers of the constitution have no relevance to us today - this is a debate - this is a very important departure for the vast majority of Muslims with certain reformist movements today, the idea that somehow we can reinterpret the Qur'an in the light of 21st century language. The Qur'an was written in Arabic of the 7th century. That Arabic was preserved to a degree by only people who really have studied this tradition understand. It is one of the great human achievements, the preservation of the Arabic language; the exact meanings of every single word that is recorded in the Qur'an, of all the words that are recorded in the hadiths and having to prove what those words mean, and on rare occasion saying 'we can't ascertain the exact meaning of this word, or the multiple possible meanings' like the word 'ib' which is in Surat ‘Abasa. So the Muslim jurists traditionally believed that you cannot go outside of the language; you were confined by the language.




Now, the other aspect of this which is very important is that they were always aware of the ambiguous nature of language; that the Qur'an is open to multiple interpretations and multiple meanings and will be until the end of time. Verses can be re-interpreted in the light of new knowledge and have and will continue to be. So the Islamic reform or ‘tajdeed’ that's happened in the past, we have many, many examples of that but I would look at a few that occurred in the 19th of century - in the late 19th century with the colonial incursions there became a response to the *[13] Western colonisation of the Muslim countries:


Some of those responses involved attacking Muslim spirituality because they believed (like Muhammad Abdu and others), they believed that the Muslims were far too 'otherworldly' - that the Sufi's had taken hold of their understanding to such a degree that they really forgot about the world itself! So the emphasis then was to focus on the political and economic dimensions that had been ignored for so long; and so you've got these reformist movements that were essentially political and economic attempts at re-addressing the real problems in the Muslim world: Educational problems; the fact that things like engineering were so widely ignored; attempting to re-address the problems of Muslim Universities – Al-Azhar is a good example of that. Al-Azhar was traditionally only where people were trained in Islamic tradition and now it is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted university. That was an attempt at reforming the problem of limiting to limiting Islamic universities simply to the subjects of Islamic tradition. Then you had the political movements of which Dr. Ramadan's grandfather was involved in on his maternal side, Hassan al Banna; who was part of that tradition of Rashid Rida, who was also one of the reformist trends that occurred in the Muslim world, then Ben Badis who is affected by that in Algeria, so you have a complete reformist agenda in Algeria; and then you have Al al-Fassi in Morocco - these are all happening on top of the Wahhabbi reformist movement that was happening even earlier than that in the 1780's and 1790's, and then it's re-invigorated with King Abdul Aziz's conquest of the Arabian peninsula - these are all attempts at Reform, of dealing with the collapse of the Muslim sovereignty and the Muslim ethos.


One of the great traumas of the Muslim world was in 1924 when the Ottoman Caliphate officially dismantled. There was a conference in Mecca that was done to re-establish it; to appoint a new Caliph. The head of that conference was Muhammad Zawahiri, who was the grandfather of Ayman Zawahiri - the companion of Osama Bin Laden. He was the Shaykh Al-Azhar at the time. I mean, this is quite extra-ordinary - Ayman Thawahiri's grandfather on his maternal side wrote the Egyptian constitution! He was one of the most important people in designing the Egyptian constitution; he comes from a very traditional, very aristocratic Egyptian family. #00:42:08-6#


YUSUF: So, what happened between Muhammad Thawahiri and Ayman Thawahiri? I mean, how did that chasm occur to where you end up responding instead of the famous statement of Muhammad Thawahiri in 1924 after they couldn't elect a Caliph in Mecca he said ''Let's do the Janazah prayer over” - which is the funeral prayer of the Muslims – “...over the nation of Islam.'' That was Muhammad Thawahiri, his grandfather's response to the inability to elect a Caliph.


Now*[14], what's happening now as you get this extra-ordinary post-modern environment that we're in now; where the internet has opened up extra-ordinary exchange of ideas and you have many, many Muslims who have migrated to the west, have imbibed western liberalism, have imbibed many of the concepts of the west, they're struggling. There is a lot of soul-searching going on. We have, for instance, Gay and Lesbian people in the United States - and I'm sure here - but in the United States we have Gay and Lesbian people who are born into Muslim families, that want a Gay and Lesbian Islam. They want an Islam that is big enough to include the Gay and Lesbian community, and so there is a movement now there. You have people like Irshad Manji who is also calling for this reform, the misunderstanding...I think,The Trouble With Islam today becoming a spokesman for a certain type of progressive movement


The question is 'Why*[15] is there so much distrust and trepidation by the Muslim grassroots?' I would say that the fundamental reason is that - Lord Cromer - and I don't know if he went to Oxford - but Lord Cromer, who was the governor of Egypt, a close friend of Muhammad Abdu's, said a reformed Islam is not Islam. I would argue that that is true, and that's not true. It's true in that the fundamental thrust of Islam is that it was a reformist movement to begin with. Islam was re-addressing the problems that they saw inherent in Christianity; the sectarianism - people have no idea, the number of sects of Christians that existed in the Middle-East at that time: the Nestorians, the Jacobites, the Aryans, the Byzantine Orthodox, the Catholics - all of these different groups! The Mali Bari Nasrani's who are still in existence in India, had to flee to India, who were Semitic Christians like Ebunites - all of these differences; and also the Jewish rejection of Jesus. So the Prophet Muhammad saw himself as coming to really reform the Abrahamic tradition.


He put in place several constraints in his faith, and also in the Qur'an you will find many verses warning not to change the faith. There are many warnings about this. One of the most fundamental concepts in Muslim consciousness is the idea of 'Bid’ah, is the idea of innovation - of changing the structure of things, and this is why the Muslims are very wary of messing with the calibration of this religion. This is why when they see new ideas like this, they tend to react. This is the Grassroots of Muslims. This I do not believe will change for any time soon, I really don't. I think that you will find - and in the Muslim world this is particularly acute, far less so here I think; western Muslims are extremely tolerant of many diversion of opinions, even the spectrum of our understanding is quite broad in what we allow to go under the umbrella is much broader than in many places in the Muslim world; not all places, but in many places in the Muslim world. But the Muslims historically have been very tolerant of dissent.


YUSUF:  Now*[16], there is an argument here about British Islam, I wanted to talk about that and then make my closing remarks. #00:46:19-0# There's an argument somehow that the British Muslims need to 'assimilate.' They need to 'fully become British' and there's this problem with multiculturalism; multiculturalism is threatening the cohesion of our society. I'm amazed by the idea of cohesion - I'd like to see it, where all this wonderful cohesion is! I think people who are in their seventies in this room can remember how "cohesive" neighbourhoods were sixty years ago/seventy years ago, they're much less so today; and I'm old enough to remember how my neighbourhood was and how my neighbourhood is today. So we have - social fragmentation is a problem everywhere. Now, the argument that America - and I find it extra-ordinary that Brits will tolerate this from your politicians! - of saying ''Look at America! How cohesive they are! [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] They all pledge allegiance to the flag, y'know they have Thanksgiving! Everybody has a national Turkey day, and y'know... why can't we have a national Pheasant day...? Or maybe that’s too upper-crusty, maybe a national Shepherd's Pie day...?''


So, what's fascinating to me about this is first of all America has always been a multicultural society, we have never been a cohesive society. We have people in America that speak their own forms of English! Really! And British people would say we all speak our own form of English in America but (laughing) y'know... look... we have people  - I can't understand them - we have a language called 'Ebonics'. We have a 'Gumbo' language - Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filet gumbo? 'cause tonight, I'm gonna meet, ma cher amio?'' I mean, do you understand...? I don't understand it, it's a Hank Williams song... I mean he knew what it was about because it's a Louisiana dialect; I don't know what it is! And I'm sure you've got people up in Yorkshire that you can't tell what they're saying (laughing) y'know, but look, the reality of it is America - we have people in America driving around in buggies! In buggies! They're debating whether or not to put rubber tires on those buggies! That's what they're debating in their community, and I'm not making this up! America has - we have places in my state that says ''Siabla Englais.'' That means ''We speak English here.'' I'm not making this up! We have seven generation Chinese in San-Francisco China Town that do not speak English. They have been in the United States for seven generations - this is America! So this idea - this fantasy - that some of these British politicians have of bringing this 'wonderful cohesive America' over here? Good luck, my friends. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] Seriously.


YUSUF: But one of the things that I love about England is that you've always tolerated eccentric uncles! Why can't you tolerate eccentric religions? Really! I mean, what's so wrong with that? This country was forged in religious wars; religious and tribal wars to a certain degree, it was forged in that - you've learned the lessons of those wars. Britain is one of the most tolerant societies in the world, it really is! [APPLAUSE] And like Dorothy Sayer - Dorothy Sayer is one of my favourite theologians - she's a mystery writer too, but she was a good theologian. Dorothy Sayer said 'the British people are slow to anger, but when they get angry they behave like fools,' and there's probably a lot of truth in that, but the fact that they're slow to anger; that's one of the most precious virtues in the Islamic tradition - 'hilm', which is the ability to fore-bear others; to be slow to anger. 00:50:22-3


YUSUF: In terms*[17] of what role should governments play in Islamic reform, I would argue that governments are... one of the most important things that Muslim jurists attempted to address was the limits of government, and Muslims traditionally were very libertarian in their approach, they did not like - our jurists did not like - they didn't work for governments and we had a separation of powers in the sense that the legislative body was in the jurist and the jurists were independently working. Islamic Sharia arises completely independent of government support; the great jurists actually - Malik, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i - all spent time in government jails; all of them, and these were the great founders of the Sunni tradition, and the Shi'a also have a tradition of persecution at the hands of government as well; in some ways far worse than anything the Sunnis ever suffered; so Muslim Jurists were always very wary of Government.


YUSUF:  One of the things about...nothing taints a reputation more in our community than an association with the government. You lose your credibility. When I went into the White House, and I was just a guest, I wasn't...They didn't pay me, you know, I didn't get any money, you know. Maybe I should have asked for something, because it just...[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. But that did more to tarnish my reputation amongst a large segment of the Muslim community, because Muslims are very wary of any scholar who associates closely with the government, and they always have been. And there's a reason for that. Because governments never do that out of the graciousness of their goodwill. They co-opt [APPLAUSE]. And when George Bush made a reference to 'we're not at war with Islam', the CNN camera immediately flashed on me [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. Which made me realise that was pre-planned. So, we do have a state press. You know...They called it Pravda in Russia, we call it CNN [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] 00:52:41-8  But these are the problems that we have to deal with.


Now, our Prophet said the worst scholars are those at the doors of rulers, and the best rulers are those at the doors of scholars. My own teacher Shaykh Abdullah bin Baya said the first is restricted, and the second is absolute. What that means in 'usuli' language is that the first is not an absolute statement because it's dependent on the intention of the scholar. When the Prophet said the worst scholars are those at the doors of the governments, wanting some personal gain from them. If they go there for the sake of God to advise those governments, then they're not falling amongst the worst scholars. 00:53:24-2  This is the type of understanding that needs to translate.


Finally*[18] in conclusion, I would argue that some of the most important things that have to take place in the UK and in the United States, and really in Europe - we have now thirty million Muslims, in Western Europe, according to most statistics. We have probably between six to ten million Muslims in the United States. We have about three million Muslims I think in Canada...maybe two million in Canada. But we have close to five hundred thousand in Toronto. They make ten percent of the population in Toronto. In Philadelphia, America's first capital, we have ten percent Muslims now. In New York City, the Eid where the...The City Council of New York voted to make the Eid holiday a holiday in the city of New York, largely because twelve percent of Muslim children in the New York City school district are Muslim. Twelve percent. That's the largest city in the United States of America, and twelve percent of its children in its public school system are Muslim.  00:54:39-9


This is an immense opportunity, but it's also a crisis, and we know that in the Chinese ideogram means both crisis and opportunity. It's a crisis if we don't somehow come to terms with the fact Muslims do not have the intellectual tools to navigate their religion in uncharted waters, such as these that you are in now. If these tools are not presented in an intelligent way, that's rooted and founded in the Islamic tradition, then we have a very serious problem.


And*[19] this problem right now we're only seeing slight externalities, and I'll use that term... 'Externality', as you know is...a negative externality of a corporation is the toxic by-products that come out of it. So like, BP, the positive thing was drilling the well; the negative externality is the fact the well didn't work out. Well, religions have negative externalities as well. Things go wrong. People go wrong. We have Muslims that are negative externalities for the social body. Now, people leave it up to BP to deal with the problem, but sometimes the problem is bigger than BP. Sometimes you do need governments to come in.


When the FBI came to me - not to question me, they never came to question me (AUDIENCE LAUGHTER). I mean they have at the airport at things, but not...but they never came to my house to question me like was reported in the press. And Dr. Ramadan knows about press. I don't believe press anymore. Because once you read about yourself in the press you know it's just rubbish [APPLAUSE]. And goodness, you know [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER].  01:04:20-1  So, the FBI...I said, look. My wish, you know, really, is you guys get it right. Really. This is a criminal problem. These are criminals, and they need to be stopped.


Extremism is as American as apple pie. We have extreme sports. We jump off buildings, you know, with bungee ropes and things. We have extreme eating. We had a woman die recently in a water-drinking contest. We have hot-dog contests where they eat a hundred and fifty hot-dogs. People from Egypt would never do that, you know [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. We, we have extreme music. They used our music to torture people at Guantanamo Bay [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. Seriously. They used is to torture. In fact, the heavy metal bands actually protested against their music being used as torture [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. We have...extremism is as American as apple pie, really. The problem is not extremism. Extremism is a human problem that has always been there, it will always be there. The problem is violence in a civil society. And this is what we need to address: the problem of violence.


And*[20] at essence, Islam is an irenic religion. It is a peaceful tradition. Our prophet was not a warmonger. He did not like war. He disdained war. He said never hope to meet your enemies, but if you're forced to meet them be brave in the battle field. He prohibited the... [APPLAUSE]. 00:56:52-1  He prohibited the killing of civilians. He prohibited the killing of women and children. In the 'Maliki' fiqh that I studied, if you're...the only time that you can fight a women is if she's a combatant on the other side. The Maliki jurists were so troubled by the hadith that they said, if you see a woman on the battlefield, run away from her [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. Because they did not want you to fall under that hadith because it's a 'mutawatir' hadith, it's a factual hadith that has the same strength as a verse in the Qur'an.


Now*[21], I want to close and end this is by saying one of the greatest problems is we have what I call Shaykh Googles'; 'Weekend Muftis'. We have now a loss of authority in our tradition. This has led to people like, what they call Shaykh bin Laden. Somebody called me up on a recent Arabic programme and said: 'What do you think of Shaykh Osama Bin Laden?' And I just said, first of all, what do you want from the question? Do you want me to be, if I answer 'oh, he's a great guy', to be in Guantanamo Bay tomorrow? [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. I mean, is that kind of the idea? Or, what you want is that, you know, I think he's terrible? But, who made him a Shaykh? Really. Who made Shaykh Osama bin Laden a Shaykh? Osama bin Laden is an accountant [APPLAUSE]. Ayman al-Zawahari was a paediatric surgeon. And these people are giving fatwa from caves in Afghanistan telling people to kill people.  00:59:24-7


Now,*[22] their fatwa is based on a famous fatwa from Mardin. The fatwa that killed Anwar El Sadat is the same fatwa. My Shaykh and teacher, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, recently held a conference in Turkey in the city of Mardin, which is where the fatwa, was..the fatwa was addressing an issue in that city. The fact that the ruler of that city was a Muslim but not applying Islamic law, and he was under the influence of the Moguls who were not Muslim at that time. He was asked, is this an abode of war or an abode of peace? He said, it's neither one or the other. It's a hybrid because it doesn't have the qualities of the abode of war; it doesn't have the qualities of the abode of peace. And then he said something very interesting. He said, therefore, the believer should be treated in accordance with the fact that he's a believer, and the disbeliever should be fought: ‘yoqatalo al-kharij 'an al-sharia be-ma yastahiqoh’.The disbeliever should be fought because he's left the Sharia, and as he deserves to be. Now, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, when that fatwa was read in Mardin, he said that can't be right, the text.


The 'uluma' that were in the audience - some of them the biggest 'uluma' in the Muslim world -all said SHAYKH, don't change the fatwa. It's Shaykh al-Islam's fatwa. We can address the problems of the fatwa, but don't change the text of the fatwa. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah insisted. He said, no. Something is wrong with that text. It doesn't work in the Arabic language like that. When he got back to Jeddah, he went to another text and found that it did not say that the one who left the Sharia should be fought. It actually said, instead of 'yoqatalo', it said, 'yo'amalo'. He should be treated in accordance with him being a disbeliever. In other words, there are many rules that relate to disbelievers. Then he asked for the oldest copy in the 'Zahiriyah maktaba' in Damascus, and it came back saying, in fact, that he should be treated, not killed, or fought. That fatwa was published a hundred years ago and has been replicated in countless editions of his ‘fatwas’, saying that they should be fought. That is the basis of Abdul Salam Faraj's ‘fatwa’ to kill Anwar El Sadat. It was the basis of bin Laden's fatwa to kill the Americans, and also to overthrow the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia. It's a misprint. They've based an entire philosophy on a misprint in a text that occurred a hundred years. This is a crisis in our community: the crisis of authority. Who can read these texts and who can determine what they mean? Thank you very much [APPLAUSE].  01:02:12-3


Question / Answer



IMAD AHMED: Thank you very much professor Ramadan, you raised a number of fascinating points. Our time is short now so we are going to launch straight into the question and answer session. We are first going to take our questions from the floor. If you would like to ask a question, please raise your hand and one of the stewards will come to you with the microphone. So, do we have any questions on the floor? Can we have the gentleman here please? 00:50:27-7




DR SHEHAB, SAUDI ARABIA: Assalaamu alaikum. This question is to Ustadh Ramadan. I like what you said, but I need a plan. What you said is very good, but what is the plan to face the challenges and to teach the world of what you said about ethics and about... So we need a plan, not just to talk more and more. So i hope you have something to offer in the plan. 01:51:07-9


TARIQ RAMADAN: 01:51:27-1 I think that many things are already done in some fields, for example I will take the example as I said in medicine, that these councils where Muslim scholars of the text with medical doctors are working together and they are able *[55]   to come with very interesting things on euthanasia and cloning and all that. What I would like is to open up and be effective on this and this is what I want to translate into councils where we are able to come with scholars that are dealing with the text, but more specialised issues. 01:51:51-9


And for example some of the economists - and once again on the knowledge of the world, we need sometimes people who are not Muslims, who are coming and sitting and they can come with for example this economy, from the east and from the west, sitting together. So I would say that we have to go a step further now. It is time for us to call not just the scholars to do the job, but also to the Muslim communities - don't blame the authority when you are not playing the game, you are not accountable, and you don’t understand in which way you have...because we have lots of people in many fields.


For example, in education. That's very good. To think about Islamic schools, and that's fine. Over the last 30 years for example, the Islamic schools are doing much better now than they did before - they are improving, but we need much more than that now. When we deal with acquisition *[56]   of knowledge, and how do we deal with the surrounding world, in Muslim majority countries as well as here. So we need to have things on this where the Muslim scholars should be involved in this discussion, I think that the halal and haram business, was something which is far from - now we live in a very complex world, education is a very complex challenge now.


And women*[57], for example: I’m sorry you cannot just as Muslim scholars, sit as men together and ask for women to give you a report on the situation of women and say okay we are going to change the situation. So in many things we have to come back to the traditions, because many things are done today which are not respecting the Islamic tradition, from the very beginning. Even in our mosques there are things that are unacceptable, not because we are not dealing with the challenges of today, but because we are not respecting what is the Islamic tradition on the firsthand. [APPLAUSE] This is the first thing.


The second thing is really to have scholars and women coming also with this knowledge in our circles, where they can come with this and also understand things - you know - this is something which, we *[58]   are very much integrating in the West and you can show the people are very much integrating with the rate of divorces. This is where we are the best, and are coming very close to what is happening in the surrounding society. But many Muslims are saying yes it means you are lost here, but in the Muslim majority countries, we don’t have so many divorces. Ask yourself why? Is it because it's better? Any one of us who is serious about the issue is just knowing that what is going on now in Muslim majority countries is also problematic when it comes to the way we deal with families and the way we deal with women.


It's not for us to push to do it as it is done in the west, but to be critical enough to come to something which is how do we deal with the right status of women in our societies today? And it means not headscarf and not headscarf. For me it is clear, the headscarf is in the*[59]   Islamic prescription, and after that it should be the right of the woman to wear it or not. This is her free choice. But it is an Islamic prescription and then you decide what you want to do. Now this is not the main concern. The main concern is how do you deal with the family, how do you deal with the husband, when you deal with the kids, how do you deal with your rights, how do you deal with the surrounding society and the public sphere. These are questions that are deeper than that, when you speak about something that is so obvious for us as Muslims you know same skills, same salary.


Let us come to this. Let us come to these deep discussions and not just following the footsteps of “Oh I want to please the west, and say OK remove the headscarf and show that you are liberal Muslims” - what's that? This is not reform. This is just an awareness. This is just silly. This is not what the Muslims need today.


AHMED: Thank you. 01:56:19-6




AUDIENCE MEMBER: Assalamu alaikum. If I could ask the question to both of you, that would be really helpful. How do Muslims have meaningful engagement with the government as active citizens in this country? I know you both touched on it but if you could elaborate, that would be very helpful. 01:56:27-1


AHMED: Thank you. Shaykh Hamza if we could start with you. 01:56:27-1


HAMZA YUSUF: Bismillah. The first thing is that the Muslim community has to understand the concept of citizenship. In the pre-modern tradition there wasn't a concept of citizenship. There was a concept of ‘haakim’ and ‘mahkum’, which is the ruler and the ruled. So the idea that *[60]  people that are under a government can actually participate in the framing of the government itself is a relatively new idea itself, and Muslims in the west are learning this, I mean we now have, it's quite extraordinary, that there is a minister who is from a Muslim family, and some MP's who were elected in the recent election who are from Muslim families, so it is happening here in the UK. But I would argue that the concept of ‘muwaatana’ which is citizenship, the idea that we are not a minority community in the ideal state of western understanding of citizenry, that we are actually fully enfranchised citizens and have all the rights and responsibilities that go with that citizenship - that has to be inculcated into our youth and into our communities. I think the older generation are excused in my estimation, because they came from a very different background. But the younger generation really doesn't have an excuse. I think it's very important that they recognise the importance of fully integrating at that level.


For example in my country, in the United states, especially at local government, you can enact radical changes in your local governments. You can ban alcohol. You can ban gambling. You can do a lot of things. And Muslims, and I agree with Dr Ramadan fully on this, that Muslims need to be productive members of their community. They really need to be engaging the community fully.


One of the biggest problems *[61]  that we have is the concept of ‘al-walaa’ and ‘al-baraa’. The idea, of, there's a certain segment of the Muslim community that teaches this idea, that any allegiance, you have to have allegiance and enmity, allegiance to Islam alone, and enmity to anything other than Islam, and therefore to vote is an act of ‘kufr’ in a non-Muslim state.  And we have people here that get public airspace to expound these ideas on a regular basis. These ideas are sectarian and a very very marginalised view in Islamic history.  Allegiance to a state is not kufr by any means, and Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, argues that the classical formulation of what was called ‘dar al-harb’, ‘dar al-islam’ and ‘dar al-ahad’, or ‘muwada'ah’, those are the three classical formulations, the abode of war, the abode of peace which was the Islamic world, and then the abode where you had treaties with the people.


YUSUF: He argues that there is a new abode, which is what he calls the ‘dar al-muqam’, or the ‘dar al-muwatana’, which is the abode of citizenship *[62]  , which is where Muslims are citizens. And a Muslim can technically become a Prime minister, or at least a President in the United States. And that was argued 200 years ago, it was actually in the constitutional debates, one of the issues raised was that if there were not religious tests, a Muslim could eventually be elected President in the United States. That was argued 200 years ago, by the founding fathers. And the argument was overridden because Iraton argued that if the American people elected a Muslim it would be for one of two reasons - either the Americans had all become Muslims, and then that was their democratic prerogative, and he said that's highly unlikely. And then he said, the other would be that they found in a Muslim all the virtues that they wanted to lead their society, and in that case again it was their prerogative. So they actually voted early on, based on a Muslim issue, so Barack *[63]  Obama has a Muslim grandmother, and he is president of the United States. His grandmother was there, in hijab sitting next to him, at the inauguration.


So we now have a paternal side of the family in the white House that is Muslim. So I mean that is quite extraordinary as an event. And i think we can't underestimate the election of Barack Hussein Obama, because that election first of all signals that the name barrier no longer exists in the United States of America, so if your name is Mahmud or Hussein or Abdullah - it is not a barrier anymore. That is the first important hallmark. The second is that he does openly have Muslim relatives, and that is an incredible statement. And the third, and this is what I find most extraordinary, he is from the Lu'o tribe, in Kenya. In Kenya, had he ran for president of Kenya, he could not have been elected because of the tribe that he is from. And that is a fact that Fuad Nahdi will confirm.  The Lu'o tribe is a weaker tribe. But he overcame tribe and race, in the United States and became President.


So I think it's very important for Muslims to recognise that we do have vital contribution. And finally in Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield, Birmingham, in these cities, we are moving into numbers of Muslims that if the demographics are correct - and they often aren't - So I do put that caveat out, but if the demographics are correct, it won't be long before some of the largest cities*[64]   in the United Kingdom have majority Muslim populations. The Muslims need to very seriously consider the fact that they will have to be running city councils, that they will have to have police stations that are under a Muslim constabulary, all these things really have to be taken into consideration. And Muslims instead of rioting need to think seriously about establishing think tanks, where they can think seriously about their presence in the United Kingdom, and in the United states, and in Canada, and in Germany and all of these places because we need to address these real issues and we need to alleviate the very serious and real fears, and it's not always phobia because phobia by, in a classical metaphysical definition is an irrational fear but the fear of Muslims is not necessarily irrational for many people: The high crime rates that are in our communities in Europe are cause for concern for many, many people in these countries so its very important that Muslims address these issues and one of the most important ways of doing that is through civic engagement.


RAMADAN: *[65]  02:03:23-9 Yes. I want to say something about this because I agree with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf about this, and I have been saying this for years now and I wrote the book 'To be a European Muslim' and said that we have to stop, the very understanding of citizenship is to stop speaking about minority and minority citizenship and not to put ourselves in a situation where we speak as a minority. When it comes to citizenship, of course a religious minority is there, but when we speak about citizenship, we have to be involved. Now the point is, I am not myself against anything that has to do with government, I have been sitting in many councils and committees with governments, and talking and listening and sharing views. But once again as i said, it is really to ask yourselves, what is the intention? What do we want to achieve? Because at the end of the day, you know, for example when I studied all of what was said by scholars about ‘dar al-harb’ and ‘dar al-islam’ and all that, I ended up saying that in the west and also in Muslim majority countries, we are facing something which is ‘dar al-shahadah’. Meaning that we bear witness, in the sense that: li takunu shuhada ‘al an-nas, in order for you to be a witness to your message before people. This is where the world is. I want to be a witness. So ask yourself what is the intention.  02:05:11-8


So there is something which is very problematic, is that some of the Muslims that are dealing with the governments are acting as though they are representing*[66] all the Muslims - and you are not. So first is to say that you are not representing all of the Muslims, and second is to ask yourself what is your role. And this is where the point is for me - the contribution. An ethical contribution. It is to help the politicians and to help the government to come back to politics and not emotional politics *[67]  and not racism, and not discrimination, but to just be there for all citizens. And to be there for all the citizens, is just to be the witness of your message in the way you deal with politics. It doesn't mean you have to be naive and not to calculate, it means you have to be aware of the game and the rules of the game but at the same time, show in which way when you are dealing with the government: you don't represent the Muslims, and second you want to spread around a better understanding of what is happening at the grassroots level, and then to be able to say to the government that you don't only deal with the people you like, but you have to deal with all people. 02:06:20-4


And the last point is never let them think that you can be bought. And I’m sorry there are people working for the governments, getting money from the governments *[68]  and the only thing they are doing is following exactly the agenda of the government, and I think these people are dangerous. 02:06:52-5


AHMED: Thank you Professor Ramadan. Our time is short, so can i ask that the questions are short and that the answers are a bit more condensed. Can I have one question from the gentleman in the leather jacket. 02:07:08-7




KASHIF ZAKIUDDIN, SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFIRCAN STUDIES: Assalaamu alaikum Shaykh Hamza and Professor Ramadan. My question is addressed to both of you. You both spoke of this notion in Islam of a ‘thawabit’. Of constants or immutables within the Islamic tradition. How do you respond to those within the tradition and without the tradition who flag these ‘thawabit’ up, some of these immutables, as concepts as parts of the tradition which are *[69]  incompatible with western liberal democracies. And how therefore do you see a way forward? Because ultimately, often Islamic reform is seen as a means to further integration, and these are flagged up from both sides of the divide as impediments to achieving this goal.


YUSUF: 02:08:07-6 I would say first of all. The area that is problematic, is what is known as ‘ahkam al-sultaniyya’, which are the governmental categories and the penal code. There are issues about sexual morality, homosexuality and also women’s rights that are seen as problematic. The inheritance laws in the Quran are one of the few times where the Quran is very explicit about who gets what. And that's difficult. Although there are some arguments even in juristic preference that some of the Usooli scholars have made of late, arguing other types of distribution that is not incongruous with what the Quran says. I would say that the prophet (saw) stated very clearly that the political tradition of his faith would dissipate very rapidly after 30 years and I think Muslims tend to forget that. That this so called Islamic state has not existed in the history of Islam. And I think that it is a political fantasy that a lot of Muslims hold. 02:09:16-9


And so I think a lot of those areas are not dissimilar to the Jewish orthodox community and other religious communities that have pre-modern aspects of their tradition that are not compatible with western liberal democracy. And I think it is important that Muslims don’t waffle on those issues, and they should state them as they are. And simply, we believe this is a revelation, and there are certain things that are prohibited, In the Quran homosexuality, acting on it is prohibited in the Quran *[70]  - the impulses that people have, that was addressed in our book centuries ago, the prayer of person known as a ‘ma'boon’, a person who has that condition of being attracted to the same sex is a valid prayer, even if they lead the prayer. But the idea of acting on it, and also just purely rectal [inter]course for male and female is also prohibited, it's simply seen as something that harms people, and so that physical act is prohibited.  And I don't think Muslims can change that in any way, because it is ‘ma'loom min ad deen darooratan’ - it is known by all Muslims and it really can't be waffled or fudged.  02:10:37-2


On the other hand I think it is important to humanize people and not to dehumanise people and i think that the types of attitudes that a lot of Muslims have are incompatible to the spirit of mercy and ‘rahma’. And the other thing that is important is that people outside the faith of Islam, according to the opinion that I was taught, are not in any way obliged to follow the details of the Islamic law, so what is prohibited for us is not necessarily prohibited for them if they don't accept Islam as a tradition. 02:11:06-3


RAMADAN: Yes there are many things here. I think that I agree with all that was said. But I want to be more focused on one of the points that you are making. Very often, as Muslims, because we are under pressure - there are in many countries today in the West, a list of questions *[71]  , which you have to respond to, and you are going to be a good or a bad Muslim depending on your answer, so there is a list of questions. The point is that even within some of our texts, when we come to something which is not dealing with the text, but an intrinsic discussion from within, that we have to consider some of the texts that are ‘qat’I thoboot ‘and ‘qat'i dalala ‘meaning that there is no discussion about the authenticity and about the substance and the meaning. It's that if Muslims - we are not sharp and coming with something which is a definitive response to this, it is as if we are lesser Muslims. So let me give you two examples. there is one thing which is quite important, that is we have clear cut texts, and they have to be implemented, But sometimes the context within which you live has to be taken into account to know what you are going to do with this. When for example with Muslims, half of the Muslim organisations in this country stopped to invite me when I called for a moratorium *[72]  on the ‘hudud’. Because some were saying oh you are questioning the very essence of the text - you are questioning the texts themselves. I never did that. You will never find in anything that I wrote something which is saying that it is not in the Quran or it is not in the prophetic tradition.  02:12:57-6 The death penalty is in the Quran, the corporal punishments are in the Quran and the stoning is in the Prophetic tradition. I never said that it's not in the text. What I am saying is that the conditions to implement these texts are not there. So it's impossible to implement. So the best way is not to pretend, in some petrol-monarchies that we are fulfilling or being faithful to Islam. Because the first intention must be faithfulness. So I think what we are doing in the name of Islam is just unjust. 02:13:23-7


So it's not because it's the liberal democracy that someone says 'oh it's a European, it's a Swiss citizen teaching us Islam.' I respond to this by saying, "No, it's a Muslim, asking you as a Muslim, asking you whether what is being done is Islamic.' 02:13:42-5


And like the Mufti Shaykh Ali Gomaa responded, coming to say, that  he was not in agreement with the methodology, with the way I did it, but saying yes, I agree with the substance - that we cannot implement this. And I got many scholars  that were agreeing on principles, but not publically. After a discussion in Morocco some said 'We agree with you but we're not going to say it.'  02:14:07-4


But this is a point which is the crisis of authority. Where we are scared about the repercussion of what the Muslims are going to say about us.  02:14:16-7


So my point here is to say, on your discussion, that there are some principles which, in order to be faithful, we have to look at the environment.  02:14:27-7


Now, on some of the principles, such as when it comes to homosexuality, when it comes to some of these issues, where the Muslims are pushed yet to have to accept this. I say no. And this is why it is so important to be able to come with something which is clear as to the principles and open as to humanity and into humanizing. What I say is to respect the people and to disagree with what you are doing. Saying 'I don't like it, it's not permitted in my  religion, but I respect who you are.' And this is the way I am, this is the way you should be in society.  02:14:59-8


So the Muslims are so much on the defensive that this attitude is sometimes perceived as 'Oh, you are betraying the very essence of the religion.' And I would say exactly the opposite - it is the very essence of the religion that we are protecting by conveying clarity on the principles and openness in what the relationships are that we have with people.  02:15:21-9


AHMAD: Thank you very much. Can I take a question from the gentleman over here?






AUDIENCE MEMBER: Asalaamu alaikum. Basim Elkarra with the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Democratic Party. Many communities and mosques in the West are held hostage by a few. These leaders do not give space to other especially the youth. They drive and alienate the youth. Away from the faith. How do we deal with the issue of community leadership. The crisis of community leadership.  02:15:54-7


AHMAD: Can I address that question to Shaykh Hamza?


YUSUF: There's a principle in Islam that the ruler removes difference of opinion. So, for instance, in Ramadan, when do we start? In the West we have problems like in America on which day do we start? They don't have a problem in Egypt because they just announce: 'It's Ramadan tomorrow, everybody fast.' 02:16:21-9


So leadership is a fluid thing. Leadership is about authority and people have different levels of authority. Dr. Ramadan yields a certain amount of authority. I yield a certain amount of authority. But we don't have the type of authority that Hosni Mubarak has in Egypt. And so it becomes …you can't just dictate to people what to do. You can try to convince them with arguments. And that's really what I believe Islam is about. The Quran is about convincing people with arguments and dialectic. And also it's a give and take process.


So I think it's important that especially the youth leaders, they have their own authority, they begin to emerge. People like Rami Nashishibi is a good example in the United States. Intissar Rab. I mean there are many examples. Cream tends to rise to the top. Leadership is often something that is organic. Even in a political process it's organic. It can be spoiled cream as well, so it doesn't necessarily yield always good leadership. Leaders tend to display certain qualities that people respond to and I think it's more of an organic process rather than trying to superimpose on people some sort of models 02:17:44-3


RAMADAN: Yes, but I would say something here, which is that I have a problem with this question. Because it's very… you know we are facing these questions very often. Young Muslims are saying 'how can we get new leadership *[73]  ?' At the end of the day there are two things that are very important. Once again I am always coming back to this, which is the intention of what do you want to achieve. Is it a power struggle or is it something which is our contribution? and are we going to be more effective in the environment?


And there is something else which is working, which is that when you do the job, when the eldest are just seeing on the ground that you're doing the job, at the end of the day you stop being the victim.


It's exactly the same with the women. You want an emancipation process, you want to be free, you want to be autonomous, you want to do the work - do it. Just go for it. And I think that many, many experiences not only here can tell you - even in Muslim majority countries. When I went to Indonesia and I met these young people in Malaysia, when they were working in computing, they're doing the job. They go; they do it. Now it doesn't mean that you have to go to be against the leadership. It's just to be a complementary voice, but do the job. Also men, young people, this is the way this has to be done.


And then your knowledge 02:19:07-1 of your environment. Your knowledge of the environment should be brought to the fore as something which is effective in the way. 01:19:15-6 So respect: this is coming from the tradition. This is something that is important But critical thinking and creativity…We lack creativity in our methodologies. We lack creativity in the way we come with… you know to reform within Islam is sometimes the means that you are using to reach the people. So these are things that are necessary and I would say that our community are too much passive 02:19:41-7


YUSUF:  Just to - I need to bounce off of that a little bit because part of the problem is that - Toynbee argues that the fundamental crisis in civilization is when they confront *[74]  challenges but they don't have creative responses and he argues that creative responses are indeed what saves a civilization


Part of the problem is [that] some of the best and brightest minds that we have no longer go into Islamic studies, they go into medicine. We have incredibly creative responses in medicine to the challenges of medicine. We have incredibly creative responses to engineering. I mean they're always coming up with new ways to build higher buildings. My God I was just in Dubai and that thing - it's almost to Pleiades! But the problem is that when you direct so much of your intellectual energies into these areas and fields of expertise and you don't direct those energies into some of the most difficult questions that face us - which are philosophical, which are ethical.


We need real ethicists. We need people who are trained in ethical philosophy. Not just a kind of modern book on ethics. I mean if you read classical ethical treatises they are philosophical treatises that teach people how to reason ethically, not simply having a hadith that teaches you some ethical truism but to reason ethically…because if we had people reasoning ethically we would never have come up with fatwas that supported suicide bombing, ever. 02:21:10-6


[APPLAUSE] 02:21:11-3


AHMED: Thank you very much. We're really coming very close to the end of our time. So what I'm going to do is take two more questions from the floor and one pre-submitted question. I'm going to put them together and hope the speakers can answer them in bullet fire form. 02:21:36-9


Can I have one here? What you have to do you just walk around and come to this mic here. Whilst you're coming can we have the question from.. one here and one here. So can we start with this one here? 02:21:53-8




IMAM AHMAD SA’AD, NORTH LONDON CENTRAL MOSQUE: My question is actually both for Dr. Ramadan and Shaykh Hamza. Shaykh Hamza first: Don't you think there is a need as well for some kind of an institutional reform for our religious schools? Like where I come from, for example, in Azhar, we had a very interesting experience towards the end of the  18th century in 1970 or 1997 or around that time when the French came to Egypt one of the shuyukh, Shayk-ul-Islam Hassan Al-Attar , he actually realized out of all the shayukh of Azhar that there is a need for him to explore the French - these invaders who actually came to the country - and try to teach them the Arabic and get some engineering knowledge and stuff like that. And that has actually paved the road for people like Rifa'a al-Tahtawi to come to Paris and other shayukh to come to Europe and explore. So don't you think that there is a need actually to reform our institutions of Islamic learning within the Muslim world as well? and as our Shaykh Ali Goma’a speaks about the importance of regenerating sciences as our predecessors have done that.



JOURNALIST, GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER: I just wanted to ask on behalf of all of the government officials here and I should point out at this stage that I'm from the Guardian. But is it a given that reform or renovation - whatever terms you want to use - that will make it less likely that Muslims will be involved in violence against the interests of the West? What the West perceives to be of interest  - is it a guarantee? Or basically my question is about unintended consequences 02:23:50-2



AHMED:  OK and we had one pre-submitted question from IMAM SARWAR from IQRA TV - "Some Muslims would hold that Islam can sit perfectly comfortably within a secular society and the religion does not oblige us to work to change the political status quo. In this light - can it be argued that the Muslim can be a neo-conservative and a good Muslim at the same time?”


YUSUF: *[75]  Just to answer the question about renewal of the colleges - you know I studied in a traditional methodology. A lot of it was rote memorization and there is definitely, a fundamental need for memorization in the Islamic tradition - undeniably - but on the other hand - there has to be other components, particularly a critical reading of text. And that has to be incorporated into the students' understanding early on


You know I would definitely argue - Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah recently - we were at Al-Azhar - and he gave a talk and argued that four subjects need to be renewed *[76]  – ‘tajdeed’. And he said that the first one was ‘usul ul-fiqh’ which I think in many ways he's done, I mean he wrote this extraordinary books “Sena’atal Fatwa” which is the craft of giving a ‘fatwa’ - showing the methodology. And the second one was ‘furoo ul-fiqh’ which is the branches of jurisprudence. And the third was the need for renewal of tasawwuf as the spiritual component or the inward reality of the Sharia.


And I don't think historically there was ever...there was always an understanding of Sharia and Tariqa - that there's an inward road to God and there's an outward road and they have to be traversed at the same time by the same individual. And the final one 02:25:34-8 is the aqidah itself. Many of the ‘aqidah’ the creedal issues that are discussed in madrahsas are absolutely absurd in the light of modern science and even physics. I mean now there are knowledge of modern physics that solves a lot of the early problems that they were discussing. And they were trying to do it. So there needs to be a renewal. On the other hand, it's a work that needs - what Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah says - needs a vast knowledge, because it can't be done by pygmies. It really has to be done by people that are really capable and highly qualified to do that.


And *[77]  then in terms of the Guardian question about reform and violence…I mean, I would argue - Zbigniew Brzezinski who's quite brilliant – Polish-American - I heard him once in a lecture talk about the response to the Black Nationalist violent movements in the United States of America and he said there was a multi-dimensional approach to that problem. One of them was curtailing the violence which was a criminal justice problem. But he said the other one was addressing the real issues that were creating the violence. And as long as we don't address a lot of these issues… And I’ll just give you one example – I’ve read in so many articles …you know Mortimer Zuckerman or whoever arguing that 'Palestine isn't really an issue blah blah blah it's just an excuse' -  Rubbish.




YUSUF: I was just in Morocco which is at the edge of the Arab world - it's the furthest Western Arab country - in Fez, in one of the most traditional cities *[78]  in the Muslim world. The khateeb, who was well into his seventies, he ended his khutbah by praying for Quds, by liberating Quds, by asking God to help the Palestinian people in their oppressed conditions. This is happening all across the Muslim world every Friday. Until people really, seriously address this issue - and the British of all people should be addressing this issue because a lot of the problem stems from early British problems in that area [APPLAUSE]. My country inherited the problems [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] 02:28:09-1


AHMED: and thirdly to Shaykh Hamza - can a Muslim be a neo-conservative and a good Muslim at the same time? 02:28:14-3


YUSUF: I you know - a neo-con is like - Con is where we end it in America. You know. And then you could say "por que neo." Why not neo-fascism? Why not just call a spade a spade. So I think it's impossible for somebody to be true to any real humanity in their hearts to follow a completely patently disingenuous political discourse. Really, disingenuous. They can still be a Muslim though [LAUGHTER] . I don't excommunicate. [LAUGHTER] 02:29:06-8


RAMADAN: Yes, *[79]  just to go for - I think that once again I think it's a serious discussion about Al-Azhar, like what you said. Because I think that when I went there and I had the chance to go to Azhar and follow the tradition and to go with one to one courses - Shaykh Ali Goma’a and others who were teachers and professors there and ulemma at Al-Azhar - I decided to go for this on a one to one courses with all the scholars. Because I think that there is something that should be come which is still the tradition and the pillars. This is very important. now, once again the methodology - when it comes to the way we are teaching by heart when you repeat. You know, I was within ‘usul ul-fiqh’ for example and we had to repeat all this ‘qawa’id’ [principles]. And you get the knowledge when you know it by heart you are not sure to understand the substance and the critical discussion on this. I think that there is a problem of methodology there is a problem of substance.


There is a problem of the critical mind - which was to learn to ask questions - which is the very tradition of Islah, to ask questions. To question the scholars. I agree that we have a problem with authority. But the problem that we also have now with authority is just this blind authority. When we have a Shaykh – it’s just don't ask the question, just follow. I'm sorry this is not...and this is why when this one to one course which I had every morning with Shaykh Ali Goma’ was a discussion, it was taking and giving.  And I think that this is what we need to come to.


Once again what Mohammad Abdou said when he was coming back to Al-Azhar was something of this kind when he said we need other disciplines, but he was also talking about the way things are taught. And I think that this is what we need: now, in the West, in Muslim majority countries. We need to do this in Muslim majority countries. But we need now to institutionalize our presence with institutions in the West doing the job. So, to have this credential now, by having scholars coming from there and working here. Because in our  environment we need this. It's impossible to be a scholar, a Muslim scholar, knowing the state of affairs in our countries in the West if we don't get this critical thinking, understanding. And it's vast. And this is why it's not one who can do that. It's not two. It's something which has to be a collective. We need to make it clear for the Muslim community: don't only put money in mosques but put money in institutions. And put money in things that are how we're going to teach. This is something which is essential [APPLAUSE]. 02:31:53-1


Let *[80] me tell you something here which is - you know - you spoke about Palestine. You know I was in the task force in this country. And I was also when for example banned from the United States of America 80% of the question that I got from the American Embassy in Switzerland were about my position on Iraq and my position on the unilateral support of the United States towards Israel. It has nothing to do with the money I gave. It has to do really with political position. So there is only one way forward. If we accept critical discussion in politics - being able to say [that] there is a lack of consistency in the West with our values - this is the only way for us to be heard by Muslims when we say you can't kill innocent people. This is not Islamic. What I said straight after July the 7th is ANTI-Islamic. When I was in the states in New York just after what happened on September the 11th it's not only non-Islamic it's anti-Islamic. We cannot support this 02:33:01-3


The point is for us is to know where we are, with whom we are talking. So when now we have some Muslims, some Muslims, being able to work with the government *[81] and supporting the inconsistency of the government when they are saying 'condemn violence and don't speak about other things.' No, I'm sorry. That is not going to work. There is no way for us to go towards peace if we are not serious about consistency in politics. Meaning the blood of an Iraqi man is the same as the blood of an American man. [APPLAUSE] 02:33:37-4


This is the starting point of our discussion. It's the starting point of the discussion. I'm sorry to say that some in our government - just I’m finishing on these two points - but this point really - I think that it's very serious. It's very serious. Because you're not going to solve the problem if every time you come with this discourse, our loyalty to the country is challenged and questioned. It's questioned. It's *[82] said, 'Oh you're not a real British' , 'You're not a real American.’ I think it's wrong. This is where we are. The dignity of Britain - the dignity of the United States of America - when we are able to say this as Muslims. So this is our contribution.


I would say that if you deal with governments, if you deal with the Labour party in this country, just to say: 'I’m sorry, what you’re doing is wrong.' So you had the prime minister of this country saying there is no connection between what happened in the streets of London and what we are doing in Iraq. So how can you start a discussion when there is such a state of denial that it's wrong what was done in the state of London but please say that's wrong what you're doing in Iraq and what you are forgetting in Palestine. But now, only by the way - I’m of this opinion: I really want us as citizens not only to speak about Palestine not only to speak about Iraq and Afghanistan but also to speak about Africa, but also *[83] to speak about the fact that people are being killed in our name. In even what happened in Haiti, for example, it's just before the natural catastrophe. The way we are dealing with the government and corrupt people. There I think that this is where we have to be involved. And this is for me a shift in understanding. But I want the government and our fellow citizens to understand what we are talking about what we are doing talking about this.


And then one thing which *[84] is important. I completely agree - a neo-con and being a Muslim is problematic in my mind - I don’t get it. But there is something which is going to be very difficult for all of us. In our involvement in the West - and this happened in Muslim majority countries in a way which was problematic, because when you were following Islamist trends, this is where you were a good Muslim and it's as if all the others were bad Muslims - ... We have to be very cautious here in this political discussion because today we have Muslims who are not going as extreme as neo con or far party or populist. But we will have people in the Labour parties - we will have people in the Lib Dem and in the conservative. We have Muslims *[85] as citizens now. They are everywhere. And we need to be able to get to that level of political understanding of citizens that we may have the same faith we don't share the same opinions.


So there is something here which is very important in our way of dealing. We have to deal with this political diversity as something which is a potential richness and not a liability undermining our community of faith. It's not easy; it's really not easy. Because this judgmental attitude that we can have on the name of our religion because we come from something which is a very specific understanding of Islam - could be very problematic in the political field. In our life in the west this is the challenge also of diversity that we have to deal with 02:37:03-2  [APPLAUSE]


AHMED: Thank you. Our stewards have negotiated a little more time with the theatre so we do have time for maybe one … let's start with one [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] 02:37:24-8



STEWARD: This is a very direct submitted question but no less pertinent. Do both speakers believe that the relationships fostered under the new Labour to counter extremist think tanks such as Quilliam have been productive or counterproductive and is it something that the coalition government should put efforts in pursuing? 02:37:43-0


AHMED: Okay, let's start with Professor Ramadan. 02:37:48-9


YUSUF: I'm from America… [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER and APPLAUSE] 02:37:58-6


RAMADAN: Look. My position on this, it's not a black and white. Because today with Quilliam I am differentiating between people and the objective. There are some people I don't want to talk with them because I have no trust. That's over. I saw, I heard, thank you. Some others that I think that are trying their best in between, so I would say I’m not against the fact that we are in touch with the government. It depends on your intention and what you are producing and delivering on the ground. Today, for me, some of the things that are done by, for example, the Quilliam Foundation are completely counterproductive; completely counterproductive.




RAMADAN: No *[86] , that's not right. It's something which - this is exactly the opposite of what I wanted. I don't want this kind of just throwing away something which is a project. I think that some things are counterproductive. And I think there are other things, other questions that are very, very important. I think that some of the questions which are coming from the Quilliam Foundation and others are very important to listen to. So I'm against this attitude that sometimes we have – ‘Oh, it's coming from Quilliam, so throw it away.’ no. Listen, listen. So, for example, let me tell you something which is not only coming from within the Muslim community but we have for example you know Brigitte Bardot, she's from the far right - very bad - she doesn't like the Muslims. She's clearly a racist. She's a racist. And say they are staring with the sheep and then they will end with us, by slaughtering us. This is what she's saying


But there is something which is very important for me. I was not going to react emotionally. I was going to tell her: ‘look, look you are racist. The way you are dealing with Arabs and Muslims I will never accept that.’ But at the same time she is saying something which is important. Which is: ‘look, Muslims, the way you are dealing with the animals when it comes to Eid-al-Adha is just not respectful - you are disrespectful’ - and I listen to this and I say in all of these you are wrong and in this you are right. I will listen to this and forget about all that. And I think it's exactly the same with the Qulliam Foundation. I’m ready to throw away 90% because I think it's counterproductive and the 10% - welcome to the discussion. 02:40:39-2


AHMED: Thank you very much.




AHMED: Shaykh Hamza 02:40:45-6


YUSUF: On that question… [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. I agree about the sheep. They should definitely be treated with more… [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER, SCATTERED APPLAUSE] Really. And I saw Brigitte Bardot when I was a kid…what happened? [LAUGHTER] 02:41:07-3


AHMED: Okay. We have one final question. Please, a quick question and a quick answer. Can I take it from the lady here please? Thank you. 02:41:21-2



AUDIENCE MEMBER: Asalaamu Alaikum. It's probably not a very sophisticated question; it's more of a practical, real question. I've been just listening trying to take everything in that you’ve been saying, but at the same time, as someone who is very active and has been very active in both Ireland and here and at the grassroots level working with Muslim women's groups and non-Muslim - and the youth..My own experience -if that's anything to go by on activism has left me quite soured and disappointed actually. And how do you reconcile...I suppose that's the question: how do you reconcile the prophetic injunction to plant saplings in the middle of the Hour with the reality that actually for a lot of Muslims it's very hard? The reality of raising children here it's very hard. You know, some people can tell us go back to your own countries.  Well, I don't belong anywhere, or I belong as much here as I belong anywhere. And I find it hard - I find that engagement genuinely hard. And I think that reflects the reality of quite a lot of people - younger and older - trying to raise children, trying to communicate with children, values….when everything else around you says - you're an outsider [voice breaks]- it's very difficult 02:42:49-3


[APPLAUSE] 02:42:50-7


YUSUF: The Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa sallam said that Islam - it began as an alien thing and it will return to being an alien things, so blessed are the alienated ones. The world's an alienating place. We're all going to be dead in this room within at least the maximum 100 years and there will be a whole new group of people debating and discussing . Maybe, maybe not. But you know it is very difficult.


I was on an airport going to Kuwait and I sat next to Muahammad al- Awadi who's a famous presenter there - a very brilliant Kuwaiti guy - and the stewardess came - and she had Ayesha on her name tag. I asked her where she was from, she said Senegal. And then Muhammad al-Awadi said - she didn't  have a hijab on  - but he said, “are you able to pray on the plane?” And she said, “yes.” And then he said, “Can *[87] I ask you a question.” And she said, “yes.” And he said, “How do you feel about serving wine on the plane?” She said, ‘It's really hard.’ [voice breaks] “but I always use my left hand.” And…you know, I was so moved by that - that attempt - in such an incredibly difficult circumstance - to be as true as she could to what she believed was right. Because Muslims do deal with foul things with their left hand and um… there are a lot of people struggling out there. So God bless you. 02:44:35-8




RAMADAN: There is no way to deny the fact that educating our kids… and you know today - to be a couple is a jihad. To be a father and a mother is a jihad. And to be a kid to be a boy *[88] or a girl is in itself a jihad. The starting point is exactly this one - is just to acknowledge the fact that it's very difficult. But now there are also conditions. And I would say that in the West, it's very difficult today to be a father and a mother. But there are conditions and we have to come back to this. When I wrote the book on "The Prophet," peace be upon him, the point for me was really to look at the way he was and to extract from his behaviour principles.


There is something which is very problematic. When you are scared from the environment, you know when you are full of confidence. It's different than when you are scared. When you are scared from the environment you come with rules because you think that rules are protecting you. But when you come with a state of confidence you know that it's going to be difficult. But you say "natawakkalu ‘ala Allah" [meaning] we rely on God and we go for it.


There is something which are conditions*[89] and the first one is look at the way the Prophet, peace be upon him, was with his wife and with is kids. The second thing which is important is communication and there is no way today in our schools  - or supplementary schools are sometimes Islamic schools - we come with the rules and we forget the fact that we need communication - we need to let the people express. So I would say that in our family there is something which is quite important which is communication - which is  to listen. It is to be able to look and have this - the signs which are coming - and I think this is what is missing today - lack of communication.


The third things which is important in the way that we deal with our kids here is critical thinking. It’s also to let them ask questions - and sometimes make mistakes and try to deal with the environment.


And the fourth thing which is for me important is not to cut them from the surrounding society - is to equip them with critical thinking and allow them to make some choice. It is not going to be easy. No one said that. Critical thinking and then communicating and then trust. Trust. You know I always say something which is a part of my personal experience when my own father. Once when I asked him something he gave it to me. He gave me money and said: ‘Don't do something which is displeasing God.’ And he was sending me a message which I’m not able myself to do with my own kids. Which is trusting the relationships with your conscious.  02:48:00-2


So*[90] I think once again we need to do this - within our family. We need institutions. We need places where we can talk about this. And sometimes there is nothing wrong with having people helping us or mediators or even psychologists. Sometimes when it comes to… we need this.  And these Muslims would say, ‘You know, the only answer is go to pray.’ That's fine. I know that I have to pray, but you are not solving the problem. So I would say that once again it's a question of - it's difficult - but we have the responsibility to find the right means where we are to solve the challenges. When we are living in the West it is a community responsibility to try to find these ways. And sometimes you know you are dealing with the exact same answers that I have, which is that we are very far from understanding the problems and coming with the rights answers. So I would say that, yes. But once again, there is something which is today helping us. When you’re looking at the last 30 years, the Muslims today are doing much better than before. So we have to carry on and to try to find the right institutions and the right way to deal with the young girls and the younger ones.


And please don’t only come with halal and haram, [the] ‘don't do this, don't do that.’ While we still have to come with something that has to do with authority…and I would say something which is ‘you are women and you talk about this.’ And one of the most important problems that we have today in our families has nothing to do with women. It has to do with men; it has to do with fathers. 02:49:38-7


[APPLAUSE] 02:49:40-0


No, I’m not saying this to please anyone. I'm just saying that we are not serious about this challenge. We are not. There is something which is very deep here, which is the father - the role and this relationship. And I would say that this is something that we all have to keep in mind.  02:49:58-8


[APPLAUSE] 02:50:03-0



AHMED: Thank you very much. We really have come to the end of our time today. So can i just ask our media representative Myriam to sum up - to give some instructions for the proceedings for the night - the closing. And once again thank you very much Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Professor Tariq Ramadan.  02:50:23-6


[APPLAUSE] 02:50:31-9


CERRAH: Wow, what an insightful journey we've been on tonight. We've laughed; we've cried. We've done perhaps a lot of the in between. And I think that the breadth of emotions that we've possibly been through tonight is somewhat testimony to the vast array of issues that we're facing as Muslims.


I'm just going to ask of you five minutes so that we can thank everyone for their involvement in tonight's event as you can imagine it wasn't a one man show. We'd obviously like to thank our speakers Shaykh Hamza and Professor Tariq Ramadan for being with us here tonight.




We'd like to thank you the audience because of course you're a major component of the show and you've made it what it is. The ISoc team – in particular, Imad Ahmed, for heading up this gargantuan operation and taking it from a seed to the fantastic event we've had tonight, Alhumdullilah.  Reem Rahman, for being our management whiz, Nawaz Ahmad, Sazan Meran, Kawther Alfasi, Imran Mahmud, Arzoo Ahmed, Amir Shaheen, and so many others for their delightful phone manner and powers of persuasion - not to mention tenacity and resistance to sleep deprivation. Salman Farsi and Ruhul Amin for being technological genii, all of our stewards here tonight. Shaykh Babikir for being an inspiration to us at all times.


And everyone who made this evening possible – thank you. Thank you so much. Asalaamu Alaikum. Peace be upon you


[APPLAUSE] 02:52:05-7