Swiss-born Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al Banna, spoke Tuesday night at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Anaheim before a crowd of about 500 people, mostly Muslims. Ramadan, until recently, was banned from entering the US because of questionable associations with certain organizations. Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lifted the ban. Ramadan is presently on a speaking tour in the US.
Ramadan's appearance was sponsored by the Shura Council of Southern California as part of a nation-wide campaign by them and the Islamic Circle of North America to educate Americans about shariah law. There was a crowd of about a dozen protesters outside the hotel with posters. (I didn't see them.) The defense of Sharia was part of the theme of Ramadan's speech, but the main part was about Muslims living in the West.
I should say at the outset, that Ramadan is an intellectual in every sense of the word. He is multi-lingual and articulate in English, His native languages are French and Arabic since he was born in Geneva. He spoke, of course, in English, almost entirely without notes.
There was an opening prayer in Arabic. One person who was present and knows Arabic has supplied me with a translation:
"The opening prayer was the Exordium (Surah 1) which includes the lines, “Guide us in the straight path [Sharia] the path of those whom You have favored, Not of those who have incurred Your wrath [meaning the Jews], Nor of those who have gone astray [meaning the Christians].”
Prior to Ramadan, a young man, probably a college student, opened the event and made reference to the protesters, urging the audience not to engage with them in any way. Then Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the Southern California Islamic Center, spoke for a few minutes. He stated that opponents were spreading anti-Sharia propaganda and spreading hate against Muslims. He also stated (as he has in the past) that Sharia is perfectly compatible with the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He also said that Muslims do not impose Sharia on others, and that they respect the laws where they live.
Then Sheikh Abdur Rahman Khan, who is member of the Islamic Circle of North America Shariah Council and national shura, spoke about Sharia and defined it simply as the "straight way" for Muslims to conduct themselves and treat others. He referred to the "false propaganda" about Islam and the efforts in various states to pass legislation banning Sharia. He compared Sharia to the Christian Canon Law and Jewish Halakhah Law.
At one point, the event was interrupted for 20-30 minutes for prayers. As the non-Muslims sat around, the Muslims went to a back wall and did their prayers, men in front, women in back. Some women remained seated. I am told that menstruating women do not join in. It was the first time I had listened to a complete call to prayer, which was performed by a young man with a microphone. It is rather haunting, I must say.
But the main event was Ramadan. I should state at the outset that you must listen carefully when he speaks because his speech was a combination of sermon and philosophical lecture. He, of course, defended Sharia as directing Muslims to be honest and respect the rights of everyone else. He also spoke about the way Muslims in western countries should conduct themselves. He encouraged his listeners to understand American society and the Constitution. He also mentioned that in the West, it is indisputable that we have freedom of conscience and freedom of worship. He also made the comment that (Muslims) respect the laws in the country they live in because of Sharia (which, in fact, tells Muslims to respect and obey the laws if they live in a non-Muslim country).
Ramadan also said that Muslims must assert their rights and proceed to their goals (my emphasis)-and not react to their enemies. (I will come back to that point later.) He said that (Muslims) want the same rights within the legal framework to be Muslims as do Jews and Christians.
Among other notes I jotted down, Ramadan stated that "Jihad has nothing to do with holy war". He also stated that according to recent studies, 80% of young Americans and the same percentage of young Europeans are comfortable with Muslims. He pointed out the Tea Party as spreading propaganda against Muslims. He used the term "racists" to portray Sharia opponents. He also mentioned the name of (attorney) David Yerushalmi, who is active in the anti-Sharia legislation lawsuits, and who allegedly said, "We need the controversy."
Here is where it gets interesting. As he neared the end of his speech, Ramadan urged Muslim leaders not to be naive. They must have vision. Don't always respond to attack. Know when to ask for something and when not to. Muslim leaders should not always be so quick to react. The leaders need wisdom and patience. "We have time", he told the audience in a manner that made me feel as if he were specifically addressing the Muslims in the audience. "We have our institutions, our mosques, our schools".
Here is my quandary: If a group of Americans are saying they are not being treated fairly and equally and demand justice, then you don't state, "We have time." On the contrary, if you want justice and an end to discrimination or second-class treatment, then you want it now. There is nothing to wait for-not under the American system. So what is this goal that they have time for, according to Ramadan, for which they can wait? Wait how long-5 years, 25 years, 50 years, 100 years? What was Ramadan talking about? Was he talking about a day in the future when Muslims will become a majority in the West and then can install Islamic rule?
As for question and answer, the audience was asked to write their questions down and they would be collected. I had one, but never saw anyone collecting papers. Apparently, they did. After a handful of questions, none earthshaking, it was over.
* The next day at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, I briefly met Ramadan while attending a Sharia workshop (which will be the subject of an up-coming post.) I introduced myself to him while he was outside the conference hall. I recognized that I was not going to have the chance for a prolonged conversation, so I decided to ask the question I had tried to send up the previous evening. To break the ice, I started the conversation off in French, and we exchanged brief pleasantries about Switzerland, a country which I am very familiar with. I then asked my question in English. The question was about his call a few years ago for a moratorium on stoning. ( Ramadan had then stated that stoning in the Islamic world was being applied unjustly-in other words -only against the poor and powerless. He asked that a collection of leading Islamic scholars gather and study the issue and make a decision on it.) I asked Ramadan why he did not call for a complete abolition, and if he were to do so, would that be considered blasphemy. He replied that it was not possible to do it that way. He stated, "The Muslims would not accept it", and made a reference to "the text", which I didn't catch. He stated that he had to do it this way and referred me to his new book, in which he discusses the issue. I assume that would be "The Quest for Meaning", published in March. His body language told me he wanted to end the conversation and return to the hall, so I thanked him and let him go.
Perhaps, I chose the wrong question. Perhaps, I should have asked him what he meant the previous evening when he said,
"We have time."