A Weekend with Tariq Ramadan

Marina Mahathir

It was probably a good thing that the people who invited Tariq Ramadan didn’t organise the talk somewhere in PJ. If they had, the venue would probably have been surrounded by the police in order to arrest the Swiss-Egyptian Islamic scholar for not being licensed to speak.

Luckily it was held in KL where it is still relatively safe to speak on Islam. Although if religious authorities like JAKIM and the Mufti of Perak had accepted their invitations to attend, who knows what might have happened since Tariq Ramadan is critical. Very critical. So critical that he is barred from entering no less than six Muslim countries ( Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Libya).

But someone who is critical is, in our intellectually-starved country, a breath of fresh air. And it didn’t hurt that it came in an eloquent passionate French-accented package either.

Tariq Ramadan was here on the invitation of a new organisation called the Islamic Renaissance Front which is dedicated to empowering young Muslims especially to use reason to bolster their faith. For two days, under the theme ‘For People Who Think‘ and in dedication to the late renowned Islamic scholar Muhammad Asad, Prof Ramadan gave talks on the need for reform and renewal in Islam.

It is a pity that the audience was mostly from the English-speaking Muslim middle-class as well as some foreign students and scholars residing here because Prof Ramadan’s message really needs to be heard by the masses. Not least because it is a radical message for people used to not thinking and blindly following whatever anyone they think of as a religious authority says.

Prof Ramadan’s talk challenged many things that we in Malaysia have come to accept as Islamic. He asserts that while Islam is a universal religion, it doesn’t mean that there is no room for diversity, both in space and time. Meaning that there should be room for many different interpretations and there must also be room for evolution due to the passing of time. It’s not that Islam isn’t relevant for all times but we must look at new innovations and challenges based on the same principles. And those principles are always justice and equality.