PAUL AUSTIN MURPHY ON POLITICS
PAUL AUSTIN MURPHY ON POLITICS
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Thursday, 16 January 2014
Tariq Ramadan's Koran's-Context-&-Interpretation Gimmick
(Image right: Hassan al-Banna, on the far left, was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and Tariq Ramadan's grandfather. Said Ramadan, Tariq's father, is next to al-Banna in the image. Tariq's father was a major figure in the MB as well as the founder of the World Islamic League in Saudi Arabia.)
Tariq Ramada is a Swiss born “intellectual, philosopher, theologian, television presenter, academic, poet and writer” (Wiki). He's also a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. An online poll, carried out by the American Foreign Policy magazine (in 2009), placed Ramadan in 49th pace in a list of the world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals. (I'm not sure if Ramadan was in front or behind fellow pseud, Slavoj Žižek, who was also well-placed in the same poll.)
More to the point, Tariq Ramadan is the Supreme Master of Islamic Taqiyya (i.e., lying, deceit, dissimulation and doublespeak to protect and advance Islam). That's no surprise. His grandfather created the Muslim Brotherhood and his father ran it. The Muslim Brotherhood has been a master of taqiyya as well as of using democracy and non-Islamic systems in order to destroy Western democracy and non-Islamic systems.
Ramadan, of course, denies any direct connection to the MB. (Clearly he can't deny any indirect connections.) That's no surprise either, considering what's just be said about Islamic taqiyya and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ramadanian Context & Interpretation
Tariq Ramadan says that it would be
“possible to quote here tens of passages from the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, the Gospel... without reaching the conclusion that Hinduism, Judaism or Christianity are violent per se”.
But there's a massive difference. The Koran is meant to be the literal word of Allah. It is Allah who is speaking to Mohammed - and therefore to all Muslims. This is not the case with the Gospels, the Epistles, etc. As far I know, it's not true of the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita either. God may speak in these holy books, and his words have been written down, but they are not the direct and literal word of God from start to finish (as is the case with the Koran). Indeed this is the point that Muslims themselves often make about the Koran. And it is this fact alone which they deem makes the Koran and Islam superior to all other religious texts and religions.
There are also violent passages in these holy books. Nevertheless, there's a big difference between chronicling violent events, such as wars and conflicts, and actually encouraging war (or ‘fighting’ as it is often called in the Koran). Violence is actually encouraged and propagated by Allah in the Koran. It is chronicled as well; though not only chronicled.
The other thing is that literally hundreds of thousands of Muslims (from Pakistan to Blackpool) are putting these Koranic passages into practice. On top of that: hundreds of millions of other Muslims (from the Sudan to Oslo) believe in Islamic literalism because the religion itself demands such literalism.
On the other hand, Christians who believe in literalising the Old Testament, as it were, are a tiny minority. And only a tiny minority of that tiny minority actually commit acts of political violence with Old Testament passages as their inspiration. (Much is made, by Leftists and Muslims, of the attacks on abortion clinics. What they don't tell you is that less people have been killed in these attacks - 10 since 1993 in the US - than die every single day as a result of Islamic terrorism and violence in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan alone.)
The ratio of violent-to-non-violent passages in the Koran is very high in favour of violence. Almost on every page there are references to ‘fighting’ (i.e., jihad), infidels burning in hell, Allah’s rage, the despicable Jews and so on. Such sentiments can be found again and again and again. Most of the violent passages in the other holy books, especially the New Testament, but also even in the Old Testament as well, are simply chronicles or accounts of violent events such as wars and other conflicts. More specifically, there is no direct and literal “ethic of war” and conquest in the N..., as there is in the Koran. Islamic expansionism/imperialism is part of the message of the Koran; not just part of the narrative. The same is true of the negative views and treatment of infidels.
Thus it wouldn't make much sense to conclude that the New Testament is “violent per se” (as Ramadan puts it about the Koran). Again, aggression or violence is part of the message of the Koran; not just an aspect of the narrative or “context”.
So let us now welcome that Muslim and Ramadanian old chestnut – Koranic interpretation.
Apparently it’s all “a question of interpretation”. That's odd. Very odd. Let’s quote the passage in the Koran that Ramadan is talking about here:
“The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a manner prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day.” – Koran, 24:2
That is very straightforward. Perhaps if Ramadan had said
it's all a question of Koranic translation
that would be understandable. I can imagine that there might well have been problems with translating this Koranic passage. For example, perhaps ‘adultery’ and ‘fornication’ are incorrect translations of the original Arabic. Perhaps ‘flog’ should really be ‘slap’ or something like that. Perhaps when the Arab sentence or passage is taken as a whole this creates difficulties for acceptable translations. No. Ramadan is talking about interpretation here: not translation.
Thus we must conclude that he is fairly happy with the English translation; but not with our interpretation. But hang on a minute! Which interpretation is he talking about? He's only referring here to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s use of this passage from the Koran. Despite that, there's no mention in this essay of Ali’s interpretation of this Koranic passage. All she does is quote it.
Since we have (more or less) accepted the translation, what of interpretation? In what way can we interpret that passage from the Koran? In what sense can we do so? It's hard to even guess at a way of interpreting it - even in theory. How can we interpret “let no compassion move you”? How can we interpret “flog each of them with 100 stripes”? How can we interpret the “women and the man are guilty of adultery or fornication”? We can put these words in various historical and cultural contexts; but that is not interpretation. For example, we can say that flogging people is what happened in Mohammed’s day. So let’s put it in the context of the Arabic concepts of punishment in Mohammed’s day. We can put it in the context of Arabic tribes having a very strict view of adultery. These are contexts. They are not interpretations of the Koranic passage. Even if we put the passage in the context of the contemporary world: that is still not an interpretation of the passage.
Nevertheless, this passage is meant to be the literal word of Allah. Thus Muslims must take it literally. Since the very clear words can’t be interpreted, then what about the context? No. Allah (Muslims think that Allah spoke these words) must know, and must have known, exactly what he meant by the words “flog”, “100 stripes”, “adultery” and so on. We still use these words in the same way today. We still understand the passage in the same way. All we have left is to put it in a context. Say, the context of the contemporary world or the context of Tariq Ramadan selling the Koran to non-Muslims.
Yet every such contextualisation (i.e. change) will alter the meaning and intent of the original Koranic passage. And if that is the case, then it is going against the word of Allah and the demand for Koranic literalism which came from Allah and/or Mohammed. The millions of Muslim fundamentalists and the Islamists are correct: Ramadan is dealing in obfuscation and dissimulation. He is practicing taqiyya on the words of the Koran itself.
Tariq Ramadan also says that Ayaan Ali, by citing such a passage, has effectively “condemn[ed] in such a way a religion”. More than that: she has condemned Islam “by its very essence”. She has. She has a right to do so if she can back up her arguments. Does she have good political, moral and sociological reasons to do so? She does. Ramadan can’t just sulk about this. He seems to be saying that even if this passage is an abomination (or even if people see the whole of the Koran as an abomination), we should still keep quiet because otherwise we will rock the boat. We will make things worse simply by telling the truth. Or, as Ramadan puts it, it is “counterproductive” to tell the truth as we see it. It “does not help the inner dynamic of reforms”. Again, Ramadan is telling Ali, and others, to keep quiet. To be dishonest. Even to lie about the Koran and Islam. Such cases of dissimulation or outright lies about the Koran and Islam will, instead, help “the inner dynamic of reforms”. Such lies, dissimilitude and taqiyya will be productive; not “counterproductive”.
Who will this taqiyya help? Muslims and Tariq Ramadan himself? Of course it will. But so what! We need the truth to come out about Islam and, in this case, the Koran. Non-Muslims, and a few Muslims, are sick of being the victims of taqiyya. More than that: we non-Muslims are sick and inpatient with the lack of “dynamic” when it comes to Islamic reform. They are sick of Ramadan’s constant taqiyya and his trying any game, any manoeuvre, any ploy, to further the cause of Islam in Europe and America.
Yes, Ayaan Ali is right. The ‘message is clear’. Islam is
“an archaic religion, the Koran is a violent text and the only way to reform Islam is simply to 'de-Islamize' the Muslims”.
Not only is all that true, Ramadan is suggesting that even if Ali and other non-Muslims thinks it's all true, then they should still keep quiet about it. (This is also the argument of Islamophobia Watch and Loonwatch.) Who knows, perhaps some or many Muslims know it's all true as well: but they still keep quiet about it. Perhaps Ramadan himself knows it is true but obviously he keeps quiet about it.
It is odd, then, that Ramadan asks his audience about
"[w]hat kind of message does [Ali] exactly want to convey by quoting a verse referring to corporal punishment?"
Isn’t that obvious? It's so obvious that Ramadan answers his own question correctly. Ali is arguing that “Islam, per se, is advocating violence”. Why is Ramadan seemingly surprised by this? Why is he surprised by this negative reaction to such a negative passage in the Koran? Indeed why is he surprised that many people see the Koran as a whole in such negative terms? Unless what he's actually surprised by is Ali and other non-Muslims wanting to rock the boat. Many do want to be “counterproductive”, in Ramadan’s terms. Many do want to shake the lack of an “inner dynamic of reforms” within Muslim communities generally. Many people do want to tell the truth about Islam and the Koran. Get used to it, Tariq, it’s not going to go away. Not unless Ramadan, the Muslim Brotherhood (e.g., MCB, MAB, CAIR), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Muslims generally, end up getting it all their own way.
Islamic Definitional Truths
Ramadan goes through a list of many of the bad things which are “done in the name of Islam” (as a response to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s comments). You see, they are not really Islamic actions or based on Islam. Of course not. More precisely,
"[t]hese actions are not done in the name of one of the accepted interpretations of Islam."
Come on Tariq, you’re supposed to be an ‘intellectual’. Which “accepted interpretations of Islam” are you talking about? Accepted by whom exactly? By you and the handful of middle-class or academic Western Muslims who agree with you or playing the long game? At least give us a clue as to what you mean by “accepted interpretations” and what these interpretations actually are.
Does Ramadan really think that a non-Muslim, or even a Muslim, will simply say: Oh! Those accepted interpretations. I see. In any case, Ramadan keeps on telling us that interpretation is a vague and difficult sport. However, that’s only when he's talking about the negative passages in the Koran. He's all too keen, on the other hand, to recite the positive passages in the Koran without warning and without interpretation or “context”; as he does in this very essay. In fact he does so on this very issue and in this very space. For example, on the issue of these wrong or bad “actions” in Islamic countries, he offers us this startlingly profound - yet clearly uninterpreted and uncontextualised - sentence from Mohammed:
“What is built on [a] wrong foundation is wrong.”
Well, that’s that sorted then!
He then goes on to defend his case by issuing some kind of cross between a Islamic truism and an Islamic definitional truth. He says that “these actions are plainly unjust, [because] they are purely anti-Islamic”.That is:
If X is unjust, it can’t be Islamic. It must therefore be anti-Islamic.
Thus nothing Islamic can ever be unjust - by definition! Of course it depends on what Muslims see as just and unjust. If stoning is a part of Islam, then, by definition, it must be just. This is similar to this often heard phrase:
Terrorism is not allowed in Islam. However, jihad is allowed in Islam and jihad is just.
Yet all acts of Islamic terrorism will be classed as 'jihad’ by very many Muslims. Thus there will be, to them, no acts of Islamic terrorism: by definition. Islamic terrorism has been defined out of the picture.
I think that using the words “just” and “unjust” won’t get us very far when it comes to discussing Islam. The same goes for many of the other postmodern, Leftist, post structuralist, multicult, etc. buzzwords which Ramadan bats on about in order to disguise his Islamism. Every word which we use, he uses in his own Islamic or even in his own Ramadanian way. Words such as ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘diversity’, etc. will all have their specific Islamic or Ramadanian meaning. So much of the time, if you are a non-Muslim, you will be talking at cross purposes when you debate with Ramadan or with Muslims generally.
The main problem for Muslims isn’t that of Koranic context or Koranic interpretation: it's one of application and political/moral normativity.
Sure, it's very difficult to apply certain – or many - Koranic passages to Cairo or Bradford in 2014. (Similarly with sharia law generally.) But that has little to do with the interpretation of the Koran or the contexts in which certain passages were written or spoken. (Isn’t the entire context of the Koran the word as it was expressed to Muhammad by Allah?)
Many passages in the Koran - including the ones cited in this piece - are actually crystal clear. The contexts in which they occurred are also well-known to many Muslims. The real problem is one of application. Muslims will therefore need to ask themselves the following questions:
1) Should we apply this particular passage in the Koran - or this sharia law - to this specific contemporary situation?
2) Can we apply this particular Koranic passage - or this sharia law - to this specific contemporary situation?
These are normative and practical questions all Muslims must face. They are essentially about moral and political choices; as well as the practical applicability of particular Koranic passages or (sharia) laws. In other words, we aren't really talking about Koranic interpretation or the Koran's original contexts at all. Tariq Ramadan's talk of such things is simply the master in his favourite taqiyya-mode.
Tariq Ramadan, ‘A response to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’, 2007.