Saturday, 9 July 2011

Professor Tariq Ramadan on Vision and Leadership

Professor Tariq Ramadan on
Vision and Leadership

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Come with understanding, with confidence, independence, critical thinking; serve yourself on the spiritual dimension and your community in the collective dimension, and then try to come with the sense of what are our priorities, said Professor Tariq Ramadan in his keynote speech at the Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) LDP Alumni Dinner, held at the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, London, on Saturday, 25th June, 2011.

Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies, at the Oxford University (St. Anthony College) and also teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology. He is visiting Professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Qatar, Mundiapolis University (Morocco) and Senior Research Fellow at Doshisha University (Kyata, Japan). His latest books are The Quest for Meaning, Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism, Penguin, 2010; What I Believe, OUP, USA, 2009. .

To be rooted in our Islamic tradition
Professor Ramadan believed that there is no doubt that we have to be rooted in our Islamic tradition but we should be open. He said, “We should be open to all the other contributions that are coming from other traditions, religious traditions, Christian, Jewish traditions. But not only that, there are so many other philosophical traditions and even now people who are specialising and managing giving us something helping us better understanding of our scriptural sources or our traditions.”

“So it is to know where you come from and with whom you are living and what you are sharing. It does not mean that you are forgetting your principles but your principles are not closed principles,” emphasized Professor Ramadan.

Leadership: independence and autonomy
Speaking about leader and leadership from the Islamic point of view, Professor Ramadan said, “When it comes to being a leader and leadership it is the understanding of independence and autonomy which linked back to Islamic tradition is very important. You are teaching your kids to be educated; you are teaching yourselves because one day you are going to stand before God as an individual. I am educating my son, my daughter because at one point they will be alone before God. It means you have to face your responsibility. At some point leadership is all about this. It is to get the sense of what it means to be independent and autonomous. That one day we have to respond to the call; ‘O You who believe; It is a call to your conscience; it is a call to your intelligence; it is a call to your heart.”

Mature, independent, autonomous
“The whole philosophy before God you should be mature, independent autonomous; leadership is about that. Why the Prophet (peace be upon him) was the leader? He was leader; because if you look at all the companions; all the companions were leaders following the leader; that means who are following you I will know what kind of teacher you are. Without intellectual autonomy you are not the teacher. This is the meaning of Islam from the very beginning. That is why, we are respecting the companions; they are autonomous; deeply intellectual; intellectually autonomous. So they can think themselves. This is the first dimension.”

You are at home
“When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was rejected by his own people, and this happened with all the prophets, messengers sent before him, the point is whatever you say about me you are my people,” Professor Ramadan said and added, “The populist, the far- rightists, the Islamophobes, whatever they say about you, you are at home. You can’t come with positive contribution if you nurture in your hearts ‘us’ verses ‘them’. You can’t; because, psychologically speaking, there is a dichotomy between your contribution and the vision.”

Tension between our values and this society
This is possible from education and understanding. “There is three dimensions, at home is my autonomy, my contribution at home here with my people. But this is not easy,” said, Professor Ramadan and added, “It’s very difficult because everyday we are facing this tension between our values and this society. So this is the starting point of understanding. That’s the beginning of the journey but it is necessary to have it here to get your mind clear and your understanding clear on the dimension.”

Professor Ramadan asked, “If you are training leaders, my first question will be: tell me about your autonomy. What do you want to contribute? In which way do you want to gift? The leader is the gift. At the end, what is your connection with the society? Who is this you are talking about? Which way you are connected with the society? Not only your neighbour, everywhere.”

The more visible you are the
more problematic you are
“You cannot rely on TV on Radio; you are not going to make it. You have to rely on the community,” said Professor Ramadan and mentioned, “This is why many of the populist are very very worried about your presence. The more visible you are the more problematic you are. Because this new visibility is changing the mind, changing the hearts and this is the way forward but not the way narrow understanding of what Islam is in our tradition. I am coming from somewhere but I am sharing values what you are saying. We have shared values but we are coming from somewhere. We have a moral distinction. But it does not mean that our moral distinction is the only distinction within our community.”

“There are many distinctions. I have seen many Christians, many Rabbis, they are better than Muslims. We think, as Muslims, Islam is the best and the last revealed religion,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “It does not mean the Muslims are the best practiser or believer. This sense of humility is so important. You get that when you start to study, when you get to interact with people; you suspend your judgement. You can take the positive from everyone.”

Use quality at right place and at right time
Speaking about the character and quality of the leader, Professor Ramadan mentioned, “The leader is not only the one who gives but also the one who is able to listen, to get from the community. One of the dimensions of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) leadership is to take the qualities from everyone at the right place and at the right time. When he needed someone to be tough, Omar was important; someone to be open and sensitive to the people, Abu Bakr Siddiq was important. So you use the quality at the right place at the right time for the right people. The Prophet was choosing the people depending on the quality. So you knew the context and you knew the people.”

Vision for the future
Professor Ramadan continued, “Leader is someone who serves. If you lead, you serve. If you get the knowledge you have to use this knowledge to help the people who don’t have this knowledge.”

Intimate verses collective dimension
After the quality of service come the priorities. “When leader is asked to serve you have the intimate dimension and the collective dimension. In the intimate dimension the first that you have to serve is to yourself. This is why when you start with the dua what we got from the Prophet (peace be upon him) if you are asking God you ask for yourself first and then for others. You start from you, because you be careful. If you start from the community, it might be that to serve the people you lose yourself. You are so much involved into activities that you are forgetting your own heart. That is why we have to get it right from the very beginning,” he said. .

Professor Ramadan continued, “On the spiritual side you start from yourself and you ask Allah to have this sound heart; to help you to purify your heart; to help you; that Allah the Almighty is helping you; not because you are Islamically active that you are spiritually right; anyone of us knows that; it is not that you are active, you are spiritually right. You can forget yourself; you can be neglectful on many dimensions.”

Purification of hearts
Professor Ramadan kept on repeating one Hadith where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said; you pray during the night and change world during the day. “But you don’t change the world during the day if you forget sometimes during the night. You cannot get it all. Because if you want to change the world during the day and if you don’t have on your side Allah. It’s metaphor. During the night to isolate yourself, to think about yourself; about your own priorities. Because our leadership is not only of our efficiency; it is about ethics, about purification; purification of your nafs; starts with yourself.”

Active Muslim and agitator Muslim
Professor Ramadan made a distinction between active Muslim and agitator Muslim. “Active Muslims know where they are going. Agitator Muslims are not sure; they are doing so many things that they are forgetting the vision; agitated Muslims are people who lost the central and who are lost the way of direction. Active Muslims have a vision; .and this is independency and autonomy; that we get there; that you are confident; and it is on going struggle; no one reach that level; this is Jihad and Jihad started at that level,” Professor Ramadan said.

Autonomy, contribution and my people
After mentioning three dimensions, autonomy, contribution and my people, Professor Ramadan said, “My people are the people where I live. Even if you look at the way Zakat should be spent, the people around you.” Professor Ramadan argued, “The poor people one day before God will ask you what about us; we were close to you. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said your poor people; and you have poor people here. Muslims are very poor; and they need your support. The Rules are proximity first and then you think about other dimension.”

Muslim community in Britain
Talking about serving the Muslim community in Britain, Professor Ramadan enquired how we are going to serve this community here in Britain. He said, “The starting point of serving your people is to know them; and to know them is to know two things; two knowledge: the priority of Islamic knowledge we need this of course; because there is something which is specific from our religion and also this country and this country means that you need to get very deep understanding from within.”

Be specialist
Professor Ramadan argued, “We need people in different field comprehensive vision but with skills, specialist. Don’t be superficial in all the fields; choose your field and go ahead with your field. You want to work for education; yes, be specialist, the skills that are needed at the highest level.”

In the Q. & A. session, Professor Ramadan touched specially on multiculturalism and integration. About multiculturalism, Professor Ramadan said, “The populist is doing this. And they have four features: one, the simplicistic answers to complex questions; second, the creation of the others; and the others today are the Muslims and so we are the others. Islam is not the European religion; it cannot be an American religion; they are the others. So the sense of victimhood, we are the victims of their colonisation; they are colonising us. So nurturing the victim mentality,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “This is emotional politics.”

Professor Ramadan was saying again and again integration is over. Professor Ramadan argued, “This is the contribution; it is the European British religion that we are at home; this is positive position. This is to say I am repeating this everyday; integration words are over; and the success of integration is to stop talking about integration. Go ahead now with what we are saying, but don’t be on the reactive mode; on the defensive mode. Know something, what they are saying at the national level, they are not what they are saying at the local level.”

“At the local level they know it is working and are going much better than what they are seeing in London. Something is happening at the grass-root level. So let them talk and do the job. But don’t waste your time responding. Sometimes the answer to this is silence.” advised Professor Ramadan.

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