Interview with Tariq Ramadan
Q In terms of representation you are calling for a recognition of the separation of religion and politics—something which most Muslims, perhaps even in Europe, see as fused together.Tariq Ramadan is a very smart man. While I don't agree with everything he says, I adore his main points: that in a truly modern society, be it in the East or the West, everything should be able to be criticized and everyone should be treated with respect (i.e. criticism does not equal disrespect); Islamic law should be discussed to see if it regulates modern society as well as it regulated societies of the past; and dictatorships inherently trample the rights of the people.
A I'm just saying that we must follow the rules in the countries in which we live. We should not confuse everything and Islamise social problems. Social problems are social problems and we have to deal with them as citizens claiming our rights, not
as Muslims defending their religion. It is true that there are some special problems that Muslims face, certain kinds of discrimination or prejudice based on faith, that we call Islamophobia. But most problems that Muslims face are faced by other citizens too.
Q But realistically, how far can you go in a non-literalist interpretation of the Koran? Let's take the issue of whether someone can be both gay and Muslim. In Christianity you'll get a variety of answers. Broadly speaking, in Catholicism homosexuality is a sin. But like all other sins in Catholicism, a little bit of penance can get you out of it before judgement day. In some versions of evangelical Protestantism, homosexuality is a complete sin because evangelicals tend to be literalists. But in the Church of England there are a large number of openly gay Anglican clergy. The argument being that the Old Testament has to be contextualised. Is it possible to have a similar reading of the Koran? Or is it that homosexuality is simply wrong. Could you imagine there ever being a homosexual imam in the same way that the Anglican church in the US has just consecrated a homosexual bishop? Would that be possible?
A It could happen if such an imam did not declare that he was homosexual. You
cannot expect to see homosexuality being promoted within the Islamic tradition. Homosexuality is not perceived by Islam as the divine project for men and women. It is regarded as bad and wrong. Now, the way we have to deal with a homosexual is to say: "I don't agree with what you are doing, but I respect who you are. You can be a Muslim. You are a Muslim. Being a Muslim is between you and God." I am not going to promote homosexuality but I will respect the person, even if I don't agree with what they are doing.
Q Why do you want this moratorium [on the death penalty in Arab countries]? Why not simply say that stoning to death is just plain wrong?
A I have said that I am against the implementation of stoning, death penalties and corporal punishments. In Islamic-majority countries, this is a minority position. What we cannot deny is that these punishments are in the texts. What I am saying to Muslim scholars is that today's conditions are different, so in this context you cannot implement these punishments. So we have to stop. This is the moratorium. Let Muslim scholars come together and we'll have three main questions that need clear answers: what is in the texts, what conditions should apply to these punishments and what about the context in which these would be implemented.