Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Sanctifying Islam

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Sanctifying Islam

Article excerpt

Sanctifying Islam THE THEOLOGY OF TARIQ RAMADAN: A CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE by Gregory Baum University of Notre Dame Press, 178 pages, $25 paper

Reviewed by Gabriel Said Reynolds

In 2004 the Swiss Muslim scholar and activist Tariq Ramadan accepted a prestigious position at the University of Notre Dame. The State Department however, revoked Ramadan's visa (citing his donations to charities linked with Hamas) and prevented him from joining the university. Ramadan went instead to Oxford, where he became a fellow at St. Antony's College. Through all of this, Ramadan has continued to be one of the most visible Muslim figures in Europe (and, by die looks of, he does not mind the attention).

Already before the Notre Dame incident Ramadan was popular among the left in Europe for his polemics against capitalism, American imperialism, and Zionism. Others looked to Ramadan- the audior of a number of books on Islam and the West (most notably the 1998 Aux Sources de Renouveau Musulman and the 1999 To Be a European Muslim)- as a man who could reconcile European Muslims to Western society. After the terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005, Tony Blair made Ramadan a special advisor on Muslim affairs.

Yet Ramadan's religious views have also caused no little anxiety in Europe. In 2003, when Nicolas Sarkozy accused Ramadan of supporting the stoning of adulterous women, Ramadan responded that on the contrary, he favors a moratorium on such practices. Earlier this year, a Dutch magazine drew attention to recordings of Ramadan condemning homosexuality and insisting that women remain modest in public (leading to an investigation of his as Rotterdam's consultant on multicultural dialogue). To some skeptical observers (such as Caroline Fourest author of Frère Tariq) such incidents suggest that Ramadan is fundamnetally duplicitous. He placates naive Westerners while pursuing an aggressive Islamic agenda. These observers rarely fail to mention that Ramadan is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But Ramadan has his defenders as well, and among them is die Catholic theologian Gregory Baum in his work The Theology of Tariq Ramadan. Baum's work is published by Notre Dame Press, yet Baum shows little concern for the Notre Dame controversy, to which he refers only briefly in the final chapter (where he suggests that it was the Zionist lobby in America that cost Ramadan his visa). Instead, Baum is concerned with a defense of Ramadan's thought. He means to show that Ramadan, far from being a "terrorist in disguise," is a "brilliant and fascinating" scholar with whom Catholics especially should sympathize.

Baum, a professor emeritus at McGill University, draws from his interest in Islamic thought and his concern with the manner in which "the mass media in North America diffused caricatures of Islam and prejudices against Muslims" after the terrorist attacks of September 1 1 . Yet his interest in this topic is only one part of his longer offensive against the forces of conservatism and bigotry in the West. For example, Baum remember with no little nostalgia how, as a young theologian, he "wrestled against the anti-Jewish prejudice mediated by the Christian Church," worked for the passage of Dignitatis Humanae at die Second Vatican Council ("against die vehement opposition to religious liberty on the part of a significant sector of the council"), and later, in Commonweal magazine, "disagreed with the papal teaching and defended the moral legitimacy of homosexual love with Catholic arguments." Baum now hopes with this book to do his "part to protect the Muslim population against prejudice and discrimination."

At the same time, Baum feels a certain kinship with Ramadan: "There is a certain family likeness between the Catholic and the Muslim theological effort to react creatively to the challenge of modernity. This affinity allows me to read Ramadan's work rather differendy than do his secular commentators. …

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