In the footsteps of the Prophet - tariq ramadan

I'm in a class called "contemporary voices in Western Islam" and every week it has been generating quite a bit of debate.

In it we've been reading various "western" works on issues relevant to Islam. So we're not necessarily studying "eschatology" rather "the role of women in islam". We aren't reading "sciences of prayer or purification of the heart" but "living as a minorities."

I wanted to point this out because it actually answers a question someone raised in class; why is it that we are focusing on issues of hijab and women's roles instead of Islamic history and etc. The aspects of Islam that are being discussed are the ones where Islamic norms come into contact with aspects of the west; hence studying the role of females, studying a minority bloc both politically and sociologically.

I just finished Tariq Ramadan's "In the footsteps of the Prophet." Ramadan is a Swiss born Egyptian intellectual, the grandson of the famous Hasan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The book is sort of Ramadan's personal confession in reconciling his Islamic heritage with existence in the era of modernity. The book's audience is the public both Muslim and non-Muslim living in the west. This is noteworthy because Muslims in the non-west wouldn't necessarily be dealing with the aspects that Ramadan brings to point, I would say they are dealing with internal issues like "upholding the virtues of Muslim character" and the others i mentioned above. Of the two components of his audience, I think he is really intending this as a guidebook for the Western Muslim, while at the same time functioning as an informative piece for the non-Muslim Westerner. He educates his audience by referring directly to the life and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This way, Muslims will agree on the authority; since Muhammad is ideally accepted as the universal embodiment of Muslim.

Ramadan's book gives a generic biography of the Prophet, and admittedly not exhaustive; he is selective on the details of Muhammad's life he elaborates on. These points are usually ones that have some sort of relevancy for his western audience. The single most important contribution of this book is that Ramadan derives Islamic axioms for Muslims today to find appropriate to follow.

For example, he focused on the interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims. Muhammad had sent approx. 100 Muslims to Abyssinia, to be under the protection of a Christian King, the Negus. Ramadan details how the Muslims dealt cordially and were dealt back cordially by their Christian hosts and that they lived in peace as minorities. This is parallel to Muslims living in Europe and the Americas, and is response to the "extremists" critique of some Muslims who deem it unlawful for them to be in "dar al harb" (land of war).

He goes at length describing Muhammad's relationship with his non-Muslim clan members and the Jewish tribes in Medina. in each of these instances Ramadan stressed Muhammad’s willingness and openness of working with non-Muslims, in both cases Muhammad's place immense trust in Pagans for being his guide in the desert, trusting them with plans of attack and mutual alliances. This is again an extremely relevant response to the rhetoric that "Muslims should not trust non-Muslims" (yall have seen the alleged bin laden tapes/statements)

Another important topic he deals with is Muslims questioning their own institutions of Authority. While Ramadan does not clearly define the institution that should be reformed, one can get an idea of it by his conception of what the authority should be. He seems to be calling for a pluralistic worldview, one that is tolerant of opposing views, one that is willing to compromise, and most importantly one that can accommodate challenges over time. He details Muhammad's compromising nature, in his flexibility with his enemies (see the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah) his willingness to consult with his companions (both male and female) on war strategy, communal problems, etc.

One can read this as a homage to the Prophet Muhammad. Ramadan extols him throughout the book, bringing to mind, quite frequently that Muhammad is the paragon of well tempered character. His sincerity, humility, sense of justice is what drew people to him, and what drew him to success. In painting this picture of Muhammad, Ramadan does a much needed humanization of Islam and Muslims. His work is appropriate in this sense; he educates people on Islam, albeit elements that he deems worthy. This selective biography is one of my critiques of the book, and the other one being this is really a gushy mushy sappy happy account of Muhammad and Islam. For a historically meticulous read on Muhammad and Islam, Ramadan openly acknowledges this isn't it. For his purpose; to inform the uninformed about Islam, and more importantly to give Muslims a renewed sense of identity and authority, he gives a compelling and endearing narrative of Muhammad. He does it quite quickly (200 pages?) and eloquently.

ibby you read this? holla in the comments

the ISBCC in Roxbury, MA

Eid at the Islamic Society of Boston's Cultural Center- Roxbury, MA