Tariq Ramadan avers that the British identity is open and plural

Fatwa Question or Essay Title: 
Tariq Ramadan avers that the British identity is open and plural

The presence of millions of Muslims in Europe has begun to raise a series of questions that are being asked in similar ways in each country: Are Muslims citizens about to change our culture and our traditions? Are our Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian values under threat? How do we define and protect our identity? With its long history of welcoming immigrants and due to the nature of its Muslim population, British society is at the forefront in addressing these issues as well as in putting forward new answers that are emerging from these Western Muslim communities.

It is important to begin by specifying the fundamental nature of the problem: the increased visibility of Muslims in British society is leading towards a genuine crisis of identity. As old reference points seem to disappear it becomes harder to believe that Muslims can be fully British. A feeling of confusion has emerged amongst "ordinary people", oscillating between doubt over their ability to preserve their culture and fear of being invaded by the customs and values of the other: the British citizens with a Muslim background. Doubt and fear commonly provoke reactions of shutting out or of rejection, both of which are characteristics of an identity crisis.

British Muslims need to pay more attention to the doubts and fears that their fellow citizens have. They should become aware that their fellow citizens, who are not Muslims, are not comfortable with the way that Muslims define themselves, including their own relationship towards Islam. While the general atmosphere is full of suspicion, Muslims have a duty to establish intellectual, social, cultural and political spaces for the development of trust and appeasement. This has to begin with an engagement in a clear discussion upon Islam, about the practices and the values that Muslims promote. Islam is not a culture but a body of principles and universal values. One should not mix up these universal principles with a Pakistani, Turkish or Arabic way of living them. In this way, Islam allows Muslims to adopt aspects of the new cultures and environments where they find themselves, as long as it does not oppose any clear prohibition specified by their own religion. Thus, while practicing their religion they can preserve certain features of their own culture of origin in the form of richness and not dogmas. At the same time, they can integrate themselves into British culture, which becomes a new dimension of their own identity. No one asks that they remain Pakistani or Arabic Muslims, but simply Muslims and with time, they become Muslims of British culture. This is a process that is not only normal but desirable.

Western Muslims need to find again this intellectual, social and political creativy that has been missing (and sometimes killed) for so long in the Islamic world. What the Muslims' consciousness here has yet to learn and to formulate in a confident manner is an acceptance of British culture through a process of making it their own, and not to keep seeing or perceiving a contradiction between being both Muslim and British, as long as freedom of consciousness and freedom of worship are protected. British legislation recognizes and protects the fundamental rights of all citizens and residents. This common legal framework needs to be pushed forward because it allows equality within diversity. Common British citizenship doesn't prevent a diversity of cultures and of belonging. British society has been changing and the presence of Muslims has forced it to experience an even greater diversity of cultures. As a result a British identity has evolved that is open, plural and constantly in motion, thanks to the cross-fertilization between reclaimed cultures of origin and the British culture that now includes its new citizens.

Seen from this perspective, the new British Muslim citizenship is enriching for the whole society. Muslims should live it and introduce it in this manner to their fellow citizens. Of course, this compels them to come out from the intellectual and social ghettos within which they have lodged themselves often in an complacent manner. Living together and building a truly multicultural society does not mean merely being satisfied with the existence of communities of faith or juxtaposed cultures, whose members ignore each other, never meet and remain enclosed within their own universe of symbolic reference points. Nothing should be stranger in our way of living and allowing for a mutual exchange of ideas between our communities, than a model of parallel lives, shielded beneath an illusion, which in reality is of mutual ignorance.

Our responsibilities are shared. Members of the so-called traditional British society can, at times, doubt their own identity and are frightened. When this happens they have to refuse any imprisoning reaction by attempting, for example, to draw the boundaries of what they may consider to be an authentic British identity which is "pure" and uninfected by some "foreign parasite". In any period of crisis, the temptation to fall back upon phantoms of national identity is stronger than ever as people are carried away by fear, spilling over into the same camp as populists of the extreme right, a phenomenon which we are unfortunately witnessing all over Europe at the moment.

We need to begin by working upon memories. From the Middle Ages, Islam has participated in the building of a European, as well as a British, consciousness in the same way that Judaism or Christianity has. From Shakespeare to Hume, the influences of Islamic civilisation on the literary and philosophical traditions of the time are innumerable. Horizons need to be broadened through the study of these sources, which should be included in the teaching curricula at both secondary and university levels.

This wider, deeper and more subtle understanding of what has moulded British identity throughout history would naturally help all people in this society to open up towards each other, including towards Muslims, and to understand that they are not so very different or strange when judged by their values and hopes. A truly multicultural society cannot exist without an education in the complexity of what shapes us and in the common dimensions that we share with others, regardless of our differences. The extension of this education consists of developing partnerships willing to engage together in social and political issues that affect us all, including discrimination (against women, minorities etc.), racism, unemployment, and other social and urban political issues. British society must reach this new perception of itself collectively: with its people, all equal before the law, developing multidimensional identities which are always in motion and flexible enough to defend their shared values. It remains imperative to distinguish between the social problems and the religious challenges : Muslim and non Muslim citizens alike need to desislamize the social fractures for unemployment, violence and marginalisation have nothing to do with Islam or the Islamic belonging. In this way, the multicultural society of today and tomorrow should succeed in marrying the three dimensions of common citizenship, cultural diversity and a convergence of values within a constantly enriching dynamic of debates, encounters and collective engagement.

This is not an easy task since no one opens up to another person without an effort. It is a matter of studying, reshifting one's focus, shedding one's intellectual and cultural habits and accepting questions from fellow citizens who are not all the same but whose diversity is nonetheless enriching. All the laws in the world will never make us dignified and fair citizens unless we understand that from now on our responsibilities are shared. The law can bring people together and protect them but it cannot manage an identity crisis. This can only be achieved through education, by looking outside of oneself and taking the risk to open up to other cultures, ideas and values, all of which are part of the difficult but exciting challenge of our time.