By Adil James, MMNS
Sunday–April 11–Tariq Ramadan is not what you probably expect.
You might expect someone barred by the Bush administration to have an Arabic accent, to have an angry or at least emotional manner of public speaking, but the reality is Tariq Ramadan better fits the mold of a French intellectual than the typical Muslim populist. In fact, from his nature it does not appear that he has any intentions towards seeking any political power, other than spiritual and intellectual power or accomplishments.
The subject of a six-year ban by the Bush administration, ended only recently by Secretary of State Clinton, speaks English and even Arabic with a French Swiss accent, and has the breezy intellectual worldly air of a French intellectual–he seems as though he has certainty about many things. For example during his speech he interrupted emotional applause for one popular point that he had emphasized, saying â€œlet me explain the rules,â€ instructing listeners not to clap during his speech (â€œnot because it is a fatwa, although it isâ€) and then going on to say that the emotional reaction to his words may detract from what â€œwe are trying to accomplish.â€
Tariq Ramadan is called, by the reactionary right, an â€œIslamistâ€ of Egyptian ancestry. (By Islamist do they mean someone who likes Islam? So is George Bush a Christianist?) In fact it may be his ancestry which scared the Bush administration more than any other fact about him. His motherâ€™s father was Hassan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. His father was Said Ramadan, who was also prominently involved in Ikhwan, and who married Hassan al-Bannaâ€™s daughter. He was raised in Switzerland, where his famous parents sought refuge from Nasserâ€™s Arab nationalist animosity to the Ikhwan.
Ramadan is now 48 years old. He is no firebrand. He was ranked by the British Prospect and American Foreign Policy magazines eightth in a list of the worldâ€™s top 100 contemporary intellectuals in 2008. He has authored several books, focusing on the issue of Islam and the West. He wears his intellectualism on his sleeve–on Sunday he said of his most recent book that he had made it very thin so that American journalists would actually read it, although he complained that they still do not.
Ramadan is in the book 500 Most Influential Muslims–2009, being listed in the Scholars section. He is even an honorable mention for the top 50 listings in the book.
His entry in the book is as follows:
Ramadan is Europeâ€™s preeminent Muslim intellectual writing about Islam in public life. He is a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University and formerly a visiting professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has a weekly television show, â€˜Islam and Lifeâ€™, on Press TV, and is an advisor to the European Union on religion. He has written 15 books and produced over 100 recordings.
Ramadan did not in his SoundVision speech show real leanings either toward extremist Islamic views nor even towards the strong organization-based approach to Islam of Ikhwan. Rather he focused on his theme of building consciousness of God through spiritual endeavor, a consciousness of God which would empower one to seek his or her rights when those rights are denied by people (he emphasized Western anti-Muslim people) who overreach their authority in working to the detriment of Muslims.
Ramadan certainly understands the West better than his grandfather did (whose entire reaction to the West came from an unpleasant encounter with a drunk European), and to casual observation it is clear that the younger Ramadan has imbibed its values more than even he probably realizes.
He remains, despite being a European intellectual, a Muslim intellectual as well. He thinks and speaks and writes about living Islam in a real context. He thinks about what God says that He wants from us in His Holy Book, and Ramadan endeavors to accomplish that.
Soundvisionâ€™s event was, even aside from its invitation of such a memorable figure, very impressive. The event filled the Burton Hall banquet facility nearly to capacity, with approximately 600 guests in attendance.
There was a description of the difficulties and opportunities that lie before SoundVision and then a fundraiser which appeared to gross approximately $150,000 in about 20 minutes. There was a dinner and appetizers.
Many prominent Muslms from Southeast Michigan were in attendance, among them CAIR Michiganâ€™s executive director Dawud Walid, Ghalib Begg of CIOM, recently selected by the Detroit News as one of a handful of â€œMichiganians of the Year,â€ and many prominent Michigan imams.
Dawud Walid spoke on the importance of SoundVision to his own family, citing the books and videos he has bought for his own children from SoundVision.
There was a brief video by SoundVision, emphasizing the Adamâ€™s World show, with a â€œOne Big Familyâ€ soundtrack.
Janaan Hashim, a SoundVision director, spoke at length about SoundVision and its strategic goals–and perhaps her speech did the most to reveal the terrible importance of SoundVisionâ€™s work.
Ms. Hashim is an attorney, journalist and teacher, as well as a mother.
The theme for SoundVisionâ€™s future was plastered throughout the fundraiser event, â€œHelping Tomorrowâ€™s Muslims today.â€ Ms. Hashim emphasized this meant helping them now.
She showed the terrible current state of Muslim youths by showing a chart of anger among youths aged 18-29 by religion, which showed anger among Muslim youths at 26%, which was almost double the rate for Protestants and Mormons (14% each).
She showed statistics that 75% of American Muslims felt that they had been discriminated against or had witnessed discimination, 12% of Muslim students in New York public schools felt doubt about Islam. 7% of Muslims had been assaulted.
95% of Muslim youths, she said, are in normal public schools, and do not attend Jumaâ€™a prayers. Less than 5% of Muslim youths go to Muslim schools.
Where do the children spend their time? On average, they spend 53 hours per week online, 7 hours and 38 minutes per day.
Hashim quickly demonstrated the overwhelmingly negative nature of the information about Islam–much of it provided directly by people who hate Islam and Muslims, like Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes.
Hashim pointed out that many Muslim youths respond to these many overwhelming pressures by changing their names, possibly even changing religions, or at least by caving in to such pressures as drinking alcohol or joining gangs. She cited a statistic that 47% of Muslim college students report having drunk alcohol, and about 10% report binge drinking.
â€œWe must rethink things for kids,â€ she said. â€œWe must reallocate our resources.â€
Therefore Muslims need to create a powerful online alternative to these hate sites that assault the minds of our children with their ignorance and negative stereotypes of Islam.
SoundVision came up with a thorough plan to address these challenges after one year of research. This is their strategic plan: 1) they plan 1,000 pieces of new content in the next 12 months; 2) they plan to emphasize new media for ipods, pdaâ€™s, iphones, etc.; 3) they plan mega-websites, age specific, and their model is the Disney websites (they intend good sites competitive with Disney); 4) they plan to make it all free (because they need to connect to the 95% who are slipping through the cracks); 5) Weekend 2.0–a web-based Islamic School 2.0 with lesson plans for existing schools, teaching basic Islam; 6) Networking among stake holders–creative arts hubs to allow youngsters to engage in creative activities; 7) Crucial Concepts (to teach skills, values, pluralism, response to objections, citizenship training, and career and marital counseling).
Ms. Hashim explained that much of this work has already been completed: SoundVision has enlisted the help of 270 artists, scholars, 18 editors.
SoundVisionâ€™s website is ranked a very respectable 100,000 on Alexaâ€™s ranking system (The Muslim Observer has risen to about 335,000 over several years of assiduous work).
SoundVision pioneered Adamâ€™s World, the Al-Qari software, Islamic songs, and a Muslim radio program (which in fact is hosted by Ms. Hashim).
She emphasized that SoundVision is at the cutting edge, and that its software has attracted attention for its very high quality and for its advanced technical competence.
In fact SoundVision has pointed out a potential disaster that faces the American Muslim community, but has also stepped forward to face our problems.