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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful truth telling that misses the ultimate, 26 Dec. 2009
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This review is from: What I Believe (Hardcover)
I picked up this book because Tariq Ramadan is a Muslim I know well from the mass media. Sadly I have few Muslim friends. None of them would claim to be intellectuals. `What I Believe' promised access to the Muslim mindset. The author and I meet through the mega world of media. By engaging more with his thinking I hoped to better equip myself to counter Islamophobia within the midi and mini worlds of community and family. As a Christian leader I am also challenged by the surge of nominal Christians converting to be Muslims.

`What I Believe' impresses firstly as the work of a bridge builder feeling the pain of being walked over from both ends of the bridge. Banned from entering the US under the Bush administration and suspected by fundamentalist Muslims Ramadan is an exceptional figure. He impresses by the courage and range of his convictions as a Muslim scholar. It is this range that both excites and troubles those who hear him. He excites those who see the future of the world as dependent on brave connectors. He dismays those who suspect doublespeak in the subtlety of his communication.

This book has truth telling with wide implications. In a world where people have multiple identities why should people question the civic loyalty of Muslims? Conversely why do Western Muslims so often possess a ghetto mentality that stops them making a significant contribution to the society they inhabit? Ramadan invites a jihad for trust, more effort by all citizens towards self-respect and respect for others. His receipe for a healthy society is compelling in its call for more humility, respect and consistency.

He says `compelling a woman to wear a headscarf is against Islam, and compelling her to remove it is against human rights'. This thinking has been very unwelcome in France though accepted in most Western countries. Religious and secularist fundamentalists get short shrift in the book. Tariq Ramadan argues against Pope Benedict that Muslims do have a tradition of critical reasoning. This should lead them `from struggling adaptation reform to creative transformational reform'. He presents Shariah not as a closed system of Islamic laws but as the way to faithfulness in religious objectives that include building equality, respect and justice. The book includes an Appendix incorporating the author's `Manifesto for a New "We"' inviting a coming together of citizens across traditions to serve these and other universal objectives.

The truth telling that is missing is ultimate. Tariq Ramadan says little about God. `What I Believe' is an attempt to defend himself against secularists and Muslim literalists. It is powerful and helpful as such but it falls short on the vision thing that belief is mostly about. Visionary bridge builders succeed by affirming truths that are universally compelling to the detriment of lesser truths. Ramadan seems to reckon himself incompetent to develop things himself in this direction though he invites it. `What I Believe' is a call to critical self-belief by Muslims. It falls short of addressing the key distinctive of Islam which is belief in a God who has revealed himself to the world with implications for human solidarity.

`What I Believe' subscribes to the need for humility allied to confidence. It succeeds in calling religious and secular pundits to search their souls and recognise their frailties. It falls short in challenging both groups to see belief in God as a dynamic for hope that, allied with humility, can be transformative not just of individuals but of society itself.

Fr John Twisleton, Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jan 2010 03:04:44 GMT
Mr Tea-Mole says:
Exactly the type of attitude endorsed by Ramadan in his book no doubt: open, honest and inquisitive - a genuine attempt to understand the "other"! I'm currently in the process of reading this book, and thought I'd just check to see what reviews are on here - if you're sad about not having many Muslim friends, I'd be more than happy to oblige! Drop me a line, or otherwise get in touch...


Posted on 9 Aug 2010 10:04:57 BDT
I appreciated your review - and I shall buy the book on the strength of it and others. As to your point about the "missing ultimate", I would argue that Ramadan aims to speaks to all, believers or not. His argument would thus have a universality with most theistic faiths but also with humanism, agnosticism, etc. I look forward to finding out.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Aug 2010 15:22:40 BDT
Thanks for the encouragement of your comment. I was just picking up on how careful the book is, and yet positive. There are so many parodies of religious belief and they are spawned by some terrible actions by religious people. Vision generates motivation and energy nevertheless and where it is transcendent I would claim there is more energy as the Spirit of God can access our spirit through such an openness of faith. The nature of the transcendent vision is pivotal I think.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Mar 2012 17:46:55 BDT
T. S. C. says:
You've written an excellent review here John, and I like the fact that you are open-minded about Ramadan's book even though you're very much a Christian minister; I think we need to open the dialogue between different faiths and extend the hand of friendship, even if we are Christians on one side, and those of other faiths on other sides.

I'm a Christian myself, and although I don't have to believe in another religion, I can very much respect someone who does and accept that they have the right to believe what they believe, hoping always they will afford me the same rights; that's all we can hope for at this time I think.

I haven't read this book incidentally but may just buy it on the strength of your review! I have read another of Tariq Ramadan's book's, which is 'The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad', which I have read and enjoyed immensely and have even written a review on it.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Mar 2012 21:24:57 BDT
Thanks T.S.Hughes for this feedback. What really caught me about Ramadan is the pain of being a bridge builder, his getting walked over! This is something very familiar to me as a traditionalist Anglican moving in renewal circles with friends who believe in the church as a spiritual network as well as believing in it as a visible body with indefectibility. There is insufficient understanding across the ecclesiological chasm and I find myself frequently the odd one out, or the one who has to say things that aren't too welcome at times. It's comforting that the world of Islam has to live with similar tensions. Kind of you to comment.

Posted on 21 Sep 2012 05:27:46 BDT
"Tariq Ramadan says little about God. 'What I Believe' ... falls short on the vision thing that belief is mostly about."

I wouldn't try to limit what belief can or should be in human beings, as if it might only exist as a signifier strictly related to religious faith. Humans generally tend to believe whatever they do in the absence of proof, which is why scientists can "believe" various things as well, and hold to conjecture until further notice or revelation... The belief here encompasses a scope of Ramadan's philosophical vision, and one which is not necessarily inferior to a religious one.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2012 08:10:57 BDT
Apologies if what I wrote seemed condescending to a non-religious viewpoint. I was disappointed there was nothing much on God as that might have brought even more bridge-building to his presentation and the debate that is following it. I suspect Ramadan shrank back from that for fear of being made a heretic, something strange to folk in an English/Anglican mould but a potent factor when engaging or presenting from the world of Islam.
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