Reformed Muslim Ethics: Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan has been described as a Muslim Martin Luther. He is leading and inspiring a Muslim reformation which might have important implications for Muslim ethics.

Tariq Ramadan does not abandon the Qur’an adopting a liberal view of everything, quite the opposite. Like Luther he looks back to investigate the texts and tries to understand the context of the time in which the Qur’an was given by God. He says he is interested in how we work out the relationship between the text of the Qur’an and the context in which Western Muslims live. In other words, individual Muslims have an important job to do in learning about the Qur’an and understanding how to live out their faith in the modern world. He is critical of some interpretations of the Holy Book which in his eyes incorporate cultural ideas found beyond the Qur’an. For instance, in the case of the Islamic prescription for women to cover their hair. He is critical of the practice in most Islamic-majority countries that take this interpretation and extend it to seclude and segregate women. It is one thing to protect modesty, quite another to conclude that women do not have the right to work. He considers this wrong and against women’s rights. Here there is a lack of understanding of the historical understanding of text and also a failure to realise that the Qur’an is often read through cultural perspectives.

Equally he disputes the view that Muslims should be intolerant of Muslims who change religion. He does not believe they should be killed and agrees with Sufyan Al-Thawri, an 8th-century scholar of Islam. Sufyan Al-Thawri argued that the Qur’an does not prescribe death for someone because he or she is changing religion. The prophet never did such a thing and many people around the prophet changed religions. He never did anything against them.

Tariq Ramadan is also interesting in the topic of homosexuality. When asked about whether someone could be Muslim and gay, he answered by noting that, homosexuality is not perceived by Islam as part of the divine project for men and women and that it is regarded as bad and wrong. However, being Muslim is between the individual and God. In some Christian traditions, the priest or Church mediates that relationship but this is not so in Islam. Being a Muslim is about declaring the shahada – ” I believe there is no god but God and  Muhammad is His Messenger”. That makes a person a Muslim and no one has the right to put you outside the realm of Islam.

The Islamic principles that govern human actions rest on the dignity of the human being and that emphasis on dignity is much closer to many other religious ethical systems and secular ones, such as those to do with human rights, than we might at first think.

For more information about Tariq Ramadan, go to his website:

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