Tariq Ramadan on the Pope's Message
As I've previously noted, I'm not sure what to make of Tariq Ramadan, whose maternal grandfather, the Egyptian Hassan al Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood (1928), an Islamist movement dedicated to the following credo:
"God is our objective, the Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle is our way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations."
But I won't get into all of that right now, for I only wish to draw attention to Ramadan's recently printed opinion on the Pope's speech: "A struggle over Europe's religious identity," International Herald Tribune (September 20, 2006). He first warns fellow Muslims that their "mass protests ... end up providing a living proof that Muslims cannot engage in reasonable debate and that verbal aggression and violence are more the rule than the exception." After these words to the Muslim community, Ramadan turns to the Pope's message:
[T]he pope attempted to set out a European identity that would be Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason. Islam, which has apparently had no such relationship with reason, would thus be foreign to the European identity that has been built atop this heritage.Here, I think that Ramadan slightly mistates the Pope's argument in a couple of ways.
The Pope argued that Christianity itself integrates reason with faith because it trusts in a rational God who acts according to reasonable principles and whose divine rational nature is reflected in both human reason and the order of the universe, whence the Pope's insistence on the "real analogy" between God and human beings.
The Pope did not argue that Muslim identity includes no element of Greek rationality. Rather, he noted that Muslim theology seems to allow for only a purely voluntarist deity, namely, God defined only by his radically free will, a will so unconstrained that it need not even be consistent with itself. Hence the Pope's reference to Ibn Hazm:
Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.Ramadan's insistence on a rationalist strain in Islamic thought -- "the decisive contributions of rationalist Muslim thinkers like al-Farabi (10th century), Avicenna (11th century), Averroes (12th century), al-Ghazali (12th century), Ash-Shatibi (13th century) and Ibn Khaldun (14th century)" -- thus misses the Pope's central point about fundamentally differing conceptions of God's nature in Islam (willful) and Christianity (rational).
The Pope's larger theme lay in his subtle argument that Islam might have a problem with violence because it has a problem in its theology. If God's nature is defined centrally by his radically free will, then believers cannot appeal to reason in their aim to convert nonbelievers but must demand submission to an arbitrary God who cannot be rationally understood. If the force of reason cannot be used in converting nonbelievers, then the force of violence will be.
I think that the Pope was making this point, but Tariq Ramadan missed it.