01: A teacher at a high school in Geneva and a lecturer at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), Tariq Ramadan has been enjoying a growing audience among young Muslims in Europe, especially in France.
A charismatic speaker, Ramadan (b. 1962) is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Eygpt in the 1920s. He emphasizes the reformist dimension of his grandfather’s thinking and develops his own proposals in order to take into account the Western context. He has attracted the attention of a number of US media as well: he was recently portrayed in the Christian Science Monitor (May 19) and had been profiled as one of the leading “innovators” in the field of religion at the dawn of a new century in the Time magazine (Dec. 11).
Tariq Ramadan’s project is to develop an approach allowing Muslims both to keep their religious roots and to feel fully European, going beyond the “Islam vs. the West” opposition. It could be described as an inculturation of Islam, while not downplaying islamic doctrines in any way. As Ramadan has explained in countless media interviews, there are fields open to interpretation. For instance, he supports a Muslim woman’s full access to work, equal income, equal opportunities, but would base such equality directly upon Muslim principles; The goal is not at all the Western model of “liberated women”, but to develop — to quote his own words — “another way to be free”, i.e. a Muslim way.
Muslim feminism as he envisions it is fully compatible with wearing the Islamic scarf and other observances The permanent presence of Muslims in the West offers opportunities to differentiate between what belongs to the cultural background of Muslim countries and the essentials of the Islamic message. In addition, Ramadan is convinced that Muslims in the West are best qualified to play a role as bridges between Muslim and Western countries.
At the same time, he reminds the West that a dialogue between civilizations is impossible if the West claims to hold the only valid model of democracy. The fact that such a contextualized approach is attractive to a significant number of young Muslims indicates how many of them feel the need to redefine their identity, no longer connecting it automatically to the countries from which their parents came. However, Ramadan’s proposals are criticized by literalist-minded Muslims, who think his reformism is going too far. Others accuse him of being a proponent of fundamentalism under a new guise. At the same time, a number of Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals see him as raising some of the most important issues for the future of the Islamic communities in the West.
— By Jean-François Mayer
02: Although many new religious movements and other religions-from the New Age to Hinduism–share pantheistic beliefs, the World Pantheist Movement promotes the belief in the universe itself as divine as the core of its spirituality.
The movement, founded five years ago by Paul Harrison, now has more than 2,000 members and anticipates that there are many more pantheists who would join if they knew of such a group. The movement leaves it to members to decide if their pantheistic beliefs are a religion, philosophy, or simply a way of life. Some may celebrate pantheistic festivals such as the solstice and equinox (and Thoreau’s birthday) while others may see exploring nature or engaging in environmental activism as central to their beliefs.
Harrison views his group as a support network in largely Christian America.
(Source: Utne Reader, July/August; the WPM’s website: www.pantheism.net)