The troubling silence of the “Sheikhs” about the fate of Tariq Ramadan

I stopped going to the Revival of Islamic Spirit (RIS) years ago. I found the event super commercialized, and less and less intellectually challenging for me.

It became a big fair of many self-proclaimed sheikhs who are carefully chosen and who lined up according to certain criteria that is more linked to their gender, celebrity and popularity status.

Those same scholars were more interested in the pursuit of their “religious careers” and the building of their “fans club”. The topics were ascepticized, superficial and the speakers were very careful in the choice of their talks so as not to ruffle any political feathers.

Aside from few speakers, the majority would come there and maintain a very shallow and fluffy talk about good manners, good behaviour, and most of all would avoid criticizing or denouncing unjust policies in a North American context or in the Middle East where a large part of the audience is originally from.

Not a single word about Guantanamo, not a single word about the dictatorship of the Gulf countries. No fiery political speeches, no thought provoking conversations. Just a preacher and good listeners who would come back home feeling good that they spent few hundred dollars on a hotel package and entrance fees. This is of course not to mention the shopping discounts of boxing day (the event usually takes place during Christmas period).

One of the rare speakers at RIS who defied these almost implicit rules was Tariq Ramadan. He challenged the audience with his opinions. He stopped them when they were trying to clap when he said something appealing, encouraging the crowd to be rather rational instead of emotional.

In 2014, he rightly decided to stop participating in this big fair of “halal entertainment”. My understanding of the rational behind his decision is the problematic positions of some invited “sheikhs” who kept silent, or even worse, sided with the counter-revolutions of the Arab Spring.

Indeed, in 2011, when the Arab Spring traveled from Tunisia to Egypt, to Libya, to Yemen, to Bahrain and to Syria, a new era was about to open in that region. An era of fearless populations who were ready to put an end to dictatorship and arbitrary rules, the start of an era towards building a new life full of dignity.

No wonder that one of the slogans branded at the numerous demonstrations that went through the streets of Sidi-Bouzid in Tunisia or Dara’a in Syria were “The people want the system to fall”. The “system” (or the regime) means the government running these countries and the corrupt regime suffocating the lives of all the citizens.

This new era wasn’t accepted with wide arms by all. It was actually stopped with arms and blood. Among the countries that were so frightened of the changes were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both of them, with a long history of oppression and flagrant absence of civil society, had a lot to fear from this change that not only threatened their thrones but “the system”.

The whole world watched these political and social changes unfold. Youth were especially excited and optimistic. Many of the societies of these countries were composed of young population with no serious opportunities like jobs or even mariage prospects.

During this period of turmoil, very few “sheikhs” sided with the change. To the opposite, many of them sided with the statu-quo, reminding the youth of the importance of obedience of the parents and of “those who are in charge of their lives”, aka the “system”.

At the RIS, the year after the start of the Arab Spring, nobody spoke about the events in those countries. Only Tariq Ramadan did. He even wrote a book about it. Even though, I disagreed with some of his opinions about few matters, I still thought that his voice was needed and relevant. The whole world was anxiously watching the change, so why shouldn’t he be speaking and discussing it.

But the RIS organizers invited the “Sheikhs” who are officially close to the United Arab Emirates or other similar monarchies. These “Sheikhs” kept silent about the tragedies happening in the Middle East and the dawn of change that was stopped with a fierce military intervention in Bahrein and Egypt and with literally bloody wars in Yemen, Libya and Syria.

This was a shameful and problematic position. The history wouldn’t forgive whoever sided with the oppressors. The “sheikhs” who are supposed to have a duty to support the oppressed and speak out for their rights, sheepishly took the side of the oppressors, the one who has the money and power, basically they sided with the “system”. I am so glad that Tariq Ramadan was not like the “Sheikhs” and that he decided to stop attending what became like a “circus”.

Today, Tariq Ramadan has been accused by three French women of violent rape. In France, he was interrogated by the police and subsequently preventively arrested. For the first days of his incarceration, he was in Fleury-Mérogis, an infamous French prison where many French Muslim suspects of terrorism have been held.

This is a highly symbolic gesture by the French legal system. It is intended to humiliate one of the most known public Muslim figures. But his treatment went beyond this mere symbolism. He was denied family visits for 45 days. His medical treatment was not proper and adequate. On the other hand, his accusers were given a platform to go to all popular TV shows and tell their stories. He was kept in prison in total commnunicado.

This case came in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement where the women are supposedly liberated so they can confront their harasser and raper. In the case of Tariq Ramadan. There was no confrontation. There was one side talking about their stories and the other side was silenced. The whole principle of the rule of law was denied to him. Worse, today, we are hearing from the lawyer of Tariq Ramadan, that even the versions of some of these women have been questionable and very problematic, to say the least.

Meanwhile, faced with this complex case, the “sheikhs” who are usually very quick in condemning every thing from terrorism to bad muslim manners, have been utterly silent. An uncomfortable silence. Usually they are very prompt to have an opinion on every thing including what you wear, who you marry and what you eat. But when one of the prominent and intellectual voices from the Muslim community, whether we agree with him or not, is silenced, is denied due process, is humiliated by being transferred from one prison to another, they have nothing to say.

Actually, for me, their silence means a lot. It means that they have no intellectual courage to defend the “Right”. And we aren’t here defending Tariq Ramadan the person, as it is not our purpose. The courts can do better jobs, at least we still hope so. But we are defending every one to be treated with dignity. From terrorist suspects to any other accusations, be it allegations of rape after the #Metoo movement. Anyone has the right to defend himself. And those who are looking for the spotlight in the RIS or any other “halal entertainment” event, and would keep silent about Tariq Ramadan have miserably failed the test of the integrity.

But here’s what they don’t get: Today is Tariq Ramadan, tomorrow, it will be them.

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25 thoughts on “The troubling silence of the “Sheikhs” about the fate of Tariq Ramadan

  1. s junaid

    Thank you Monia for this post. I agree with you 100%
    These sheikhs are only looking for their own aggrandizement OR scared as they might be exposed too.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. You are so very right, 100%. I stopped going to IRS. Wait till they finish Tariq Ramadan, who will be next, this is just the start. It will get uglier and more persistent by the western power.

  3. Said

    Salaam alaikum. Well said. In addition to what you suggested, I believe these so called Sheikhs live in a different era; one of blind obedience to the ruler. The youth of the Arab world, and the Muslims in general, are moving to a new era one of freedom, enlightenment and leadership. People like you are the model for this new leadership.

  4. Karim_B., Montreal

    I agree with sister Mazigh’s take on the lack of sheikhs defending the legal rights or Pr Ramadan. I disagree however with her position on the sheikhs stance on the so called Arab spring. It has been a matter of Aqida for more 1200 years that revolution in islam is haram. Tunisia is as bad as before. Egypt is worst. Lybia and Syria have been destroyed by Takfiris acting as mercenaries. Muslims have their heart set on fire by Western romantic slogans of revolution. It’s all wrong and contrary to sharia. The proof is in the pudding: all revolutions bring worst than what they fought. Allah swt doesn’t change the state of a people until it changes what is within them. Tunisia had a revolution but the people are the same therefore the system is the same. Egypt threw away the tyrant and unleashed a worst potentate. The people of the Black flag took over Lybia and Syria. Millions dead because of revolutions that brought nothing but pain, death and misery. And “it’s the West’s fault” is not an excuse. We know their leaders are evil. We expect them to be evil. So there’s no blaming them for the failure of the Arab spring. The failure comes from the Muslims fault in not following islamic values aND principles and thinking that Allah will bring khayr and Barak by shouting in the streets or branding an Ak47. May Allah help our Oumma and guide it’s steps in those of Rassoul Allah saws.

  5. Sideed

    Assalamu alaikum

    The case that Muslims should be more vocal in calling for fair treatment of Dr Ramadan and indeed all Muslims/people can be made without insulting and assuming the motives of others.

    My friend used to complain that the sheikhs in the local mosque wouldn’t talk about things like Palestine/oppression/ human rights/politics. The reality however was that they did talk about these issues but it was just not as often as he liked. To him he could see no reason as to why these things weren’t front and center but of course that wasn’t the priority of the sheikh who had to deal with a thousand other people. In truth it was the anger my friend had to his own inability to do something about the situation that caused him to lash out. By assuming the motives of fellow Muslims and not coming up with excuses( as is prescribed by the religion) you are creating the very discord all Muslims wish to eliminate.

    I hesitate to say any of this too you but I do so with respect.

    We don’t need to put down to build up.

    1. Karim B., Montréal

      Great post mashAllah. Aside for a marginal minority, the crushing majority of Ulama and Muslim layperson disagree with Western foreign policy and Muslim countries’ leaders. Any more denouncing their actions won’t change the situation of the Muslims. It is a given that their policy and actions are evil. Our situation will change only when our hearts will have changed. Nothing will change until then, This is the foundamental difference in perspective between Western materialism and Islamic spirituality. For the West nothing supercedes action because matter is everything and spirit is at best an interesting question. In Islam, nothing is more important than the spirit. That is why Rasul Allah SAWS said that Dua is the believer’s best weapon. To say that RIS and the cheikhs at RIS are some kind of useless “halal entertainment” is, with all due respect to Sister Mazigh, backbiting based on a non-islamic western materialist perspective.

      Are we to expect our ulama to become Leftist social justice activists? To emulate Noam Chomsky instead of Imam Malik or Imam Shafi (radiuAllah anhoum)?

      And Allah swt knows best. May He guide us and protect and maintain our ulama and may Sister Mazigh forgive me if I have upset her.

  6. Mustapha

    Very interesting…..
    They are also silent in front of crimes against humanity in Yemen. In the small heads of Sheikhs, if the crimes are committed by the custodians of the Islamic holy sites, these crimes become halal too.

  7. Sabi Ahsan

    Troubling indeed. Given what you went through with Maher Arar, I am sure you learnt that there is a lot of politics in “justice” and that Trumped up charges have been around for a long time. Whenever we encounter silence and a lack of transparency it is appropriate to suspect the State. Unfortunately I am disconnected from media of all kinds, and just happened to see this item; but the question is what can be done to secure Tariq Ramadan’s release while he awaits a full and transparent trial

  8. I do not agree with the “shaykhs” referred to in the article, nor do I agree with the stance of the publisher and those who think like her when it comes to ” the Arab spring”. The ignorant Muslims who do not follow the scholars of Islam and they call them with the worst of names ( which they will answer for when they stand in front of Allah! ), instead they followed the example of the enemies of Islam in Iraq ( US) when they removed Sadam ( who may have been an oppresor, but oppresion is of various levels! Much more after his death) . Only if they learned a lesson from that crime! Only if they cared that the Muslims were being slaughtered in Iraq and their honor violated! Perhaps they would have thought twice about supporting the “Arab spring” which no doubt did not bring any good changes in any of those countries. It only slaughtered the Muslims and violated their honor in thousabds if not millions! Wake up Muslims! Be sincere to Allah and ask Him sincerely for guidance! Seek beneficial knowledge, act upon it, teach it, and be patient upon the harm that come your way. Eloquency will not benefit you with Allah unless you are sincere and follow the example of our Noble Prophet -may Allah praise and send Him peace- . May Allah help all the Muslims who are being oppresed and non Muslims. May Allah guide all the Muslims to that which He loves and give them understanding of His religion. Ameen.

  9. Kima Mok

    Well said Ms Mazigh. Our society needs women and men like you. I’ve been in Canada for 12years and never been to IRIS because of the all causes that you shared: entertaining Muslims and talking about individual spirituality with no small effort to positively criticise sheikhs/ ruler’s positions about the fiqh/their understanding of Islam that is too far from what the prophet Mohammed and all the other prophets peace be upon them came to revive in us: spiritually and justice/participation in our societies. Unfortunately, despite trying to ‘do’ things to silence our inner guilty voices ( I Lead is heading to the same direction) we need to communicate/trust. We need to be the change we ask our youth/young adult to be.
    Thanks again and good luck.

  10. Masha Allah ,JAK for writing this thought provoking article.It needed to be said,and we needed to hear it.May Allah swa bless,protect and reward you.

  11. Husain Bhayat.

    Thank you, sister for writing this thought provoking article. Our Sheikhs need to speak out against
    the system that has not followed the due legal process. It is only you and Sheikh Yasir Qadhi. Thank you both.

  12. Abubakar Kasim

    Jazaakallahu khairan sister Monia. You spoke my heart and stole my words! I agree with u 200%. I stopped going to these events long time ago. They don’t produce any fruit. You get the same feeling when u attend a movie or a comedy program. You go home broke. I’m glad you said it right. I hope the organizers will pay attention to what you have to say. Jazaakallahu khairan.

  13. Abubakar Kasim

    Assalaam Alaykum.
    With your permission I want to post my article which is relevant to your thesis.

    WHY WE NO LONGER TRUST EACH OTHER?

    Trust is a very important ingredient for having a healthy and harmonious relationship. Without it we don’t enjoy peace in our dealings with one another.
    “Trust is the foundation of all human connections,” wrote Peg Streep, “from chance encounters to friendships and intimate relationships.”
    “It governs all the interactions we have with each other. No one would drive a car or walk down a sidewalk, or board a train or an airplane, if we didn’t “trust” that other people took their responsibilities seriously, and would obey whatever rules applied to the endeavor at hand” the author continued in an article published by the Psychology Today.
    “We trust that other drivers will stay in their lanes, that conductors and pilots will be sober and alert. And that people will generally do their best to discharge their obligations toward us. Culture, civilization, and community all depend on such trust.”
    Unfortunately we live in an era where trust is no longer there. Even the closest ones to you at work or at your community gatherings who always express their deep affection to you. When things turn bad for you they will be the first one to distance themselves from you. If they hear you have been accused of something they will be contemplating if issuing statements of condemnation to show how good they are and how awful you have become. They will go further in making things up that they already had bad thoughts about you. They knew there was something with you. While forgetting things could turn around the next day where you might end up in a wrong place and at a wrong time. How in the world would you expect someone to offer you a hand then?
    I had many acquaintances at my former workplace where I was active and helpful with my peers. Whenever there was an issue affecting us I was the first one to contact our employer to have it resolved. I received many complements as a result for contributing to the improvement of the workplace.
    I was going through some personal issues at home. It had affected my performance. I had to take a sick leave. The company did not like me for speaking up against racial profiling at the airport. I even wrote an essay which was published by the CBC describing my experiences.
    When I was terminated even though I was on sick leave, almost all my colleagues had abandoned me. I could not believe when I saw a dear friend on the bus the other day. After smiling to her, she looked the other way.
    All our interactions with one another are artificial. As soon as we hear such and such is in hot water, we simply abandon him or her.
    I will never forget when one of our colleagues disappeared without a trace. We heard that he was held in France over allegations of sex assaults. This friend was nice with almost everyone at the workplace. We never had any issues with him. He had no enemy at all. We all had good things to say about him.
    I felt bad to hear about the allegations. I approached a colleague and told him that we should try to help him out by writing letters of support. While we cannot interfere in the criminal case against him we can just mention our personal interactions with him during the time we worked together at the airport. Not a single employee came forward to offer his or her statement. Everyone gave me a look as to tell me I was naïve or stupid.
    We live in a world where we interact with each other as actors in a play. Everything we do; every exchange we have toward one another – is all fake.
    The mistrust has also affected the Muslim community. Dr. Tareq Ramadan, a prominent thinker, an Oxford University professor was very well known within the community especially in the western world. His name used to attract a large gathering at conferences.
    He was a fierce fighter when it comes to engaging in public debates with those who make a career out in defaming Islam and Muslims. He knew how to deal with them. When he was arrested in France over sex assault allegations, not a single community organization in Canada and the United States offered him a word of support. Dr. Yassir Qadhi was the only Muslim leader who stood firmly for his support in speaking up against the ill treatment and the denial of justice he has received. The rest pretended not to see or hear anything.
    In his article The Incarceration of Tariq Ramadan, a Travesty of Justice, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar stated, “Tariq has been detained in a solitary cell in the high security wing of Paris’s Fleury-Merogis prison since the 2nd of February 2018.”
    “It is alleged that he raped two women in Lyon and Paris in 2009 and 2012 respectively. A criminal investigation is being carried out in order to build a case against him. He has no access to his family and is not even allowed to communicate with them through the phone,” continued the author who is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
    “It should be emphasized that it was Tariq who voluntarily went to the police in Paris on the 31st of January to answer the allegations against him. He has cooperated fully with the investigating authorities. And yet he has been treated harshly,” he said.
    In spite of all the outrageous treatment he has received from the French authorities, the leading organizations that used to invite him in North America have all pretended to act deaf and looked the other way.
    Trust is precious. It is priceless. We need it in order to have a healthy relationship with our fellow humans. It is sad to see that we have lost it in today’s world where we hold on to each other solely on personal interest.
    Once we lose that interest we pretend we don’t know one another. This has to change. It deprives us from our human touch. We interact with one another only when we have some personal gains, some kind of material interest. It is as if our conditional trust has an expiry date. When it runs out of time, we no longer know one other.

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