Muslim identity in Western modernity: A study of Tariq Ramadan's reinterpretation of Islamic jurisdiction
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The paper analyses how Tariq Ramadan relates to Muslim identity and Western modernity in his reinterpretation of Islamic jurisdiction. Western modernity - based on the principles of subjectivism, relativism, rationalism, and secularism - poses an immediate threat to Muslim faith and identity. Through centuries, traditional Muslim identity has been formalized in Islamic jurisdiction. This makes Muslim identity a very stable and rigid social identity, and consequently hinders adaption to changes in the socio-political context. Tariq Ramadan's project of reinterpretation is founded in the division of Islamic principles being separable into those that are universal and those that are contextual. The contextualization of the social principles of Islamic jurisdiction brings about the possibility of reforming Muslim identity such that Western Muslims can practise their faith in harmony with their socio-political context. I perform a textual analysis with the aim of explaining and characterizing Ramadan's position on the future of Muslim identity in Western modernity. I will analyse to which extent and in which ways Ramadan's reinterpretation represents a reform of traditional Islamic jurisdiction and traditional Muslim identity. My analysis is based on a methodology of combining aspects of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) (Stryker & Burke, 2000), with the theorization of religion's response to modernity (Beyer, 1994) (Geoffroy, 2004). The strength of this approach is that it allows me to shed light on how Tariq Ramadan's response to modernity has implications for Western Muslim identity. I also use a particular strand of discourse analysis to interpret how Ramadan's written discourse relates to traditional Muslim identity and how his idea of a modern Muslim identity is captured in his writings. I find that Ramadan's Discourse - his projection of social identity - is well rooted within traditional Muslim identity. Therefore, Ramadan's identity formation project should not be seen as a fundamental break with traditional views on Muslim identity. But Ramadan adopts several aspects and ideas of modernity in his Discourse, in practice reforming Muslim identity along the way. Since Muslim identity is formalised in Muslim jurisdiction, Ramadan's reform of Western Muslim identity takes the form of a reinterpretation of Islamic jurisdiction. His reinterpretation returns to the traditional sources, stripping Islam of its cultural propensities in order to discover the universal principles of Muslim faith and identity. The radical' part of Ramadan's reinterpretation is that he explicitly deals with context by introducing social context, Universe', as a revelatory source of Islamic jurisdiction. Similar to his introduction of a contextual source as a complement to the textual sources of the Quran and the Sunna, he also introduces the concept of Context Scholars, to complement the traditional Textual Scholars. Ramadan's methodology of reinterpretation should however also be regarded as a continuation of traditional interpretation in that he adopts the interpretive tools rooted in traditional uṣūl al-fiqh.
PublisherThe University of Bergen
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