Tariq Ramadan: How to Empower Yourself

Living Islam in Non-Muslim Countries
By Reading Islam Staff

Dr. Tariq Ramadan
Tariq Ramadan

Part of Dr. Tariq Ramadan's talk at the ISNA 2011 Convention, session titled "Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony"

Thank you for this invitation.

Once again I’m happy to be here and happy about the topic that I’m tackling this morning, because as we have heard Sheikh Yasir Qadhi speaking about Helf Al-Fodhoul and our commitment towards justice, not only within the Muslim community but within the American society, I think it’s important. Let me say a few things about the starting point of our discussion when it comes to empowerment...

What is important for us is to get a sense of which kind of problem do we have when it comes to thinking about having Muslim community or Muslim majority societies where we are consistent with our values. And very often my conclusion is that not only there is a lack of knowledge or there is a lack of education, but there is something which is deep down; which is a crisis.

It’s a religious crisis but if you take it from all these dimensions you would say it’s a psychological crisis. And the psychological crisis is either we are victims or we are not liked, and even in our discourse we are not at the level which is expected, and we keep on repeating this: “We should be better. We should do more”, and at the end if you keep on repeating this- this is coming from basic psychology- if you keep on repeating that you are not able to do something or anything, at the end you will believe that you are not able.

So you end up with a victim mentality, where you are criticizing the others because they are saying things about you. And hence you are creating and nurturing your own passivity and your own helplessness. This is the point that we have to tackle and come back to the starting point when it comes to our young Muslims, but not only the youth, I can see this in leaders. I can see this in the discourse that we have with some scholars who keep on repeating “Look, it’s not working. We are not succeeding. There is a problem”.

Spiritual Empowerment

So let me come to how do we solve this psychological crisis and where does it start. And this is where it’s very important for all of us, and it’s a personal commitment here to come to the understanding of our religion and to ask at the end of the day what are the main objectives of our religion helping us to get this empowerment; individual and collective empowerment, which is needed today, and which was always needed in the Islamic civilization in our history.

the Prophet (peace be upon him) is telling us something which is the first dimension of empowerment, which is spiritual empowerment

This is where you come to some of the verses of the Quran and some hadith and you get it quite right. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was speaking about al-shadeed (powerful), asking “Who is the powerful among you?” And the people in the beginning understood that the powerful is the one that is going to beat his or her enemy, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “No, the one who is controlling his anger when he is going to be driven by anger.”

The point here is in fact that this hadith by the Prophet (peace be upon him) is telling us something which is the first dimension of empowerment, which is spiritual empowerment. It’s how you are with your own self. And get it right from the objectives and I'll come to the education which is needed to get this objective. If you are working in the field of education you get it that way. You first ask yourself “What are the objectives and then you set the methodology.” This is the way it should be done. This is the pedagogy. It’s not enough to say that “Oh Islam is all about education” Yes the whole Quran is a divine pedagogy. Why was the Quran revealed over 23 years? It’s for us to understand that there is pedagogy. That Allah Almighty is taking the people from one point to get to another point. There is pedagogy, strategy, and a methodology based on which objectives we need to reach.              

Part 1 (starting at minute 2:10)

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So when it comes to empowerment, let us come to what are the objectives? What do we need to get when we speak about being a Muslim? So this is the spiritual.

Intellectual Empowerment

Ashahdu, I testify. I was Muslim by nature now I become Muslim by conscience.

The second is when you are a child till you reach the age of reason you are Muslim by nature, isn’t it? You are innocent and Muslim. Look at your kids when they are young and say alhamdulellah. You might be sad if something is happening, but know that without praying they are more Muslim than you. They don’t need a niyyah (intention) they are Muslims. And even by the way the kids of the non-Muslims, they are Muslims without knowing it. So this is the state of nature, al-fitrah.

But now al-fitrah should change to something which is al-Iman (faith). Faith is this intellectual say that now I understand, I’m saying it, I’m testifying. This is why you enter Islam with your mind and your heart when you say ashhadu, which means my mind gets it and my heart keeps it. Ashahdu, I testify. I was Muslim by nature now I become Muslim by conscience. So it’s an intellectual thing which is important and then you are mukallaf.

Mukallaf means you are responsible before Allah in anything that you are going to do. Your behavior. Now you are mukallaf. It means here that there is something which is intellectual empowerment or intellectual independence that is needed. So first is spiritual, and the second is at one point there is something which is coming from "I need to be a Muslim with my mind and with my understanding". So if you come from al-Taklif when you have to say I testify that there is no God but Allah to enter Islam, it means that your intellect as an achievement is where you should be intellectually empowered. You should know what you say. You should be independent, intellectually speaking.

Socio-Economic Independence

We come to something else which is coming from Islam as well. So we spoke about spirituality. We spoke about intellectual dimension, but there is also something which is coming: why is it that when you come to what the Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying “Islam is based on 5 pillars” the second practical pillar is al-Zakat. What is al-Zakat? Al-Zakat is not only for you to give your money, it’s for the people who are getting the money to go from assistance to independence. Zakat is not to assist the people, it’s to help them become independent. So there is something which is one of the dimensions to be empowered; it is social and financial independence.

So come to the Quran and to the prophetic tradition, and when you listen to what the Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying you get it right: you are to know the objectives. At the end of the day if you want to talk to anyone in the world; in the United States of America or in the Muslim majority countries, at the end what’s important is spiritual independence, intellectual independence, and socio-economic independence.

So these are objectives that are very important for us and there is another thing. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “Remember death.” Remember death and you especially here in the west under the psychological pressure and through the psychological crisis. Under the psychological pressure that you are facing as Muslims perceiving yourselves as targeted in all the kinds of discussions around the world, but also going through this psychological crisis there is something which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said.

Remember when he was attacked by the people who were coming from his tribe and people who were in Quraish? The first verse that he got about Jihad was Jihad which is not with weapons or arms. The verse says what means “Don’t obey to the deniers; to the people who are rejecting your truth, and resist, respond, struggle, strive against them with the Quran.” Your weapon is the revelation. And your weapon is the revelation if and only if you understand the revelation.

You are Here to be Courageous

One of the main objectives of Islam is independent courageous believers

So it’s knowledge and understanding, but it’s also intellectual resistance. The jihad that we are talking here is also found in the prophetic tradition. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying “The best jihad is to be able to stand up and to speak the truth before a tyrant”.

There is something which is essential here. You are not here to be only spiritually independent. You are not here to be only intellectually independent, or socially and economically independent. You are here to be courageous. One of the main objectives of Islam is independent courageous believers. The point here is really this: Courageous means you are here to change the world. You are the best community as far as you are commanding what is right. You are here to change yourself and change the world, and you are not going to change the world unless you are courageous. You have to learn to speak the truth. It’s one of the objectives.

So when the companions of the Prophet in the battle of Badr for example, one of them coming to the Prophet (peace be upon him) asking him when it has to do with war and strategy “Is this your opinion or is this revealed?” Look at the intellectual courage of someone coming to ask the Prophet (peace be upon him), not me, not you, but asking the Prophet (peace be upon him) “Is it your opinion? Because if it’s your opinion I’m challenging it, but if it’s coming from God, I’m not.” Look at this. This is a dedication. Be courageous. Speak your mind. Ask the right questions.

And this is what empowerment means: Spiritual independence, intellectual independence, socio-economic independence and courage. Courage means I am ready to face injustice. I’m ready to face corruption. I’m ready to face dictatorship. I’m ready to face the devil and to resist. This is who I am as a Muslim. And understanding the objectives, let us come to the reality of what we need in our societies now with the contemporary challenges...  

Watch Part 2 of Tariq Ramadan’s Talk 

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Related Links:
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