World leading contemporary Islamic philosopher and thinker Prof Tariq Ramadan has offered six principles of governance which break the stereotype that frames Muslim administrations as anti-democratic and anti-human rights, reports Susan Loone of Malaysiakini.
In a lecture organised by Penang Institute yesterday, Tariq listed rule of law, equal citizenship, universal suffrage, accountability, separation of powers and ethics in politics as basic democratic principles which must be complied with by Islamic governments.
Tariq – a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University – said that citizens must honour the ‘agreement’ in their countries which sets the rules (of law) in their daily interpersonal relationships.
For example in Malaysia, Muslims – as any other citizens of other religions – must abide by the law as they have accepted the framework of the country, added Tariq in his lecture titled ‘Islam, Democracy and Human Rights: The Awakening of the Muslim World’.
However, citizens must struggle within the given framework to oppose existing (or new) laws which are unjust, said Tariq, adding “And you know how many laws in this country need reform”.
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The remark elicited a loud round of applause and laughter from the 300-odd crowd – comprising Penang government officials, academicians, politicians and NGO activists – who attended the three-hour lecture.
But an amused Tariq told the participants that their response to his comment made him feel like he was with the opposition, which he clarified he was not.
“I am not with the opposition, not in political terms. But in philosophical terms, I say something which is very true, your model is not perfect and your mores are not perfect,” he said.
“That in the name of justice, in the name of your conscience, as a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or whatever you are, in the name of the citizenship you have, it is your duty to stand up for what is right, if not for your government, it is for the people who live in your country,” he added, to more applause from the audience.
“Don’t put me in the political landscape of your country. I don’t care, for if one day you come into power and you are in acceptance of injustice, you will have my wrath against you. This is the way principles are maintained,” he stressed.
‘Unity must be based on what is right’
Later, Tariq – the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood – said the Muslims must not be united based on what is wrong for to do so is not being powerful but weak.
The 49-year-old Swiss citizen of Egyptian origin also took part in a panel discussion with Islamic Renaissance Front chairperson Ahmad Farouk Musa, Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia assistant professor Maszlee Malik and Penang Institute executive director Prof Woo Wing Thye.
Meanwhile, Tariq elaborated at length on the second principle – equal citizenship – which must be present in Islamic governance to ensure the government practised democracy and human rights.
He said that citizens must not only be equal before the law but must participate in the narrative that binds them as a nation.
He described Malaysian society as being “pluralistic”, saying that it is a society with different cultural and religious backgrounds.
“But every citizen, no matter what their origin or their religion, should be treated equally,” he said, followed by loud applause from the floor.
“Don’t talk about my citizenship as if I am a minority. I am a citizen, you get it? Equal citizen means don’t ask me about my history or where I come from but where we are going together.”
‘Jews welcomed as part of ummah’
Tariq then cited a situation where the Prophet when arriving in Medina – which Muslims described as the first Islamic government or society – had welcomed the Jews as part of the community or “ummah”.
He said “ummah” in Islam is not only from the spiritual aspect or an organised structural community at the local level but meant that a community was “part of us and have the same rights and duties as us”.
He added that no community is better than the other just because they are Muslims.
“It is not by discriminating others that you are going to be the best,” he quipped, to another round of loud applause, which he attempted to halt but which ended with much laughter from the crowd.
Tariq then advised that a citizen of a country must observe the laws, speak the language to express himself or herself, and must be loyal.
“If you are a loyal citizen, you would want the best for your nation. But a loyal citizen is always critical. Blind loyalty is dangerous, sectarian and racist,” he added.