Professor Tariq Ramadan is one of the foremost Muslims academics of his generation. Born in Switzerland in 1962, he is the grandson of the controversial Muslim theologian Hassan Al Banna who, in 1928 in Egypt, founded the even more controversial Sunni Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood .
As well as being a social commentator (only yesterday he made a speech in Boston, Massachusetts), Ramadan is also a prolific writer whose latest book is the critically well received Islam: The Essentials (published by Pelican) which the Guardian recently described as follows:
It’s billed as “a Pelican introduction” to the religion, but those seeking a For Dummies-style guide will be disappointed. It’s written in Ramadan’s trademark stately prose (he is both more energising and more succinct as a speaker), and gets deep into the weeds of what it means to be a Muslim in the age of globalisation. – David Shariatmadari
The same article also describes Ramadan’s overall attitude to Islam:
He speaks truth to power, whether that’s in the corrupt, conservative Middle East, or the belligerent west…It strikes me that Ramadan’s essential quality is consistency. He states his positions often and clearly, and they rarely change. Perhaps that is why he has infuriated so many people, in Muslim-majority countries, in Europe and the US. “There’s a type of Muslim,” he tells me, “that we only listen to when they are saying what we want them to say. I’m not this type of guy. I’m not going to repeat what you want me to say. I take the Qur’an seriously, I take the texts seriously, I want to be faithful to my tradition and face up to the challenges of my time. This is difficult.” – David Shariatmadari
As a way of trying to get back to the basics of my faith, and as a way of trying to strengthen my spiritual resolve in these troubling times, I am currently reading Ramadan’s excellent biography of the Prophet Muhammad, The Messenger: The Meanings Of The Life Of Muhammad. Below are several quotes that I am hoping will help Muslims and non-Muslims alike in better understanding the final prophet of Islam, quotes that will go beyond stereotypes for a glimpse of the real-life Prophet. These quotes follow on from the very first blog post I did over 2 years ago, which also contained quotes from another biography of the Prophet. Anyways, as always, enjoy…
The Prophet Muhammad occupies a particular place in the life and conscience of Muslims today, just as he did in the past. According to them, he received and transmitted the last revealed book, the Quran, which repeatedly insists on the eminent and singular position of the Messenger of God, all at once a prophet, a bearer of news, a model, and a guide. He was but a man, yet he acted to transform the world in the light of Revelation and inspirations he received from God, his Educator (ar-Rabb). That this man was chosen and inspired by God but also fully accepted his own humanity is what makes Muhammad an example and a guide for the Muslim faithful.
Muslims do not consider the Messenger of Islam a mediator between God and people. Each individual is invited to address God directly, and although the Messenger did sometimes pray to God on behalf of his community, he often insisted on each believer’s responsibility in his or her dialogue and relationship with the One. Muhammad simply reminds the faithful of God’s presence: he initiates them into His knowledge and discloses the initiatory path of spirituality through which he teaches his Companions and community that they must transcend the respect and love they have for him in the worship and love they must offer to and ask of the One, who begets not and is not begotten.
To those who, in his lifetime, wanted miracles and concrete evidence of his prophethood, Revelation ordered him to reply: “I am but a man like yourselves; the inspiration has come to me that your God is One God.” This same Revelation also informs the believers, for all eternity, of the singular status of this Messenger who, while chosen by God, never lost his human qualities: “You have indeed in the Messenger of God an excellent example for he who hopes in God and the Final Day, and who remembers God much.”
From his birth to his death, his life is strewn with events, situations, and statements that point to the deepest spiritual edification. Adherence to faith, dialogue with God, observing nature, self-doubt, inner peace, signs and trials, and so on are themes that speak to us and remind us that basically nothing has changed. The Messenger’s biography points to primary and eternal existential questions, and in this sense, his life is an initiation.
The Prophet’s life is an invitation to a spirituality that avoids no question and teaches us-in the course of events, trials, hardships, and our quest-that the true answers to existential questions are more often those given by the heart than by the intelligence. Deeply, simply: he who cannot love cannot understand.
All the messengers have, like Abraham and Muhammad, experienced the trial of faith and all have been, in the same manner, protected from themselves and their own doubts by God, His signs, and His word. Their suffering does not mean they made mistakes, nor does it reveal any tragic dimension of existence: it is, more simply, an initiation into humility, understood as a necessary stage in the experience of faith.
Because Muhammad’s life expressed the manifested and experienced essence of Islam’s message, getting to know the Prophet is a privileged means of acceding to the spiritual universe of Islam. From his birth to his death, the Messenger’s experience – devoid of any human tragic dimension – allies the call of faith, trial among people, humility, and the quest for peace with the One.
Always his distinctive feature was the combination of strict faithfulness to his principles and human warmth constantly radiating from his presence.
He did not demand of his Companions the worship, fasting, and meditations that he exacted of himself. On the contrary, he required that they ease their burden and avoid excess; to some Companions who wanted to put an end to their sexual life, pray all night long, or fast continuously (such as Uthman ibn Mazun or Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As), he said: “Do not do that! Fast on some days and eat on others. Sleep part of the night, and stand in prayer another part. For your body has rights upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, your wife has a right upon you, your guest has a right upon you.” He once exclaimed, repeating it three times: “Woe to those who exaggerate [who are too strict]!” And on another occasion, he said: “Moderation, moderation! For only with moderation will you succeed.”
The Prophet lived very modestly: his dwelling was particularly bare, and he often had nothing but a few dates left to eat. Yet he kept helping the destitute around him, especially ahl as-suffah, the people of the bench, who lived near his home. When he received presents, he had them given out, and he immediately freed the slaves who were sometimes sent to him as gifts: he did so with the slave Abu Rafi, whom his uncle Abbas had sent him when he had returned to Mecca after his release. In spite of his increasingly important role in Medinan society and of his many responsibilities, he kept this simplicity in his life and in the way he allowed the members of his community to approach him. He owned nothing, and he let himself be accosted by women, children, slaves, and the poorest people. He lived among them; he was one of them.
His daughter Fatimah was very close to her father. Married to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin, she had eventually moved near her father’s dwelling and she was most devoted to the cause of the poor, including ahl as-suffah. When the Prophet was at home or in public and his daughter came to him or entered the room, he would stand up and greet her, publicly showing her great respect and tenderness. Both the people of Medina and the Meccans were surprised at this behavior toward a daughter, who in their respective customs did not usually receive such treatment. The Prophet would kiss his daughter, talk to her, confide in her, and have her sit by his side, without paying attention to the remarks or even the criticisms that his behavior could give rise to. Once he kissed his grandson, al-Hassan, Fatimah’s son, in front of a group of Bedouins, who were startled. One of them, al-Aqra ibn Habis, expressed his shock and said: “I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them!” The Prophet answered: “He who is not generous [loving, benevolent], God is not generous [loving, benevolent] to him.” In the light of his silent example and his remarks, the Prophet taught his people good manners, kindness, gentleness, respect for children, and regard for and attentiveness toward women. He was later to say: “I have only been sent to perfect noble manners.”