Tariq Ramadan: “Why I will no longer attend ISNA and RIS conferences”

Prominent Muslim thinker and academic, Tariq Ramadan has vowed not to attend conferences organised by American Muslim organisation Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention.   

In an article posted on his blog site yesterday, the Oxford University professor said he will no longer attend events organised by ISNA and RIS for the following reasons:

ISNA and the American government

Regarding the relationship ISNA has with the authorities, Tariq Ramadan wrote:

ISNA is the largest Muslim umbrella organisation in the US.
ISNA is the largest Muslim umbrella organisation in the US.

Criticism of the domestic policy of the current administration, like those that preceded it, is a moral obligation. Summary arrests, arbitrary prison terms, inhuman psychological torture and solitary confinement, the shadowy role of informers and the deeply troubling and unacceptable methods used by the FBI, which has provoked young people to engage in extremist actions, must be unconditionally condemned. Not in the name of Islam, but in the name of the values proclaimed by the United States. However, the ISNA leadership is too often silent, as if paralyzed by fear. It fares no better with respect to American foreign policy. Its silence over American support for the outlaw and inhuman policies of Israel cannot be justified, even less so after attending an iftar organised by the White House during which President Obama defended Israel while the Israeli ambassador tweeted his delight! We cannot be forever silent: what kind of active and responsible citizenship does the ISNA leadership offer young American Muslims? What kind of example? That of silent, fearful sycophants–or of free, public-spirited citizens who, while defending the values of human dignity and justice, serve their country in the most sincere and critical way? That of the unconditional loyalty of the timorous, or the critical loyalty of free individuals? To attend the ISNA convention would be to endorse their silence.”

RIS and the silent support for dictatorial regimes 

 Tariq Ramadan said his reasons for boycotting RIS were different to ISNA but the causes were similar. He highlighted that many RIS scholars and speakers hid behind the “apolitical” and “Sufi” label in their silence and in some instances, consensual support for brutal dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world.

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RIS includes many Sufi figures that claim an "apolitical" position on current affairs in the West and the Muslim world.
RIS includes many Sufi figures that claim an “apolitical” position on current affairs in the West and the Muslim world.

“…it is the so-called “Sufi” and “apolitical” trend that lies at the core of the RIS convention. I do not have the slightest problem with this trend (on the contrary), or its underlying structures and aims. The problem is that some of the participants, scholars or preachers, under the guise of Sufism or in the name of avoiding partisan politics, defend highly politicized positions of support for states and dictatorships. Their silence and their inferences in the heart of the West, in Toronto or elsewhere, constitute visible support for the Gulf petro-monarchies or for despots such as al-Sissi in Egypt. This while dictators from Syria to Iraq by way of Egypt are imprisoning, torturing and killing innocents by the thousands. They cast themselves as above the conflict, while the “Sufism” they offer is highly politicised and too well adjusted to the boots of the State. But I will have none of this. When some speakers boast in public of their openness but refuse to participate in panel discussions to avoid being exposed, openness goes by the board. When the same people support dictatorial governments, coherence flies out the window. I cannot, by my presence, lend implicit approval to such positions.”

He concluded by saying: “It is impossible for me to attend such events when my presence alone would imply support for positions that stand in total contradiction to my vision of the role of Western Muslims in their society, now and in the future. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. It is imperative that we educate ourselves, and that we display good judgement and fortitude. If those around us are silent in the face of the unacceptable, the conscience of Muslims must not remain silent, neither in the name of wisdom betrayed, nor of Sufism perverted.”

ISNA is the largest Muslim umbrella organisation in the US. Many have compared it to the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Speakers like Dr Yasir Qadi, Imam Suhaib Webb and Hamza Yusuf have previously spoken at their conventions.

On the RIS website, it describes itself as: “Reviving Islamic Spirit convention is an attempt by the young Muslims in the West to help overcome new challenges of communication and integration. The convention aims to promote stronger ties within North American society through reviving the Islamic tradition of education, tolerance and introspection across cultural lines through points of commonality and respect. Furthermore, the convention will be a celebration of our North American identity and Islamic faith.”

You can read the full article on Tariq Ramadan’s website here.



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