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The Power of Courage was one of the topics of discussion at a two-day intensive

workshop in Paris recently where the European Muslim Presence network met to stu
dy the latest book by Tariq Ramadan, Radical Reform, Islamic Ethics and Liberati
on.

Fortunate to have the author himself there, Tariq Ramadan started the discussion
s by explaining that the process of reform starts by engaging with the world. In
doing so, we are finding meaning and ultimately answering the call of our creat
or. The concept of reform therefore should not be a foreign concept to Muslims.

Radical Reform highlights two major problems in the Muslim world which are hinde
ring reform.

The first problem is that of leadership. Muslim scholars rarely come together to
debate and drive reforms. Instead, they are more satisfied in talking among the
mselves in isolated circles. Not serving the community, but instead being served
by it.

The second challenge is that the Muslim community have forfeited their responsib
ilities. Instead of reforming themselves and their societies with a clear, forwa
rd looking vision, they are adapting and reacting to circumstances as they unfol
d. As passive receptors of information, they admire scholars often exclusively b
ecause of their charisma or the emotions they invoke in the masses.

In addressing these problems, a bold call has been put forth to Muslim communiti
es: hold the scholars to account and challenge them to act on the power of coura
ge. That is, let them understand that they need to be better equipped to evolve
their thinking, to respond to contemporary issues, to listen to their communitie
s, to be creative in finding solutions.

Are we ready for this ? is often heard from some quarters of the Muslim community.
It is a potentially dangerous question because it attempts to erase the process
of critical thinking urgently required for reform. The environment in some of o
ur communities has become so bizarre that even the notion of questioning is akin
to heresy.

Radical Reform goes further by stating that this lack of calm critical debate is
one of the evils undermining contemporary Islamic thought. For example when Tariq
Ramadan put out a Call for a moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the
death penalty in the Islamic world, many scholars were in agreement privately b
ut only one had the courage to affirm his position publicly the majority were af
raid that the community was not ready.

Since participating in this weekend seminar, I have understood that critical thi
nking is crucial for self reform and reflecting on one s own values and decisions.
Critical thinkers ask questions ; pose new answers that challenge the status qu
o, question traditional beliefs and challenge received doctrines.

According to Joel Westheimer, the Canada research chair in democracy and educati
on at the University of Ottawa, critical thinking is about finding the source of
a problem in society and thinking of ways to solve it. Research is showing howeve
r that that this faculty of critical thinking is not only deficient in Muslim co
mmunities ; it is a societal problem.

Most universities are ineffective in fostering critical thinking. For example, i


n a three year study of 68 public and private colleges in California, though the
overwhelming majority (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective
of their instruction, only a small minority (19%) could give a clear explanatio
n of what critical thinking is.

If we go back to the origins of critical thinking, our creator and educator is a


dvising towards this path. The Qur an infinitely extols humans to think, observe,
ponder, reflect and question the signs of the universe and the wonders within ou
rselves.

and in this way, God makes clear unto you his messages to that you might [learn]
to use your reason. (2:242).

Verily, in all this there are messages indeed for people who think ! (13:3),

I have recently seen one example of Muslims using their critical thinking skills
to solve a problem and offering the power of courage to those in positions of p
ower.

When the process of finding a new Imam for the main Ottawa mosque was put in pla
ce, some youth wanted to ensure that chosen candidate would be homegrown and abl
e to understand not only the texts, but also the context.

Frustrated, the youth said, we have tried numerous times to engage in dialogue wi
th the mosque administration.

Having not been able to engage with the leadership, they launched an online peti
tion and received hundreds of signatories.
Despite this, the mosque ignored the youth s suggestion and, instead, invited a 37
year old Imam from Egypt to fill the position.

The youths were so frustrated by the choice that they eventually sent an email t
o the Ottawa Citizen with the subject heading, A Call of Distress from an Unheard
Voice : The Muslim Youth of Ottawa.

It is unfortunate that that this struggle had to play out in the media in order
for mosque officials to pay some attention ; it has put the current imam in a ve
ry difficult position.

This is just one example among many demonstrating that the path towards reform i
s going to be a long, arduous process requiring personal commitment and the powe
r of courage from both the scholars and communities that they serve.
SOURCE : Muslim Presence Ottawa