CAIRO: Being an Islamist is an already assuming task, even in a country that has turned toward Islam in recent years. However, for some, there is a middle road between modernist and Islamist. That path is the chosen route of Walid Ramadan, a Cairo businessman, who expressed his desire to see Egypt become a moderate Islamic nation that can lead the Middle East into modernity.
“I believe in a nation that holds true to its Islamic nature, but also a nation that gives people the right to choose, Ramadan says, his beard a few centimeters below his chin. “Islam was founded on the principle of choice in Mecca, so how can we claim that all must surrender to its message?
Ramadan believes that because Egypt has a history of Christianity, and even Judaism, within its borders, that those groups must have the right to practice their faith without prejudice.
“While I believe in the Shari’a, I also think that it should be flexible and not binding to non-Muslims. Even liberal Muslims should have the right to live by the rules they deem important, he continues.
The Islamic ideology of today’s Islamic organizations, Ramadan says, are lacking a modernizing element in the likeness of the Christian reformations of the 16th century. These organizations have forgotten that Islam was historically a progressive movement.
“We must force our Islamic leaders to see that Islam is compatible with those things western, such as democracy, freedom and justice, Ramadan argues. “Without a concerted effort to change our thinking, we will continue to live in a constant triangle of hate.
That triangle Ramadan is referring to is between the Islamists, the modernists and the west. “How can Egyptians sit by and say that there is not a conflict between these three groups is bewildering, he adds. “In the sixties and seventies there were women who wore skirts, showed their hair and lived in a state that supported their needs, but today, many of the Islamists see women as weak and in need of direction from men.
“If an Islamist showed me where our Holy Book talks about the inequality of women and men, then I would follow them, but it doesn’t exist, Ramadan says.
Women, he believes, don’t have to cover their hair if they don’t want to. “Besides, the only passage in the Quran that refers to covering the head tells us that both men and women covered themselves out of respect for Mohammed.
Ramadan admits his ideas are more in line with the modernist movements in the country, but he believes he is a part of the new Islamic revolution that is taking hold in the Arab world.
“Obviously I am not in agreement with many Islamists, yet I am much closer than they would have people believe, he says. “They try to have an aura of a strict moral code, but you have to remember the time we are living in. So many Arabs see ideas such as freedom and justice being usurped by America that they are afraid of being seen as a self-hating Arab. This just isn’t right.
“I believe Islam is the true faith for the globe and in order to get there we must put in place more Islamic institutions and laws, Ramadan argues. “But in order to do so there must be a tolerance for others. Islam has forgotten that tolerance is the key to faith. If we aren’t tolerant of others, how do we expect them to react?
The reaction of America and other western nations is understandable, Ramadan believes, considering the rhetoric that is coming out of the leaders in the Muslim world. “If we want them to accept us, we must show them the real side of Islam, which is a combination of modernity and religion, he argues.
“I hope that one day people will realize this and give Islam the credit it deserves, Ramadan continues. “Islam is not a strict way of life; it is simply a way of life that I believe is the best.
Ramadan argues that he is an Islamist because he believes in the supremacy of the Quran and that many of its applications should be adopted in the course of government and social policy.
“Maybe one day we will have an Egypt that is as open as it was 20 or 30 years ago, but will also be founded on the principles of Islam. I believe a combination of the two will alleviate many of the problems in our society, but will also bring about a better way of thinking and acting toward others, Ramadan says.
Ramadan says he will continue to support the Brotherhood because its aims as an Islamic organization are closer to his, despite the obvious disagreement with policy he has with the organization. He hopes an Egypt with people such as himself will be an open, flowering democracy in the coming years.