On Tuesday, I went to see Professor Tariq Ramadan give a speech about leadership at the London School of Economics. It was refreshing to see a large and diverse audience, made up of both Muslims and non-Muslims. Tariq Ramadan is one of those guys who just doesn’t get enough attention in the mainstream media, because his ideas about Islam are not the ones you will normally hear; it’s progressive, broad-minded, and self-critical.
He doesn’t conform to the Samuel Huntingdon model of the “clash of civilisations,” but rather believes that it is possible to follow Islam without conflict with Western values. Like Tariq Ramadan says, the conflict comes whenever a group of people emmigrate to another country. Rather, it is a misunderstanding between different cultural traditions, and rather than having an African version of Islam, or an Asian version, there needs to be a European or American version, which allows people to practice their faith but at the time embrace the secular values that are necessary for living in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society.
It’s important to understand that the way that Islam is reported in the media is a consequence of this deep-rooted misunderstanding. Whilst we cannot discount the role that the media has to play in fuelling such misconceptions, Muslims must incorporate a degree of self-reflection, look within their communities to understand the roots of the problem, and reach out to people of other backgrounds. Therein lies the solution, as this victim mentality is completely counter-productive.
There is an important lesson about all forms of discrimination here, whether it’s discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or sexuality. The message here is universal, as people always fear that which they don’t know or understand, but reacting defensively never helps. The way to change people’s perceptions about you is through your actions and through the way you treat people every day of your life. That’s the true essence of leadership and humanity.