A Passive Citizen is a Contradiction!

Tariq Ramadan, visited London last night. Often described as the Muslim Martin Luther, this scholar did not disappoint those who came to hear someone who could live up to that billing.  The hour long address was filled with insight, challenge, and a call to action for people of all faiths – even more — people who hold to belief, even agnostics and atheists   It was a lot to process while in Centennial Hall. But his words have been marinating my mind since coming away from there and I am grateful to have heard this man of God speak.


Ramadan reminded the 500 or so gathered that holding on to your truth and knowing that truth requires no apologies to others. He insisted that knowing of our truth, and being faithful to that truth gives us the freedom to hear another’s truth.  Truth, he reminded us, is not ours to own – it’s is God’s truth. His address was a call to listening. It was a call to humility. ‘One’s truth,’ he said, ‘is not the problem. Arrogance is the problem. We must approach one another with humility.’  We cannot approach the other with the desire to tell him or her why she or she is wrong; we must have a curiosity that would give us the freedom to listen and to hear one another. ‘Humility first,’ insisted Ramadan, ‘there is no pluralism with arrogance!’ In the The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism, Ramadan writes;

“Humility is my table, respect is my garment, empathy is my food and curiosity is my drink. As for love, it has a thousand names and is by my side at every window.” 

This rule of life was evident in his time with us last evening.  He was generous and gentle, he was challenging and provocative, but in all of it he was respectful, empathetic and loving. Even when challenged by a difficult questioner, he maintained a posture of humility, listening and respect.

I was most impressed that he called on all citizens to be proactive. “A Passive citizen is a contradiction. A passive citizen is a consumer.” We all have a truth, and we all feel strongly about goodwill. What are we doing about the injustice that we see around us? Ramadan, in one of the few moments of raising his voice above a comfortable conversational tone, declared “charity without justice lacks dignity!”  Ramadan posited that while religion does not live without culture, and culture does not live without religion – religion and culture are not the same. Ramadan’s address was a call to discern those things in culture and in the society around us that offend our shared truth and act. “With your principals, become the voice of dignity. Show me your truth with your actions!”

It was in every way an inspiring evening. Congratulations to Kings College campus Ministry on a great event that was timely, important and well received. I pray that we respond to what we heard by working in humility to work with others to address the injustices that we see around us.  I pray we always remember our call to be a voice for the voiceless — Yes Tariq — “A passive citizen is a contradiction!

“No one must ever let power or social, economic, or political interest turn him or her away from other human beings, from the attention they deserve and the respect they are entitled to. nothing must ever lead to a person to compromise this principle or faith in favour of a political strategy aimed at saving or protecting a community from some peril. The freely offered, sincere heart of a poor, powerless individual is worth a thousand times more in the sight of God than the assiduously courted, self-interested heart of a rich one.” – Tariq Ramadan


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