“Am I on my way to peace?”
“Am I on my way to peace?”
Islamic Scholar & Philosopher
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This interview was conducted over a video-call in early 2016. The photos were sent by Tariq Ramadan’s office.
KP: Can you begin by explaining why you chose this question, what brought you to it?
TR: If I come back to the very essence of what I believe, and if I look at the value system from within the Islamic tradition, the main question for me which is very particular to Islam – though also universal – is ‘am I on my way to peace?’
Peace has to do with inner peace, peace with the environment, peace with our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. So peace is not just ‘peace and love’, peace is very demanding. We have to take peace seriously with our heart and with our mind.
The second question coming out of this is how much am I consistent? Consistency is important, because you are at peace when you are consistent. And also when your questions get their answers. So it is an intellectual process and it is a psychological process. But the ultimate thing for me is to try to be at peace.
KP: The English word peace can mean a number of things, and perhaps does not have the same scope or depth as its Arabic equivalent ‘Salam’, can you unpack the meaning of Salam a bit?
TR: Salam means peace with all the dimensions. It is one of the names of God, it is the name of paradise in Islam, but it’s also what we need to try to get inside of us. It is the very root of Islam – Islam means peace. It is also to be at peace with the environment, to show respect for creation and the creator and to spread peace to human beings.
KP: Peace as you describe it, is a very evasive thing – how do we find it?
TR: So, this is why the second part of the question is very important – looking for consistency. Intellectually, to be at peace is to never avoid questioning, but always be looking for answers. It is a process, we do not arrive but to ask – ‘am I on my way to peace?’ – means that has to be translated into many ways. Am I on my way to intellectual peace, to psychological and spiritual peace, am I on my way to human peace – which is peace with the environment and peace with human beings. So when philosophers are saying that the ultimate goal is happiness, I would say for me it is to reach a state of peace with God, and with myself, and with humanity.
KP: What do you think is at war with our quest to seek and to find peace in our culture today?
TR: When we think that happiness is in what we have, not whom we are. Consumerism is the ultimate alienation. It is confusing emotions with spirituality. Emotions are necessary, but they are not the spiritual state of peace that we are talking about. In fact it is very difficult to be emotionally at peace. Very often you have to master your emotions to be at peace, because emotions are coming from outside. Emotions could be good as much as bad, depending on how you deal with them. We should never be the object of our emotions, we should be the subject of our emotions.
KP: You have found that road to peace to be through Islam. Do you look at people of different faiths and say that they are on their own road to peace?
TR: Of course, of course. I think that peace is not the monopoly of any one tradition. I think peace is when your questions find their answer, it is when your heart feels that ‘this is it’. So this is why the spiritual communion between people of different spiritual backgrounds can find this peace. I have met people who are not Muslim who are much more at peace with themselves than Muslim’s I know. This is the image of the mountain that I have in ‘The Quest for Meaning’, that we are on different paths up the mountain, and peace is at the top of the mountain – this is what we are all sharing. So we cannot just confuse the path towards peace with peace itself. We have many paths, and we have this state of peace that we are all longing for. It is the ultimate question for human beings, I would say. It is very demanding, it is the opposite of what we think. You can’t be passive and at peace, you can only reach peace through struggling; through adding knowledge to knowledge, developing interpersonal relations with human beings, and even with nature. If there are contradictions, you know you should start your journey towards peace.
So the only way you can get moments of peace, is to be on your way towards more consistency. The deep questions you might have require deep quests and deep answers as well.
KP: Perhaps I misunderstand the mountain analogy, how do you square that image with the exclusive claims of Islam and other religions?
TR: Because I as a Muslim really think that God is the truth. Now, I belong to this truth, but it does not belong to me. I can understand that some people can experience this peace in the way they deal with truth in their life, so at the end I don’t have the final word on truth. I think that He is the one and He is the only one, and He is the ultimate one that can provide my heart with peace. Can I judge the other paths? No, I just have to acknowledge the fact that God wanted many paths, and there should be a reason there that I cannot get.
KP: It seems to requires some humility then?
TR: Yes, that’s very essential – no humility, no peace.