Students, faculty, and community members packed McCosh 50 April 20 to see Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan in conversation with Princeton professor Eric Gregory on the subjects of Islam, Christianity, and the problem of oppression.
The event served more as a way for the two to share the views of each faith than it did as a way for the two to agree on how the faiths can work together to combat oppression.
Ramadan, a professor of Islamic Studies, spoke at length on the ways in which the basic tenets of a spiritual life in Islam inform Muslims’ understanding of how to resist oppression.
He explained that everyone possesses two competing tendencies – a dark side and a light side – and oppression results from letting the dark side take over. By nature, Ramadan explained, humans are engaged in an intimate struggle between their evil and benevolent sides, and to lead a spiritual life is to control one’s darker half with his enlightened half.
This struggle is “jihad,” Ramadan said. “Jihad is the way toward peace and not toward war. It is to go from a natural state of war to a natural state of peace,” he said.
Islam holds that oppression exists by the very nature of life, so it is legitimate for humans to resist oppression with violence – such states of war are the only way to arrive at peace and spirituality, Ramadan said. “You are going to have societies oppressing other societies, and you are going to have human beings oppressing human beings; this is the very nature of life and it is legitimate for the sake of peace to resist and you have this tension toward resisting oppression,” he said. “But there is no peace without justice.”
Meanwhile, Gregory spoke on the ways Christians can benefit from inter-faith dialogue, as well as the models for social justice that such Christians as St. Augustine and Martin Luther King, Jr. provide.
The professors went on to discuss how their faiths deal with diversity. “We may be enriched by our encounter with others, learning not just about their views, but perhaps ourselves,” Gregory said. “But at the same time, for others, globalization and anxiety about religious difference can reduce our multiple identities into a flat description.”
Ramadan explained that diversity helps people learn about others, lending to humility, which is the way toward spirituality. But diversity also presents the risk of disagreement between groups. “If you speak about peace,” he said, “you have to speak about violence.”