Last week Imam Shaker Elsayed of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, was roundly condemned after a video emerged, courtesy of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), in which he recommends female genital mutilation to avoid "hypersexuality."
Elsayed has since tried to withdraw his comments and apologized, saying "I admit that I should have avoided it. I hereby take it back. And I do apologize to all those who are offended by it."
Elsayed's weak-tea apology has not slowed the loud calls in the Muslim community for the Dar al-Hijrah mosque to fire him. But on Monday, influential Islamist thinker and activist Tariq Ramadan released a 10 minute video on Facebook expressing support for Elsayed staying on. Ramadan stated Muslim leaders who advocate for FGM should be understood as "brothers," part of "our community" and Muslims who disagree should engage them with "internal discussion" and are instructed "not to expose them." Here are some of the highlights from this video.
First Ramadan starts by framing opposition to FGM as a critique coming from "outside the community" and stating that he opposes the calls for firing Elsayed:
"I'm reacting to what I heard and some questions that I had about what happened in Washington with this controversy round a shaykh who was not yet fired – I hope he is not going to be, but he was asked to stop preaching and to stop being active within the community or within the mosque in Washington. And I think that some of the brothers and the sisters even wrote a letter after the controversy around female genital mutilation and excision asking for him to be fired from the mosque and reacting to a video that was posted about what he said in the gathering with Muslim students, men and women. Let me say three things about this because I think this [sic] are critical times and we have to be quite serious about the way we are reacting to controversies and the way we are reacting to some critiques that are coming from outside the community and we have to ask ourselves what we are doing."
Next Ramadan makes his argument that because FGM is defended by some Muslim scholars it qualifies as "part of our tradition" and is therefore worthy of being "promoted":
"My position as a Muslim scholar, my position: it's wrong that we should not promote this because I think that first, it's not in the Koran and second, it's part of the Sunnah that we have, and it's something that is done in African countries, among the Christians and the Muslims and it's not religious. Having said that, I cannot deny the fact that some scholars at the highest levels of their institutional position are supporting the fact that this is possible that you can go for excision, not to go up to the mutilation and infibulation as it is known in African countries, but we have this in our tradition and it's part of the internal discussion that we need to have. So to please people who are attacking Islam by saying 'Oh no, no, no, this is not Islamic. It's illegal,' it's not even faithful to our tradition. We need to have an internal discussion... So, once again, we have to be serious. Any one of the six months of any basic Islamic training, no one can say it's not part of our tradition. It's controversial, it's discussed... you need to take a position, but you then cannot deny the fact that this is something which is part of our tradition."
Then Ramadan shifts to attacking opponents of FGM, decrying them as Islamophobes, attacking MEMRI by name, and criticizing Muslims for wanting "to be perceived as moderate, open-minded":
"You need to ask yourself: who are these people who are using videos, putting them and creating controversy? If you are reacting only when Islamophobes – and the people, MEMRI, we know who they are, we know what they want to do, we know in which way they want to make Islam problems, not only in the United States of America but around the world through the translation, distorting and covering in ways that are very specific, they have a very specific objective, they have a very specific way of dealing with scholars, intellectuals, and Islam. These are Islamophobes, and you react to them by just exposing one of your leaders, a shaykh that has been serving the community for more than 30 years and you ask for him to be fired so quickly just to be on the safe side of the political discussion in the United States of America by saying 'Oh, we have nothing to do with this' while your tradition is there and it's discussed within your tradition and whoever is attacking you at least you have to be cautious with the people who are using this and are putting you in a situation which is yes, problematic, but you have to stand for your rights to have opinions, and at least to have internal discussion and not to react so quickly to these issues... And the last thing that I wanted to say: we disagree. I don't agree with the statement. I don't with one brother, I don't agree with one leader. Can't we take the time to have an internal discussion? To say 'Look we are not going to respond to the controversy, we are not going to fire the people just to be on the safe side and to be perceived as moderate, as open-minded.'"
Ramadan's concluding comments are perhaps the most revealing [emphasis added]:
At least we take the time and we let the people know these are internal issues, these are discussions that we want to have among ourselves and it's not for you to decide when we have to fire somebody or even what are our priorities, because at the end of the day the context is now deciding for us, and people around us are deciding for us what are our priorities, what are the main principle of Islam, and we are not able to come with dignity, with consistency, with confidence and say, 'Ok, this is who we are, we don't have all the same opinions, there are discussions, there are internal discussions, we will take our decision, we will have our Shura, our deliberation with it, and it is for us to decide, not for Islamophobes, not for racists, not for people who have political agendas that are now deciding for us... The way you have to be dignified as a Muslim is to rely on him [points upward] to be consistent with yourself and to respect your brothers, not to expose them, not to expose your sisters, even though you disagree, even though you don't agree. And no double standards, no selective indignation, or selective rejection of some of our brothers because they are exposed outside. And as to our internal business, we talk about it but we let the people, we let the brothers say whatever they want to say.
This insistence on "no double standards" is loaded with irony, as double standards are inherent in Ramadan's worldview. He advocates for one moral standard for his Muslim "brothers" and "sisters" to engage in "internal discussion" and for imams to "say whatever they want to say." But for non-Muslims who oppose the barbaric (and illegal) practice of FGM – that makes one a racist and "Islamophobe."