Maghreb Voices – Out From Behind a Thousand Windows

Book: Tariq Ramadan, The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism (Penguin 2010).

?The goal of the journey is the journey itself . . . poetically put, it is a journey that takes us far away, and back to ourselves. In order to find there our being, a liberated ego, God, reason, the heart, or the void. But always, always, tenderness and love.?

Tariq Ramadan, from the introduction to The Quest for Meaning

Imagine a massive block of apartment buildings looking out onto a lovely park. Amazing plants grow in the garden, amazing creatures sport in the lake, and myriad birds circle the sky and land in the lush trees. But because the tenants won’t leave their apartments, they can only see this world from behind their windows.

Each window is designed to allow a distinctive view of the garden, and although the tenants in each wing of the apartment complex agree roughly on what they see, there are deep ideological conflicts.

But if these tenants were to turn their backs on these windows, descend the elevator, and go outside to actually look at what it is they think they have a handle on, the differences?not all, but most?would fall away. It’s kind of like Plato’s argument in The Republic: the true philosopher is the one who turns his back on the shadows in the cave and goes outside to see what’s making those shadows.

Now that we see that this garden is in fact Ramadan’s metaphor for reality?and the building a metaphor for religious pluralism?what are some of the questions within this reality that we can’t seem to agree on?

For starters, who or what is God and with what faculties should we be addressing the questions of his existence, his nature, and his demands? How should we treat each other? How are we to negotiate the terms of a new liberty without letting go of the richness and freedoms afforded us by our finest traditions?

Ramadan, a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, is clearly a master of both Eastern and Western ideas, with profoundly original insights into both. He addresses each question in meticulous detail, pointing out the hazards and necessities of working out the terms of pluralism to build a society in which multiple points of view can safely coexist.

The Quest for Meaning could not have come at a more appropriate time. It appears on many world fronts that human survival depends on dialogue, on reaching consensus on a few key issues, both within religions (tensions between fundamentalists and moderates can be deadly) as well as between them.

The Quest for Meaning is a significant and vital contribution to a debate that now concerns, in one way or another, every being on this planet, and the insights within it are as rich in compassion as they are in wisdom. Ramadan’s arguments are, as always, exquisitely worded paragons of reason and clarity.