Ramadan denies that he proposes "Islamising modernity" (to use his own unpalatable phrase), but that is the inevitable thrust of his argument. As always with Tariq Ramadan, it's hard to say for sure. As Caroline Fourest makes plain in her scathing Brother Tariq: the Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan (Social Affairs Unit, 2008), he is a master of darting obfuscation. His boldest pronouncements are laced with reservations, afterthoughts, coded slogans and insinuating asides. And what he fails to say is often more eloquent than what he does say.
Thus, in an otherwise interesting discussion of euthanasia, he cites the Koranic prohibition of suicide (4:29): "Do not kill yourselves, for God has been most merciful to you." He goes on to declare, on this basis, that "assisted suicide or direct active euthanasia" is forbidden. Here it might seem reasonable for Ramadan to say at least a word or two about the "ethics" of suicide bombing, a far more heinous contravention of the Koranic precept than euthanasia. No doubt he would reply that that was not germane to a discussion of medical ethics. Yet - although he is on record elsewhere as opposing suicide bombing - he here fluffs an occasion to make a strong and principled statement. In a book that presents "Islamic ethics" as a universal panacea, this is a grievous lapse. To make matters worse, more than once in Radical Reform, he respectfully cites the infamous Yusuf al-Qaradawi, not only Ken Livingstone's favourite mufti but the same sanctimonious thug who issued the fatwa to Hamas legitimating suicide bombing. For all his emollient slogans, Ramadan remains the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the son and brother of two of that movement's most virulent ideologues. With Ramadan, one always has the uneasy sense that "the hard men" are standing nearby, in the shadows of his suavity. If so, perhaps even he no longer knows which side of his mouth he is speaking from.
Radical Reform consists of a very superficial overview of Islamic legal theory, followed by a "new geography" of the sources of the law and concluding with a series of case studies on a wide array of contemporary issues from abortion and contraception to economics and the environment. Ramadan relies heavily on Arabic technical terminology throughout his discussion, no doubt in the hope of shoring up his scholarly credentials. Since he frequently gives the terms in incorrect transliteration - as well as quite idiosyncratic translation - the ploy misfires.