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Dr. Ramadan “Boycotting” ISNA and RIS – What Do You Think?


Back Story: Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic and writer, announced that he was going to boycott the ISNA and RIS conferences this year. His contention with ISNA was that they were not doing enough to speak out against policies that adversely affected American Muslims, and with RIS that they were supportive of Sufi speakers that gave theological and popular cover for undemocratic leaders in the Muslim world. His follow up interview is here.

ISNA and their supporters responded here and here saying that they did speak truth to power, and not being at the table meant that their voice (and subsequently that of American Muslims) would not be heard at all.

RIS has said little so far.

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A few scholars have lined up in support of Dr. Ramadan, including Omar SuleimanAbu Eesa Niamtullah and others.

So where does that leave you? Well, that is for you to work out, but as someone who is an intrigued bystander (I am not particularly a fan of any of the parties involved and do not live in North America) I thought I would share some of my thoughts.

1. Public Boycotts and Private Advice


One of the main points of contention from the ISNA/RIS supporters is the manner in which the advice was given – publicly rather than in private. There is an argument to be made about giving advice privately. However, when the mistake is public, or on public policy by those in authority, then it may create greater fitna to advise in private. It leads to a lack of trust by the general Muslim public in both parties – the group deemed to be in the wrong (for not giving them a chance to explain themselves publicly) and the group that are advising (for being supposedly silent).

We saw this when a ṣaḥābi raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) publicly scolded Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) for having twice the amount of garments from the war booty on as compared to everyone else. This act of publicly taking the leadership to task had a two-fold benefit – Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was afforded the chance to explain that his son had given him his share, and the Muslim public were reassured that there was no corruption at the heart of the Caliphate.

2. When Leaders and the Public Differ on Strategy


ISNA argued quite strongly that the strategy of ‘engage at all costs’ is the only correct way forward. Any other strategy would be pointless and counter-productive. This ignores the fact that, sometimes, leaders need to accept a strategy that they believe to be flawed in order to preserve the unity and loyalty of their community.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself showed us this when he accepted the younger ṣaḥābah’s desire to fight at Uhud instead of defending from Madinah (as was his preferred option) in a council. Even though it turned out the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was right, and the decision led to the tragedy of Uhud, it prevented a greater tragedy of disillusionment and disunity amongst the ṣaḥābah at a critical juncture.


3. Misrepresentation or Oversimplification?

people who disagree with me

Looking at this debate, I’m struck by how one side is oversimplifying the discourse into a stark message of engage or don’t engage, when in fact it is the parameters of how and who to engage with that is being questioned. Honesty about this crucial fact (i.e. the opposing view has some valid basis and is worthy of consideration) is vital.

When Caliph Uthman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Abu Dharr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) disagreed about the corrupting influence of the vast amounts of wealth that had been flooding Madinah – they each stated their cases without stereotyping or oversimplifying the other. Uthman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was of the opinion that it was not the quantity of money but whether or not it had been purified by zakāh and sadaqah that was important. Abu Dharr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) feared that even ostensibly purified wealth would corrupt the egalitarian spirit of Madinah. Whilst the ṣaḥābah didn’t agree on everything, they didn’t oversimplify each other’s views in order to avoid engaging in serious and honest debate… and neither should we.

4. When Scholars are Made into Leaders

Malcolm _X_quote_2

The broader issue is there is a serious debate going on about how the Muslim community should deal with the many challenges it faces. This requires leaders to forge a clear strategy, after gaining the confidence and loyalty of the community.

Instead, we find ourselves in a situation where scholars/imams are being made into surrogates for leaders. Although the two are not mutually exclusive, they are not the same thing. This is where the problem – and the potential solution – lies, in my opinion.

A leader (or leaders) need to arise that can articulate a vision for Muslims in the West, and in America — a vision that balances the need for engagement with the maintenance of dignity; a vision that unites different factions and methodologies; a vision that inspires hope and a unity of purpose, not just a uniformity of views.

These are just some of my thoughts… what are yours? Share them below.


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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - National Council Member, Muslim Council of Britain | - Lead, National Muslim Covid Response Group | - Council Member, British Islamic Medical Association | - Founder, Charity Week for Orphans and children in need | - Co-Founder, Islamic History Channel | - International Director, FIMA Lifesavers



  1. Maher Budeir

    August 18, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    I think it is very essential to not blow this out of proportion. What ISNA and RIS suffer from is not any different than what most other national and local Muslim organizations suffer from, including the majority of the local masjids and Islamic schools.
    1. No well-articulated and publicized mission and purpose (if we ask 10 people (including the scholars who commented on this issue) what is the mission of ISNA or RIS, we are likely to get many, many different answers. ISNA and RIS must clearly define their purpose and niche in the American Muslim landscape which now includes: CAIR, MPAC, Muslim Advocates, MLF, ICNA, AMJA, and others.
    2. No strategic goals: common issue among most Muslim and many nonMuslim nonprofits.
    ISNA’s name leads people to assume much larger role for the organization than what it actually has the capacity to be. To be the umbrella organization for the American Muslim community, as the name implies, one expects a good size organization staffed with a good number of high caliber attorneys, organizational development specialists, and nonprofit experts.
    The political inactivity, and poor representation are only symptoms of the organizational issues.
    Boycotting is not constructive. The Muslim community of experts, scholars, and academic leaders should urge and advise ISNA and RIS to make the correction and seek professional guidance to make the correction and define themselves clearly and build their capacity systematically. This process should take place in full transparency. This is the best way to demonstrate that there is a genuine effort to make an effective correction.

    Maher Budeir,
    Founder and Trainer,
    Balanced Leadership Institute

    • Jamal

      September 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      Thank you very much.

  2. Hayat

    August 18, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    It’s very sad to see another umma divistion

  3. Siraaj

    August 18, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    For the record, Dr Ramadan states in the follow-up he spoke privately with ISNA folks first.

    My thoughts, he should express his views publicly about the leadership, his own thoughts on moving forward, and attend the conference.


    • Maher Budeir

      August 19, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      I understand. He did the right thing. Dr. Ramadan opened the door for a much needed conversation. We need to frame the conversation and ensure it is constructive and yields advancement of the cause without compromising unity.

    • O H

      August 20, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      The non attendance, in my opinion, can raise more alarm bells & bring this issue to the spotlight in a manner which more people are made aware of it. For example, living in Australia I was made aware of his non-attendance due the hype/hysteria created from it compared to a situation of him attending the event & everything looking normal & rosy. The issue at hand is highly significant & tragic and a big step was needed to highlight the problem. Other shuyookh, who are normally known to be tolerant & big supporters of unity, have also with good reason boycotted the RIS events.

  4. Hassan

    August 18, 2014 at 10:45 PM

    After having lived in USA for almost 15 years, I am not sure what is ISNA and what it does. And I am not exaggerating at all. So can someone please explain me what it is? I mean I know ICNA is North American version of Jamat-e-Islami, and I see them being active in dawah and also charitable work, Similarly MAS is American version of Ikhwan-ul-Muslameen. I see their chapters and presence in local communities. For ISNA I only know them for one thing is that they do calculated ramadan and eid.

  5. Omar Usman

    August 18, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    Before everyone goes wild in the comments section, it should be noted that Tariq Ramadan was not calling for a boycott of RIS/ISNA, he simply said he was not attending in order to make his own personal statement. His thoughts are detailed here –

    • Waleed Ahmed

      August 19, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      He is not calling it a boycott but his action is just that – a public censure and disengagement from an organization to achieve particular goals. It would be naive to think that his influence wouldn’t encourage others to consider doing the same. Also, he had already accepted ISNA’s invitation…so he’s not simply abstaining from attendance or turning down an invitation.It’s a boycott – despite his attempts to sugarcoat it.

      • Siraaj

        August 19, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        Both you and Omar are correct – he’s not calling for a boycott of ISNA (Omar), but he is boycotting it himself (Waleed).


  6. Jamil

    August 19, 2014 at 3:40 AM

    Professor Ramadan is that rare type of leader who has the credibility and stature that allows him to speak his mind without resorting to meaningless platitudes or bureaucratic double-speak. He tells it like it is, and he’s not selling himself or his organization’s “access” to power players. That’s incredibly refreshing!

  7. O H

    August 20, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Dr Tariq’s response and explanation was quite sound & reasonable. Many important figures have misunderstood & misapplied the concept of Hikmah so much so that silence on the face of continuous oppression, transgression, etc is considered to be wisdom. Disassociation from such organisations/figures can help educate & awake the masses who fall into the trap of understanding Islam as some pacifistic, individualistic religion divorced from the reality of the struggle of people, instead just concentrating on one’s own nafs and self improvement whilst their brothers/sisters go through hell. After all indifference to the Ummah’s troubles is fine right? WRONG!

  8. GregAbdul

    August 20, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    I think there will never be a state called Palestine, at least not a full state with all the accruements of a state that sits next to Israel. I think too much of Islam is being dominated by Arab politics and it wrong to make Palestine or any political issue in the Arab world, a litmus test that determines my legitimacy as a Muslim. I think Barack Obama has been the most Muslim-friendly US President in history. There is Muslim suffering that comes from non-Muslims imposing harsh conditions on Muslims, but much much more importantly, there is Muslim suffering being caused by Muslims and all too often, we have to depend on Christians to go in and fight and die to save Muslims from other Muslims.
    I think that any Muslim who believes it is his duty impose a rigid political ideology on Muslims, no matter how refined and polished the presenter, is engaged in the same political thought as the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban, Hamas and the Islamic State. Most of us go around denouncing them and saying we deplore their actions. But their core is that they believe Islam gives them the right to impose a rigid uniform polity on every Muslim in the world.
    There is so much suffering in the world. Every time we speak to one, we ignore another. There is a pending famine in South Sudan, and despite Western images, many of the starving children will be Muslim, to cite a single example of something I know is a crisis that I see no one addressing. We can articulate each crisis we see and ask others to engage, but doing so gives our listeners a choice. To start tossing charges about that some of us are “siding with oppressors” borders on takfeer.
    I will not submit to demagogues and those who think they can control my political choices because I am a Muslim. I will not submit to terrorist appeals and I will not submit to dressed up appeals that I support Hamas or Hezbollah. My duty as a Muslim is to use all of my strength to worship God and to seek the truth and then tell it.
    When the Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship, I and the entire US will eventually have to get behind them. As long as the Palestinians buy the Israeli nonsense about two states, they are subjecting themselves to an apartheid government and living conditions. I pray my brothers and sisters continue to love me and dialogue about this, but I see a new internet censorship that works like ISIS, but pretends to seek dialogue. There is no such thing as a one-sided dialogue. A state called Palestine is not my God and I will not follow unsound Arab politics just so I can say we have unity.

    • Islam

      August 26, 2014 at 10:08 AM

      To state that there will never be a Palestinian state is almost blasphemous. If you don’t believe in the coming of mahdi and the resurgence of Islam throughout the world than my friend you have some idiological issues that need to be addressed. “Barack Obama has been the most Muslim-friendly US President in history” what is your proof and evidence for this non-sense claim. Are you being serious? Let me tell you what the real issue is the lack of willingness to teach Muslims the depth of their aqeedah in particular (al wala wal’barah). Telling Muslims to participate in voting and not encourage them to be independent causes the Muslims to be passive and wait for others to do things for them. And when extremism is pouring out of our wounds everyone has something to say without addressing the cause. That sounds like traditional medicine, treat the symptoms not the illness.

      • GregAbdul

        August 26, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        I thank Allah, for making me a Muslim. I thank Him for giving us a rational and science based way to see the world and to worship him. We have faith in Allah, but he gives us signs and asks us to use our reason and our intelligence to understand them.

        I was waiting for this kind of response. Because it shows exactly what our issue is as Muslims. “almost blasphemous…” My evidence for Obama being a pro Muslim president is the speech he gave in Cairo. We should love for Allah and we should hate for Allah. But what should we hate? We should hate Jews for Allah’s sake? The what we hate should not be a knee jerk political reaction. I know a little Christianity and even less Islam. I know that Jesus (as) and our Prophet (pbuh), both were singular individuals in seas of pagan worship and disbelief. Certainly as they began, their paths were not of hate. Through the guidance of Allah, they reached people. Today billions of us strive to imitate them. The Prophet tells me what Allah loves and hates. I take his teaching from our scholars and Ulema. My sheikh has NEVER told me to hate Jews or Christians. He’s never told me to hate Obama. Our Prophet signed the pledge of AqabaTreaty and the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. This is a Sunnah; to make peace…even with Jews! I never said anything about being “passive.” I said the only realistic goal for the Palestinians is Israeli citizenship. The Prophet worked within his limits. He did not come out of the Cave of Hira and shout about who Allah instructed him to hate. He, like all the Prophets, called to Islam in a humble manner and he was not among the aggressors. We are command to be humble and to revere human life above any call to hate. The “extremism pouring out of our wounds…” is the disease. In Ramadan we increase our ebadah. In the Hajj we go all out in our worship. These are the only two examples I know where we are to be extreme and that is only in our worship for a brief time. Brother (you hide your name totally) can you tell me where the Quran says extremism for the sake of political gain is good if you have an excuse? Brother is Palestine a god? I had one extended conversation with a Palestinian and I will never forget it. A Palestinian state is not my God. It is not an object of worship. States are tools, we use to enhance and protect our religion. Nothing less and most certainly nothing more. If you can’t stand the idea of sharing a state with Jews, then the Palestinians will need to move to Jordan. Nothing in Islam says I have to back a Muslim in racist thinking.

  9. Hyde

    August 21, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    hmm my comments did not show up…

    • Aly Balagamwala

      August 22, 2014 at 1:05 AM

      Maybe it was the way you wrote it… you know Comments Policy and all that…. :)


      • Hyde

        August 22, 2014 at 3:37 PM

        Oh for gods sake, I was expressing myself exactly as I should regarding this issue: End These Orginzations once it for all.

        • Aly Balagamwala

          August 23, 2014 at 8:31 AM

          See you could have written it this way earlier and gotten approved ;)

  10. Samy Merchant

    August 24, 2014 at 2:28 AM

    Unfortunately, Dr. Ramadan is showing khawariji tendencies. I have to now add Dr. Ramadan to my SKL (Symbolic Khawarij List.) I rate this symbolic list from 1 to 10 (“1” representing a budding Khawarij to “10” being a full-fledged Khawarij i.e. “a dog of the Hell Fire”). Dr. Ramadan is now on, with a rating of “1” SKL. Of course, it’s not too late at all for him to remove himself from my SKL.

    • Samy Merchant

      August 24, 2014 at 2:56 AM

      Khawarijism buds subtly. It’s cancerous. Won’t Muslims ever learn? They start with PHd’s and end up with AK-47′s.

      The man needs to be STOPPED, NOW!

    • GregAbdul

      August 24, 2014 at 7:20 AM

      Brother Sammy, And anyone who sees and can help me. Is this just a different name for Kharijite, or is this another group altogether?

      May Allah praise you for your brief concise point. I think you may have been a little more on rude side than I was even, but this is the destructive path that Muslims are taking over the truth. “We hear and we obey,” is Quran. Our command is unity. I just heard a khutbah that we follow the Quran and the Sunnah and the men who follow the Quran and the Sunnah over and above just following charismatic men. When we we look at Muslims who devolve into criminal activity, they all have a resentment for established Muslim leadership. I am not calling Dr. Ramadan a terrorist. I believe he has simply let his emotions take him to a place where he is fed up with the established leadership and decided to publicly air his differences. Out of respect for him and ISNA, I do not condemn Dr. Ramadan, but I do consider myself a member of ISNA. I say consider because I have benefitted from them and I do not think what I have done so far as a Muslim is any kind of fair repayment for the work they constantly do on my behalf (imagine: Imam Siddiqi’s participation in a video taught me the details of Shahada!). As Muslims, our internal battle is against this “Khawariji tendency” as you call it. The takfeers and the taking of Muslim life is off the charts. We have Muslims who just walked into a mosque in Iraq and started shooting people during Jumah! Now we can disagree about Ali and Aisha (RA), but when you kill Muslims, you have disgraced yourself as a Muslim…period. We have a history of civilized debate and allowance of difference in the history of Islam. If Dr. Ramadan only seeks to force a debate, this, is in line with the great traditions of Islam, but on its face, this is can be seen as the move of one who is of those who “went out.”

    • Hyde

      August 24, 2014 at 7:42 PM

      How dare you ? Dr. Ramadan is now a Khawrji ? Nonsense.

      • Samy Merchant

        August 26, 2014 at 2:38 AM

        Of course, I did NOT say he is from among the Khawarij. I gave him only a “1” rating, which is the LOWEST on my SKL scale. The point is he should have not disengaged. He should have voiced his complaints against ISNA from the ISNA podium! And if ISNA throws him out, well then he’s done hos job in front of Allah. But NEVER yourself disengage from the Jamaa’-this is where Khawarijism buds.

        PS I don’t know the actual issues of contention. I am just stating a principle.

  11. Samy Merchant

    August 24, 2014 at 3:08 AM

    ISNA, ICNA, AMJA and MSA are grassroots organizations created for all American Muslims. They are moderate and all-inclusive. We need to do our best not to damage these organizations in any way. I myself benefitted a lot from AMJA and the MSA..

    • O H

      August 25, 2014 at 6:27 PM

      Hate this word ‘moderate’ to describe fellow Muslims. Will we now use terms propagated by organisations such as RAND, enemies to the deen, to classify ourselves. Either you are a practising Muslim or non-practising Muslim. Don’t be fooled into using these lame labels.

  12. Pingback: Dr. Ramadan “Boycotting” ISNA and RIS – What Do You Think? - Ka Waal

  13. saf

    August 26, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    Personally, I will like to ask Tariq Ramadan why Arab issues and Arab Muslims are the face of Islam here in NA or UK? That indigeneous Black Muslims who constitute 30% of American Muslims dont get to make it to even 10% of RIS or ISNA speaker list or topics,except for Imam Siraj Wahaaj, he needs to understand that ISNA is more than just about American foreign policy combat. Muslims have so much internal fitna and bad nafs from within, that ISNA and RIS are platforms to do a clean house for ourselves too.
    That we have separate ICNA for Pakistani public, and ISNA for Arab public, please don’t add to fuel to the sweeping fire.
    Much of MM today is questioning why a few issues like Gaza and niqab are hijacking headlines for us. ISNA needs more support and representation from the diverse American Muslim
    Population,indegnious and expat, to find solutions for all of our ills,social,economic and political, and make us more cohesive with courtesy.
    He is a stout example of how oppositions everywhere in muslim countries boycott elections when it is easier to grab attention that way-
    Look at Pakistan,Bangladesh,Afghanistan,Egypt –discrediting organized structures by boycotting them,is easier than contesting them and confronting
    their narratives through established participative channels.

  14. Halima

    September 1, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    I whole heartedly agree with point 2 of Maher Budeir’s first response. Equip ISNA, etc., with caliber leaders.

  15. Mujtab

    December 27, 2015 at 6:25 PM

    Whole conference is a means of fitna …
    In this time and age of technology we can do everything online without physically intermingling men and women.
    But everything comes down to $$ sponsor’s name and fame.
    Whole ISNA and RIS conferences not even slightly close to the islamic values didnt find anything close to this conference in our salaf…

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