Muslim Scholar Tariq Ramadan: Radical or Reformer?

Sarah Wildman

On a recent afternoon, Tariq Ramadan, the outspoken Muslim scholar and professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, took the stage at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. Ramadan stood alongside John Esposito, professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown, holding court on “radical reform” in Islam and parrying with a warm, supportive audience. The room was filled with students and others, including women in headscarves, women with bare heads, journalists and professors. Such a gathering might sound relatively unremarkable for the nation’s capital, except for this: Tariq Ramadan was banned from the United States for six years, a visa restriction lifted in January by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s because Ramadan, whose name is as often mentioned with the word “radical” as with “reformer,” had become a lightening rod, a discussion point for post-9/11 restrictions on travel, ideas and the place of Islam in democracies.

Tariq Ramadan is the most visible, the most loquacious and the most oft-quoted Muslim scholar speaking in the West today. He tirelessly lectures across Europe and Britain, reaching out to young European Muslims with his conversations about Islam in non-Islamic nations. He appears on television, is quoted in print, and is asked to weigh in on virtually every debate that touches upon the place of Muslims in the West. His public message, for the most part, is straightforward: Islam and Democracy are not in conflict; indeed, he says, they complement each other.

He also asserts that Islam is not a “visitor” in the West — it is a European and American religion now, and should be recognized as such.
And yet there are those who do not trust him. Six years ago, Ramadan was ready to assume a professorship at the University of Notre Dame when the Bush administration suddenly, and somewhat mysteriously, revoked his visa. Ultimately the revocation was attributed to money he donated to a Swiss-based charity, which, in turn, passed the donation along to Hamas. After years of petitions by academics and human rights groups, Ramadan was effectively absolved of wrongdoing; his visa status was summarily reinstated.

Yet the double mythology of Tariq Ramadan remained – he is seen, alternatively, as a misjudged Muslim reformer or a hidden radicalist.

Since the early 1990s, Ramadan has been known for espousing a “third way” for European Muslims. Rather than pushing them to believe they can only be Muslim or French (or German or Belgian or British . . .), he offers a way to be both. To Americans, dual identity hardly raises an eyebrow, but Europeans rarely don two at once. In addition, a deep secularity is often the norm across the Pond, in contrast to an American penchant for religiosity. These are not countries that promoted immigration in the same way that the New World did, and the loosening of the Catholic Church’s influence on civic life (in France in particular) came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with strong barriers to representation of religion in public life. Continue reading

Why I Was Banned in the U.S.A. By Tariq Ramadan

By Tariq Ramadan | NEWSWEEK


Choo Youn Kong / AFP-Getty Images
Indonesians wait in line to get visas at the U.S. embassy in Jakarta

From the magazine issue dated Mar 29, 2010

When the American embassy called in August 2004, I was just nine days away from starting a job at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. I had already shipped my possessions from Geneva, Switzerland, where I was living, to Indiana, and enrolled my kids in a school near our new home. Suddenly, however, an embassy official was telling me my visa had been revoked. I was “welcome to reapply,” the official said, but no reason was offered for my rejection. Sitting in a barren apartment, I decided the process had become too unpredictable; I didn’t want to keep my family in limbo, so I resigned my professorship before it began. I launched a legal battle instead.

It was hardly a fight I had expected. Less than a year earlier, the State Department had invited me to speak in Washington, D.C., and introduced me as a “moderate” Muslim intellectual who denounced terrorism and attacks against civilians. Now it was banning me from U.S. soil under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows for “ideological exclusions.” My offense, it seemed, had been to forcefully criticize America’s support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. accused me of endorsing terrorism through my words and funding it through donations to a Swiss charity with alleged ties to Gaza. Civil-liberties groups challenged my case in court for almost six years until, in late January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the allegations against me, effectively ending my ban. Continue reading