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Tariq Ramadan: The professor of European Islam

France has held the scholar in solitary confinement since his arrest on February 5 over accusations of sexual assault.

Tariq Ramadan

Once hailed as a religious reformer by Western media outlets, Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadans career has been brought to a halt by his arrest in France over sexual assault accusations.

The most recent allegation, the fourth so far, was made by a woman in Washington, DC on March 11.

Ramadan's supporters have strenuously rejected the allegations, characterising them as part of a concerted effort to defame the academic on the back of the #MeToo campaign.

This is his story:

European Islam

Born and raised in Switzerland, Tariq Ramadan went on to become one of the most influential scholars of Islam in Europe.

  • Swiss roots: Born in 1962, Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
  • With an MA in philosophy and French literature and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Geneva, Ramadan aimed to bridge the gap between the East and West.
  • Oxford: Until November 2017, Ramadan was a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford. 
  • Ramadan advocates a European Islam" free from foreign influence and which promotes social integration.
  • Activism: "I would say what I'm advocating is not to reform Islam. Islam doesn't need a reform. What I'm advocating is to reform the Muslim minds," he said. 
  • As the director of the Research Centre of Islamic Legislation and Ethics in Doha, he also calls on governments to pursue policies of social equality and adopt anti-discrimination laws. He believes such policies have the power to prevent "extremism" from taking root among marginalised people.
  • Reach: In 2000, Time magazine recognised him as one of the seven religious innovators of the 21st century, and as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004.

Secularism

  • Ramadan does not think secularism is the solution to the problems the Middle East faces and argues that the majority of dictators in the region have been secular.
  • In an interview with Mehdi Hasan, Ramadan warned against idealising secularism.
  • "Secularists in the Middle East have nothing to do with secularists in the West - all the secularists in the Middle East were dictators," Ramadan said.
  • "People keep on repeating, when are you going to be integrated? I say, I'm sorry the problem is that your mind is not integrating me, I'm already here, at home … The success of integration is to stop talking about integration."

Trouble with authorities

Ramadan has been an outspoken critic of groups that target civilians but that has not prevented frequent run-ins with western governments.

  • France: In 1995, he was temporarily banned from entering France for alleged links to Algerian armed groups. No ties were ever proven.
  • "France is the only country in the world where I cannot set foot in a university [to give a talk]," said Ramadan during a lecture held in a privately rented conference hall in the city of Nice.
  • On the Charlie Hebdo attacks, he said: "We need people throughout the world to give the same value to any human life ... People are being killed by the same violent extremists in Syria and Iraq, it's as if this is normal? So twelve [people] in France, [and] this is an international controversy and evokes a reaction, while the others are normal?"
  • USA: Accused of endorsing "terrorism", Tariq was barred by the US State Department from accepting a professorship in the US in 2005 but dropped the lawsuit after the government dropped the accusation.
  • Ramadan claimed he was barred because he openly criticised US policy in the Middle East.
  • Middle East: Ramadan was also "persona non grata" in Tunisia before its revolution, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria. He said he was not allowed into those countries because of his criticism of their "undemocratic regimes". He is also not welcome in Israel.

Pre-trial arrest

As the #MeToo campaign went viral in the wake of accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Tariq Ramadan joined the long list of male public figures accused of wrongdoing.

  • #Metoo: The first was Henda Ayari who accused Ramadan of "rape, sexual violence, harassment and intimidation".
  • As news of the allegation broke out, the New York Times was quick to run a story about Ramadan, entitled the "Harvey Weinstein of Islam".
  • Ayari, who heads the women's organisation Les Liberatrices, filed a complaint with the Rouen prosecutor in France in November 2017.
  • Referring to rape she described in her book I Chose to be Free, she said, "It is a very difficult decision but I too have decided it is time to denounce my attacker. It is Tariq Ramadan."
  • Ramadan's lawyer, Yassine Bouzrou, said "he denied the accusation and would sue her for defamation".
  • In a video, Ramadan says that Ayari provided three different accounts on three separate occasions.
  • Arrest: While none of the allegations has been verified, a panel of French judges ruled that Tariq Ramadan poses a "flight risk" and could be prone to re-offend. Based on this, he has been put in pre-trial detention.
  • Ramadan has been denied bail and placed in solitary confinement at the Fleury-Merogis prison.

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