Tariq Ramadan (Arabic: طارق رمضان; born 26 August 1962) is a Swiss academic, philosopher and writer. He is the professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at St Antony's College, Oxford and also teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology. He is a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies (Qatar), the Université Mundiapolis (Morocco) and several other universities around world. He is also a senior research fellow at Doshisha University (Japan). He is the director of the Research Centre of Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), based in Doha. He is a member of the UK Foreign Office Advisory Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He was elected by Time magazine in 2000 as one of the seven religious innovators of the 21st century and in 2004 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and by Foreign Policy magazine (2005, 2006, 2008-2010, 2012-2015) as one of the top 100 most influential thinkers in the world and Global Thinkers.
Life and career
Tariq Ramadan was born in Geneva, Switzerland on 26 August 1962 to an Egyptian Muslim family. He is the son of Said Ramadan and Wafa al-Banna, who was the eldest daughter of Hassan al Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Gamal al-Banna, the liberal Muslim reformer is his great-uncle. His father was a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and was exiled by Gamal Abdul Nasser from Egypt to Switzerland, where Tariq was born.
Tariq Ramadan holds an M.A. in French literature and a Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Geneva. He also wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche, titled Nietzsche as a Historian of Philosophy. He has received one-on-one training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars and holds ijazah in seven disciplines.
He taught at the Collège de Saussure, a high school in Lancy, Switzerland, and held a lectureship in Religion and Philosophy at the University of Fribourg from 1996 to 2003. He was appointed a professor at the University of Notre Dame in the United States in 2004 before his visa had been revoked by the Bush administration because of the Patriot Act. In October 2005 he began teaching at St Antony's College, Oxford on a visiting fellowship. In 2005 he was a senior research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation.
In 2007 he successfully applied for the professorship in Islamic studies at the University of Leiden, but “premature announcement” by the University of Leiden of his appointment as professor of religious studies, before that had been made official, had placed him “in a delicate position," Ramadan said; combined with family concerns and other academic projects he worked on, that were his reasons to turn down the appointment. He was also a guest professor of Identity and Citizenship at Erasmus University Rotterdam, till August 2009 when both the City of Rotterdam and Erasmus University dismissed him from his positions as "integration adviser" and professor, stating that the program he hosted on Iran's Press TV, Islam & Life, was "irreconcilable" with his duties in Rotterdam. Ramadan described this move as Islamophobic and politically charged. The courts of justice of Rotterdam and The Hague ruled in 2012 in a civil law case that both Erasmus University and the Rotterdam municipality indeed had too hastily dismissed Ramadan, and thus needlessly harmed Ramadan and his reputation.
Beginning September 2009, Ramadan was appointed to the chair in Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University.
Ramadan established the Mouvement des Musulmans Suisses (Movement of Swiss Muslims), which engages in various interfaith seminars. He is an advisor to the EU on religious issues and was sought for advice by the EU on a commission on "Islam and Secularism". In September 2005 he was invited to join a task force by the government of the United Kingdom. He is also the founder and President of the European Muslim Network, a Brussels-based think-tank that gathers European Muslim intellectuals and activists.
Teaching career at Oxford
Tariq Ramadan began lecturing at the University of Oxford in 2005, after being barred by the U.S. State Department from accepting a professorship in the US, and was appointed as a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at St Antony's College, Oxford in 2009.
As of 2009, Tariq Ramadan was persona non grata in Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Syria, which he has said is because of his criticism of their "undemocratic regimes". He is also considered persona non grata in Israel.
U.S. visa revocation and subsequent lifting
In February 2004, Tariq Ramadan accepted the tenured position of Henry R. Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, at the University of Notre Dame. He was granted a nonimmigrant visa on 5 May; however, on 28 July, his H-1B visa was revoked by the State Department. In August 2004, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cited the "ideological exclusion provision" of the U.S. Patriot Act as the grounds for Ramadan's visa revocation. In October, the University of Notre Dame filed a H-1B petition on Ramadan's behalf. After hearing no response from the government by December, Ramadan resigned his position from the university.
In September 2005, Ramadan filed an application for a B Visa to allow him to participate at speaking arrangements with various organizations and universities. The government did not issue a decision on Ramadan's visa application, so the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on 25 January 2006 against the United States government on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center – three groups who had planned on meeting with Ramadan in the US – for revoking Ramadan's visa under the "ideological exclusion provision". The ACLU and NYCLU argued that the ideological exclusion provision was in violation of the First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights of those three groups and that the government's actions violated the Administrative Procedures Act. After two months had passed without a decision being made, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. Pursuant to the injunction, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the government on 23 June 2006 to issue its decision on Ramadan's pending B Visa application within 90 days.
On 19 September 2006, the government formally denied Ramadan's visa application. A State Department statement said: "A U.S. consular officer has denied Dr. Tariq Ramadan's visa application. The consular officer concluded that Dr. Ramadan was inadmissible based solely on his actions, which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization." Between December 1998 and July 2002, Ramadan had given donations totalling $940 to two charity organizations, the Committee for Charity and Support for the Palestinians (CBSP) or Comité de Bienfaisance et de Secours aux Palestiniens and the Association de Secours Palestinien. The United States Treasury designated both the CBSP and ASP terrorist fundraising organizations for their alleged links to Hamas on 22 August 2003. The U.S. Embassy told Ramadan that he "reasonably should have known" that the charities provided money to Hamas. In an article in The Washington Post, Ramadan asked: "How should I reasonably have known of their activities before the U.S. government itself knew?"
On 2 February 2007, the ACLU and NYCLU amended their complaint, arguing that the government's explanation for denying Ramadan's visa application was not "facially legitimate and bona fide" and that the ideological exclusion provision of the PATRIOT Act was in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. They also argued that Ramadan's denial violated the First Amendment rights of those who wanted to hear him speak. In his decision on 20 December 2007, District Judge Paul A. Crotty ruled that the government's justification for denying Ramadan's visa was "facially legitimate and bona fide" and noted that the Court "has no authority to override the Government's consular decision".
In January 2008, the ACLU appealed Crotty's ruling. Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project and lead attorney in the case, stated:
"The government's shifting positions only underscore why meaningful judicial review – the kind of oversight that the district court failed to provide – is so important. In Professor Ramadan's case and many others, the government is using immigration laws to stigmatize and exclude its critics and to censor and control the ideas that Americans can hear. Censorship of this kind is completely inconsistent with the most basic principles of an open society."
Ramadan himself remarked:
"The U.S. government's actions in my case seem, at least to me, to have been arbitrary and myopic. But I am encouraged by the unwavering support I have received from ordinary Americans, civic groups and particularly from scholars, academic organizations, and the ACLU. I am heartened by the emerging debate in the U.S. about what has been happening to our countries and ideals in the past six years. And I am hopeful that eventually I will be allowed to enter the country so that I may contribute to the debate and be enriched by dialogue."
On 17 July 2009, the US federal appeals court reversed the ruling of the lower district court. The three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – composed of Judges Jon O. Newman, Wilfred Feinberg and Reena Raggi – ruled that the Court had "jurisdiction to consider the claim, despite the doctrine of consular nonreviewability". They stated that government was required by law to "confront Ramadan with the allegation against him and afford him the subsequent opportunity to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he did not know, and reasonably should not have known, that the recipient of his contributions was a terrorist organization." Under the limited review permitted by the 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Kleindienst v. Mandel, the panel concluded that the "record does not establish that the consular officer who denied the visa confronted Ramadan with the allegation that he had knowingly rendered material support to a terrorist organization, thereby precluding an adequate opportunity for Ramadan to attempt to satisfy the provision that exempts a visa applicant from exclusion under the 'material support' subsection if he 'can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that [he] did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the organization was a terrorist organization.'" Additionally, the panel agreed with the plaintiffs' contention that their First Amendment rights had been violated. The panel remanded the case to a lower court to determine if the consular officer had confronted Ramadan with the "allegation that he knew that ASP provided funds to Hamas and then providing him with a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, that he did not know, and should not have reasonably known, of that fact."
Following the ruling, Ramadan stated, "I am very gratified with the court's decision. I am eager to engage once again with Americans in the kinds of face-to-face discussions that are central to academic exchange and crucial to bridging cultural divides." Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, issued a statement saying, "Given today's decision, we hope that the Obama administration will immediately end Professor Ramadan's exclusion. We also encourage the new administration to reconsider the exclusion of other foreign scholars, writers and artists who were barred from the country by the Bush administration on ideological grounds."
On 20 January 2010, after more than five years of waiting, the American State Department has decided, in a document signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to lift the ban that prohibited Ramadan (as well as Professor Adam Habib from South Africa) from entering the United States. On the lifting of this ban, Ramadan has stated:
Coming after nearly six years of inquiry and investigation, Secretary Clinton's order confirms what I have affirmed and reaffirmed from day one: the first accusations of terrorist connections (subsequently dropped), then donations to Palestinian solidarity groups, were nothing more than a pretense to prohibit me from speaking critically about American government policy on American soil. The decision brings to an end a dark period in American politics that saw security considerations invoked to block critical debate through a policy of exclusion and baseless allegation.
On 8 April 2010, Ramadan spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City, his first public appearance since the State Department lifted the ban. The group debated the lengths to which Western nations should go to accommodate their Muslim populations.
Ramadan works primarily on Islamic theology and the position of Muslims in the West and within Muslim majority countries. Generally speaking, he prioritizes Qur'anic interpretation over simply reading the text, in order to understand its meaning and to practice the tenets of Islamic philosophy. Referring to himself, Ramadan has at times used the construction "Salafi Reformist" to illustrate his stance.
He rejects a binary division of the world into dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) and dar al-harb (the abode of war), on the grounds that such a division is not mentioned in the Qur'an. He has been also known to cite favourably the dar al-da‘wah (abode of preaching).
For him the "Islamic message" to which Muslims are expected to bear witness is not primarily the particularist, socially conservative code of traditionalist jurists, but a commitment to universalism and the welfare of non-Muslims; it is also an injunction not merely to make demands on un-Islamic societies but to express solidarity with them.
Ramadan has voiced his opposition to all forms of capital punishment but believes the Muslim world should remove such laws from within, without any Western pressure, as such would only further alienate Muslims, and instead bolster the position of those who support hudud punishments: "Muslim populations are convincing themselves of the Islamic character of these practices through a rejection of the west, on the basis of a simplistic reasoning that stipulates that 'the less western, the more Islamic'".
He has condemned suicide bombing and violence as a tactic. Additionally, he contends that terrorism is never justifiable, even though it can be understandable (in the sense of having a legitimate cause of resistance behind it).
Like the majority of Islamic scholars, he sees the hijab as an Islamic prescription, but he finds it against Islam to compel a woman to wear a headscarf. He also says that it's a violation of human rights to force a woman to remove her headscarf.
Ramadan wrote that the Muslim response to Pope Benedict XVI's speech on Islam was disproportionate, and was encouraged by reactionary Islamic regimes in order to distract their populations, and that it did not improve the position of Islam in the world.
Ramadan wrote an article, "Critique des (nouveaux) intellectuels communautaires", which French newspapers Le Monde and Le Figaro refused to publish. Oumma.com did eventually publish it. In the article he criticizes a number of French intellectuals and figures such as Alexandre Adler, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Lévy, André Glucksmann and Bernard Kouchner, for allegedly abandoning universal human rights, and giving special status to the defence of Israel. Ramadan was accused, in return, of having used inflammatory language. The underlying content of the essay was sharply criticized as well.
In a French television debate in 2003 with Nicolas Sarkozy, Sarkozy accused Ramadan of defending the stoning of adulterers, a punishment supposedly warranted by a section of the Islamic penal code known as hudud. Ramadan replied that Sarkozy was wrong. He said that he opposed corporal punishments, stoning and the death penalty and that he is in favor of a moratorium on these practices to open the debate among Islamic scholars in Muslim-majority countries that enforce them. Many people, including Sarkozy, were outraged. Ramadan later defended his position arguing that, because it involved religious texts that Muslims take seriously, the law would have to be properly understood and contextualized. Ramadan argued that in Muslim countries, the simple act to "condemn" won't change anything, but with a moratorium, it could open the way for further debate. He thinks that such a debate can only lead to an abolition of these rules.
On July 16 2016, Ramadan was denied entry to Mauritania at Nouakchott International Airport. He had been invited to give lectures in the country. He claimed the decision "came directly from the presidency". Local police confirmed he "was expelled". This is the eighth time a Muslim country has denied him entry.
Some academics have greeted his works with enthusiasm, detecting liberalising and rationalising tendencies.
Paul Donnelly at the liberal online magazine Salon.com asked rhetorically: "Tariq Ramadan: The Muslim Martin Luther?". Similarly, an article at the self-described liberal The American Prospect praised Ramadan and his work in particular as an "entire corpus consists of a steady and unyielding assault on Muslim insularity, self-righteousness, and self-pity."
In a book published by Encounter Books, Caroline Fourest claimed to have analysed Tariq Ramadan's 15 books, 1,500 pages of interviews, and approximately 100 recordings, and concludes "Ramadan is a war leader" and the "political heir of his grandfather", Hassan al-Banna, stating that his discourse is "often just a repetition of the discourse that Banna had at the beginning of the 20th century in Egypt", and that he "presents [al-Banna] as a model to be followed." She argues that "Tariq Ramadan is slippery. He says one thing to his faithful Muslim followers and something else entirely to his Western audience. His choice of words, the formulations he uses – even his tone of voice – vary, chameleon-like, according to his audience." Tariq Ramadan responded that Caroline Fourest's book was filled with inaccuracies and untruths, a few of which she has acknowledged on her blog.
The former head of the French antiracism organization SOS Racisme, Malek Boutih, has been quoted as saying to Ramadan, after talking with him at length: "Mr. Ramadan, you are a fascist". In an interview with Europe 1, Malek Boutih also likened Ramadan to "a small Le Pen"; in another interview he accused him of having crossed the line of racism and anti-Semitism, thus not genuinely belonging to the alter-globalization movement. Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris, declared Ramadan unfit to participate at the European Social Forum, as not even "a slight suspicion of anti-Semitism" would be tolerable. Talking to the Paris weekly Marianne, Fadela Amara, president of Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissive, a French feminist movement), Aurélie Filippetti, municipal counsellor for The Greens in Paris, Patrick Klugman, leading member of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France, and Dominique Sopo, head of SOS-Racisme, accuse Ramadan of having misused the alter-globalization movement's ingenuousness to advance his "radicalism and anti-Semitism." Egyptian intellectual Tarek Heggy has also charged Ramadan with saying different things to different audiences. Other criticisms have included claims that an essay attacking French intellectuals was anti-semitic and that Ramadan has shown excessive generosity in his rationalization of the motives behind acts of terrorism, such as in the case of Mohammed Merah.
Olivier Guitta, writing in The Weekly Standard, welcomed the U.S. decision to refuse Ramadan a visa, based on Ramadan's supposed links to terrorist organizations, and claiming that his father was the likely author of "'The Project'... a roadmap for installing Islamic regimes in the West by propaganda, preaching, and if necessary war." Guitta also criticized Ramadan for his campaign against the performance of Voltaire's play Mahomet in Geneva. Similarly, self-described conservative Daniel Pipes concurred with the revocation of Ramadan's visa on grounds of Ramadan's alleged ties with Islamic extremism. After the lifting of the visa revocation, an article in the National Review criticized the double standard of lifting the visa restriction on Ramadan, but not for Issam Abu Issa who was banned by the Bush Administration for being a whistleblower against the Palestinian Authority's corruption.
Response to some of the criticism
Ramadan vehemently denies contacts with terrorists or other Islamic fundamentalists and the charges of anti-Semitism and double talk, attributing the charges to misinterpretation and an unfamiliarity with his writings. He stated: "I have often been accused of this 'double discourse', and to those who say it, I say – bring the evidence. I am quite clear in what I say. The problem is that many people don't want to hear it, particularly in the media. Most of the stories about me are completely untrue: journalists simply repeat black propaganda from the internet without any corroboration, and it just confirms what they want to believe. Words are used out of context. There is double-talk, yes, but there is also double-hearing. That is what I want to challenge." In answer to criticism of his response to 11 September, Ramadan replied that two days after the attacks he had published an open letter, exhorting Muslims to condemn the attacks and the attackers, and not to "hide behind conspiracy theories." and that less than two weeks after the attacks he had stated that "The probability [of bin Laden's guilt] is large, but some questions remain unanswered. ... But whoever they are, Bin Laden or others, it is necessary to find them and that they be judged", and that the interview had been conducted before any evidence was publicly available.
In a free internet poll by Foreign Policy magazine, Ramadan was listed as one of the 100 top global thinkers in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Awards and nominations
In January 2014, Ramadan was nominated for the title of Religious Advocate of the Year at the British Muslim Awards.