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Ramadan, Tariq Said

By:
Joseph A. Kéchichian
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ramadan, Tariq Said

A Swiss theologian and academic who advocates a reinterpretation of Islamic texts, Tariq Said Ramadan (b. 1962) calls on believers to establish a new Islam in the West by engaging local societies. His emphasis on religion as an antidote to contemporary secular life in the West, along with his unabashed defense of certain controversial issues, drew the ire of American officials, who barred him from teaching in the United States in 2004.

Ramadan was born in Geneva, Switzerland on August 26, 1962, to Saʿid Ramadān, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was expelled from Egypt by Gamal Abdel Nasser. His grandfather was Hasan al-Bannā, the founder of the Brotherhood. Tariq studied philosophy, literature, and social sciences at the University of Geneva, and earned degrees in French literature at the master's level and Arabic and Islamic studies for his doctorate, although his dissertation was on Nietzsche. He held two lectureships in religion and philosophy at the University of Fribourg and the Collēge de Saussure, both in Switzerland. In October 2005, he accepted a visiting fellowship at St. Antony's Collēge at the University of Oxford in Britain and, since 2005, has been a senior research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation. While in Britain, he was invited by the Blair government to join a task force examining the role of Muslims in European societies. This work was a follow-up to his Mouvement des Musulmans Suisses, which engaged in various interfaith seminars. The European Union sought his advice on religious issues on a commission dealing with “Islam and Secularism.” Ramadan is married to a French convert to Islam and they have four children.

In February 2004, Ramadan accepted a tenured position as the Luce Professor of Religion at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The United States Department of State revoked his visa in late July 2004, later arguing that he had provided support to a terrorist organization. Between December 1998 and July 2002, Ramadan had given donations totaling $940 to two Palestinian charity organizations designated as terrorist fund-raising groups for their alleged links to Hamās.

Ramadan believes in the reinterpretation of the Qurʿān to understand Islamic philosophy better. He emphasizes the difference between religion and culture, which he believes are too often confused. He rejects the separation of people between dār al-islām and dār al-harb (the Islamic and non-Islamic realms), because these classifications are suspect according to the scriptures. Rather, he proposes that Western Muslims live in dār al-shahādah (realm of witness), where they can practice fundamental principles of faith and take responsibility for them.

Because Ramadan has spoken on controversial subjects, including critical evaluations of Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and opposition to the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, many of his more conciliatory views were overlooked. For example, Ramadan condemned suicide bombings and violence as a tactic, and declared that terrorism was never justifiable. He cautioned Muslims not to overreact to Pope Benedict XVI's speech on Islam. Yet, a frequent charge against Ramadan is that he says different things to different audiences. Many suspect that he speaks to radical Islamists or young Muslims in one way, and to Western media or academia in another. Such criticisms notwithstanding, and no matter how convoluted some of his presentations may appear to outsiders, there is consistency in Ramadan's discourse—much like that of Hasan al-Bannā in Egypt.

See also MINORITIES, subentry on MUSLIM MINORITIES IN NON-MUSLIM SOCIETIES.

Bibliography

  • Landau, Paul. Le sabre et le coran: Tariq Ramadan et les Frères Musulmans à la conquête de l’Europe. Paris, 2005. Argues that Ramadan relies on the “word” to conquer Europe.
  • Zemouri, Aziz. Faut-il faire taire Tariq Ramadan?Paris, 2005. A highly readable conversation with Ramadan on controversial subjects.

  • For a list of Ramadan's books, which include In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad; The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad; Western Muslims and the Future of Islam; To Be a European Muslim; and Islam, the West, and the Challenge of Modernity, see his Webpage at www.tariqramadan.com/welcome.php3.
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