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Islamic Scholar to Address Western Bias, Fear

Once banned from U.S., Tariq Ramadan says “tolerance” not enough


Oxford Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan discusses Islam and the West. Photo courtesy of Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and Media Relations

When Western thinkers look for perspective on matters Islamic, they are likely to turn to Tariq Ramadan, a world-renowned Muslim scholar and professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. The author of more than 20 books and a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and other leading U.S. newspapers, Ramadan will speak at BU today as part of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs fall seminar series.

Ramadan, 48, whose 5 p.m. talk at the School of Law Auditorium is titled Beyond Tolerance: Islam and Pluralism, lectures and writes frequently on the subject of Americans’ and Europeans’ escalating prejudice against and fear of Muslims.

In his writings, he has pointed to an identity crisis gripping an America torn over the economy, immigration, and the specter of terrorism. But Ramadan believes “the United States is not inherently anti-Islam in a religious sense or anti-Muslim in a racial sense.” It is time, he says, for Muslims “not to be on the defensive, to stop apologizing for being Muslims, and to be more assertive about their values, duties, rights, and contributions to the society in which they live.”

“Ramadan is one of the most influential and sophisticated thinkers in the contemporary Muslim world who is addressing these concerns,” says Robert Hefner, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of anthropology and the institute’s director. “Ramadan is simply one of the most interesting, lively, and creative thinkers in the Muslim world today.” And Ramadan’s views are important to non-Muslims, too, says Hefner, adding that the scholar “challenges the stereotypes of Islam, which, regrettably in my opinion, seem to be more prevalent today than a few years ago.”

Ramadan has urged Muslims to have faith in America, and to learn from the historical experience of African Americans, who, “once enslaved and denigrated,” are now “involved in all the mainstream American debates and activities.”

But during the George W. Bush administration, when Ramadan was banned from entering the United States, he commented in the Washington Post that he “fears America has grown fearful of ideas,” and that the nation was reacting to its critics not by engaging them but by stigmatizing and excluding them.

Ramadan, an Egyptian who grew up in Europe, will call today for Westerners to go beyond tolerance to a place of mutual respect. “I am totally against the concept of tolerance,” he writes. “It too often means, ‘I accept that you are here, because I have no choice. I ignore you, but I suffer your presence.’ This is no way forward. Respect means mutual knowledge, and not only what you can glean from the other’s holy book.”  

To recurring accusations of anti-Semitism Ramadan has responded, “It must be possible for us to be critical towards Israel without becoming Judeophobic or anti-Semitic (or indeed, Islamophobic in the case of criticism of Saudi Arabia). I give no support towards any kind of anti-Semitism or racism. There is no hierarchy between racisms.”

Ramadan’s visit to the United States last April was the first since the State Department barred his entry in 2004, after he had accepted a faculty position at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. A frequent lecturer at major universities and foundations around the country, Ramadan had never been viewed as a threat to national security, but when his visa was denied he was forced to give up the Notre Dame position. Eventually the denial was traced to charitable donations he’d made to French and Swiss human rights groups that were active on behalf of Palestinians.

In 2009, at the urging of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Ramadan reapplied, was granted a visa, and returned to the United States. In a Washington Post column about the incident, Ramadan implored Western societies to “be more open toward Muslims and to regard them as a source of richness, not just of violence or conflict.” He added that he has been open in his criticism of some Muslim countries and is in fact banned from entering Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and his native Egypt.

Ramadan has a master’s degree in philosophy and French literature and a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Geneva.

Tariq Ramadan will speak at 5 p.m. today at the Boston University School of Law Auditorium, 765 Commonwealth Ave. The event is free and open to the public. A question-and-answer period will follow the talk. The event is hosted by CURA and by the Institute for Philosophy & Religion.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.


5 Comments on Islamic Scholar to Address Western Bias, Fear

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2010 at 9:02 am

    Intolerance is a two way street

    When I hear a religious leader or politician speak positively and supportively of a competing religion or political philosophy, THEN I pay attention. For example, the Dalia Lama, Pope John Paul, and long ago Ravi Das have spoken well of other religions amd civilizations.

    When I hear a religious leader plead for tolerance and respect for their own cause, I tune them out. Until they start speaking well of others, on a regular consistent basis, why should they expect others to speak well of them.

    Maybe Tariq Ramadan says this – In this article, I didn’t hear it. I don’t see it in his Wikipedia write-up either.

  • T.L. Winslow on 10.13.2010 at 10:55 am

    It's Not About Western Bias, It's About Islam

    Sorry, it’s not about "Islamophobia", it’s about Islam, the world’s most supremacist and intolerant ideology making a comeback and trying to expand the territory of the Muslim world to the West by hook or crook. Due to Muslim immigration, the West is in increasing peril of Islamic infiltration and takeover, a process that will be all bad news. Too bad, the media are currently dominated by Islam history ignoramuses and Muslim disinformation artists who claim to see no threat, and worse, blame and try to silence those who do, repeating the pattern of many proud civilizations of the past before they were absorbed forever. When it comes to Islam, political principles learned via study of the last couple of centuries of history won’t work, nor will appeasement. Take their slogan that Islam is a religion of peace. Of course it is, but only after you accept its peace terms of total submission to it along with its horrible Muslim superiority Sharia that destroys all freedoms. Until then Allah commands Muslims to wage ceaseless war with unbelievers, which historically has come to mean even Muslims of different sects, which is why Islam has been a religion of endless war with an ironic slogan. In practice, even allowing Muslims into a non-Muslim country as immigrants will guarantee ceaseless strife, which is why the West must stop Muslim immigration now and reverse it or else face an endless push to subvert the constitution and erect Sharia. Islamic terrorists are only a part of the threat, the main threat is Muslim immigrants who refuse to assimilate and set up de facto Sharia then foment civil war, as Europe is finding out. It’s sad to see rightists warning of the danger of Sharia and leftists knee-jerking in support of Muslims because they hate rightists. Neither group wants to see their country turn into a Sharia hellhole, so it’s time they realized they have common ground here. Keep an open mind and study Islam and its long track record before trying to decide how to deal with it.

  • Abram Trosky on 10.13.2010 at 4:19 pm

    Re: "It's Not About Western Bias, It's About Islam"

    Wow. Reeeallly hope the author of “It’s Not About Western Bias, It’s About Islam” makes it to the talk tonight; Dr. Ramadan is speaking directly to you, my man.
    Btw, if you have the gall to spout such ignorant and conspiratorial BS re: history and religion *at an institute of higher learning*, at least have the courage to put your name on your post.
    Consider this post with my name on it an open invitation to debate this topic in a public forum at a time and place of your choosing.

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2010 at 5:20 pm


    this BS go the past and study history and you will understand the real Islam ..go and translate their own Koran or jut go to Arbic news pages and read what the common Muslim thinks about west and respecting non Muslims. I read Arabic and lived in Middle east and know exactly how Muslims look at non Muslims.

  • Anonymous on 11.05.2010 at 10:35 pm

    What does Ramadan think about this?

    What would Tariq Ramadan say regarding the slaughter of 58 Iraqi Christians in Baghdad on 10.31.10?

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