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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July 2005, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Islamic militant or revolutionary?
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Professor Tariq Ramadan
Leading thinker: But Prof Ramadan has enemies
Islamic extremist or the man leading reform of the faith? Professor Tariq Ramadan explains why his critics are wrong and why the London bombings mean more than ever that Western Muslims must split from the East.

He's the man the Sun loved to hate.

Five days after the London bombings, the newspaper ran a front-page story inviting readers to "MEET ISLAMIC MILITANT PROFESSOR TARIQ RAMADAN", urging the government to ban the Swiss academic from a conference this past weekend.

A week later, The Sun had a change of heart and ran a second piece, describing him as a "hero of young Muslims". Prof Ramadan came to London and indeed spoke to a large audience on the "Middle Way" at one of London's largest mosques.

So will the real Tariq Ramadan please stand up?

Attack: "The wrong target" says Ramadan
The Sun's attack on Prof Ramadan is only the latest he has faced in a controversial career. It has been widely written that he is banned from the USA as an extremist and condones suicide bombings.

He predicts he will be soon allowed to teach in the States and fulfill some of the 20 oustanding invitations he has to speak there. On the other issue, he insists that he absolutely condemns the taking of innocent life (for more on this, listen to his linked interview on BBC Radio Four's Today programme).

In both cases he says these allegations were deliberately put about by American right-wingers who "would nurture this 'clash of civilisations' theory, that somehow the Islamic East and West are incompatible."

"There is an ethical imperative to say to people, to explain to people what is going on in Palestine and urge the international community to speak out," he says. "That is all I have done. If we don't, then our silence nurtures this violence; our silence is as bad as violence.

"In these really difficult times here in Britain, I am the wrong target. I think that this is what The Sun itself felt because they called me and did a second story about what I really think."

Influential thinker

Without a doubt, Tariq Ramadan is one of the most influential voices on young Muslims throughout Western society. His academic reputation comes from provoking their parents' generation and the social mores that have travelled westwards. Media savvy, he works hard at tapping into the young Muslim mentality, complete with a flashy website promoting his thinking.

Hasib Hussain
These young Muslims were born of two parents - one their Muslim community and the other British society. We need to blame both parents and both share our responsibilities
Tariq Ramadan

He dismisses the subjugation of women as un-Islamic, rejects traditional punishments such as stoning and challenges the apparent right of the Muslim East to lead the faith. He switches conversation effortlessly from the Koran to great European thinkers. In short, he regards himself as the matchmaker between Islam and post-Enlightenment, rational European thought.

While Muslim critics say he betrays the faith, some Western academics say he nevertheless pushes an agenda of "Muslim first and European second" - an agenda that hinders integration.

"That's all wrong," he says. "My work is about what it is to be truly Muslim and truly European at the same time. And that is why I get the support that I have found."

"Lets say you are vegetarian and a poet, and you are at a dinner. You are going to say you are vegetarian. But at a party, you will say you are a poet.

"We all have multiple identities which are also moving identities - and this is what European Muslims must solve. How can they remain true to their ethics and values? I think they need to start by getting rid of some of the confusion over what are Muslim values."

Prof Ramadan says large numbers of Western Muslims recognise that, like the rest of their society, they can be selective in what they subscribe to.

"There are many elements in British culture which are not against Islamic values. For a start, you are not obliged to drink alcohol, and many British people don't drink at all," he says.

So rather than having some kind of theological panic over going into a bar with colleagues, the confident, young European Muslim may simply recognise drink as a fact of life for others, but not allow it to morally damage themselves.

'Silent revolution'

What Prof Ramadan says he wants is more of this "silent revolution" in Islamic thought. But does it help us work out why young men from Yorkshire blew themselves up?

An Iranian official flogs Mohammad Bijeh before his execution
Punishments: Ramadan campaign to stop them
Muslim communities must take immediate steps, he says, including facing down literal interpretations of the Koran that bear no relationship to modern life.

Top of his target list are Islamic bookshops which refuse to stock works in touch with the West and help perpetuate a sense of "guilt" among young Muslims for not striving hard enough to live up to an Islamic ideal.

But most of all, young Muslims must break out of an eastward-looking "social and intellectual ghetto" and go it alone.

Only when Middle East money stops building Mosques, and European-born Imams take the upper hand in guiding communities will Muslims square their ideology with European identity. This crucially requires the support of governments, he says.

"These young Muslims were born of two parents - one their Muslim community and the other British society. We need to blame both parents and both share our responsibilities."

"But we have to also ask our fellow citizens [to remove the ghettos] by recognising European society has changed. We have to get rid of this idea that there is this homogenous European culture that Islam threatens. Take the debate over Turkish membership of the EU.

"They fear it will bring in all these Muslims. Well they are here in the cities already and trying to be part of the solution."

So how far does this philosophy go in his personal life? How would he react if one of his four children announced they were marrying a non-Muslim?

"I would naturally prefer someone to share the principles of being a Muslim. But it's their choice," he says.

"Look, by then, I will have done what I have had to do [as a father]. I have transmitted my principles to them. So I say to them, know who you are and your values.

"When you know this, then you are free."

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Some of your comments so far:

Another step towards destroying Islam through apology. Mr Ramadan needs to stop wasting his time being a guest of the West and instead defend Islam. Intellectual debate is one thing but pretending Islam is a personal worship devoid of a penal code and god-given punishment system is not believable to anyone. I disagree with him on many things and I know that as a Muslim brother we share a bond of belief that not power of Bush, Blair or Nation can destroy.
Rizwan Abu Taqwa, London UK

My childhood devastated me as I contended with two opposing worlds, both of which sought to control my choices and led me to rebel, and feel anger towards my home culture and its opposite the outside. My children will be taught to make brave decisions: I tell them look to the good in all cultures and know that you are a British, European and Muslim. Muslim children need a break, they need the chance to breathe and live without guilt.
N Malek, London UK

If a non-Muslim were to utter the same sentiments, they would be condemned by all the do-gooders as racist. Strange old world isn't it?
M C Randall, Worcester England

The sooner that Prof Ramadan is allowed into the US the better. The US is sending the wrong message by not allowing Muslims like Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Dr Zaki Badawi, and Prof Ramadan to enter.
Faqir Mohammad, Berkeley, California

Islam has not gone through a Reformation in the same way that Christianity has -Yet! I think this is what Islam needs - dragging into the 21st century. Perhaps Tariq Ramadan is the Islamic Luther?
James Beeching, Doncaster

We have to work with the religious elements of what drives young men to kill others, but also the community elements that make them prime targets for extremist brainwashing. Leeds and Bradford Asians have had years of racial abuse which affects even nice, young graduates and teaching assistants. Bringing to the fore a more modern form of Islam will help to foster the tolerance that is needed from all sides.
Jenny Cozens, Villefranche, France

Prof Ramadan is absolutely right when he states that Islam in the West needs to break away from Middle-Eastern influence. You hear militant groups referring to Iraq as "the land of two rivers" and most of the propaganda is based around fables in a style almost reminiscent of Tolkien, tales of great battles and deliverance by the sword.
Bill, Middle East

Most British Muslim communities are led by people who were educated and bought in places like India and Pakistan. Fundamentally British Muslims are being led by people who don't understand their daily circumstances. This leads to disenchanted young Muslims who fall into the clutches of extremists. We need more British-born Muslims who have received both a Western and Islamic education to come forward and take up positions of leadership. The elders in the communities need to understand this.
Imran Khan, Blackburn

British non-Muslims aren't carrying out suicide bombings, therefore, the fault must lie somewhere within the Muslim community. Followers of non-indigenous faiths need to integrate into wider society. Despite his carefully chosen words, Prof Ramadan is a Muslim supremacist and, as such, should not be given a platform by the BBC or indeed any other section of the media on which to preach his anti-western views.
Morgan Wolf, London, UK

How can any religion claim to be "tolerant" when they all profess to be the one and only "true" religion? The seeds of intolerance are inherent in religious belief.
Sam, Washington, DC

As a convert to Islam, I recently bought one of Tariq Ramadan's books because I strongly believe that Islam is in need of an intellectual reformation. Muslims must move away from the attitude of 'them and us' and, instead, discover how to live in western, capitalist democracies without losing our religious ideals.
Barrie, London, England

Normal work-a-day Muslims must "out-shout" the extremists and diffuse their bogus agenda of creating a uniform identity out of a multi-cultural faith. This means re-claiming Islam from the people who have led us to believe that they are more Islamic, more religious and more righteous than their fellow-Muslims simply because they have more hate. For too long have we allowed these deluded cranks to be given the role of our mouth-piece.
Faisal, London UK

As an Iranian-American Muslim, I have found time and time again how vastly different the Islam I practice is from the Islam that is preached in Tehran. This isn't about defending or apologising for Islam: it has been corrupted by men who are more concerned with serving themselves than serving God.
Aujang Abadi, Richmond, VA

Hear Tariq Ramadan defend his position

Muslim thinker fights death penalty
30 Mar 05 |  Middle East


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