Formerly Banned Muslim Scholar Tours U.S. In 2004, Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan was banned from the U.S. when the Bush administration invoked the Patriot Act. Now, the ban is lifted and Ramadan is touring the U.S. explaining to American audiences why he calls Islam a Western religion. And he says he sees a lot of hope in Western Muslim communities.
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Formerly Banned Muslim Scholar Tours U.S.

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Formerly Banned Muslim Scholar Tours U.S.

Formerly Banned Muslim Scholar Tours U.S.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In 2004, the Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan was banned from the U.S. by Homeland Security. He was accused of giving money to a charity that was later classified as a terrorist organization. Ramadan is a Swiss-born Egyptian, the grandson of the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Well, earlier this year, the State Department decided he did not represent a threat and lifted that ban. And Tariq Ramadan has been traveling here speaking about Islam and the West. He came by our studios to talk about his vision of reformist Islam, which has made him persona non grata in parts of the Arab world.

Professor TARIQ RAMADAN (Oxford University; Author, "What I Believe"): I'm banned from six countries, the Muslim majority countries. So this is why I get this, you know, controversial qualification. On the other side, of course, when I speak in the West, I'm too much a Muslim. There you are too much a Westerner, and then here you are too much a Muslim.

BLOCK: When you call Islam a Western religion, do you see it as needing to adapt in any way to Western cultures, to Western norms?

Prof. RAMADAN: We have to go beyond the clash of perceptions because the perception is Islam is not a Western religion and Muslims are still to be integrated and they have to integrate. I'm saying it's exactly the opposite. Let us come to facts and figures. Millions of American Muslims, Canadian Muslims, European Muslims are already Western by culture and Muslim by religion.

They abide by the law of the country. They speak the languages of the country, the respective country. So the point here is really about this, is that we should go beyond integration. Now we should speak about contribution. A Muslim citizen should contribute to her or his country and this is the way forward.

BLOCK: But if you look at the fault lines, the places where Islam tends to butt up against Western culture - for example, the French ban on the head scarves, in the country of your own birth, in Switzerland, the ban on Minarets, recently here in the United States we saw death threats to the creators of the TV show "South Park" over how the Prophet Muhammad was depicted, how do you see those secular, liberal values being reconciled, if at all, with Islamic values? Or do they need to be distinct?

Prof. RAMADAN: No. They are already, because the point is that the great majority of the Muslims in our countries in the West have no problem with the secular liberal societies. We don't have a problem. And, look, if we are serious about considering what happened, for example, in Europe with the cartoon issue and even in the ban on Mineras, the great majority of the citizens were very calm, wise in the way they reacted. The more intense emotional reactions came from Muslim majority countries.

And governments in the Muslim majority countries instrumentalizing this to say, okay, look, the West is against Islam. But the great majority of the Muslims are saying, we don't like it, but if you want to go ahead, we can have a dialogue on our mutual sensitivities and how we are going to live together. And I would say that this is the future.

BLOCK: But the flipside of that, though, is the French government, for example, says we see a value in not having women wear the veil, wear the headscarves.

Prof. RAMADAN: But once again, it's all about politics. You know, I have been involved in this discussion in France. It's, you know, what I call strategic distraction. We have problems on the German market. We have problem in the suburbs. We are not coming with policies. You are Islamizing the social policies and coming with the veil covering the face and saying this is the issue of the time, which it's not.

This is just something which is the way to deal with populist parties. The winner of all these discussions are - the Front National. For example, in France...

BLOCK: The right wing.

Prof. RAMADAN: Yeah, the right wing. You know, we have four Minarets in Switzerland. Who is leading the discussion in Switzerland? The (speaking foreign language), it's the Swiss People Party. And they are just...

BLOCK: Again, the right wing.

Prof. RAMADAN: Exactly, the right wing. So we have to understand that the Muslims even in Europe at the local level, they are doing much better. And this national controversy is that distracting us from the critical questions. And the critical questions are social economy. They are not religious.

BLOCK: I have to ask you, Mr. Ramadan, about one statement that got you and has continued to get you in a whole lot of trouble. It came in 2003 in a debate you had in France with President Sarkozy, and the question was about the stoning of women. And you said there should be a moratorium on that. And I know theres been a great deal said since then. But I just wonder if you now think, in talking about a moratorium on stoning, that that was the wrong word to use.

I know part of your argument is we need to go back and look at the text and reinterpret the text, but is moratorium, thinking back in hindsight, not what you really should've said?

Prof. RAMADAN: No, no, no. I am just repeating it because I think that this is the right word to use if you understand the issue. Muslims are dealing with texts. You cannot just condemn it and that's it. You can do this in Paris, not going to change anything on the ground. My point is not to please the West. My point is to change mentalities from within the Muslim majority countries. And while we are opening this discussion with the scholars and we'll see that there is no consensus, we have to stop. How do you call this? Is a moratorium.

BLOCK: Well, a moratorium, though, implies that we will stop, we think about it, but we may continue it. Why not just say it's wrong? It's...

Prof. RAMADAN: No, no, because this is the point. This is the point that you cannot condemn texts. You have to understand the conditions and how this has to be contextualized. If you deal with Muslims, you have to come with Islamic arguments. So what I'm saying, we have to stop in the name of Islam.

BLOCK: Do you understand why to some Westerners that would seem to be an apologist attitude, a way - a sort of a mealy-mouthed approach to a really horrible problem?

Prof. RAMADAN: No, I don't think so. I think that the people who are going for that and having this understanding, they are judging from a position of, oh, as a liberal Democrat, I condemn this. But you condemn it, but youre not going to change. And I want the people to understand, come from within, a civilization, a religious tradition in order to understand how things are moving from within. It's not by condemning them from outside, it has to be consistent from within.

BLOCK: Mr. Ramadan, you were here in Washington for a conference on U.S.-Muslim relations about one year after President Obama's speech in Cairo. Do you see any change over the last year since that speech?

Prof. RAMADAN: I think first that we have to acknowledge when there are constructive, positive steps. I would say that what is coming from the President Barack Obama is quite new. It's not at all following in the footsteps of the Bush administration when it comes to multilateral approaches. The fact that I'm here even, is something which is new, to open towards Muslims and to be able to say, as he said, Islam is an American religion and American Muslims are contributing to the future and the positive future of this country.

And I think that this is a new vision and a new understanding. Now, what we are expecting from the current administration is to implement all these good, new votes and also to be much more involved in practicalities when it comes, for example, on security measures, on the borders, that still you have people in jail that are not judged. We still have, you know, Guantanamo. We still have the Iraqi War, the Afghani War. All this is also part of something, which is we need to have changes here.

What I can say also is that from within the Muslim communities, there is much hope. I would say now from speeches and discourses and goodwill, we need now to come with something which is more effective on the ground.

BLOCK: Tariq Ramadan, thanks for coming in.

Prof. RAMADAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Tariq Ramadan is a professor at Oxford. His latest book is titled "What I Believe."

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