Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?

The Islamist, the journalist, and the defense of liberalism.

Paul Berman


Tariq Ramadan is a charismatic and energetic Islamic philosopher in Europe who has become popular and influential among various circles of European Muslims during the past fifteen years—originally in Geneva, where his father founded the Islamic Center in 1961; then in Lyon, the French city closest to Switzerland, where Ramadan attracted a following of young people from North African backgrounds; then among French Muslims beyond Lyon; at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, in Britain, where he spent a year on a fellowship; among still more scattered Muslim audiences in Western Europe, who listened to his audio recordings and packed his lecture halls, normally with the men and the women sitting demurely in their separate sections; among Muslims in various Francophone countries in Africa—and outward to the wider world.

Ramadan possesses a special genius for shaping cultural questions according to his own lights and presenting those questions to the general public, and he has demonstrated this ability from the start. As early as 1993, at the age of thirty-two, he campaigned in Geneva to cancel an impending production of Voltaire’s play Muhammad, or Fanaticism. The production was canceled, and a star was born—though Ramadan has argued that, on the contrary, he had nothing to do with canceling the play, and to say otherwise is a “pure lie.” Not every battle has gone his way. He taught at the college of Saussure, where his colleagues were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin. This time, too, Ramadan shaped the debate to his own specifications by insisting that he never wanted to suppress the existing biology curriculum—merely to complement it with an additional point of view. A helpful creationist proposal. But the Darwinians, unlike the Voltaireans, were in no rush to yield.

To Be a European Muslim
By Tariq Ramadan
(Islamic Foundation, 273 pp., $19.95)

Islam, the West, and the Challenges of Modernity
By Tariq Ramadan
(Islamic Foundation, 352 pp., $35)

Western Muslims and the Future of Islam
By Tariq Ramadan
(Oxford University Press, 272 pp., $16.95)

In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad
By Tariq Ramadan
(Oxford University Press, 242 pp., $23)


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