LONDON, Nov 7 — Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan has long been a media personality around Europe and beyond, but the controversial intellectual is now fighting to save his career after two women accused him of rape.
An Oxford professor, Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement.
Two French women in the past month have filed rape charges against the 55-year-old, born in Switzerland, while further allegations of sexual misconduct against teenage girls in the 1980s and 1990s have emerged in the Swiss media.
A father of four married for decades to a French Muslim convert, Ramadan has furiously denied the allegations as a “campaign of lies launched by my adversaries” and is battling them in the courts.
His conservative brand of Islam has garnered legions of fans. He counts two million followers on Facebook, many of whom have flocked to his defence decrying a “Zionist plot” to ruin him.
But critics accuse him of changing his tune depending on who is listening, adopting a moderate tone on French TV while preaching a more radical line when addressing Muslims in Arabic.
The French writer Caroline Fourest, a vocal critic who has written a book about Ramadan, says the charisma that attracts crowds of students is also what drew his alleged victims to him.
“These women are under his spell. At the beginning they are fascinated — they may even be attracted to him,” she told AFP.
The two women who accuse Ramadan of rape have come forward in the wake of the global sex abuse allegations unleashed by the scandal engulfing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. They say they first approached the Islamic scholar seeking religious advice.
‘Going to die’
In the case of Muslim feminist activist Henda Ayari, online exchanges over whether to wear the veil led to him suggesting they meet at a hotel in Paris in 2012.
She told Le Parisien newspaper that she was raped violently. “He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die.” she alleged.
A second accuser, a disabled woman who has remained anonymous, has alleged Ramadan beat her while raping her multiple times in a hotel in Lyon in 2009.
“He kicked my crutches and threw himself on top of me saying, ‘You made me wait, it’s going to cost you’,” she told Le Monde.
A legal source told AFP investigators are looking into the women’s allegations jointly as part of a preliminary probe for rape, sexual assault, violence and death threats.
Ramadan’s lawyers have hit back with charges of witness tampering to demand an investigation into whether the women could have colluded.
They are notably targeting Fourest, who said she had been in contact since 2009 with three alleged victims.
Never one to shy from controversy, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicted Ramadan on this week’s front cover with a giant erection, saying, “I am the sixth pillar of Islam.”
Its editor said the magazine, which suffered a deadly jihadist attack in 2015, had received fresh death threats for the cartoon.
Former prime minister Manuel Valls, who ruled out granting Ramadan his request for French citizenship last year, decried “sections of the press” for granting Ramadan ample air time in the past.
He blasted Ramadan yesterday as a “so-called intellectual” who had “done terrible harm to our youth with his tapes, his preaching in our mosques, his invitations to appear on screen”.
Ramadan remains in his post at Britain’s prestigious Oxford University, where he teaches contemporary Islamic studies.
Over the years Ramadan has repeatedly been accused of anti-Semitism, which he has rejected, fiercely defending his right to criticise the state of Israel.
Critics further charge that he has encouraged sectarianism and encouraged young women to hide themselves behind the veil.
He has brushed these claims aside, saying he encourages young Muslims to take an active role in society, that the veil is a matter of choice and that he rejects violence and encourages worshippers to read Islamic texts “in context”.
Ramadan first entered the public eye when he was banned from entering France in 1995 following Islamist bombings in Paris.
Authorities had apparently confused him with his more radical brother Hani, who once wrote a column in Le Monde justifying the stoning of women.
Ramadan was later banned from entering the United States from 2004 to 2010 on ideological grounds.
The bitter exchanges between pro- and anti-Ramadan camps following the sex assault allegations are testament to how divisive he is, notes Fateh Kimouche, founder of Muslim website Al-Kanz.
Ramadan is “the first Muslim media intellectual”, he told AFP.
Naturally, he said, the debate has been “very passionate”. — AFP