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10 February 2010updated 24 Sep 2015 10:46am

Tariq Ramadan

The radical reformer.

By Ian K Smith

With Hassan al-Banna as his grandfather, Tariq Ramadan has endured hostility, travel restrictions and charges of “double-talk” — the accusation that he says one thing to his western audience and another behind closed doors to his Muslim brothers.

In 2003, he became embroiled in a heated debate with Nicolas Sarkozy on French television, during which the then interior minister accused Ramadan of supporting stoning under Islamic law. But his central argument is that lasting change in Islam must come from internal debate, rather than outside imposition. For this reason, he has argued for a moratorium on such practices.

Raised in Switzerland and educated in Geneva and Cairo, Ramadan has done a great deal of work on reconciling European and Islamic identities, which has led others to speak of him as a “Muslim Martin Luther”. This places him within an Islamic reformation in which traditional religious authority is replaced by a new religious intellectualism.

Ramadan calls for root-and-branch reform of Islam to meet the needs of majority-Muslim and minority-Muslim states alike. In his view, Islamic law is a “universe” of referents that exist to help the believer to answer life choices. More recently, he has called for a thorough reform of Islamic law, positing the physical universe as a source of law, in addition to the Quran and the Sunna, the prophetic tradition.

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Rather than a religion that merely adapts to western society, Ramadan seeks to create a “transformational reform”, whereby Muslim professionals, scientists and religious scholars will contribute to the modernity of which they are a part.

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On reforming Islamic law:

We can no longer leave it to scholarly circles and text specialists to determine norms (about scientific, social, economic or cultural issues) while they only have relative or superficial, second-hand acknowledge of complex, profound and often interconnected issues.

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