Support 100 years of independent journalism.

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.

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.

Previous: Ayatollah Khomeini (d.1989)

Back to list.

Topics in this article: