Tariq Ramadan is a European Muslim intellectual much fted and hated by opposing camps. He is committed to the development of a Western Muslim sensibility that integrates the basic tenets of Islam with precious occidental values. Time magazine voted him one of the 100 most influential people of this century, yet the authorities refused to let him take up a post at a US university.
Many in the US and Europe suspect he is a fanatic in academic garb. In Britain, right-wing papers sully his name, raising a stench of suspicion that he is more dangerous than Bin Laden because he is so convincingly of the West, with his smooth talk and gentleman's beard. A French journalist once warned me: 'Don't trust him: he speaks different things to different people.'
His devotees, meanwhile, refuse to accept that his ideas may be flawed or at least require proper interrogation. So to assess Ramadan's work, you have to shut out the reputation of the man and the noisy disputes over whether he is a saint or a sinner.
The whole world is desperate for an alternative to the doctrinaire, joyless, killer Islam spreading across the planet. A seedling Islamic Reformation is starting to appear. Disparate thinkers, writers, feminists and 'Westernised' Muslims are thinking aloud, extracting new meanings from their texts and unloading oppressive orthodoxies " always a brave thing to do, but vastly more if you are a Muslim in the 21st century. But not all reformists deserve inordinate enthusiasm. Some of those eagerly embraced by powerful Westerners are shallow and play to this audience.
Ramadan is not one of them, although the first pages of this book are a tad New Age " like Deepak Chopra or Paolo Coelho, the whisperers who blow air into the ear to lull a questioning mind. It advises: 'Go, travel the world, watch, look for the truth and the secret of life', or that "I' must set out to …