Muslim Scholar Barred from US Preaches Tolerance ; State Dept. Revokes Visa Days before Classes at Notre Dame

Article excerpt

Tariq Ramadan - a Swiss-born intellectual, imam, and activist - is one of Europe's most prominent Muslim reformers. Time magazine named him one of the 100 innovators of the 21st century. The University of Notre Dame has invited him to teach Islamic philosophy and ethics at its Kroc Institute for Peace Studies.

But just days before classes began, the US government revoked his visa on the basis of national security, without explanation. The scholar and his family were stranded as his furniture headed to Indiana. Many American scholars were stunned and have decried the government's action as an interference in academic freedom.

Is Ramadan a genuine threat to America? Does he promote views antithetical to US values? His new book, "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam," seems the natural place to look for answers. Its stated goals are to foster a reinterpretation of Islam that fits the times and to encourage Muslims' positive integration into Western society. The work represents an ambitious, complex effort to engage his fellow Muslims in reform.

It's not difficult to see why Muslim youths on the continent, struggling for a sense of identity and footing in a secular culture, throng to his speeches. The book reveals a voice of moral clarity and devout faith rooted in a sophisticated appreciation for what is good in Western society and for the contributions Muslims might make to Europe and the US, as well as to spurring change in the Muslim world.

This is home, he says, not some distant time and place, and one must find Muslim identity as an engaged citizen, not as a minority, an alien, or a victim. He provides guidance on how to search sacred Islamic texts for universal principles as distinct from tradition- bound cultural practices, and he places strong emphasis on humility and spirituality.

"Spirituality is the way in which the believer keeps his faith alive ... the intimate energy involved in the struggle against the natural human tendency to forget God," he says.

Ramadan - professor of philosophy at the College of Geneva and of Islamic studies at the University of Fribourg - is a vigorous advocate of interreligious dialogue, and a frank proponent of Islamic feminism. He questions efforts to build separate Islamic school systems, saying children are better off attending public schools and receiving Islamic teaching that is complementary, not parallel, to public education.

Ramadan has been accused by some of saying one thing to Westerners and another thing to Muslims, yet he seems to have no difficulty in this book and elsewhere rejecting extremism. …