Tariq Ramadan, a world-renowned Swiss Islamic scholar, is currently making his first appearance in the U.S. since the State Department barred him from entering the U.S. in 2004. On Monday, he spoke at Georgetown University in Gaston Hall along with School of Foreign Service Professor John Esposito about the need for the radical reform in Islam.
Ramadan’s visa was revoked six years ago as he was about to travel to the U.S. to become a professor at the University of Notre Dame. The State Department cited small donations Ramadan made to a pro-Palestinian group in from 1998 to 2002 which was suspected of giving money to Hamas, a group that made the State Department terrorist list in 2003.
In Gaston, Ramadan talked about the theory driving his recent work, that Islam needs “radical reform.” Speaking animatedly and rapidly on the stage from which, three years earlier, he had spoken by satellite because of his travel ban, he said that Muslims should reject the notion that tradition is immovable and that sacred texts cannot be reinterpreted in a contemporary context.
“We need a radical reform in the way we deal with [religious] texts in the context of our time,” he said, adding that while there is an impulse for Muslims to adapt interpretation of sacred texts to the changing world, Muslims also “need to come back with a more approach in light of the text to transform the world.”
“Tradition is moving,” he said. “Show me one tradition that isn’t moving. It doesn’t exist.”
Esposito asked Ramadan to clarify his use of the word “radical.”
“It’ll make a great headline,” Esposito joked. “Tariq Ramadan advocates for radical reform of Islam at Georgetown University. And then we’re in trouble.”