Controversial scholar Tariq Ramadan explains why Mohammed had
progressive views of women, why the Quran is a prescription for peace
-- and why he is banned from Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
THE MODERN MUSLIM
Why are there so few moderate Muslims speaking out against Islamic
terrorism? That's a common complaint heard in the West, but in truth,
plenty of Muslims are critical of suicide bombers. What's harder to
find are Muslim leaders who condemn terrorism while also maintaining
credibility among disaffected Muslims, and intellectuals who can
appeal to both secular Europeans and Middle Eastern imams. That's why
the Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan is such a compelling figure.
Ramadan has been called the Muslim Martin Luther King, and he's often
described as Europe's most important Muslim intellectual. He has no
shortage of charisma -- a quality that serves him well as he reaches
out to various constituencies. There's no doubt that Ramadan commands
a large following. Hundreds of young Muslims turn up at his public
talks, and tapes of his lectures are widely circulated. He travels
frequently throughout the Islamic world, trying to build bridges
between European Muslims and conservative clerics.
But there are some countries Ramadan can't visit. The United States,
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all banned him -- each for different
reasons. In 2004 Ramadan was all set to move his family to Indiana,
where he'd accepted a teaching position at Notre Dame. But the U.S.
State Department revoked his visa -- though exactly why remains a
mystery. Ramadan says it's because he's an outspoken critic of U.S.
foreign policy. His critics say he has ties to Muslim terrorists. No
evidence of a direct link to terrorism has ever surfaced, though
plenty of people have looked for one. Yet his most vocal critics are
in France, where Ramadan is a prominent public intellectual. The
French journalist Caroline Fourest even wrote a book-length attack on
Ramadan, titled "Brother Tariq."
One reason Ramadan garners such close scrutiny is his distinguished --
some would say notorious -- family background. In 1928 his
grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
-- the group that later spawned al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Banna
was murdered in 1949. Ramadan's parents fled Egypt and settled in
Switzerland, where his father, Said Ramadan, emerged as a major
Islamic thinker. Tariq Ramadan resists simple labels. He's a devout
Muslim, but one who wants to loosen the strict interpretations of
Islamic law. He embraces the Western values of pluralism and
democracy, while also retaining the anti-colonial mantle of his
grandfather. Ramadan is often accused of being two-faced, making nice
with Western journalists while giving fiery speeches to young Muslims.
Ramadan says his tone may change, but he insists that his message is
I had the chance to see Ramadan last summer in Cambridge, England,
where he spoke to a small group of journalists. (After his job at
Notre Dame fell through, he took an academic position at Oxford
University.) In person, Ramadan was elegantly dressed and quite
dashing. Now, at the age of 44, he's just come out with a book about
the life of Mohammed, "In the Footsteps of the Prophet." Ramadan
recently went into the BBC studios in London, where he spoke to me
about his efforts to reconcile Islamic values with Western secularism,
his difficulties with the U.S. government, and his new reading of the
life of Mohammed.
There have been many books about Mohammed. Do you see your book as a
corrective to what other scholars have written about the Prophet?
No. The purpose of the book was not to correct or to come with new
revelations about his life. It's really a rereading of his life,
stressing two dimensions. The first one is spiritual. We can extract
from his life the spiritual lessons for now and forever. And the
second dimension is about contemporary lessons as to our relationships
with our neighbor, with nature, with people from other religions. So
it's really to come back to the teachings, the lessons and the
What do you think non-Muslims need to know about Mohammed? What are
some of the most common misunderstandings?
The perception they have is all about violence, it's all about
otherness, it's all about discrimination toward women. And I think all
this is wrong. He was promoting peace. And the way he was with women
was far ahead of what we sometimes find in Islamic-majority countries
today. You know, the Prophet's life is really an introduction to Islam.
The picture you present of Mohammed is someone who had a very
forward-looking attitude about the status of women. What lessons can
Muslim women take away from Mohammed's life?
First, he was really treating women as women -- and not only as
mothers, or sisters or daughters in Islam. Women are equal before God
and have the same rights and duties. More than that, he was so
respectful. He taught people the way they have to deal with women.
When his daughter came to him, he stood up and welcomed her, talked to
her, respected her, kissed her in front of the people. At that time,
to have a daughter in this Arab tribe was quite a dishonor. It was not
valued in society. And he was welcoming women in the mosque, letting
them enter and talk in the mosque. Today, in the 21st century, people
don't even let women come into the mosque and practice their religion.
He was promoting knowledge. His own wife, Aishah, was a scholar. This
is something that we cannot forget about his life.
So if you look at Mohammed's own life, you're saying the rules
prohibiting women from entering the mosque are just wrong.
Yes, exactly. This is wrong. This is coming from two main mistakes.
The first one is the literal reading of some of the verses. We are
forgetting to put things into context. More important than one verse
is understanding the overall message of Islam. This is one mistake. We
are also confusing Arab cultures, which are historical, with the
universal principles of Islam. I really think we have to come back to
the Prophet's example to understand the way he was promoting the
status of women. He wanted them to be involved at the social level,
the political level, the scholarly level, but also within the mosque.
Today, we need to come back to this and say, it is not Islamic to
prevent Muslim women from entering mosques. Preventing them from
getting knowledge is not Islamic. Forced marriages are not Islamic.
And even domestic violence: You can't just quote one part of a verse
in the Quran, forgetting that the Prophet himself never beat a woman.
He was so respectful. So if he is our example, we cannot accept
domestic violence. This is not Islamic.
There are also verses in the Quran that call on the wives of Mohammed
to cover up. Do you read these as prescriptions for how women should
dress? For instance, is there a commandment for Muslim women to wear
the head scarf?
The head scarf is an Islamic prescription but it cannot be imposed. So
it's an act of faith. We never had one woman forced to wear the head
scarf during the Prophet's life. It's a choice. This is why I'm always
saying it's against Islamic teaching to force a woman to wear a head
scarf. But it's also against human rights to force her to take it off.
It should be a free choice. Now, the discussion we have in some Muslim
countries is not about the head scarf; it's really about what we call
the "niqab" -- veiling the face of the woman. This is something which
was specific to the Prophet's wives and not to all women. And this is
why we must have an intra-community debate about veiling the face --
to say this is not Islamic. There is no compulsion in these matters.
We really have to respect the choice of the woman.
In your book, you say Mohammed was not divine. He was a man chosen by
God to receive the final revelation. This raises some interesting
comparisons to the status of Jesus within Christian theology, since
traditional Christian accounts do describe Jesus as the son of God.
I'm wondering what, if any, implications this has for people today. Do
you think Mohammed has the same status for Muslims as Jesus does for
No, not exactly. We recognize Jesus as a prophet but not as the son of
God. For us, there is nothing divine in Jesus and nothing divine in
Mohammed. They have one dimension coming from God. We are dealing with
revelations, with texts coming to the prophets that they are
transmitting to humanity. But at the same time, they have a human
dimension. Even the Quran is saying to Mohammed that what he did in
some instances is wrong. For example, once he was so obsessed with the
protection of his community that as he was talking to some rich
people, he neglected a poor old man who came to him asking a question
about the Quran. And the Quran said, what you did in this situation
was wrong. So God is speaking to a man who is a prophet -- the best
among humankind -- but still a human being. The status is quite
different from what we have in the Christian tradition. And more than
that, he's not a mediator. So if you want to speak to God, you don't
need the Prophet. You can talk to God straight away. It's an intimate
dialogue between you and Him.
Next page: "We still need our intelligence, our reason and our mind to
understand" the Quran
What about the Quran itself? Does the Quran have a similar status for
Muslims as the Bible does for Christians?
Not exactly. For Muslims, the Quran is the very word of God. The Quran
is what was revealed. But we still need our intelligence, our reason
and our mind to understand what was said to us. Some of the verses
should be understood as immutable. When we speak about the six pillars
of Islamic faith, this is not going to change. This is
trans-historical. When we speak about practices, there is no change.
We pray as the Prophet was praying. We fast the same. And we perform
the pilgrimage in the same way. But when it comes to understanding the
Quran in social affairs, we need our mind and our intellect to
understand the meaning of the verses in order to implement them in a
new historical context.
To make another comparison to current Christian thinking, there's a
big debate over the historical Jesus and how we should interpret
certain episodes in his life. Especially the miracles. For instance,
does a Christian have to believe in the Virgin Birth? And what should
Christians make of the Resurrection? Was this an actual physical
resurrection or something more ethereal? These questions have profound
implications for a lot of Christians today, especially those with a
more rational bent. Is there a comparable debate in Islam today --
whether to read certain episodes of Mohammed's life literally or
We don't have so many miracles in the Prophet's life. Really, what is
presented as a miracle is the text itself. The Quran is perceived as a
miracle. But still, we have what we call the "miraj" -- a specific
episode in his life when he went in one night from Mecca to Jerusalem
and from Jerusalem close to God in the sky.
This was the Night Journey, when the angel Gabriel took Mohammed to
Jerusalem, where he met the prophets who'd come before him, including
Abraham and Moses. And Mohammed was raised beyond space and time
through the heavens. It's where he received the instructions about the
five daily prayers. This is a remarkable story. But it does raise the
question: Was this some kind of vision, or did it physically happen?
Muslims have exactly the same debates as Christians. For some Muslim
scholars, this is a spiritual experience. Others say no, he did it
with his body and came back. So the debate is there. But I'm not sure
it has great implications about what to extract from this story. In
the end, it's an act of faith. What we can extract from this story is
the many ways the Prophet is trusted by his companions, and the
meaning of these prayers that we have to perform every day. They were
not revealed when he was on earth but when he came close to God.
Well, let me ask you about the prescription on prayer. Can you be a
Muslim in good standing and not pray?
Once again, it's a discussion between scholars. I really think that a
Muslim is one who recognizes that there is one God and then with his
heart or her heart is sincere. And we cannot judge after this.
It sounds like you're saying that many of these questions -- about how
to pray or whether a woman should wear a veil -- ultimately come down
to personal choice. These should not be prescribed by imams or other
There are norms known by the believers. It's then up to everyone to
choose and decide, knowing the norms. For example, I'm not going to
say that praying is not an obligation. No, there is a prescription
saying five prayers a day, but now, it's up to you to decide whether
to pray or not. You decide which way you want to practice.
I'm not sure what that means. If you don't pray five times a day, have
you sinned? Have you violated some core Islamic principles?
Violated? I will not use that term. But I will say that you know what
you have to do as a practicing Muslim. This is your responsibility. A
practicing Muslim who wants to do all his duties before God should
pray five times a day. These are the prescriptions. Now, you cannot
impose on anyone to do it. And you cannot say you are a bad Muslim
because you are not doing it. You can only say you are not fulfilling
all the prescriptions. As to judging your heart, it's not my business.
It's between you and God. So I'm praying five times a day. I don't
know how I'm going to be judged. I just know I'm not always satisfied
with my practice. Since I don't know my destiny, I'm not going to
judge the destiny of anyone else.
You have a very unusual background, including two Ph.D.s -- one
dissertation on Islam, the other on Nietzsche. Has your study of
Nietzsche affected how you think about religion? After all, this is
the philosopher who declared that God is dead.
Yes, of course it had an impact on my way of dealing with religion.
Nietzsche himself was very religious when he was young. And then he
was so disappointed by the answers he got from his own religion. He
was very harsh with people trying to avoid the only true question for
him as a philosopher: When you suffer, what are you going to do with
this suffering? Because to live is to suffer. This was Nietzsche's
main statement. And I think it's really important because at the
center of his philosophy is a quest for meaning. This was also a quest
for innocence. And coming from where I was coming -- from the Islamic
tradition -- for me it was really central in my own religious
education: how you can combine innocence, suffering and the quest for
You have lived in several European countries and in Egypt. How do you
think about your own identity?
What I can say is that I am Swiss by nationality, European by culture,
Egyptian by memory, universalist by principle and of course Muslim by
religion. All this is really important. I have no problem with being
at the same time Egyptian by memory and European by culture. I don't
have opposing worlds of references. I really think there are common
hopes and common quests.
You went to live in Egypt for awhile, the country of your parents.
I've heard that you felt out of place there and you realized that
Europe was your real home.
Yes, that's totally true. I was living in Europe. You know, my parents
had a very difficult exile. They left Egypt because of political
reasons. And they dreamed of going back there. I started idealizing my
country of origin. I wanted to go there and I was sure I would find
people with the same commitment to justice. Egypt was the country of
my dreams when I was young. So I went there, studied there, and I felt
that, no, it was not that. I'm no longer Egyptian by culture. There's
something very European in me. So I felt the gap. And then I decided,
I have to go back home. And my home is not the home I was thinking it
was at the beginning. What was the exile for my parents is no longer
the exile for me.
Do you see your larger project as finding common ground between
secular Europeans and conservative Muslims in the Middle East? Are you
trying to build an understanding of Islam that's acceptable in both
I'm not trying to promote something which could be acceptable. If we
come back to the roots of the European project, we have common roots
with the Islamic-majority countries. I really think we are dealing
with a clash of perceptions, not a clash of civilizations. I want to
deconstruct these perceptions to come to the common roots. So I'm not
trying to make Islam more acceptable. There's no point. I don't have
to do this. My aim is not to be accepted or to please people. It's
just to be consistent. In fact, my project is much more about
Next page: "All this perception that Muslims cannot live in secular
society is totally wrong"
But Muslims in Europe face different issues than Muslims in the Middle
East. Islam is a minority religion in countries like France and
England, and in most Middle Eastern countries, there's no effort to
separate religion and politics. In Europe -- especially in France --
there is an absolutely strict separation. And a lot of people wonder
whether Islam can thrive in a pluralistic society as just one of many
religions, or whether there is an inherent drive within the Islamic
tradition to become the one dominant religion.
I can understand that question, coming out of the repeated assumption
that there is no difference in Islam between religion and politics.
This is not true. There is a distinction between what is the realm of
worship and what is the realm of social affairs. And here, there is a
field of negotiation and rationality. Now, let me come to the reality
of Western societies. People are asking, is it possible for Muslims to
live in secular society? Look, millions of Muslims are already showing
every day that they don't have a problem. If you look at the United
States, you have millions of Muslims who are living as quiet, peaceful
American Muslim citizens. You don't have a problem. The great, great
great majority of Muslims don't have a problem. Even in France. Five
million Muslims are living in France. Half of them are already French.
They don't have a problem. The problem of the French Muslims is not
the secular framework. The problem is that in the suburbs, they are
dealing with discrimination and social marginalization. It has nothing
to do with religion. The religious and cultural integration is done.
But when you are in the suburbs and feel you are second-class
citizens, that after four generations you are still perceived as
French with an immigrant background, there is something wrong in the
perception. When we had the riots in the suburbs in November 2005, you
had politicians speaking about "them" as if they were not French
citizens. And this has nothing to do with Islam. These are French
citizens doing exactly what the French do when they are not happy.
They demonstrate. They are doing exactly what your sons and daughters
did during the '60s. So I really think all this perception that
Muslims cannot live in secular society is totally wrong. Millions are
already doing it in European societies. And let me add something: If
we look at Senegal, at Turkey, at Indonesia, these are
Islamic-majority countries, and they are dealing with this kind of
separation and democracy. And they are open to the process of rational
collective negotiation. So we cannot confuse the Islamic world with
the Arab countries where the lack of democracy is not due
intrinsically to Islam.
But some religious issues do come into play. The head scarf has been
banned from French schools. Where does that leave Muslim families in
Yes, you're right. What happened is that two years ago, the French
government changed the law -- what is called "the law of 1905"
(separating church and state) -- just to ban the head scarf from
schools. Before that, the secular traditional law in France was not
against the head scarf. So the French debate about the head scarf
became a political issue. It's not going to solve the problem. So what
should young Muslim women do now? Do they have to avoid going to
school? No, we have something in Islam which is a very flexible way to
deal with reality. My position is it may be a wrong law. It may be
discriminatory. But if a young Muslim girl has to choose between
school and the head scarf, go to school. Go to school and learn.
The other choice might be to go to an Islamic school.
Yes, but there aren't many Islamic schools in France. And I really
think the solution is not to create a parallel system. It's to be part
of the system. To really be in the system as citizens and to be able,
from within, to say we are respecting the laws, but we think this law
is a bad one and we can challenge it. But I really think the decision
to ban the head scarf had much more to do with internal political
tensions between the French left and right than with the religious
issue of how to integrate Muslim citizens. This may be the only law
that discriminates against French Muslims.
But it does seem there are a number of cases -- not so much in terms
of law, but in everyday practice -- where there are tensions. For
instance, what if a company won't allow a Muslim employee to pray five
times a day at prescribed hours? Can you eat non-halal meat if there
is no halal meat available? What if a woman needs medical treatment
and there is no female doctor available? Can she see a male doctor?
Which takes precedence: Islamic principles or the cultural values of
I really think that Islamic thinking about living in Western societies
is already articulated and developed. For example, when you are in the
workplace and you can't pray five times, you can adapt your practice
by having the two prayers of the afternoon together and the two
prayers of the night together. These are answers that we already have
in the Islamic legal tradition, which are helping Muslims to adapt to
a new environment. As to halal meat, you have many different opinions
about what is possible. And for some, it's not against Islam to eat
the meat in the Western countries. As for women going to be treated by
a male doctor, there is no problem if there is no choice. These
problems are constructed out of anecdotes by new immigrants saying
they can't do that. In fact, Muslim communities in the West already
have adapted to their situation.
One of the big points of controversy is whether Islam itself can be
criticized. And this comes up in so many different situations -- for
instance, the furor over the Danish cartoons. Yes, it was insensitive
for the Danish newspaper to run these caricatures of Mohammed. But on
the other hand, Islamic activists deliberately whipped this up into a
frenzy, even circulating some cartoons that were never published in
that Danish newspaper. And all kinds of violence erupted throughout
the Middle East as a result.
Yes, I think Muslims should ask themselves what kind of image they are
spreading with this attitude. I was in Morocco when it happened. From
the very beginning, I said, "Take an intellectual critical distance.
Don't react to this provocation. Yes, it's not your way to deal with
the sacred. But it's a Western tradition just to laugh at religion.
And you should understand that not all criticism means Islamophobia."
There are legitimate criticisms of some Muslim behaviors and some
principles that are not understood. You have to explain, you have to
be part of the game, you have to be vocal, and not react emotionally
to all this. I think the big problem is this kind of over-emotional
reaction coming from Muslims, which is not acceptable.
By the way, it's really important to remember that in Europe, and even
in the States, the reactions from Muslims were really reasonable. The
strong reaction was coming from Islamic-majority countries. And not by
accident. I think some governments and some groups were
instrumentalizing this story just to get popular support. On the other
side, you had far-right parties very happy to provoke this kind of
reaction. So you have people on both sides trying to polarize the
debate. And we should not fall into the trap. It's clear, as you are
saying, that Muslims should be very, very open to criticism. We should
tackle these questions and try to come up with sincere answers.
You are clearly a voice for reform within the Islamic world. Many
people in both Europe and the Middle East pay attention to what you
say. Do you see this reform movement in Europe as something that other
Muslims from around the world will look at and follow?
Yes, it's already happening. For decades, we had our answers coming
from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, from the traditional centers of Islamic
knowledge. But now it has changed. For example, the meaning of civil
society, the way we deal with medical issues, with ethics, it's really
now the other way around. Some of our answers are going back there and
helping people think about the problems in a new way. You know, I'm
traveling a lot to Islamic-majority countries -- to Morocco, Jordan,
Indonesia, Africa. Last summer I visited seven African countries --
some of them majority-Islamic countries, like Senegal and Mali. And
they were listening to the way we're dealing with problems. So we had
exchanges of ideas and methodologies. Our experiences in the West have
already had a tremendous impact. You know, this call for a moratorium
that I launched two years ago, at the beginning I got such strong
The moratorium on the Islamic edict about stoning women who've
By the way, it's stoning adulterous men and women. And it's not only
this. It's stoning for the death penalty and corporal punishment. At
the beginning, I was criticized by so many Muslims. Even in the United
States, people were saying, what are you talking about? And then,
after much discussion, I went to Morocco and sat with 40 scholars.
Even the mufti of Egypt responded with three pages on my call and
mainly he said this is the way forward. He may disagree on the way
it's done, but on the content he's saying we have to think about it.
Next page: "I will never accept that a poor Pakistani in Saudi Arabia
can be treated as a slave, as an animal"
You went on French television to propose this moratorium. And what a
lot of people in France couldn't understand is why you didn't just
come out and condemn stoning. It seems like an ancient, barbaric
practice. Why wouldn't you just say it's not acceptable?
[Chuckles] Yes, I said I'm against it. And I condemned it in Saudi
Arabia and Nigeria. But it was a political game with the [French] home
minister. He wanted to use it by saying, "Look, he's not condemning
this." But I'm saying I'm against it. What I'm trying to do is open a
debate in the majority-Islamic countries. The moratorium is the first
step to stop stoning. So open the debate and ask the Muslim scholars,
what do the texts say? And in which context? This is the only way
forward. Even in Pakistan, I was called by the Islamic commission
because they wanted me to promote this idea there. And they used the
idea of the moratorium in one case of a Pakistani British man who was
to be killed. Then they stopped and he was freed. The important Muslim
council in Indonesia asked me to present my position on this because
they think it's the way to say, we take the texts seriously but we
need a debate on the way these texts are implemented. Look, this is
the way forward.
But I've heard that your call for a moratorium got you in a lot of
trouble in some countries. It angered a lot of conservative clerics.
Didn't Egypt and Saudi Arabia ban you after that?
Saudi Arabia, yes. They banned me after that. Egypt banned me for
another reason -- because I'm critical of the regime and say it's not
a democracy. But yes, in Saudi Arabia, they said no, we can't talk
about this. This is against our religion. And some of the Muslims put
me outside the realm of Islam as if I was betraying the very meaning
of Islamic references, which is really interesting because Saudi
Arabia remains one of the most important allies of the West. And the
West is saying to the Muslims, "Look, you have to denounce stoning."
So there's a great deal of hypocrisy here.
My point is reconciliation and consistency. I will be against the
Saudi government and the way they are implementing Islamic principles.
And I will never accept that a poor Pakistani in Saudi Arabia can be
treated as a slave, as an animal -- you can be just beaten. In the
name of Islam, I have to say no, this is not acceptable. So let us
open the debate with Muslim scholars. So my point is not to please the
West or to please the Islamic-majority governments. My point is really
to be consistent with my values and the principles of justice and
respect toward the poor and the innocent.
Well, you sound very reasonable and yet you keep getting banned from
Why do you think the U.S. State Department canceled your visa? Why
have you been banned from this country?
You know, for two years, I didn't know. I was to go teach at Notre
Dame University. Everything was set. Then they revoked my visa with no
explanation and they referred to the Patriot Act. So my understanding
from the very beginning is that they were unhappy with my political
discourse and my views on American policy.
American policy in Iraq and in Israel?
Exactly. When I went first to the American embassy in Switzerland, the
first questions I got were about Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict because I was saying resistance is legitimate. The means they
are using is not, but resistance is legitimate. And your invasion of
Iraq is a mistake, it was illegal. I'm not the only one to say that.
The United Nations thought from the very beginning your actions were
illegal. So I think these are the main reasons I was banned. Last
September I finally got an answer: Tariq Ramadan gave 700 euros to a
Swiss organization which was connected to Hamas. What they don't say,
and what is really important to know, is that this organization is
officially recognized by the Swiss government. All the money I gave
was put in my tax form and everything was official. I gave them money
to support schools.
The second thing, which is much more important, is that I gave the
money between '98 and 2002. I gave 700 euros to a European
organization to help build schools. And this organization was
blacklisted in the States in 2003. So I stopped giving money one year
before this organization was blacklisted in the States. And I got a
letter from the American Embassy telling me I should have reasonably
known that this organization was connected to Hamas -- meaning I
should have reasonably known one year before Homeland Security that
this organization was connected to Hamas. It's ridiculous. How could I
have known this? So it's clear that this has nothing to do with the
true reason. The true reason is that I'm vocal. I'm speaking loudly
against American policy in the Middle East.
A lot of people don't know what to make of your relationship with your
grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt. His name is always brought up by your critics because they say
you are a closet supporter of terrorists. And they say he laid the
intellectual groundwork for terrorist organizations like al-Qaida. How
do you respond to those criticisms?
As to my relationship with terrorists, if this was the case, it would
have come out in all this discussion with Homeland Security. It means
that really, there's nothing in my record. And there is nothing. Now,
as to my relationship with my grandfather, I have with him the
relationship I have with any historical figure. I put things into
context and try to understand what he did. I support some things and I
am selective and critical of other things. So, for example, I respect
the fact that he was resisting colonization, and that he built 2,000
schools -- half of them for women -- which at that time was totally
new. He was the father of my mother, and he wanted her to be educated,
and he was pushing in that direction against many Muslim scholars at
that time. I think this is the work of a reformist. He took from
Mohammed Abduh something which was really interesting. He said we have
nothing against the British parliamentary model; this is very close to
what we have as Muslims. So he didn't have a vision of everything from
the West as bad.
Now, he was the leader of an organization, and he was nurturing the
members with slogans. And they were misleading to many of the
followers. And here I'm critical of a very simple statement, which has
been misunderstood by some of the followers. For example, you have,
"The Quran is our constitution." For some, it's just come to the Quran
and you refuse everything else. It was not what Hassan al-Banna was
meaning. But this is the way it was understood, and you are
responsible for some of the ways that people understand what you are
saying. So it's really important for me to be clear on that and to go
further in the critical reading of this historical period of time. So
I'm not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I'm not representing
them. But I'm not going to demonize my grandfather to please the West.
I'm just asking the people, read, put things into context and
criticize what is to be criticized, but also be fair to what he was
trying to do during his life.
You have gone on record condemning all acts of terrorism. Would you
say suicide bombings are never justified?
Yes, I've said that many times. To kill innocent people will never be
justified. People were using this against me. I said, "Look, it's
never justified. You can, in certain circumstances, understand why
people could be led to this. But to understand what is happening
doesn't mean you are justified." But I'm also saying the situation of
Palestinians now is so bad that it's understandable without being
justifiable. As an international community, as democrats, as people
protecting human rights, we have to say that we need to do something.
You can't be silent as to the Palestinian oppression. My silence is as
condemnable as their violence. We have to say no to suicide bombings,
but also no to oppression.
One final question. You almost came to the United States. Your family
was all packed and ready to move to Indiana. Why did you want to come
Yes, between 2001 and 2004, I came to the States almost 30 times. I
met with so many leaders and scholars and Muslims, and they were
telling me: We must build bridges between the European and the
American experiences. And this is what I wanted to do. I'm still doing
it from where I am, through a program like yours and video
conferences. They are preventing me from being there physically, but
I'm still exchanging views and trying to come up with a reasonable
approach toward the future of our democratic societies. I think the
voice that you are hearing now is a voice that may be necessary for
American society today, especially under the current administration.
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