Jilted scholar finds academic home at Oxford

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan resigned his appointment to teach at Notre Dame in December 2004 because the U.S. State Department refused to grant him a work visa, but it did not take him long to find a new job. Two new jobs, in fact.

After an additional year and a half of legal wrangling, the State Department dropped its initial grounds for rejecting Ramadan this past summer.

Unable to establish any connection between Ramadan and terrorist groups, the government turned instead to contributions totaling $940 the Swiss citizen made between 1998 and 2002 to European groups providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians, groups the United States did not blacklist for their connections to Hamas until 2003.

Investigators didn’t discover the donations on their own, Ramadan noted in an Oct. 1 op-ed in The Washington Post. He had pointed them out himself during a second failed application process to enter the United States.

Now a fellow at the University of Oxford, the would-be Luce professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies also advises the British government on anti-terrorism policy and efforts to better integrate alienated Muslims into British society.

The United States is not alone in denying Ramadan entry. Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt bar him as well.

Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2004, Ramadan holds degrees in French literature, philosophy and Islamic studies from the University of Geneva. He is a pioneer of a growing movement of younger scholars calling on fellow Muslims in Western societies to witness their faith openly and peacefully. He is also a staunch opponent of U.S. policies in the Middle East and of British involvement in the Iraq war. Some critics in the West consider him anti-Semitic for his writings on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Yet as contemporary Islam addresses its own internal crisis of leadership, Ramadan is widely regarded as a constructive reformer, a bridge-builder between the Koran and the challenges of the 21st century.

“Our people read everything he ever wrote and decided he was one of the authentic voices in the Muslim religion,” said University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. “We invited him to come here and to speak from the best Catholic university in the world, putting out a true picture that would counter what we’re getting out of the Middle East and its terribly belligerent leadership at the moment.”

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Kroc Institute director Scott Appleby said Notre Dame would welcome Ramadan should the U.S. government ever allow him entry.