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Formerly Banned Muslim Scholar Speaks in Washington

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A European Muslim scholar who was banned from entering the United States by the Bush administration six years ago made an appearance in Washington today.  Tariq Ramadan spoke at Georgetown University.

"Thank you very much for this invitation, six years later," said  Tariq Ramadan.

Ramadan spoke to a packed auditorium at Georgetown University.  Six years ago, the Swiss-born professor of Egyptian origin was offered a job at the University of Notre Dame in the Midwestern state of Indiana.  But the Bush administration revoked his visa, saying he had donated money to organizations that support terrorism.

Ramadan appealed the decision and last year, a New York court ruled in his favor.  Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an order allowing Ramadan into the country.

At Georgetown University, the professor focused on his ideas for a "radical reform" of the Muslim faith.

"We need a shift in the center of gravitational authority in Islam," he said.

He said modern Muslims should be able to reinterpret their scriptures to fit their needs today, while still recognizing the texts as the word of God.

Meeting with reporters, he revisited the issue of his barred entry to the United States.

"After six years, what I get from all this story - first, is that my name has been cleared," said Ramadan. "So to be here for me is simply justice.  And I come here in a peaceful mind, saying the story is over."

The Georgetown audience was largely supportive.  But Ramadan's critics say he is only pretending to be a moderate.  Some say he should repudiate the ideologies of his grandfather, Hassan el-Banna, who founded the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt.  The movement has been a major influence for militant groups in the region.

When asked about such criticisms, Georgetown University Islamic studies professor John Esposito came to Ramadan's defense.

"People make these wild claims and they're otherwise very intelligent respectable people and so what it's a matter of doing is taking somebody down," said John Esposito.

Ramadan has written a book about his ideas and is visiting several cities across the United States.  


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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