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Prominent Islamic Scholar Charged With Rape in France

FILE - Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan delivers a speech at a French Muslim organization's meeting in Lille, northern France, Feb. 7, 2016.
FILE - Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan delivers a speech at a French Muslim organization's meeting in Lille, northern France, Feb. 7, 2016.

A French judge charged prominent Swiss Islamic academic scholar Tariq Ramadan with rape Friday and ordered him to remain in custody after two women claimed last year he sexually assaulted them in hotel rooms in 2009 and 2012, judicial sources said.

Ramadan, who was placed in a Paris jail Wednesday during a preliminary probe, was informed he was the target of an investigation, which magistrates said would determine whether Ramadan should stand trial.

The Swiss-born theologian, who denies the charges, took a leave of absence from teaching at Oxford University in early November, following the two complaints of rape and reports of similar charges in Switzerland.

The grandson of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan el-Banna, Ramadan has long been a polarizing figure. Critics claim he wielded a "double discourse,” hiding political Islam behind unifying rhetoric. He was temporarily banned from the U.S. under the administration of president George W. Bush, a measure lifted under president Barack Obama.

The assault charges come amid a broader global outcry against sexual harassment, triggered by the Harvey Weinstein scandal that began in the United States. French activist and former Salafist Henda Ayari filed a police complaint last October accusing Ramadan of brutally raping her in a hotel room in 2012. Several days later, an unidentified disabled French woman came forward with a similar story.

In neighboring Switzerland, a Geneva newspaper reported four young women said they had sexual relations with Ramadan as minors when he was teaching at their school. At least three of the incidents were said to be non-consensual. Media reported another rape claim in Belgium.

Meanwhile, Oxford University graduate Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi posted a blog that gave voice to an American Muslim friend, who recounted an unwanted sexual advance by Ramadan in 2013. The account echoed a pattern described by the two French women: an initial interaction with Ramadan on social media to discuss religious matters, then an eventual meeting in a hotel room because Ramadan said he did not wish to be seen in public.

Much of the debate surrounding Ramadan - a married father of four - has taken place in France, where an estimated five million Muslims make up Western Europe’s biggest Islamic community.

Lisa Bryant contributed to this story from Geneva.

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