Banned from U.S. soil three years ago, a prominent Muslim scholar accused of aiding terrorist activity spoke to a crowd via satellite this week in Gaston Hall on several major issues concerning relations between the Islamic world and the West.
Projected live on a large screen, Tariq Ramadan — a Muslim academic whose visa was revoked by the State Department in 2004 — spoke in a three-day series of satellite conversations that began Tuesday.
Ramadan, who grew up in Geneva, is viewed by many as a reformer and is especially popular among young European Muslims. He had expected to teach at the University of Notre Dame three years ago, but the State Department rescinded his visa under a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, citing donations he made to organizations that allegedly aid terrorists.
The American Civil Liberties Union has mounted a legal challenge to the visa refusal.
Before an audience of faculty, students and local Georgetown residents, Ramadan, now a visiting fellow at Oxford University, spoke from London for the first two days and from Paris on the last day of the event.
Discussing Islam and democracy on Tuesday, Ramadan said that there are principles within Islam that are compatible with democracy.
"Islam is one religion, a set of principles, a set of practices, which are common for all the Muslims," Ramadan said. "But at the same time, when it comes to understanding social constructions, social project, political project, we have trends, understandings and readings."
Ramadan said yesterday that dialogues between Muslims and Christians must include not only interfaith discussions but also intra-faith conversations within religious communities.
"We cannot only have dialogues but also contribution for each other … for our surrounding society," Ramadan said. "Interfaith dialogue is important, but never forget intra-community dialogue."
Thomas Banchoff, director of Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, which sponsored the event, said that Ramadan provides an important educational perspective.
"If we are serious about West-Islamic dialogue, we have to listen to the world's most influential Muslim voices. Tariq Ramadan is one of those voices," Banchoff said at the ceremony Tuesday before introducing Ramadan.
Banchoff said that the center tried to preempt potential criticism of the event by allowing three prominent American intellectuals to submit response essays to Ramadan's ideas. Along with the satellite presentations, these essays will be published by the Georgetown University Press.
Asra Ashfaq (MSB '09), president of the Muslim Students Association, said that as a Pakistani American she could identify with Ramadan's thoughts on the cultural and religious identity of Western Muslims.
"I relate more to the American culture but at the same time [I am] not forgetting my Pakistani culture. … I find a balance," she said.
Others hoped there would have been more discussion on certain topics. Robert Lieber, a professor of government who attended Tuesday's discussion, said that the event could have used more dialogue between the speaker and the audience beyond the question and answer period.
"My concern is that there is no debate," he said. "What was needed was that there is someone who can act as a respondent or a commentator about these highly controversial issues."
Lieber added that certain issues, like women's rights in Islam, could have been addressed in more depth and with more accuracy.