At the weekend, Tariq Ramadan addressed the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) for the first time in five years in circumvention of a ban on him entering the US. That exclusion could be lifted within weeks.
Ramadan managed to speak to the AAR – the largest association of religious scholars in the world – because it was holding its 100th annual meeting not in the US but in Montreal, Canada. He opened his first speech to the delegates attending by saying: "I'm very happy to be here. The last five years I haven't been able to be with you at the AAR for some specific reasons."
He was referring to the decision by the US immigration authorities to withhold him a visa allowing entry into the country. In July 2004 he had been offered a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, but he resigned the position after it became clear that he was not going to be granted a visa.
The government alleged that from 1998 to 2002, Ramadan contributed around $1,300 to a Swiss-based charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien, which the US claimed was allied with Hamas.
Ramadan, who is a visiting fellow at St Antony's College Oxford, said that he had donated the money a year before the US blacklisted the charity, yet the US authorities expected him to have been in full knowledge of its activities.
"It's just simply remarkable that such a distinguished scholar is not allowed access to academic communities and conferences like this in the US," says Mark Juergensmeyer, a University of California, Santa Barbara professor and the president of the AAR.
Since 2006, the AAR has been one of the plaintiffs to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to challenge the visa ban on Ramadan. In July of this year the ACLU prevailed against the Obama administration in a US Appeals court decision, sending it back down to the district court.
"Ultimately, (AAR) have seen the danger to academic inquiry inside the United States if the government is allowed to exclude foreign scholars because of their political views or on the basis of protectoral arguments like the government has made in this case," says Jameel Jaffer, Ramadan's ACLU lawyer.
The US Justice Department and the ACLU lawyers are now involved in informal discussions on the government possibly using its "discretionary authority."
"They are going to consider admitting him or reconsidering his case by the end of the month," says Jaffer.
The fact that this year's AAR meeting was in Montreal, outside the US for only the second time in 100 years, was a "happy coincidence" for Ramadan and 4700 largely American character witnesses.
"What makes this particularly fitting is that our (AAR) president chose as his theme for this year 'the globalisation of the study of religion'," said Jack Fitzmier, the academy's executive director. "Tariq Ramadan was a perfect fit for that sort of theme."
The AAR decided Professor Ramadan would be the only plenary speaker to be alone at the podium, taking full advantage of their unique access to him.
"He's an intellectual voice, a western Muslim who is also an academic," said Shafique Virani, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto.
"My contribution is questioning modernism and ideologies and ... coming with a new narrative," said Ramadan. He argued that reform in Islam was not, for him, "adapting to the world as it is" but making the world "as it should be".
Outside the Palais des Congrès, Ramadan's presence in Montreal excited considerable public interest, with about 800 people turning up to hear him speak on the theme of "spiritual quest".
But there have also been detractors. Tarek Fatah, of the Toronto-based Muslim Canadian Congress who took out an advert in the French language Le Devoir denouncing him, said: "Tariq Ramadan brands himself as a reformer and the messiah and Martin Luther. [But] he is sent by the pope to act like Martin Luther."