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Sexual Assault Charges against Islamic Expert Shock Europe’s Muslims


This file photo taken on March 26, 2016 shows Swiss Islamologist Tariq Ramadan taking part in a conference on the theme "Live together" in Bordeaux.

Sexual assault charges against a leading expert on Islam have left many European Muslims shocked.

The Islamic expert, Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan, took a leave of absence from his teaching position at Oxford University last week. The move came after two French women accused him of rape and assault. Reports of similar accusations were published in a Swiss newspaper.

Ramadan has denied the accusations. An Oxford University statement said that both he and the school agreed on his leave of absence.

Effect on French-speaking Muslims

The effect of the accusations is huge, especially in French-speaking countries. He appealed to a generation of young Muslims who came to believe they could follow Islam’s teachings and be European citizens. Unlike many Islamic religious leaders in Europe, he spoke in French instead of Arabic at meetings and conferences.

Ramadan is the grandson of the founder of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The 55-year-old has long had critics. They claim he hid political Islam under talk of unifying society. He was temporarily banned from the United States during the presidency of George W. Bush. The ban was lifted after Bush left office.

An estimated five million Muslims live in France. They make up Western Europe’s biggest Islamic community.

In April, French officials expelled Ramadan’s older brother, Swiss clergyman Hani Ramadan. They claimed he was a threat to public order. The brother made news in 2002 when France’s Le Monde newspaper published an article he wrote. His story expressed support for stoning adulterers -- married men and women who have sex with someone who is not their wife or husband.

Tariq Ramadan condemned his brother’s position.

The assault charges come at a time when a growing number of powerful men have been accused of sexual abuse. It started in early October, when media reports described the first abuse claims against American movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Claims against Ramadan

Last month, French activist Henda Ayari, a former supporter of the Salafist movement, accused Ramadan of raping her in a hotel room in 2012. Since then, another French woman has reportedly come forward with a similar story. French government lawyers are investigating the accusations.

In Switzerland, a Geneva newspaper reported that four young women claimed they had sexual relations with Ramadan when he was teaching at their school. The four women said they were not old enough at the time to be considered adults.

Media reported another rape claim in Belgium.

And Oxford University graduate Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi published a blog post about Ramadan. It gave voice to an American Muslim friend, who described an unwanted sexual advance by Ramadan in 2013.

“For me it’s not about his political views,” Al-Tamini said. He works for a group opposed to Ramadan, but says he is not part of that debate.

Ramadan accuses his critics of making false charges and damaging his public image. In a Facebook post Saturday, he said he remains calm and has “confidence in justice.” For years, he has called for moderation and openness, he wrote, and “these are the values we need most today.”

Reaction to the accusations

There have been different reactions to the charges on social media.

Workers at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper that was targeted in a 2015 terrorist attack, have received death threats over a front-page cartoon of Ramadan. In addition, former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned his behavior on Twitter.

Others suggest the accusations against Ramadan are a Zionist or Jewish plot or evidence of racism.

But a group of Muslim women expressed support for his accusers in a statement published in Le Monde. “There is no ‘Muslim exception’ when it comes to sexual abuse,” researcher Fatima Khemilat wrote.

When questioned, several well-known French Muslims remain guarded, saying they were waiting for French courts to announce judgement first.

But M’hammed Henniche said the accusations against Ramadan would harden feelings against Muslims. Henniche works for an alliance of French Muslims in the Seine-Saint-Denis area outside Paris.

“Everyone who is against Tariq Ramadan will say this is proof that Islam is not a religion of peace, that it’s a barbaric religion that treats women as objects,” he said.

Abdallah Zekri, a member of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, is not a big supporter of Tariq Ramadan. But he criticizes the strong reaction against him.

“Ramadan is a big personality because the media made him one,” he said. “He’s never been my cup of tea. But he has not been judged or condemned, and I respect the presumption of innocence.”

I’m Jill Robbins.

And I'm John Russell.

Lisa Bryant reported this story for VOANews.com. George Grow adapted her report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

assaultn. a violent attack

absence – n. failure to be present at an expected place

Salafist – n. a conservative form of Sunni Islam

advance – n. forward movement

confidence – n. a feeling of one’s own powers; the quality of being sure of oneself

cartoon – n. a picture making people or objects look funny or foolish

cup of teaexpression. something one likes

presumption – n. a belief that something is true

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