- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born Islamic scholar who was just allowed into the United States after a six-year ban instituted by the Bush administration, told American Muslims on Tuesday to get involved with all sectors of American society, instead of being “obsessed” with whether they’re considered terrorists.

He used the recent debate over health care reform as an area where Muslims could have stepped up, saying it’s time they came up with a “new applied ethics [that] is rooted in Islamic tradition.”

“I say to American Muslims, ‘You have to be involved in all discussions,’” he told journalists Tuesday at the Pew Forum in Washington. “The fact I’m here with you today is a symbolic act. It shows we’re opening up.”

In 2004, Mr. Ramadan, then 31, was hired by the University of Notre Dame for a tenured spot on its religion faculty. He was first granted a visa in May of that year, but it was revoked that summer by the State Department for ideological reasons. Two years later, the federal government said Mr. Ramadan contributed to Hamas, which the U.S. designates as a terrorist group, between 1998 and 2002.

Although websites such as jihadwatch.com criticized Mr. Ramadan, a Sunni Muslim, for not denouncing Hamas when the contributions were made public, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union took his case. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in his favor in July. In January, the State Department lifted its ban against Mr. Ramadan’s travel in the U.S. and gave him a visa good for 10 years.

Mr. Ramadan, who meanwhile had taken a position at Oxford University, where he says he intends to stay, first traveled to the U.S. earlier this month. He said he was still subjected to a two-hour wait and a meeting with a Homeland Security Department official.

Upon his second arrival for his current visit, he was whisked through security “faster than in Switzerland,” he joked on Tuesday.

“It was a silly decision of the Bush administration to prevent me from entering the country for ideological reasons,” he said. “It was clear I was banned from this country because of [views on] the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. … I think the Palestinian resistance is legitimate, but violence is not.”

Although he criticized the U.S. for having “people in jail for ideological reasons” and “what goes on at the borders of this country,” he added, “I’m positive about many things I am seeing.”

American Muslims must not “be obsessed with Islam meaning ‘terrorism,’” he said, referring to efforts by creators of the popular animated TV show “South Park” to poke fun at Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Mr. Ramadan urged his fellow believers to “take a critical distance” if Islam appears to be mocked in the popular culture.

“For people to ridicule religion is part of Western culture and history,” he said. What’s called for, he said, is for Muslims in non-Muslim-majority countries to abide by the local laws, speak the language and be loyal to the country.

“Muslims don’t need a parallel system,” he said, after being asked whether he favored Islamic Shariah law in the West. “They should just abide by the common system.” Muslims in countries such as Australia and the United States “abide by the law and don’t have a problem,” he said.

“There is only one Islam,” he said, “but many interpretations and many Muslim cultures.” In the West, he said, “we don’t need new laws on blasphemy.” He was referring to laws in Pakistan that levy heavy sentences on anyone suspected of criticizing Islam. “We don’t want to limit the freedom of expression.”

Muslim societies are far from perfect, he said. “There is no freedom of speech in Muslim-majority countries,” he said. “Because there are no cultural discussions, there’s just emotions.”

Mr. Ramadan is popular with Muslims in this country, said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“He’s considered to be very influential, in terms of progressive Islamic thinking, and he comes from a background of traditional analyses of the [Koranic] text,” Mr. Al-Marayati said. “He really is an important figure in the Muslim community, in terms of applying Islamic principles in our modern society and, more importantly, promoting the idea of a Western Muslim identity separate from the Middle East and South Asia, while embracing the values of Islam.

“This is the sentiment of the masses, so to have a leader articulate these views gives us hope and optimism.”

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