For a soft-spoken, mild-mannered man, Tariq Ramadan stirs up a remarkable amount of controversy.
In his own Muslim community, the Islamic philosopher-activist comes under attack for selling out his religion to the West; Britain has funded his lectures to young Muslims. But Western critics accuse him of being a Trojan horse for radical Islam. In the past two years, the US has three times denied him a visa.
In short, he has as many enemies as friends on both sides of the Muslim-Christian divide. But Dr. Ramadan, one of the most influential voices among Europe's growing Muslim population, is not surprised.
"When you are in the middle of the river, speaking to both sides suffering from a crisis of identity, you'll be criti- cized by both sides," he says in an interview. "My main concern is reconciliation."
Across Europe, a rising number of disputes are increasingly calling into question the compatibility of European and Islamic ideals. Britain, for example – Ramadan's current home base – has been immersed in a heated debate for weeks over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear a face-covering veil.
Challenging powerful figures, such as Osama bin Laden, who seek to pit Muslims against the West, Ramadan has focused on encouraging European Muslims to remain both true to their faith and loyal to the secular societies in which they live.
That is an urgent task, he says. But he is well-placed to fulfill it: As the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, he commands respect in the Islamic world; As a Swiss citizen fluent in English and French who boasts a PhD in philosophy, he is at ease in today's Europe.
"He's very exciting," says Abdul-Rahman Malik, a contributing editor to the British Muslim magazine 'Q.' "He's a believer, but able to communicate in the secular language that upper-middle class Muslims in Europe are familiar with."
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