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Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan is held in France on rape allegations

Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan is held in France on rape allegations
Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan delivers a speech during a French Muslim organizations' meeting on Feb. 7, 2016, in Lille, northern France. (Michel Spingler / Associated Press)

The high-profile Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan has been taken into custody by French police investigating allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Ramadan, a Swiss national who spends a significant amount of time in France, was being questioned by detectives in Paris on Wednesday evening. A preliminary inquiry has been opened after two women filed official complaints last year claiming he violently attacked them. He is also accused of making death threats against one of his alleged victims.

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Ramadan, 55, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University since 2009, has strenuously denied the allegations and filed a counter complaint for slander against one of his accusers, the writer Henda Ayari.

The French-born Ayari claims Ramadan raped, harassed, intimidated and sexually assaulted her in a Paris hotel in 2012. The writer, a former Salafi Muslim turned secular feminist, originally detailed the alleged attack in her book, "I Chose to Be Free," published in France in November 2016, but gave her attacker a false name. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo campaign, Ayari named the attacker as Ramadan and made a formal police complaint.

On her Facebook page, Ayari wrote Monday that she had complained to police to "demand justice for the aggression of which I was a victim, as have other women who don't dare report it to the police because they are afraid."

On the French TV channel BFMTV in October, Ayari, 41, described her ordeal. [Link in French.] "I thought I was intelligent. I thought I could protect myself, but I couldn't that evening. He said it was what I wanted. He insulted me and said women like me deserve this.… He said several times that the fact I no longer wear the veil meant I deserved what I suffered. I had provoked his desire and it was my fault…. I was ashamed, I didn't want anyone to know," she said.

A second woman, a 42-year-old Muslim convert whose name has not been released, claimed that Ramadan raped her in a hotel in the southern French city of Lyon in 2009. She has also reported Ramadan to police. Four Swiss women have accused the Islamic scholar of making inappropriate sexual advances at them while they were teenage students in Geneva.

Ramadan, a renowned Islamic theologian and the grandson of Hassan Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt in the 1920s, is popular in conservative Muslim circles. Israel considers him one of the most important voices for the Brotherhood in the West.

On his Facebook page on Oct. 28, he described the allegations as a "campaign of lies" carried out by his "longtime enemies."

"It is sad to see our opponents reduced to supporting deception…. The law must now speak, my lawyer is in charge of this file. We expect a long and bitter fight. I am serene and determined."

He has been an advisor on Islam to the British government and was a member of a British Foreign Office advisory group on freedom of religion. After the attacks on London's public transport system on July 7, 2005, Ramadan was named by Prime Minister Tony Blair to work on a special task force to tackle religious extremism.

After the rape and assault accusations were made in October, he took leave from his post as a senior research fellow at Oxford.

French police can hold Ramadan for questioning for 48 hours.

Mona Eltahawy, the author of "Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution," said reports of the case "served as a reminder that we Muslim women are caught between a rock and a hard place — a trap presenting near-impossible obstacles for exposing sexual violence."

"The rock is an Islamophobic right wing in other cultures that is all too eager to demonize Muslim men," she wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. "The hard place is a community within our own faith that is all too eager to defend Muslim men against all accusations. Mr. Ramadan's defenders have dismissed the complaints against him as a 'Zionist conspiracy' and an Islamophobic attempt to destroy a Muslim scholar."

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"Too often, when Muslim women speak out, some in our 'community' accuse us of 'making our men look bad' and of giving ammunition to right-wing Islamophobes. But they get it wrong. It is the harassers and assaulters who make us 'look bad,' not the women who have every right to expose crimes against them."

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Willsher is a special correspondent.

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