'Islam's Savior' or Muslim Brotherhood's Heir?

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OXFORD UNIVERSITY - As the Muslim Brotherhood tightens its grip on Egypt, Western governments are trying to get a handle on this powerful group: Is it a radical jihadist movement or a voice for reform that opposes violence?

Muslim activist Tariq Ramadan is facing those same questions.

His family lineage gives Ramadan instant credibility among Islamists. Ramadan's grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Brotherhood. His father, Said Ramadan, helped lead the movement in Europe.

Tariq has been accused of carrying on that tradition. But in a recent interview with CBN News, he denied any involvement with the Brotherhood.

"I'm not a member," he said. "I never was a member, so this is something also which is known."

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Still, he praises his forefathers' work and has said there is "nothing in this heritage" that he rejects.

A More 'Open' Islam?

Said Ramadan helped found a Munich mosque which became the Muslim's Brotherhood's first beachhead in the West. Now his son, Tariq, is carrying on his legacy and that of Hassan al Banna at England's Oxford University.

Tariq Ramadan teaches Islamic studies at Oxford and is a favorite of the European left. In writings and speeches, the Swiss-born scholar promotes what he calls a modern, European version of Islam.

He's advised the British government on terrorism issues and says Islamic sharia law is compatible with the U.S. Constitution and European law.

"My position is to say, 'Look, sharia is a way," Ramadan told CBN News. "It's a path. So, for example, when I am based in Switzerland, my country, or in the West and the law of the country is saying that we are equal before law, I say, 'This is my sharia.'"

"So my understanding of sharia is not a closed system," he explained. "It's an open system."

The 'Doublespeak' of Tariq?'

Ramadan presents concepts like sharia in a non-threatening way for non-Muslim audiences.

His critics charge it's a different story, however, when he speaks to Muslims.

According to the book Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, the professor's sermons have radicalized countless young people in the gritty Muslim suburbs of France.

In 2003, a French court found that language used by preachers like Ramadan "can influence young Muslims and can serve as a factor inciting them to join up with those engaged in violent acts."

Ramadan also caused an uproar during a 2003 debate with former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, when he refused to call for a ban on stoning.

"On the question of stoning, I have already made very clear that namely, in my opinion, this is not applicable…and I urge a moratorium so that there is a profound debate within the Muslim community," Ramadan said during the debate.

"A moratorium?" Sarkozy replied. "Mr. Ramadan, a moratorium? Does this mean that you stop for a certain time to stone women?"

Ramadan denied the charge but continued to avoid stating that stoning should be banned for good.

Ramadan Banned

Controversy continued to follow Ramadan in 2004, when the Bush administration revoked his visa and refused to let him enter the country just days before he was to begin teaching at Notre Dame.

"They used the Patriot Act because I was supporting a Palestinian organization," Ramadan told CBN News. "And they said, 'This Palestinian organization is blacklisted and you should have known.'"

"Would that be Hamas?" CBN News's Erick Stakelbeck asked Ramadan.

"Connected to Hamas and giving money to Hamas," he replied. "This organization was blacklisted in 2003 and I gave the money between 1998 and 2002. So I stopped one year before it was blacklisted."

Hamas is a U.S. designated terrorist organization and serves as the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The position of Hamas now is legitimate resistance to occupation, armed occupation, and military occupation," Ramadan said.

"So you believe the violence, the rockets, is legitimate?" Stakelbeck asked.

"No, no, no: I am saying what they [Hamas] are saying. That the violence is legitimate against the Israeli army," Ramadan answered.

Over the years, at least eight countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have barred Ramadan from entering.

France banned him for six months in the 1990s for alleged links to terrorist organizations.

US Lifts Ban

However, the Obama administration lifted the American ban on Ramadan in 2010. He now travels freely inside the United States, giving lectures, and attending conferences.

"I'm a European by culture," Ramadan said. "And being a European by culture doesn't mean I'm not going to respect the principles of my religion."

It's balancing those Islamic principles with those of the West that has proven a more complicated matter.

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CBN News
Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.