Why I cannot sign the petition to support Tariq Ramadan

On Friday, Professor Tariq Ramadan, who is arguably Europe’s most influential Muslim public intellectual of the last twenty years, was charged in Paris with two counts of rape and put under criminal investigation. Since these allegations first surfaced last October, Professor Ramadan has repeatedly denied them.

The campaign group, “Justice for Tariq Ramadan”, has been attempting to rally support for him, which has included circulating a petition, “Tariq Ramadan: Full Support”, urging people on various social media platforms to sign it. Written in three languages – French, English and Arabic – the petition has so far attracted nearly 24,000 signatures at the time of writing.

I want to set out briefly why I cannot – in good faith – sign this petition.

Let me start by saying that I support the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is after all at the heart of most legal systems. And I support it not just in the abstract sense but in this case too.

However, the petition provides us with no evidence that either the legal process or the police investigation have been compromised or fallen short in some way such that Professor Ramadan’s right to be presumed innocent has been violated. Of course, if that were indeed shown to be the case then it would have to be challenged vociferously.

Instead, the petition asks us to go “over and above the presumption of innocence” to give Professor Ramadan our full support and invites us to affirm that the two accusations of rape are “highly questionable at best”, the inference being that at worst they are false.

Yet the presumption of innocence is not the same thing as possessing firm knowledge of innocence. In fact, the most ethical position is not to claim false certainty about the facts of the case until these have been determined in the French legal process. Rather, what the presumption of innocence really means is that one upholds the presumption that Professor Ramadan should not be prejudged in the legal process but fairly judged on the evidence.

On these same grounds, I also have no certainty that the two accusations of rape are either false or “highly questionable”. Rather, again, I would expect that these very grave charges are treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated thoroughly to determine their veracity.

Therefore, I will suspend my judgement until my uncertainty about the true facts of the case is replaced by certainty founded upon evidence. But signing this petition would force me to take sides when I do not possess the means to be certain about the facts of the case, as it is yet to be concluded.

Let me make three other brief points.

The petition is right to point out the massive Islamophobic farrago that has been made over this case, particularly in France. There certainly has been character assassination in the press and on social media by the various enemies Professor Ramadan has made over the years. They are enjoying every moment of what they hope will be his downfall. They want to put Islam itself on trial and not just Professor Ramadan.

Secondly, the petition contorts itself into knots over the #MeToo movement, and its equivalents elsewhere, by attempting to equate it with the abandonment of due process. This is wrongheaded. At its heart, #MeToo is a long overdue calling to account of the systematic bullying and harassment of women by men, including rape and violence. No decent Muslim man of propriety (adab) should have any trouble whatsoever in supporting it.

Finally, we Muslims are tested when our trusted religious leaders fall short of the basic moral standards expected of any Muslim, even sometimes falling into criminality. All I will say is that the Muslim community should never let go of its duty to hold its own leadership and institutions to account for bad or criminal behaviour. If communal attempts to take such leaders to task are ignored then our community retains its full right to withdraw its support for them.

Yahya Birt is a PhD candidate in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. He writes in a personal capacity.


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  • ali abbas says:

    To many muslims that I have shared this post, it is highly un-intelligible

    Your educational qualification would be to simplify this rather than pepper with all lingua that we arent familiar with

  • margaret soltan says:

    On the contrary, it’s beautifully and clearly written. Bravo.

  • Philip Tuley says:

    This is a clear, straightforward post. I, too, suspend my judgement on the matter, and will wait to see how it all plays out. Well done.

  • reflexez says:

    Presumed innocent until proven guilty.
    Until you bring an iota of evidence of his guilt, he maintains our full support!

    • Seb says:

      Tariq Ramadan admitted to sexual affairs. (Guardian 31 Oct 2018)

      He is unfit to comment on the Quran or Islam.

      Why do you continue to serve him? He offers the community leadership that is a) Obviously against islamic teachings; and b) hypocritical in what it says.


  • Mohammed F Khan says:

    This is really a balanced view by Yahya Birt! I support his idea of suspended judgement either way! This is a huge setback for followers of Tariq Ramadan! We need to be patient to see the outcome because TR has vehemently contested the allegations! The question is despite his strong negation of the case if he is convicted what would be the position of Muslims? Though rare, but not uncommon that a wrong judgment is passed and people spent long time in jail before finding wrongly prosecuted! In that case only Allah is the best judge who you can not deceive! In that scenario It will be entirely between God and him! But it will be a huge loss for western Muslims. He taught Muslims how to uphold many identities without compromising none specially Islamic/Muslim identity unapologetically. He is not a liberal icon, specially re gay/lesbian issues and recent apologetic stance on female genital mutilation(pathetic). Despite his conservative views on few issues, he is largely a pragmatic public intellectual who tried to reconcile Islamic principles with western values and ethics! He will be missed!

  • Omar Mirza says:

    A Prophetic hadith tell us about members of this Umma who appear respectable in front of people, yet have the “hearts of wolves.”

    I don’t see any signs of bias in the legal treatment of Tariq Ramadan. The testimony about him from multiple witnesses, not just women or accusers, is strikingly coherent in various respects, so the accusations against him are rightly being taken seriously. Many of the details are unlikely to have been invented, since people don’t readily depict themselves as humiliated to that extent.

    One of the alleged victims has medical evidence of injuries dating to the very day when she met him in Lyon, and has recalled that he has a small scar on his groin, which he has confirmed. How can the authorities ignore evidence like this without thoroughly investigating it? How can they not detain a man who may well be dangerous to others, and is apparently supported by a gang of supporters willing to harass his victims into silence?

    Not everything can be ascribed to French racism.

  • Elaine Housby says:

    When I read Yahya’s comment that no decent Muslim man with good adab should have any problem supporting the fight against sexual harassment, I felt like cheering. It is precisely because this case will be used to denigrate all Muslims in an offensive way by Islamophobic idiots, that Muslims and their friends, among whom I hope I may count myself, must be careful always to assert that the values of Islam are incompatible with any of the kind of behaviour alleged in this case, and not campaign in a way that might tend to obscure that fact.

  • Ian Bartram says:

    Elaine – have you not heard of the thousands of rapes of Sikh and English young girls by predominantly Muslim Pakistani males in Rochdale, Telford, Rotherham, Oxford …
    Read “Easy Meat” by Peter McLoughlin for the full truth.
    And research the Quranic meaning of “possessions of the right hand” that concerns Islamic sex slavery.

  • Noor says:

    The French magazine, Le Point, released last Wednesday, points to troubling elements uncovered by JUDUCIAL INVESTIGATORS. The MuslimPost has since examined the investigative file. It shows major discrepancies between several claims and what has so far been established. Here is what we have learned.


    Henda Ayari, the first woman to file a complaint against Tariq Ramadan, has so far refused to face him over events that allegedly occurred on March 31, 2012 in Paris. The author of the book “I chose to be free” accuses Tariq Ramadan of giving her a “sharp blow” on the left cheek.
    Henda Ayari claims that after leaving the room, she went to see her friend Malica A. Malica A. testified that as she described her encounter with Tariq Ramadan, Henda Ayari “seemed quite normal, contented in fact,” making no mention of any aggression. Malica A. went on to state that there were “no suspicious marks” on Henda Ayari’s face the day after her meeting with Tariq Ramadan.
    In November 2017, Henda Ayari decided to file a complaint. She phoned Malica A. who was startled. “In the evening, she called me. She told me about her contact with Tariq Ramadan and what had happened. I asked her what she was talking about. Had she forgotten that I had accompanied her to the railway station the day after her meeting with Mr. Ramadan and that at the time, she had said nothing and even seemed happy. She hesitated, then told me she had forgotten.”
    Another witness cited by Henda Ayari: Salem K. The plaintiff told investigators that she told her story to her “close friend.” Salem K., she adds, “was very angry at Ramadan and opened my eyes, and convinced me to break off with him. Salem even told me that he knew a woman who had been sexually assaulted by Ramadan. When contacted by the police, Salem K. related that Henda Ayari told him of an alleged attack by Tariq Ramadan but that she provided “no details about the circumstances of the attack, or even if it actually took place.” He also said that he “never heard similar stories from any other women.”

    Nicknamed “Christelle” by the press, Paule-Emma A. has provided a detailed account of her alleged rape by Tariq Ramadan. Judicial investigators, however, questioned some of her claims. The plaintiff told judges that she had heard a couple arguing loudly in the adjoining room at the Hilton Hotel in Lyon and asked Tariq Ramadan to intervene. After verification by investigators, the two rooms next to Tariq Ramadan’s were actually found to have been empty.
    Then Paule-Emma A. asserts that at 5am, while Tariq Ramadan was in the bathroom, she gathered her clothes and left the room. In the lobby, she explains, a receptionist with a North-African appearance made fun of her to a colleague. The investigators were unable to locate the two individuals described by the plaintiff among hotels employees who had been working that night.
    Having left the hotel, Paule-Emma claims to have taken a bus without a ticket. The driver, after talking with her and seeing her torn dress and broken heel, decided to allow her to travel for free. Of the four drivers who worked on the three bus lines that Paule-Emma A. could have taken that morning, none remember having met her.
    Another element further weakens Paule-Emma A.’s testimony. While she has consistently maintained Tariq Ramadan “proceeded directly to the conference hall with her belongings in a large white bag,” including her dress and shoes after the alleged events, while she remained locked in room 612 of the Hilton hotel, a photograph appears to show Paule-Emma A. in the audience. The photo, dated October 9, 2012, is currently being verified. Tariq Ramadan has consistently maintained to investigators that he indeed encountered Paule-Emma A., but “on October 10, 2009 in late morning or early afternoon, one day after the conference.

    The call girl known as “Marie,” who had previously been involved in the ‘Carlton Affair’ in Lille, involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, handed investigators a black dress on which Tariq Ramadan supposedly ejaculated. The professor had been aware of the existence of this dress since 2014, as one of “Marie’s” sisters, having indicated at the time that the she was attempting to trap Tariq Ramadan: “Just like she did with DSK (she sold her story to a journalist for 8,000 euros), she will do the same thing to you,” she wrote in an August 2014 message on LinkedIn.

    “Marie” claims she was raped nine times. Why did she keep seeing Tariq Ramadan? “He was threatening to tell my daughter about my past as an escort girl,” she claims. As Le Point points out, her past is “common knowledge since the hearings of the Carlton Affair trial in June 2015, in Lille.”
    “Marie’s” brother, when contacted by the MuslimPost, says that when he asked his sister why she had filed a complaint against Tariq Ramadan, she answered: “For the money, of course.” In an SMS, “Marie” writes that her family need not worry about legal expenses: “I got a certain amount of money to wage this battle”, reads a message from the third plaintiff’s account.

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