Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Islamic group forced to move Tariq Ramadan event after rape accusations

Critics had slammed Queen Mary University in London for giving Mr Ramadan a platform to speak after he was taken into custody by French police over rape and sexual assault allegations

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, who denies all the claims against him, remains in custody in Fleury-Mérogis prison, Essonne. (Reuters)
Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, who denies all the claims against him, remains in custody in Fleury-Mérogis prison, Essonne. (Reuters)

A UK-based Islamic group has been forced to abandon plans to hold an event at Queen Mary University after its speaker, Tariq Ramadan, was taken into custody over rape allegations.

Critics had slammed the university on social media after a flyer for the event, organised by the Islamic Institute for Development and Research, was posted on Facebook stating the venue was Queen Mary.

One Twitter user, Akeela Ahmed, wrote: “@QMUL why are you allowing Tariq Ramadan to speak at your university when there are allegations of sexual violence against him, currently going through the criminal justice system in France?”

Another, Aliya Zaidi, argued it was “only appropriate to cancel the lecture given the nature of the allegations and to keep students safe”.

She added: “Agree with due process but at the same time it's not appropriate to allow him to speak given that he (allegedly) uses lectures to pick up (multiple) women.”

The backlash came as the prominent Oxford professor was detained by French police on Wednesday as part of a preliminary inquiry into rape and assault allegations.

Mr Ramadan, a Swiss national who is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has furiously denied separate accusations from two women that he raped them in French hotel rooms in 2009 and 2012. He remained in custody in Paris on Thursday, with a legal source saying investigators wanted to question him further.

As calls mounted for the event – scheduled for March 3 – to be cancelled or boycotted, Queen Mary swiftly sought to distance itself from any involvement in it.

“Please note that this event has not been organised by Queen Mary and is not taking place on our campus,” the university wrote on Twitter. “The event seems to be organised by @IIDR_Live.”

Speaking to The National, a spokesperson from the university said: “It was never our event. It was misattributed as being at Queen Mary, I’m not entirely sure why that happened. We’re not the organisers.”

Mr Ramadan has spoken at the university in the past, such as in May 2012, when he gave a lecture entitled “Western Muslims and the Arab Awakening”.

The previous year, it was the venue for an event called: “Towards Faithfulness: An exclusive weekend with Dr Tariq Ramadan.”

But the spokesperson was adamant that the latest event, entitled “A day course on Jihad, violence, war and peace in Islam”, is not taking place on the university’s premises.

“People raised it on social media yesterday so we raised it internally to see if it had been booked,” the spokesperson said. “It was never booked with us.”

A spokesman from IIDR told The National that the event is still going ahead, and that it would not be held at Queen Mary. However, he refused to comment on why it was initially advertised as taking place there, and did not provide an alternative venue.

The event flyer also appeared to be removed from IIDR’s Facebook page on Thursday.

It was still advertised on the IIDR website, although the venue has been removed. Early-bird tickets cost £35, going up to £45 subsequently, and include a free signed copy of Mr Ramadan’s book, Jihad, Violence, War & Peace in Islam.

Aisha Ali-Khan, a prominent women’s activist in the UK, told The National that she had called Queen Mary herself on Wednesday to demand they cancel the event.

“Why would IIDR advertise the event as being held there, if it wasn’t true?” she asked. “People don’t change venues last minute for an event unless there’s a good reason.

“I think the university must’ve booked it in without thinking, and then once they realised the implications, they tried to whitewash it and absolve themselves of any involvement.”

A regular face on French television, the 55-year-old academic is the most prominent figure to be held in France over the sexual assault and harassment claims that have rippled around the world as a result of the online "Me Too" campaign.

The first complainant, French writer Henda Ayari, says Mr Ramadan raped her in Paris in 2012. Speaking to Le Parisien newspaper, she said: "He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die."

She lodged a rape complaint against Ramadan on October 20.

Mr Ramadan is also accused of raping another woman in a hotel room in Lyon in 2009. The unnamed 42-year-old, who is reported to have disability in her legs, said in October that the professor had subjected her to a terrifying and violent sexual assault.

A third woman told Le Parisien in October that Mr Ramadan had sexually harassed her in 2014.

All the complainants said they had initially made contact with the Islamic scholar for spiritual guidance.

In further shocking allegations, Mr Ramadan was accused of seducing four of his teenage pupils in the 1980s and 1990s when he was teaching in his hometown of Geneva.

He has denied all the accusations, calling them "a campaign of lies launched by my adversaries".

In November, following a petition launched by Ms Ali-Khan calling for Oxford University to remove Mr Ramadan from his post as professor of contemporary Islamic studies, the university issued a statement saying he was taking a “leave of absence”.

A spokesperson from the university told The National on Thursday that there had been no change to their position since their statement in November.

Updated: February 1, 2018 06:18 PM