On a recent afternoon, Tariq Ramadan, the outspoken Muslim scholar and professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, took the stage at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. Ramadan stood alongside John Esposito, professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown, holding court on “radical reform” in Islam and parrying with a warm, supportive audience. The room was filled with students and others, including women in headscarves, women with bare heads, journalists and professors.
Such a gathering might sound relatively unremarkable for the nation’s capital, except for this: Tariq Ramadan was banned from the United States for six years, a visa restriction lifted in January by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s because Ramadan, whose name is as often mentioned with the word “radical” as with “reformer,” had become a lightening rod, a discussion point for post-9/11 restrictions on travel, ideas and the place of Islam in democracies.