Paris (AFP) – French police on Wednesday questioned prominent Swiss Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan over allegations that he raped two women, who went public with their claims in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
The Oxford professor was summoned to a Paris police station and taken into custody “as part of a preliminary inquiry in Paris into rape and assault allegations”, a police source said.
Ramadan has furiously denied the complaints made by two Muslim women who said they were emboldened to break their silence after the revelations that toppled Hollywood mogul Weinstein.
The two women say they approached Ramadan, whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement, separately to seek the conservative scholar’s religious advice.
Henda Ayari, a feminist activist and writer who used to practise a conservative strain of Islam, says Ramadan suggested they meet in Paris in 2012 after she contacted him about her decision to stop wearing the veil.
She said Ramadan raped her in his hotel room, telling Le Parisien newspaper: “He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die.”
An unnamed disabled woman also accused the academic of raping her in a hotel room in the southeastern city of Lyon in 2009.
In November, Oxford University announced that 55-year-old Ramadan was taking a leave of absence from his post as professor of contemporary Islamic studies, “by mutual agreement”.
A regular panellist on TV debates with two million Facebook followers, Ramadan has been accused by secular critics of promoting a political form of Islam.
The United States barred him from the country for several years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, preventing him taking up an academic post there.
Ramadan branded the decision ridiculous, stressing he had always rejected terrorism and accusing the US of trying to stifle debate.
– Hotel encounters –
Ayari, who has renounced conservative Islam to become a self-described “secular Muslim”, detailed her rape allegations in a book published last year, without naming Ramadan.
But in October she named him publicly, saying she was encouraged by the thousands of women speaking out against sexual assault and harassment under the “Me Too” online campaign and its French equivalent, “Balance Ton Porc” (Squeal on your pig).
She lodged a rape complaint against Ramadan on October 20.
His other accuser, a convert to Islam, told Le Monde newspaper that she had corresponded with Ramadan for a year before meeting him when he was attending a conference in Lyon.
“He kicked my crutches and threw himself on top of me saying, ‘You made me wait, it’s going to cost you’,” she said.
Ramadan has denied the two women’s accusations, as well as further allegations in Swiss media of sexual misconduct against teenage girls in the 1980s and 1990s, as “a campaign of lies launched by my adversaries”.
Lawyers for the married father-of-four have accused Ayari of slander and suggested the women colluded to try disgrace him.
On Tuesday, he announced the launch in Paris of a new movement called Resistance and Alternative which he said “rejects all ideologies that subjugate and de-humanise mankind”.
Ayari meanwhile has come under attack on social media, with some Muslims accusing her of trying to profit from anti-Muslim sentiment.
French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which lost staff members in a 2015 jihadist attack, also received threats after publishing a cartoon depicting Ramadan with a huge erection, captioned: “I am the sixth pillar of Islam.”