OpEd: King, Ramadan, Establishment Hostility, and the Echoes of History

By El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan

The year was November 1964. Personal indiscretions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the form of extramarital affairs, came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation through the agency’s illegal surveillance protocol – part of a practice that would later be known as COINTELPRO. The FBI would use that information in its attempt to destroy Dr. King. They almost succeeded.

What follows is the opening paragraph of the FBI’s transcript of the letter sent to Dr. King on that fateful day in 1964. (The letter was camouflaged as coming from another ‘Negro leader’ in the movement. It encouraged Dr. King to commit suicide as the only way out of the shame that would come his way once his infidelities were publicly divulged!)

“King: In view of your low grade, abnormal personal behavior I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII and his countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct lower than that of a beast.”

To say that this poison pen letter was all downhill from there would be an understatement. This is how the final paragraph read:

“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is… There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

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This ended up being a very dark and depressing period for Dr. King and his family. However, because Martin Luther King, Jr., was essentially a good man – a man of faith, and a man who despite his indiscretions both loved and was committed to his family, and his mission – with the forgiving support of his wife, Coretta Scott King, he successfully fought through the darkness of that period to grow into the most impactful period of his short life; with the most challenging and significant year being April 1967 – April 1968!

Now we come to Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a man with decades of service to his faith community and to the community-at-large. In October 2017, Dr. Ramadan was formally accused of raping a “feminist activist” by the name of Henda Ayari in a Paris hotel in 2012; shortly thereafter another woman came forth with a similar charge of rape in a hotel room in Lyon (southeastern France) in October 2009. Then there was a third woman (who would later have her charges dismissed).

It is important to note that these accusations were publicly made in the immediate aftermath of the official launch of the #MeToo Movement of 2017, and thus, acquired immediate socio-political currency. It is also worth noting that in the yearlong investigation that ensued, there has been no evidence of rape in either of these cases! However, there has been evidence of illicit affairs, which I accept are morally reprehensible offenses unworthy of a religious scholar.

However, as a result of the consensual skeletons found in this internationally renowned Muslim scholar’s closet, not only do we have an assortment of openly Islamophobic individuals and agencies within the French and broader European establishment calling for his isolation, there are a number of Muslims doing so as well. Is this prudent? Is this the morally correct thing to do? Who stands to gain from a permanently silenced Tariq Ramadan?

Of all the stellar accomplishments of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (and there were many), we remember him most for his courageous and extremely challenging stand against the Vietnam War. While he was excoriated for this principled stand throughout American mainstream society, from President Lyndon B. Johnson on down – and even many of his once close allies in the “Civil Rights Movement” distanced themselves from him in that final year of his life – he was on the right side of history. There is a monument in downtown Washington, DC, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials to prove it!

Dr. Ramadan (like King) has acknowledged the errors made in his personal life. He too wants a chance to redeem himself and continue the work he’s been known for. On November 12th of this year, while still behind bars he wrote a piece of commentary titled, “Meditation, from behind and beyond the bars” – in which he stated:

“There were mistakes, errors. I do not deny anything, and nothing justifies them. I know and understand that some people are troubled, disappointed, and even angry. Some are inhabited by incomprehension, others treat it as treason. I understand this profoundly and I am sorry and sad.”

Ramadan further noted,

“In going through this ordeal, I returned to the center, inevitably: I was unfair to myself, as the Qur’an states, and the apparent paradox is that the injustice, both judicial and political, that I suffered, finally allowed me to do justice to my heart and to my being, spiritually.”

In Islam, as in other major religions, there is something called repentance (in Arabic, Tauba). Of this spiritually revitalizing process, Shaykh ibn Taymeeyah is reported to have said: “A catastrophe [of any type] that brings us closer to Allah is better for us than a blessing that causes us to forget the remembrance of Allah.”

Like Martin Luther King, post-1964, Tariq Ramadan has the potential to come out of this self-inflicted tragedy stronger and more impactful than before. It would go against the principles of Islam – in a time of great challenge for Muslims around the world – not to give him the opportunity to do so!

El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan is a Metro-Washington, DC, based human rights advocate. He serves as Director of Operations for The Aafia Foundation, Inc.


Further Reading: Meditation, from behind and beyond the bars

On November 12, in prison, I wrote these thoughts. From the inside, for yesterday, for today, for tomorrow.

It’s late, it’s dark. Between the four walls of this cell. Silence. I am alone, I am not alone. I see images of my life, of my past. This long road that brought me to prison. Nothing happens by chance. I seek meaning, the lessons.

Growth. For this, one must face the facts; refuse to feel sorry for one’s fate, to accept one’s mistakes without looking for excuses. As the Qur’an says, “O you who bear faith, you are accountable for yourselves” (5/105).

There were old wounds, tears and defeats. There were mistakes, errors. I do not deny anything and nothing justifies them. 

I know and understand that some people are troubled, disappointed, and even angry. 

Some are inhabited by incomprehension, others treat it as treason. I understand this profoundly and I am sorry and sad.

In going through this ordeal, I returned to the center, inevitably: I was unfair to myself, as the Qur’an states, and the apparent paradox is that the injustice, both judicial and political, that I suffered, finally allowed me to do justice to my heart and to my being, spiritually. 

They wanted to stain me through the media, externally; but in reality, God offered me cleansing and resilience, internally and intimately. 

Some trials are blessings.

This experience is, and will be, my liberation.

I promise you that, insha’Allah, I will come out of it stronger.

For some of you, the challenge is a little different. It is important, with wisdom, to attach oneself to the Message, and not, emotionally, to the person; this is learned through difficulties and life’s suffering. This is how one can forgive and move on.

What does this message tell us today? First, we must remember that trials are reminders and spiritually, signs of love.

Then, human beings must beware of any definitive judgment: only God knows the facts and their meaning. 

Finally, one must remain upright, refuse injustices, and fight with dignity against lying accusations for one’s innocence, dignity, honor, right and freedom. To never let that go. 

It’s late. Silence. The heart calms down, confidence grows. Prayer. I am alone, I am not alone. We are not alone. Let’s do this!


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8 responses to “OpEd: King, Ramadan, Establishment Hostility, and the Echoes of History”

  1. Avatar Spirituality says:

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    I found this article disturbing. The basic message I read from it is that if you are an activist doing great things in the world, then, sexual indiscretions are minor and should not be a big deal.

    This was not the attitude of the Prophet (s) and the Sahabah (RA). Yes, the door of repentance is always open, but Allah and his Prophet (s) are very clear in delineating zina for the grave sin it is.

    Zina is a big deal, and destroys families and societies. Activists who behave in such a manner maybe doing a great service to society on the political front while secretly poisoning that same society.

    Moral character and strong families are the building block of any society; and if these elements fall apart, I’m not sure all the political activism in the world will do much good.

    I think most of us are aware that sharia has a very strict code for admitted or proven adultery. I am not aware of leniency due to the fact that someone is a political activist doing great things in the world.

    And Allah knows best.

    • Avatar Ahmad says:

      @sheena khan; We fall into the trap indeed. Are you speaking for the Muslims? you are not speaking for the Muslims, you do not have the rights to tell the muslims what to do and who to listen.
      To @spirituality:
      There’s a Chinese proverb which says: “When a wise man is pointing out to the moon, the foolish is looking at the finger”. However, you mentioned the prophet pbuh and his companions. Guess what, the prophet was different, but do you know some of the companions made some mistakes? We read in the seerah. Now I’m inviting you to reread the article with open heart and open mind. Understand the nature of the article, the example he pointed out about Dr. King before he moved to Dr. Ramadan. The article is clear, read and understand, don’t just read to respond.

      • Avatar Sheema Khan says:

        Assalaamu alaikum,

        I repeat – the author of the article has accepted T Ramadan’s claim that the violence in these illicit affairs was consensual. The court cases have not come to any conclusion. It is premature to conclude his innocence of the very serious charges. Furthermore, if you follow the court proceedings over the past year, in detail, at every step of the way (until just last month), T. Ramadan has lied repeatedly, while accusing the plaintiffs of being pathological liars. He emphatically denied any physical contact with the three initial accusers. Then provided dozens of texts/images to prove that he had a consensual affair with one of them – a high-priced escort. He provided a false itinerary to provide an alibi in one of the other cases. The organizers of that conference testified under oath that the itinerary had been changed, and that they had physically picked him up at the airport and brought him to the hotel during early afternoon – thus destroying the “alibi”. I could go on and on, how during 99.5% of the court proceedings, he lied, under oath, denied, accused, etc. And now, all of a sudden, we are to believe him as a man of truth.

        Yes, we are all in need of Allah’s mercy, and must always do tauba. But it should be done in seclusion, in private, in sincerity. And with the awareness that in the eyes of many, he has lost all credibility.

        The issue is not just about T. Ramadan, but about two French women who claim to have been violently raped; and a number of former female Swiss students who claim abuse. These issues have to be settled in a court of law. Too many are rushing to dismiss them.

        We have many, many women who suffer in silence after abuse from men in power. The #Metoo movement is giving a small impetus to stand up. I for one, will not dismiss these women’s claims. I have worked too long in the Muslim community to see the contempt that is directed at women. But that is another story.

      • Avatar Spirituality says:

        As Salamu Alaikum, Ahmad,

        I think we’ll have to agree to disagree!

        I do agree that the Sahabah made mistakes. Some even committed zina…

        However, when they admitted this to the Prophet (s), his verdict was that they should be executed by being stoned to death. This was their tauba…

        Note, their tauba is not something we should minimize, any more than their zina…in the case of one Sahabiyya, who was executed for adultery, the Prophet (s) specifically declared that her repentance was accepted.

        • Avatar Spirituality says:

          Here is what the Prophet (s) said about the Sahabiyya’s repentence:

          “…She has made such a repentance that if it were to be divided among seventy men of Medina, it would be enough. Have you found any repentance better than this that she sacrficed her life for Allah, the Majestic?”‘


  2. Avatar Sheema Khan says:

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    What is so disturbing about this article is the complete acceptance of T. Ramadan’s admission that these relationships were consensual. A trial is to take place. At least 2 women in France and others in Switzerland allege non-consensual violent rape. These are very serious charges. I will not dismiss these accusations – I will wait for the trials to conclude. Also – hypocrisy is one of the greatest sins in Islam. T Ramadan, professor in Islamic Ethics at a University in Qatar. Yes, as a Muslim, I will no longer believe a word he says, and warn others to stay away. In our faith, words must match deeds.

  3. Avatar Mr ab says:

    It is simple. Zina is Zina and if he was in Acheh that would be the end of him. The fact he has a brand name is insignificant. For even Adam a prophet had to compensate for an error of disobedience. A public apology does not equate to an apology from god. And if god forgave him or not is not up to us to decide. God has his laws. If everytime we would selectively chose mercy just because this or that man came with a brand name then.. Many Muslim women who have been killed in the name of honor killing would remain alive today. We live in a society where there is no shariah law. Sentimental as it is the shariah is clear as day and shouldn’t be applied selectively just for sentimental reasons. Because we do not live in such times.. HE JUST HAS TO DEAL WITH THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION. And may he serve as a lesson to all other Muslim men who intend to harm their families and the entire community with their licentiousness.

  4. Avatar Basil says:

    My my, our community is full of double standards. We host, recognize, and celebrate non-Muslim public figures at our fundraising events and our masajid, never inquiring about their (often very public) un-Islamic behavior. But let’s burn Tariq Ramadan at the stake. One does not have to condone Dr. Ramadan’s moral failures. Nevertheless, he’s still entitled to justice and the presumption of innocence (from a criminal standpoint), unless one feels Muslims should be punished by Western courts for adultery. The rest is between Ramadan, his family, and Our Creator. In the meantime, perhaps the holier-than-thou Muslims in the West should stop claiming Muhammad Ali as our hero, and stop quoting MLK in our interfaith gatherings…and stop voting for adulterous politicians.

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