Who is Henda Ayari, the woman accusing Islamist Tariq Ramadan of rape?

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With the number of women in Hollywood coming forward and exposing Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment and rape, another case has been gripping the Middle East after prominent Islamist thinker Tariq Ramadan was accussed of raping Salafist-turned secular liberal activist Henda Ayari.

Ayari has accused Swiss-Muslim thinker Ramadan, the grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, of raping and sexually assaulting her in a Paris hotel room in 2012. Ramadan’s lawyer said that his client denies the allegations and intends to file a complaint for slander.

But who exactly is Henda Ayari? The Tunisian-Algerian author currently leads Libératrices, a charity that supports women who suffer violence and are subjugated by Islamic extremism.

Ayari, 40, recently authored a book under the title “I chose to be free” about her escape from Salafism in France.


In that book, Ayari mentions an Islamic intellectual who raped her and referred to him as “Zubair”. It turns out that the mentioned - according to her claim - is Tariq Ramadan, according to explosive claims she made on her Facebook page in recent days.

Ayari has published the book to tell her story of how she decided to abandon the Salafi approach and take off her hijab to live as a “free” Muslim more than a year ago.

Hind said that she followed the 55-year-old Oxford university professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies and listened to his religious and social advice on social media.

In her memoir, Ayari details how her alleged assailant invited her to meet him at a hotel in Paris in 2012, where he was taking part in a conference.

Ramadan gave a lecture aside of the Federation of Islamic Organizations conference in Paris, then invited Ayari to his room in the hotel, she said that he took advantage of her weakness to hug and kiss her. When she refused – as per her story – he slapped her violently.

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan speaks at Cooper Union in New York, Thursday, April 8, 2010. (AP)
Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan speaks at Cooper Union in New York, Thursday, April 8, 2010. (AP)

Her book reads: ‘When I resisted, when I told him to stop, he insulted and humiliated me. He slapped me and was outright violent. I saw someone who was no longer in control of himself. I was scared he would kill me. I wanted to escape but at the same time I couldn’t believe what was happening.

“I started to cry and he said to me: ‘So honey, you’re whining are you? Stop pretending you don’t like it. You didn’t know what a real man was like before. Well, now you do.”

Ayari was born to a Tunisian mother and an Algerian father. She lived under a Salafist commitment for 21 years from the age of 18, until she finally decided to be liberated about a year ago, at the age of thirty-nine, she said of her experiences in her book.

She said her secular liberation came after Paris attacks in 2015 that triggered her to leave the Salafi movement, which is when she began writing her story. She gained national attention from many French media outlets and was hosted on several television channels and newspapers interviews to talk about her book.


Ayari tells her story about having a terrible childhood when her cousin attempted to rape her at the age of nine while they were on a holiday in Tunisia. She also said that she was constantly beaten by her mother.

As for her ex-husband, the father of her three children, she said he spent most of his time at the mosque with Salafists and depended on public welfare to support his family.

Before that decision and years later, she narrated how her “fanatic husband” used to beat her if she did not wear the headscarf. “He portrayed France as a country of unbelievers who hated Muslims”. She said that quickly responded to him under pressure and followed all his rules.

Ayari said she had to stop her university studies to marry at the young age of 21 in Tunisia, as this what her family wanted. Her husband soon became violent toward her and wanted to keep her at home and only allowed her to leave to go to the supermarket or to attend religious lectures, provided that she did not leave until she wore the full-face niqab face veil.

Now a mother of three, Ayari grew up in Normandy, one of the administrative regions in northern France. After her conversion from Salafism and the victory of new French President Emmanuel Macron, she wrote a long letter asking him to fight “Islamic propaganda in France”.

“I was one of the living dead,” she said about her previous experience with Salafism. “Salafism contributed to my unconsciousness, until I released myself from mental imprisonment”.

She said: “I learned in the beginning that society is the devil, that music and dancing are pure evil, that we Muslims are victims of an American-Zionist conspiracy. That made me cut off all relations with all Muslims who do not follow our rules so that I will go to heaven”.


During that period, Ayari met the Muslim Brotherhood in France and indulged into the reactionary thinking in all its forms, until the shocking moment in November 2015 when she woke up to the Paris attacks and described it as if it was “an electric shock” to her.

She founded an association to help single mothers who have been ostracized by their husbands and whose lives ended up in divorce and social isolation.

“Because my journey to the center of hell was like those women who were the victims of religious and social persecution, I founded this association to fight discrimination and extremism against women and help them to get over difficulties,” she said.

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