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Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: tolerance and moderation in theory, thought and practice

Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi attends the sixth annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Conference organised by the Jerusalem International Foundation in the Qatari capital Doha on October 12, 2008 [KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images]
Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi attends the sixth annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Conference organised by the Jerusalem International Foundation in the Qatari capital Doha on 12 October 2008 [KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images]

Although his detractors paint him as an extremist, Egyptian-born Dr Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is, in fact, a moderate scholar whose flexible approach to Islamic Law has actually pitched him against extremists in many different fields, including politics. He has been consistent and regular in his warnings about falling into extremist traps, no matter where they are or who sets them.

Al-Qaradawi’s flexibility when tackling modern developments from a Shari’ah viewpoint has led him to conclude that the Muslim Ummah is facing a crisis of thought. This crisis, he believes, encompasses the Muslim understanding of the foundations of Prophet Muhammad’s finely-recorded example and the spirit of tolerance which underpins it. This lack of understanding is reflected in the practices adopted in the Muslim world, particularly in politics.

The Doha-based scholar’s inclination towards simplification does not mean that he has abandoned the fundamentals of religion or politics. From the beginning, his ideas have been clear regarding the jihad – struggle – of the Ummah, for example, against those who want to strip them of their identity, thoughts and spirit. This has seen attacked by two different groups: those within the Ummah who adopt extremist ways and reject his approach; and the others who have compromised the Ummah’s capabilities and culture, and find Sheikh Al-Qaradawi’s ideas to be an obstacle to them handing over the keys to its enemies.

There is most certainly harmony of thought and practice in Al-Qaradawi’s scientific and intellectual approach, as well as his political views, to the extent that he is a point of reference for many individuals in the Muslim world, as well as religious institutions. Nevertheless, the shifts in allegiances and accelerated pace of the Arab Spring phase, accompanied by inevitable political strife as a result, have created a new stage with political parties adopting positions contrary to what they followed previously. In doing so, they have deliberately distorted Al-Qaradawi’s ideas and opinions and sought to reduce his approach to an integrated religious, social and political jurisprudence that is widely accepted in the Muslim world.

Tolerance in thought and behaviour

Sheikh Al-Qaradawi’s clear positions on intellectual and political issues, matched by his behaviour on such matters, has allowed him to avoid the confusion caused by deliberately twisted interpretations of what he has said and written. His position on the events of 9/11 is one of the most obvious examples of this.

As he has summarised so eloquently with regards to the criminal events of that fateful day in September 2001, he was the first Muslim scholar to condemn the attacks, regardless of who was responsible, and what their religion, nationality or place of birth was. He insisted that the attacks were illegal, not least for killing innocent civilians.

In an interview with a Japanese TV station two years ago, Al-Qaradawi again condemned the 9/11 attacks as crimes. Although he explained that he believes that the culprits were unlikely to be Muslims in the real sense, even if they were, they still stand condemned, as Islam respects the souls of all human beings. He then quoted a verse from the Qur’an: “Whoever kills a soul unless for another soul [ie through due judicial process for murder] or for corruption [done] in the land, it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one soul, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.”

The concept of terrorism and support for the Palestinian cause

Al-Qaradawi believes that the term and concept of terrorism has specific elements derived from the tolerance of Islamic law, and the system of laws and moral and ethical controls that he believes in. Killing and harming innocent individuals, for example, as well as the destruction and damage of property and land, are acts that do not arise out of normal human nature, nor are they logical.

According to Al-Qaradawi’s idea of the concept of terrorism, he believes that the state terrorism of the Israeli occupation authorities against the Palestinian people prompts acts of “revenge” terrorism in different parts of the world. This explains his call for the American conscience to wake up after the events of 9/11: “…so that Washington could reconsider its policies that may have been a motive for the incident and similar acts, especially since it takes unjustified positions that have an aspect of double-standards, especially with regards to us as Arabs and Muslims. The most prominent of these unjustified positions is its constant bias in favour of Israel and its hostile policies against Palestinians and Arabs.”

As far as Al-Qaradawi is concerned, “It is a terrible injustice to consider the fighters who defend their homeland, sanctities and holy sites as criminal terrorists, while the murderers are considered innocent.” The Sheikh bases his approach on the context of the Palestinian situation, including the struggle of the Palestinian people – given full legitimacy by international law – against the Israeli occupation; the justice of the Palestinian cause; the unjust condemnation of the Palestinian right to resist the occupation; and the wholly inaccurate portrayal of Israel as the perpetual victim.

In his book Jurisprudence of Jihad, Al-Qaradawi refers directly to this issue, as he states explicitly, “Israel was the most prominent state built on terrorism from day one, carried out by the Haganah gangs and the massacres they committed in Deir Yassin and elsewhere. They managed to forcibly expel the Palestinians from their land and build their state on the ruins.”

Given his deep belief in the right of the Palestinian people to restore their usurped right to their land, to live with dignity and self-determination, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi became almost naturally involved in humanitarian efforts to help them. Moreover, he was always concerned with raising awareness of the Palestinian cause around the world, warning of the systematic Israeli plan for the Judaisation of Jerusalem; this prompted him to “institutionalise” efforts for these ends.

He is driven by the conviction that the Muslim Ummah “possesses huge, unlimited financial, political and economic power, with no real appreciation for this power that makes it possible to employ it in the correct manner.”

It is in this context that institutions were established to play critical roles in supporting the steadfastness of the Palestinian people by providing basic humanitarian aid. The most prominent of these has seen dozens of Arab and international Muslim charities and foundations working since 2001 to implement relief and development projects in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The efforts include the distribution of food parcels, orphan sponsorship, support for the health and education sectors, and graduate employment schemes.

To raise awareness of the threats to the sanctities of Jerusalem, Al-Qaradawi established the Jerusalem International Foundation. This provides the younger generation with information about the history and status of Jerusalem and its significance for Arabs, Muslims and Christians. It also plays a key role in the quest to preserve Jerusalem’s Arab, Muslim and Christian identity and save it from the clutches of the Israeli occupation by securing the presence of Palestinian Jerusalemites in their home city.

Sheikh Al-Qaradawi regards the Palestinian political division to be a very painful issue. He was one of the first Muslim scholars to call for an end to it, renewing his call for Palestinian national reconciliation from the heart of Gaza, which he visited in 2013. “We must not surrender to this division,” he urged the people of Palestine. “We need unity for victory and the Palestinians must all rally behind a single leadership.” He stressed that those responsible for the continued division —described as the traffickers of the cause — should not be an obstacle to the unity of the nation. “We want everyone to join hands and work together.”

Interfaith dialogue

The respected Sheikh’s discourse is characterised by tolerance and peacemaking across the horizons of the Arab and Islamic world. Many of his published articles refer to a sense of brotherhood and harmonious relations between Muslims, leaders and people alike. In interviews and conferences he remains keen to advocate instilling in the youth the principles and spirit of brotherhood as well as moderation, the prime characteristic of Islam, which encourages mercy and non-violence, as well as ease instead of hardship.

Along with a number of other scholars, Al-Qaradawi organised the first Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Doha in 2003, and then institutionalised the process by establishing the Doha International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue in 2007, which was the desire of the then Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The purpose was to find solutions to global tragedies arising from religious strife, and to seek an end to human suffering resulting from the language of hatred and sectarianism which challenge the values of the three Divinely-revealed faiths.

He has participated in many dialogues between and about Muslims and the West, most notably the US-Islamic World Forum held annually in Doha. It attracts scholars, politicians, officials, clerics, intellectuals, media personalities and others to discuss controversial issues among civilisations. During the fifth annual conference held in 2007, Al-Qaradawi urged Washington to “spend the billions it spends on dominating the world, or even half of it, on the world’s needs and problems, especially in the south and third-world countries.”

Through his ideas of tolerance in thought and behaviour, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has sought to establish moral balance in the perception of Muslims and the Muslim world by highlighting Islam’s true teachings, which call for conciliation and harmony between human beings. Dialogue and open communication, he insists, are essential for societies and nations with people of all faiths and none. He has made great efforts to mobilise Muslim movements in order to produce international social and charity work and, where possible, to combine their efforts for greater effectiveness in combatting poverty, ignorance and disease.

Nevertheless, Al-Qaradawi has warned about the efforts of Western institutions which use charity as a front in order to incite people against Islam. Such work in communities in Asia and Africa has misguided Muslims and tried to get them to abandon their faith and identity. The Sheikh has raised awareness of this and encouraged governments to establish Muslim charitable institutions with deep roots in humanitarian work. Such organisations are now working with the poor and needy across the world without discrimination on the basis of faith, caste or creed. The bottom line in this is the firm Muslim beliefs and ethics which are compatible with those handed to us by the Almighty through His Final Prophet, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

“People suffering from natural disasters have the right to the support of the Muslim Ummah,” explains Al-Qaradawi. “We have a duty to provide relief to those in pain; to feed the hungry; to shelter the homeless; to heal the sick; and to do all of this in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in humanity.”

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi has reshaped contemporary Islamic consciousness by adopting a system of moderate thought, the middle way of Islam. The most important characteristics of this are ease, tolerance and harmony within doctrinal boundaries. His efforts in the face of Western and, in the Middle East especially, Zionist challenges to Islam and Muslims seek to preserve identity, human and civil rights and the religious sanctities of Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. He has enlisted humanitarian, social and economic support in such noble work for the benefit not only of the Muslim Ummah but also the world at large.

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