Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Minorities

Learned Intolerance

With his hostility towards religious minorities in the Islamic world and his wholesale dismissal of Muslim life in Europe, the Islamic scholar and television preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi is damaging dialogue and interreligious communication. A commentary by Khaled Hroub


Photo montage of Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the Al Jazeera symbol (sources: AP/dpa/DW)
"Religious racism": Khaled Hroub feels that al-Qaradawi is not a suitable symbol of Islamic tolerance, in particular because of his superior – even intolerant – attitude to religious minorities in the Islamic world and those who do not share his views

​​"The Global Mufti: the Phenomenon of Yusuf al-Qaradawi" is the title of a recently published collection of essays on the life and work of the most well-known and influential TV sheik in the Islamic world. Leading Arab and Western scholars here attempt to shed some light on the multiple activities of the first global mufti, in particular with regard to his function as president of The International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS) and the European Fatwa Council and, of course, as the initiator of numerous media ventures such as his popular "Sharia and Life" programme on the Al-Jazeera channel. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the book barely gets beneath the surface of its subject and offers little in the way of real enlightenment on the al-Qaradawi phenomenon. Worse still, it is quite simply misleading, inevitably leading the impartial reader to the conclusion that al-Qaradawi stands out amongst current Islamic scholars as the personification of tolerance. Cardinal error ​​The book's cardinal error and one which inevitably leads the reader to the wrong conclusion is without a doubt the unacceptable comparative approach it takes, one whereby al-Qaradawi is compared with more radical, even fanatical Salafi preachers. That the omnipresent sheik should appear to be much more tolerant than such incorrigible diehard reactionaries comes as no great surprise. This comparative approach becomes even more problematic as al-Qaradawi is elevated here to a kind of global authority status as the embodiment of the much-lauded Islamic tolerance. But al-Qaradawi hardly fits the bill as a symbol of Islamic tolerance, particularly given his disparaging, even intolerant attitude towards dissenters and minorities in Muslim countries. This attitude has been apparent from his many comments on Christianity generally and Arab Christianity in particular, most recently nicely timed to coincide with the contemplative Christmas period.

Bizarre line of reasoning

In a Friday sermon, al-Qaradawi spoke about Christmas celebrations in Islamic countries and criticised Muslims who celebrate Christmas as doing something not reconcilable with the Islamic faith and offensive to Muslim values and identity. Almost in the same breath he called on the West to give respect and tolerance to Muslims and their religious celebrations, sharply condemning the West's populist right-wing propagandists for their attacks on Muslims.

Christmas celebrations in Lebanon (photo: AP)
Grist to the mill of the puritans and extremists: in a fatwa, the 83-year-old television preacher called for a ban on the celebration of Christmas in the Islamic world

​​The tragic irony of this reasoning is not only the fact that it reveals al-Qaradawi as having descended to the level of those whom he denounces, but also that he employs almost exactly the same arguments as the die-hard right-wing populists and agitators who campaign against Muslims and their rights on the pretext that the conspicuousness of Muslims in European immigration societies in itself constitutes a fundamental threat to the West's Christian identity. This bizarre line of reasoning does not do the Muslims in Europe any favours. His attitude to dissenters is not to be taken lightly, for it reveals a religious racism that questions the basic rights of Arabs who follow the Christian faith. Arab Christians are no incomers after all; they are natives of today's majoritarian Orient. How must Arab Christians in Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries feel when they hear Sheik al-Qaradawi describing them as a threat to the identity of their own societies? How can the celebrated TV preacher seriously claim that millions of Muslims in Europe, and the US are not allowed to celebrate Ramadan and other Islamic festivals? How can he, as someone who very well knows the value of European liberties, do this? After all, without such liberties, al-Qaradawi himself would not be able to travel to Europe to hold meetings of his "International Association of Muslim Scholars" – it is something he simply would not be permitted to do in most Islamic countries! It is more than a little puzzling that the "venerable scholar" should indulge in such absurd generalisations about Muslim life in Europe. One thing, however, is certain: by doing so he is disregarding the most fundamental principles of objectivity and fairness.

Khaled Hroub

© Qantara.de 2010

Writer and media expert Khaled Hroub is director of the "Cambridge Arab Media Project" at the University of Cambridge. Translated by Ron Walker

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