Sheikh Qaradawi, Islamist champion of Arab revolts, dies at 96

Published September 27, 2022
Youssef al Qaradawi
Youssef al Qaradawi

BEIRUT: Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, a spiritual guide to the Muslim Brotherhood who championed the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and unsettled rulers in Egypt and the Gulf with his Islamist preaching, died on Monday. He was 96.

Born in Egypt, Qaradawi spent much of his life in Qatar, where he became one of the most recognisable and influential Sunni Muslim clerics in the Arab world thanks to regular appearances on Qatar’s Al Jazeera network.

Broadcast into millions of homes, his sermons fuelled tensions that led Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to impose a blockade on Qatar in 2017 and declare Qaradawi a terrorist. His death was announced on his official Twitter account.

Jailed numerous times in Egypt as a young man, Qaradawi was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court in 2015, along with Mursi and some 90 others. Qaradawi said the rulings, which related to a mass jail break in 2011, were nonsense and violated Islamic law, noting that he was in Qatar at the time.

Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court in 2015, along with former president Mursi

Qaradawi, who studied at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, was often described by supporters as a moderate who offered a counterweight to the radical ideologies espoused by Al Qaeda. He strongly condemned the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and supported democratic politics. But he also sanctioned violence in causes he favoured.

In Iraq after a 2003 US-led invasion, he backed attacks on coalition forces and he supported Palestinian suicide bombing against Israeli targets during an uprising that began in 2000. Several Western states banned him from entry.

During the Arab Spring uprisings he called for Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to be killed and declared jihad against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Qaradawi joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a young man. Advocating Islam as a political programme, the Brotherhood has been seen as a threat by autocratic Arab leaders since it was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna, whom Qaradawi knew.

He turned down the chance to lead the organisation, instead focusing on preaching and Islamic scholarship and building a following that extended well beyond the group. His prominence grew after the 2011 Arab revolts.

Visiting Cairo after the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, he told a packed Tahrir Square that fear had been lifted from Egyptians who had toppled a modern day pharaoh.

The appearance captured the scale of change that seemed to be sweeping the region, with long-oppressed Islamists enjoying new freedoms and a Brotherhood member, Mohamed Mursi, being elected president in 2012.

When the military, encouraged by mass protests, toppled Mursi a year later, Qaradawi condemned the new, army-led order as it unleashed a ferocious crackdown on the Brotherhood.

He urged a boycott of the presidential election which made army commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi president in 2014. “The duty of the nation is to resist the oppressors, restrain their hands and silence their tongues,” Qaradawi said.

“He’s somebody who was committed to democracy and popular sovereignty from an Islamic perspective,” said David Warren, a scholar of contemporary Islam and research fellow at Washington University in St. Louis.

“But being a democrat doesn’t mean that someone has to be a pacificist, so in the context of a civil war like Libya and Syria, he could hold those positions while similarly saying that Qadhafi is a tyrant who should be killed...,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2022

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