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October 3, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1652

Al-Qaradawi: Qatar's Islamist Empire Builder

October 3, 2022 | By Alberto M. Fernandez*
Qatar | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1652

In 1917, in an attempt to knock Russia out of the First World War, Germany sent a sealed train transporting hardened Russian revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin and his wife, back to their homeland in order to foment chaos and revolution. The plan worked, although it had certain catastrophic unforeseen circumstances.

In the 1950s and 60s, Arab Nationalist regimes in Cairo and Damascus expelled hundreds of Islamists, many of whom found refuge in the Arab Gulf states, just beginning to develop their countries and economies as oil wealth came on line. The Islamists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, often found jobs in schools, universities and mosques. The fact that these were refugees from and opponents of Arab Nationalist and leftist regimes back home made them even more welcomed in the Gulf which very much feared those radical ideologies.

One 35-year-old Egyptian cleric, who had already been imprisoned by both King Farouk and Gamal Abdel Nasser as a Muslim Brotherhood member, was sent to the small emirate of Qatar in 1961. Qatar was probably the least and poorest of those Arab Gulf states at the time. That young man, Yousuf Al-Qaradawi (1926-2022), who died last week in Doha at the age of 96, would rise to great heights as he tied his fate and ideology to that of an increasingly wealthy and ambitious princely family.

The Muslim Brotherhood's influence in those decades would be tremendous, whether or not the state was, like both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Salafi in orientation. States with parliamentary elections, like Kuwait and Bahrain, would see organized Muslim Brotherhood-style groups win and compete. For several decades in the Gulf, they found sinecures, money, and encouragement.

Al-Qaradawi would flourish, founding the Faculty of Islamic Law (Sharia) at Qatar University in 1977, writing and teaching, and building up networks of like-minded contacts and allies throughout the region. In the years before the Muslim Brotherhood was seen as a threat by Gulf states, he was rewarded by governments other than Qatar. In 1994, he received the King Faisal Prize in Islamic Studies from Saudi Arabia. In 2000, he was awarded the Dubai International Holy Quran Award for Islamic Personality of the Year, an award established by Dubai's ruling family.

By then, Al-Qaradawi was a star on the new Al-Jazeera satellite channel, with his own highly popular religious program "Sharia and Life" starting in 1996. The now-naturalized Qatari cleric –who was issued a diplomatic passport – commented on almost everything, such as the conditional condoning of the killing of American hostage Nick Berg by Al-Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2004,[1] or his positive views on Hitler against the Jews. In 2009 he remarked, as broadcast on Al-Jazeera:

"Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers."[2]

The political observer can, with a sufficiently intensive search, find some statements by Al-Qaradawi that may have been marginally helpful against some elements of Salafi-jihadism.[3] But their overall thrust was towards mainstreaming extremist discourse in general, with minor caveats here and there.

The cleric's view of America was almost as hostile as it was of the Jews. Three years after the worst terrorist attack in American history, Al-Qaradawi would identify American culture – including cowboy movies – and Judaism as the principal instigators of violence in the world. And where did he make such a sweeping statement? On his popular primetime religion program on Al-Jazeera in 2004.[4]

Al-Qaradawi's views were multi-faceted and extensive, and should certainly not be simplified, but here was a trusted establishment figure in official Doha circles projecting a Muslim Brotherhood view of the world, including of America and the West, on supposedly "independent" but Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera to a large regional audience. The cleric's broadcasts, and his controversial views from suicide bombings to homosexuality, were an overt above the ground version of what was and still is Al-Jazeera's usual Islamist sub-text coloring news and commentary across the network.

It is ironic indeed that after his death, he was lauded as the cleric of Islamic "centrism" or moderation (wasatiyya), a term he himself embraced – an ostensible Islamic center that seems only relatively moderate if compared to the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda.[5] And while Al-Qaradawi was promoting his "moderate way," the media network that sponsored him was the chief media outlet for Bin Ladin's Al-Qaeda.[6]

Al-Qaradawi's prominent presence over the years on the channel also served as a bellwether for the station's editorial line: Like Al-Jazeera itself, the Al-Qaradawi who praised Hizbullah in Lebanon fighting against Israel in 2006, would condemn it seven years later for fighting for Assad in Syria. In 2001, he issued a notorious fatwa allowing suicide bombings ("martyrdom operations"), a practice often associated up to that time with Shi'ite rather than Sunni Muslims. He would eventually change his position 15 years later, after numerous bloody episodes of suicide bombing of civilians worldwide. But that new 2016 fatwa didn't actually ban suicide bombing; it merely narrowed the acceptable scope of such actions, no longer permitted to be carried out by individuals but only as part of an acceptable group that should try, if at all possible, to minimize the number of "innocent" victims. In 2003, he praised Libyan dictator Muammar Al-Qaddafi; in 2011 he issued a fatwa allowing for his killing. In 2013, he would describe opponents of the Morsi regime in Egypt as "Kharijites, criminals who disobey the ruler.

Like the network, Al-Qaradawi demonstrated a certain flexibility and pragmatism within the context of an overall Islamist worldview that was sometimes mistaken for tolerance. Al-Qaradawi was far from the only active, high-profile Islamist during the decades of his greatest activity. But he was one of the very few with not only a massive media presence but also the backing of an extremely wealthy patron that never wavered. He could and did give greater mainstream respectability to radical ideologies that led to the death of thousands in the region. Eventually, after 9/11, and especially after the revolutions of the Arab Spring that began in 2011, which empowered Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia, Al-Qaradawi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders would be shunned by governments in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who saw the organization as an incendiary, existential threat. But Qatar would never abandon him.

A prolific writer on Islamic issues, with a massive bibliography, Al-Qaradawi expanded beyond both the printed page and his television program. Shortly after beginning on Al-Jazeera, he would establish, in 1997, Islamonline.net, one of the largest Islam-oriented websites in the world which at its height was receiving 120,000 visitors a day. The same year he was involved in the creation of the Dublin-based MB-connected European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) whose work was to provide religious guidance to Muslims in the West. Al-Qaradawi served as the ECFR's Chairman from its founding. He was also a trustee of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, set up with Gulf money under the auspices of Prince Charles.

In 2004, Al-Qaradawi would start still another Doha-based and lavishly Qatari-funded organization, the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which he would chair until ill health forced his resignation in 2018. The IUMS, also like everything else the cleric touched, was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and espoused its ideology. Not everyone in the supposed 90,000 IUMS members of the organization were Muslim Brotherhood members (indeed many, including its Vice President Abdullah Bin Bayyah, would resign because of the organization's increasingly overt Islamist political stances), but the explicit goal was to influence discourse in a specific direction.

Al-Qaradawi not only built, hand in hand with the Doha leadership, a media and ideological empire with the help of Qatari cash; he would also dabble in financial affairs and reportedly do quite well both inside Qatar and abroad. In 2004, the London-based Guardian newspaper revealed Al-Qaradawi's ties with the Al-Taqwa Bank, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. and the U.K. in 2001 shortly after the September 11 attacks. Once again, there was a clear Muslim Brotherhood connection, with Al-Taqwa chairman Youssef Nada admitting that he had been a member for 50 years but disavowing any ties to violence. In 2010, the bank was removed from a UN list of entities accused of having ties to Al-Qaeda, and no one was ever actually charged with a crime.  

As a man very much in the public sphere who was given to extreme statements while appearing on the most important Arabic language channel in the Middle East for years, Al-Qaradawi caught MEMRI's attention early and often. Our documentation of his commentary is extensive, and even drew the ire of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, an aggressive defender of Al-Qaradawi.[7] Al-Qaradawi claimed to have twice turned down the leadership position of Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but his influence was much greater where he was, in Doha, joined at the hip with Qatari foreign policy and very well compensated. His life was one of great power and influence, most of it used for ill, and that influence will linger after his passing.

Al-Qaradawi was a true devotee of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna – whom he met once as a young man – and he succeeded in placing extreme modes of Islamist thought front and center, not only in the mainstream, but on screen and online. His legacy is perhaps best characterized by a recent comment from Saudi writer Abdullah Bin Bakheet, who noted: "After the revolutionaries, Baathists and nationalists led the Arab peoples halfway towards ruin, the Sheikhs of politics came to replace the word 'Arabism' with the word 'Islam' and take us down the same path."[8] He was specifically referring to Al-Qaradawi.

Following is a compendium of MEMRI translations and clips from Al-Qaradawi's long public career.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.

Antisemitism – "Allah Imposed Hitler On The Jews To Punish Them"

Clip No. 45 – Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi in Favor of Suicide Operations, April 25, 2004

Clip No. 82 – Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Says He'll Boycott Interfaith Conference Due To Attendance Of Jews, May 16, 2004

Clip No. 94 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi against Including Jews in Interfaith Dialogue, May 28, 2004

Special Dispatch No. 753 – Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: 'There is No Dialogue between Us and the Jews Except by the Sword and the Rifle', July 27, 2004

Clip No. 706 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Yes to Dialogue with Christians, No with Jews, May 28, 2005

Special Dispatch No. 1045 – Leading Islamist Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: 'We Will Be Victorious, Allah Willing – Despite the Traps Set by Judaism & Crusaders', December 9, 2005

Clip No. 1052 – Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: Our War with the Jews Is in the Name of Islam,  February 25, 2006

Clip No. 1249 – Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: The Jews of Today Bear Responsibility for Their Forefathers' Crime against Jesus, August 26, 2006

Clip No. 1691 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, Recently Barred from the U.K., Reiterates His Position on Suicide Bombings and Declares: Jews Are Not the Offspring of Apes and Pigs, February 15, 2008

Clip No. 1864 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Muslim Nation Plagued by Tragedies, Like the Rule of the Cowardly Jews, September 5, 2008

Clip No. 2005 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Allah Imposed Hitler upon the Jews to Punish Them – "Allah Willing, the Next Time Will Be at the Hand of the Believers," January 28, 2009

Special Dispatch No. 2224 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Allah Imposed Hitler On the Jews to Punish Them – 'Allah Willing, the Next Time Will Be at the Hand of the Believers', February 4, 2009

Special Dispatch No. 8076 – Ramadan Religious Lesson By Al-Qaradawi, Published By Qatari Government Daily: The Jews Opposed Muhammad, Therefore Allah Cursed Them And Turned Them Into Apes And Pigs; The Christians Were Stricken With Ideological Blindness And Strayed, May 21, 2019

Martyrdom And Jihad, Suicide Bombings, Anti-Israel Statements – "I Hope To Die A Virtuous Jihadi Death – With Head Severed From Body"; Killing Of Israeli Women And Children In Suicide Bombings Is Justified

Special Dispatch No. 277 – Al-Qaradhawi: 'Islamic Religious Law Dictates That We Join the Taliban's Jihad, Not the US Coalition; It is Forbidden to Attack American Citizens, But Permitted to Attack the American Military', September 30, 2001

Special Dispatch No. 542 –Al-Qaradhawi Speaks In Favor of Suicide Operations at an Islamic Conference in Sweden, July 24, 2003

Special Dispatch No. 869 – Al-Qaradhawi at Solidarity Conference: 'I Hope to Die a Virtuous Jihadi's Death, With Head Severed from Body; The Qatar Authorities Do Not Interfere in My Sermons',  February 25, 2005

Clip No. 822 – Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi and other Islamic Scholars Debate Suicide Operations in a Counter-Terrorism Conference Held in Sharm Al-Sheikh, August 22, 2005

Special Dispatch No. 1051 – Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi on Hamas Jerusalem Day Online: 'We are a Nation of Jihad and Martyrdom'; 'The Resistance in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon Must Go On'; 'We Stand Alongside Our Brothers in Hamas and Islamic Jihad', December 18, 2005

Special Dispatch No. 1089 – Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Responds to Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad: Whoever is Angered and Does Not Rage in Anger is a Jackass - We are Not a Nation of Jackasses, February 9, 2006

Clip No 1093 – Al-Qaradhawi Justifies the Killing of Israeli Women and Children in Suicide Operations, March 12, 2006

Clip No. 1115 – Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi Criticizes Fatah and Calls to Donate Money to the Hamas Government, April 21, 2006 

Clip No. 2350 – Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Suggests that Mahmoud Abbas Should Be Stoned to Death and Is Rebuked by PA Minister of Religious Endowments, January 6, 2010

Clip No. 2394 – No. 2394 - Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi Reiterates His Support of Suicide Bombings and States: Women and Copts Are Allowed to Run for President in Egypt, February 8, 2010.

Special Dispatch No. 3093 – Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi Calls for Jihad of Self-Sacrifice and for Rejecting the Political Process, July 13, 2010

Special Dispatch No. 3178 – Al-Qaradhawi Curses the Jews, Calls Peace a 'Joke,' States: 'What Was Taken By the Sword Will Not Be Restored By the Pen...'; 'Only Through Resistance Can We Restore Our Rights'; 'We Used To Say That We Would Struggle, Fight, And Wage Jihad...', August 18, 2010

Special Dispatch No. 3471 – Al-Qaradhawi Supports Suicide Bombings in Palestine and Declares: 'I Am Against the Peace Process', December 23, 2010

Special Dispatch No. 3600 – Al-Qaradhawi in Friday Sermon at Cairo's Tahrir Square: Pray for the Conquest of Al-Aqsa, February 18, 2011

Special Dispatch No. 3607 – Al-Qaradhawi Calls for the Egyptian Army to Replace the Government and Prays to Allah for the Conquest of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, February 22, 2011

Clip No. 3841 – Al-Qaradhawi in Gaza Visit Calls for Jihad, Prays to Become Martyr, May 8, 2013

Special Dispatch No. 5308 – In Visit To Gaza, Al-Qaradhawi Calls For Jihad, Prays To Become Martyr, May 22, 2013

Special Dispatch No. 5316 – Al-Qaradhawi's Support For Jihad And Martyrdom During Gaza Visit And In Biography Of Hamas Bomb Maker Yahya 'Ayyash, May 28, 2013

Special Dispatch No. 7264 – Al-Qaradawi Calls For Resistance, Jihad And Martyrdom Following Trump's Recognition Of Jerusalem As Israel's Capital, January 4, 2018

Anti-U.S. and Anti-West – Islam's "Conquest Of Rome" Will Save Europe; American Culture And Judaism Spread Violence In The World

Special Dispatch No. 447 – Al-Qaradhawi and Other Sheikhs Herald the Coming Conquest of Rome, December 6, 2002

Special Dispatch No. 828 –  Al-Qaradhawi: Resistance in Iraq is a Duty of Every Muslim, December 14, 2004

Clip No. 82, Al-Qaradhawi about the Murder of American Citizen Nick Berg, May 16, 2004

Clip No. 96 – Al-Qaradhawi: American Culture And Judaism Spread Violence In The World, May 30, 2004

Special Dispatch No. 1102 – Al-Qaradhawi: We are Fighting in the Name of Islam…This Jihad is an Individual Duty of the Entire Muslim Nation…They Fight Us With the Torah…We Should Fight Them With the Koran, February 28, 2006

Clip No. 1592 – Al-Qaradhawi: Islam's "Conquest of Rome" Will Save Europe from Its Subjugation to Materialism and Promiscuity, July 28, 2007

Special Dispatch No. 2554 – Fatwa by Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi: Iraqis Must Not Become U.S. Citizens, October 6, 2009

Clip No. 3411 – Al-Qaradhawi: "A Woman May Not Travel Alone to Study in a Western Country," April 14, 2012 

Anti-Christian – No To Dialogue With Christians

Special Dispatch No. 2662 – Al-Qaradhawi Explains His Objections to Muslim-Christian Interfaith Dialogue, November 30, 2009

Special Dispatch No. 2709 – Al-Qaradhawi on Christmas Celebrations in Muslim Countries: 'I Wanted To Warn My People That This Is Prohibited, Shameful, And Inappropriate... Ignorance Of What Islam Obliges Us To Do...;' '[Can] Muslims in Europe and America... Celebrate Ramadan... in the City Centers[?]', December 21, 2009

Anti-Gay And Anti-Women – Punish Homosexuals Like Fornicators

Clip No. 1170 – Al-Qaradhawi: Homosexuals Should Be Punished Like Fornicators But Their Harm Is Less When Not Done in Public, June 5, 2006

Clip No. 1308 – Al-Qaradhawi on the Risks of Female Masturbation, October 28, 2006

Pro-Arab Spring – Syrian President Assad Should Be Killed

Clip No. 2774 – Al-Qaradhawi: People Must Take Action to Confront the Corrupt Arab Rulers, January 19, 2011

Special Dispatch No. 4600 – Al-Qaradhawi: Bashar Al-Assad Deserves to Be Fought and Killed,  March 23, 2012

Miscellaneous – Incitement On Al-Jazeera; Calls For Arabs To Obtain WMDs; Calls To Impose Sharia Law, But Incrementally – i.e. No Chopping Off Of Hands For Five Years

Special Dispatch No. 531 – Al-Qaradhawi: 'We Gave Up On Haifa and Jaffa;' 'I Am Opposed to Attacks in Islamic Countries', June 27, 2003

Special Dispatch No. 858 – Al-Qaradhawi on Al-Jazeera: Our Problem is Not With Judaism as a Religion but With the Jews' Deeds; Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi on His Website: 'Oh My Nation, the Struggle Has Become Obligatory,' February 3, 2005

Special Dispatch No. 1017 – Al-Qaradhawi in Two Languages: In a Der Spiegel Interview, and in a Denial on His Arabic-Language Website, November 2, 2005

Clip No. 1324 – Al-Qaradhawi: If the Shiite Doctrine Is Preached in Egypt, There Will Be Civil Strife and Endless Massacres, August 31, 2006

Special Dispatch No. 2183 –  Al-Qaradhawi on Al-Jazeera Incites Against Jews, Arab Regimes, and the U.S.; Calls on Muslims to Boycott Starbucks and Others; Says 'Oh Allah, Take This Oppressive, Jewish, Zionist Band of People... And Kill Them, Down to the Very Last One', January 29, 2009

Special Dispatch No. 2298 – Al-Qaradhawi Sermon on Qatar TV: The Arabs Must Obtain, But Not Use, Weapons of Mass Destruction- Nuclear, Chemical, And Biological - "In Order to Strike Terror In The Hearts of Our Enemies", April 1, 2009

Clip No. 2138 – Al-Qaradhawi Protests: Obama Drew a Parallel between the Quran and the Bible, June 5, 2009

Special Dispatch No. 2843 – Al-Qaradhawi Gives Wide-Ranging Interview to BBC Arabic on His Support of Mayrtdom Attacks, His Condemnation of the U.S. Military Base in Qatar, His Position on Shi'ites, His Relations with the Egyptian Government, and More, March 4, 2010

Special Dispatch No. 3166 – Kurdish Political Analyst: Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi Is Backing Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's Crimes against Kurdish People, August 13, 2010

Clip No. 3251 – Al-Qaradhawi Calls upon Muslims to Oppose French Bill Criminalizing Denial of Armenian Genocide, December 23, 2011 

Special Dispatch No. 4463 – Al-Qaradhawi: Islamic Law Should Be Implemented Incrementally in Egypt; There Should Be No Chopping Off of Hands in the First Five Years, January 31, 2012

Clip No. 3327 – Al-Qaradhawi: The Head of a Muslim State Must Be a Muslim, February 19, 2012

Special Dispatch No. 6116 – Al-Qaradhawi: Permission Previously Given To Palestinians To Carry Out Suicide Attacks – No Longer Valid; They Now Have Missiles That Can Strike Deep Inside Israel, July 28, 2015

Clip No. 5760 – Al-Qaradhawi Retracts Fatwa Permitting Palestinian Suicide Bombings: No Need for Them Anymore, November 17, 2016

 

[5] Al-Qaradawi.net, September 3, 2015.

[6] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1527, Al-Jazeera Unmasked: Political Islam As A Media Arm Of The Qatari State, August 12, 2020.

[7] MEMRI TV Clip No. 497, London Mayor Ken Livingstone on MEMRI and Sheik Al-Qaradhawi, January 17, 2005.

[8] Okaz.com.sa/articles/authors/2115802.

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