March 19, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2285

The Struggle for Power, Influence, and Control Surrounding Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi

March 19, 2009
Special Dispatch No. 2285

In late November 2008, the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yousef published an investigative article about International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) director Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi. Its title,"Qaradhawi's Return to His Youth," alludes to a famous 16th-century composition with advice on strengthening or regaining potency and desire, titled The Old Man's Return to his Youth in Sexual Potency. [1]

The article describes Al-Qaradhawi - who 10 years ago took as a second wife Asmaa bin Qada, a woman much younger than he - as an enamored, senile old man, and states that his supporters and disciples, the Egyptian members of the IUMS, are playing power games with her behind his back, vying with her for influence and for control over funds. Asmaa bin Qada is also said to be using her influence over Al-Qaradhawi to promote the sheikh's recent anti-Shi'a campaign, which has caused a rift in the IUMS and considerable uproar in the Islamic world in general. [2]

The article sparked much criticism of Roz Al-Yousef, which was accused of siding with Iran in the conflict between Al-Qaradhawi and the Shi'ites. The Egyptian daily Al-Misriyoun, for example, accused the weekly of participating in a smear campaign against Al-Qaradhawi, of attacking him on sectarian grounds, and of trying to "teach him a lesson" for opposing the spread of the Iranian influence in the Arab world. [3]

Roz Al-Yousef denied these accusations, stating: "We have [merely] published an investigation on the current conflicts, sentiments and struggles for influence and interests, all of which pivot around a man who has been marketed [to the world] as one of the symbols of Islam. The investigation focuses on a moment of weakness in Al-Qaradhawi's life... What we have published about Al-Qaradhawi has nothing to do with the struggles between the agents of Shi'a and Salafism..." [4]

Following are excerpts from the Roz Al-Yousef article. For an excerpt from Al-Qaradhawi's memoirs in which he speaks of his marriage to his second wife, see the appendix to this document.

Al-Qaradhawi's Second Wife Has Caused the Collapse of the IUMS

The Roz Al-Yousef article stated: "The most famous sheikh in the Islamic world is in the grips of a grave emotional and moral crisis. Sources close to his family have reported that he has come [back] to Egypt to do some quiet thinking in an unknown location, which he has disclosed to no one, not even to his sons. Some say he has fled from the struggle between his two wives, while others [believe] that he has come here to seriously ponder divorcing his second wife, Asmaa bin Qada, after becoming convinced that she is the cause of the disasters that have recently befallen him, and that she is the one who has harmed his image among his admirers and followers.

"Usually, we avoid prying into the private lives of public figures... however, the story of Al-Qaradhawi and his second wife is no longer a private matter. [Indeed,] it has become a public affair, [because both she] and the enamored 'scholar' [himself] wish it to be so. This affair has triggered disputes and arguments on Internet forums, but, more importantly, it has precipitated the greatest crisis in Al-Qaradhawi's life, the ramifications of which may impact the entire Muslim world - namely, the crisis [caused by] his anti-Shi'a statements.

"Moreover, some of his associates maintain that his second wife has brought about the collapse of the International Union of Muslim Scholars [which Al-Qaradhawi heads]..."

"Who Will Control the Old Sheikh?"

"This story is truly dramatic, and the battles being fought [around the sheikh] are real. The great sheikh is being torn between his seven children and his older wife, on the one hand, and the torments of love he feels for his younger wife, on the other. This, however, is an old battle, which has been going on for some 10 years, [i.e.] since Al-Qaradhawi's second marriage.

"Another battle is being fought between the powerful younger wife and the narrow circle of Al-Qaradhawi's associates, including some very well-known figures. This is a battle over influence, over who will control the old sheikh. Control over him means control over capital estimated at millions of dollars, over ideological influence, and over powerful connections with several families that rule the Persian Gulf, and particularly Qatar.

"The young wife has [certainly] won the first round. She has replaced the staff of Al-Qaradhawi's office with her own cronies, and has forced him to appoint her a member of the IUMS, on par with renowned thinkers and religious scholars. [In addition,] she pushed him to obtain for her [a post] at Al-Jazeera TV, as well as a post at the Islamic Center in London, which is headed by a philosopher and former Gulf oil minister.

"This is told by Al-Qaradhawi's former supporters, who turned against him when the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict broke out. They contend that [his second wife] is behind his statements [against the Shi’a], which have turned his world upside down, and have transformed the praise which was formerly lavished upon him into denunciation and demands that he withdraw from [public] life."

A Photo of the Sheikh - Next To Photos of Actresses and Dancing Girls

"When the quarrel between Al-Qaradhawi and his associates broke out, rumors began to circulate regarding his second wife's role in the conflict. Responding to these rumors required resourcefulness. To this end, excerpts from Al-Qaradhawi's still unpublished memoirs, containing descriptions of his deep love for Asmaa bin Qada, were leaked [to the press]. The feelings [expressed in these passages] are fervent, [like] those of an adolescent who is not yet 20.

"[Excerpts from Al-Qaradhawi's memoirs] were posted on Kul Al-Nas, an online weekly dealing with society, entertainment, stars, and celebrities. The passages were accompanied by a photo of the happy couple... [showing] Asmaa bin Qada in a hijab and inappropriately heavy makeup, and Al-Qaradhawi, wrapped in a traditional Bedouin garment, looking absurdly happy. For an ordinary [couple, the release of such a photo] would not be a problem - but [in this case,] the posting created an uproar among the sheikh's supporters on the Internet, who protested that its posting on this website was inappropriate - for how could a photo of the sheikh be posted next to photos of actresses and dancing girls?!

"The memoirs and the picture were sent [to the website] from Doha, and, given that the second wife is a media figure who decides what gets published and what does not, many assessed that she was staking a claim, letting everyone know what [an important] place she holds in the sheikh's heart! But this message evoked a negative response, and turned the world upside down for the enamored sheikh...

"These dramatic reactions forced Al-Qaradhawi to flee to Egypt, and transformed those who once bent to kiss his hands into [opponents] who curse him in public... The struggle [surrounding the sheikh] is actually over influence and money. Sentiments, fatwas, and positions are at times only part of a bigger game - a game of interests...

"A source close to Al-Qaradhawi's family has said that his sons were shocked when they got hold of the sheikh's bank statement [itemizing the latest transactions]. They were shocked to find that their father had squandered half a million euros during a three-week trip to Paris with his second wife.

"This story may or may not be true. It may be part of the war between the two sides. Nevertheless, it does show something - half a million euros in three weeks! What about the Muslim poor?!..."

Asmaa Bin Qada is Behind Al-Qaradhawi's Anti-Shi'a Campaign

"The battle between the wife's camp and that of Al-Qaradhawi's supporters and friends is a struggle for control. It started following Al-Qaradhawi's anti-Shi'a declarations. [His supporters and friends] are accusing his wife of swaying him to make these statements... They [also] state that the interview which triggered the crisis was conducted by [Al-Qaradhawi's] media secretary, who was appointed by Asmaa [bin Qada] after she got rid of the previous office staffers and prevented them from entering Qatar.

"[The sheikh’s associates] claim that he later apologized to the Shi'ite imams, and that he did not realize that the interview would be published in Egypt. [5] They also contend that since 2006, Asmaa [bin Qada] has been engaged in direct confrontation with the camp of [Dr. Muhammad Salim] Al-'Awa, [Fahmi] Huwaidi, and [Ahmad Kamal] Abu Al-Magd [6] within the IUMS, over the issue of [the IUMS] giving priority to the Shi'ite threat in the Sunni world. They believe that she actively pushed for the publication of the interview in which Al-Qaradhawi attacked the Shi'ites, and that she pressured [various] program hosts to ask him [about the Shi'ites] in order to elicit his comments."

Asmaa Al-Qada Sabotaged Efforts at Conciliation with Iranian Scholars

"According to many reports, three prominent Shi'ite clerics, [including former] Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, used the [October 2008] IUMS conference in Qatar as an opportunity [to meet with Al-Qaradhawi and resolve differences with him]. They went up to his suite at the hotel where the conference was being held, with the intention of first apologizing for the attacks on him by the Iranian news agency Mehr, and then issuing a joint statement [together with Al-Qaradhawi] indicating that the conflict between them had ended.

"But Asmaa burst into the room where Al-Qaradhawi was hosting the Iranian delegation, offended [the Iranians,] and caused them to leave without reaching an understanding [with the sheikh].

"[Al-Qaradhawi's associates] say that he [later] apologized to the people who had arranged the meeting... Moreover, they are willing to swear that Asmaa [bin Qada], along with the Saudi members of the IUMS, [also] sabotaged attempts at reaching an understanding between the sheikh and the Egyptian camp [in the IUMS] - which led [then IUMS secretary-general] Al-'Awa to resign, and may even cause the collapse of the union as a whole." [7]

Appendix: Excerpt from Al-Qaradhawi's Memoirs

In his memoirs, Al-Qaradhawi discusses his marriage to Asmaa bin Qada, relating how he met her at a lecture he gave in Algeria, and how he fell in love with her but concealed his feelings for years until he finally dared to confess them to her. Following are excerpts from Chapter 33 of his memoirs, as posted October 25, 2008 on

"[The night of the lecture] was a festive and exciting night, [both] emotionally and intellectually. The students took their leave of me just as they had met me - with affection and joy. Some of them saw me to the door, and one of them caught my attention. Her friends called her Asmaa. I asked her, 'Are you the same Asmaa who spoke on stage?' and she replied, 'Yes, that was me.'

"When I saw her up close, I said [to her]: 'Praise Allah, who endowed you with physical as well as moral beauty. Allah gave you intelligence, rhetorical ability, an impressive presence, beauty, and a good figure. May Allah bless you, my child, for He has endowed you with talents, eloquence, courage and erudition...

"She replied, 'I hope you found my speech pleasing, sir'... I asked her: 'At which faculty are you studying, and what is your field?' She answered: 'At the science and technology faculty, department of mathematics.' I said: 'Good lord! I thought you were studying [Islamic] jurisprudence or literature. You are like my four daughters, who are all studying science. By the way, my youngest daughter is also called Asmaa, and I think she is about your age.' She said: 'Please give her my regards.'

"It was [just] a polite conversation between a student and her teacher, or between a sheikh and his follower, that is, between myself and a bright and clever student, Asmaa bin Qada. [Until then,] I had no way of knowing that Allah, who determines the fate of human beings, had something in store for me, of which I was completely ignorant... That spontaneous conversation between myself and Asmaa - whom I would not meet again for two whole years - sparked an intense emotion [within me] that led to a deep connection which evolved from an intellectual [bond] into an emotional one.

"The heart has its own rules and ways, which people sometimes find hard to understand. People often ask: What transforms a man without worries into a man full of sadness? What causes a man from one continent to form a connection with a woman on another? What causes a calm heart to become a burning ember?...

"Some have condemned and scolded [me], saying: How and why? How could a teacher fall in love with his student? Or, how could a sheikh fall in love with a woman the age of his own daughters? Can a religious scholar have a heart that burns [with love], just like any other man?

"The best answer to these questions is what [renowned Egyptian poet Ahmad] Shawqi said in his poem 'Nahj Al-Burda': [8] 'Oh, you who condemn me for my love for [the Prophet, know that] love is destiny. / If the same fierce love burned within you, you would not scold me and would not condemn me.'

"The years passed. Asmaa completed her studies in mathematics and received a BA cum laude. Then she transferred to the completely different field of political science. During these years, I concealed my love and hid my feelings [for her] out of various considerations. All of us have the strength to conceal [our emotions] and be patient, but, because of our human weakness, this strength eventually runs out. At some point, every human being must reveal [what is hidden] in the depth [of his soul].

"Eventually that day came, and I confessed my feelings and my yearnings to Asmaa in a letter I sent her in 1989. It was not a usual or an easy thing for me to confess my love to her, because of the decades that separate us. It came as a surprise to her, and she took a long time to think it over...

"Her answer eased [the anguish in] my heart. How happy I was to find that she accepted me. The feeling was like the joy described by the Sufi [mystics], who said: 'We live in such joy that if the kings were to hear of it, they would fight us [for it] with swords...'" [9]


[1] The book is usually attributed to the Ottoman religious scholar Shams Al-Din Ahmad ibn Suleiman, known as Kamal Pasha or Kemal Pasha Zade (d. 1534). An anonymous English translation of the book, entitled The Old Man Young Again, appeared in Paris in 1898-9. For more information, see Milson M., Najib Mahfouz: The Novelist-Philosopher of Cairo, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998, p. 224.

[2] On Qaradhawi's anti-Shi'a statements, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 481, "Recent Rise in Sunni-Shi'ite Tension (Part II): Anti-Shi'ite Statements by Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi," December 16, 2008, Recent Rise in Sunni–Shi'ite Tension (Part II): Anti-Shi'ite Statements by Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi

[3] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), November 23, 2008.

[4] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), November 29-December 5, 2008.

[5] This statement is unfounded, since the interview was given to the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2080, "Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi in Interview with Egyptian Daily: Mubarak Should Step Down and Should Not Pass Presidency to Gamal; The Spread of the Shi'a Is A Danger," October 16, 2008, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi in Interview With Egyptian Daily: Mubarak Should Step Down and Should Not Pass Presidency to Gamal; The Spread of the Shi'a Is A Danger.

[6] Egyptian intellectual Dr. Muhammad Salim Al-'Awa is a former IUMS secretary-general; Fahmi Huwaidi is a renowned Egyptian publicist; Ahmad Kamal Abu Al-Magd is a former Egyptian information minister and vice president of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).

[7] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), November 22-28, 2008.

[8] Ahmad Shawqi (1868-1932) is considered one of the great Arab poets of the 20th century. His poem "Nahj Al-Burda" is a tribute to the Prophet Muhammad.

[9], October 25, 2008.

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