A Conversation with Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi

A Conversation with Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi

  Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an extensive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi revealed that he turned down the post of “Muslim Brotherhood guide” on numerous occasions, preferring to remain a guide for the nation. Al-Qaradawi also revealed that he believes that the traditional Salafi trend has become divided into several schools of thought, some of which are very close to the Muslim Brotherhood Group.

Sheikh al-Qaradawi also stated that the Islamic jurisprudence crisis relating to women’s issues cannot be attributed to Islam, but that it is a crisis in understanding these issues by some people.

The Following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al Awsat] Your Eminence, allow us to start with your assessment of the current crop of Islamist Movements, particularly regarding the issue of secrecy and the lack of transparency?

[Al-Qaradawi] First of all, we would like to ask: What is the meaning of the political Islamist movement? I have the book, “Priorities of the Islamist Movements,” in which the Islamist movements are defined as organized collective popular work to serve Islam. The work has to be popular and non-official; also it has to be collective and not individual, because the individual work can never achieve great aims; it also has to be organized with leadership and grassroots, and its aim has to be to make Islam victorious; moreover the Islamist movement has to have links to politics, because it is not possible to raise the status of Islam unless it has influence and impact. In the life and nature of Islam there is call, state, creed, Shariaa, worship, dealings, faith, and worldly life; in order that this is achieved, Islam has to be linked to politics.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What about the secret work of the Islamist movements?

[Al-Qaradawi] Not all the Islamist movements, as I describe them, are based on secrecy. This depends on the countries in which these movements operate; if they are countries that allow work to support Islam, and such work is not legally or constitutionally banned, then the groups work openly. There is the example of the Jamaat-e Islami in Pakistan, which was established by Mr. Abul A’ala Maududi; its nature since it was established has been to work openly and publicly. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it is described as a banned group because the state does not allow Islamist work in public, and also prevents the establishment of a party that is linked to Islam on the pretext of banning the establishment of parties on religious bases.

Here I wonder, are the religious people banned from practicing politics and participating in the building of the country?! There is no doubt that this is a crime, because religion is the essence of life, and the religious individual has the right to participate in building the country through his personal opinion, be it political, economic, educational, or health opinion. If the state prevents the practicing of politics, then this will certainly lead to underground work.

I was asked by a state security officer at a meeting about my opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and I called on him to grant the group the freedom to work openly. Why is the Muslim Brotherhood prevented from establishing a party?

If the groups are banned from working publicly, they will start to work underground. The Islamist groups might be forced to work secretly. This is an unhealthy situation, because whoever works in the open can be held to account for his actions, and you can criticize him, but how can you hold to account whoever works in secret?

[Asharq Al Awsat] Are governments exaggerating the dangers of political Islamist movements, because of the fear that these movements one day might demand their right to govern?

[Al-Qaradawi] Sometimes the apprehensions can be correct, but at other times they only are mere illusions. Many of the existing governments now do not have any popular support; they are governments that are hated by their peoples, and they govern their countries by brute force, and martial and emergency laws rather than governing through the consensus of the people. It is possible that they hold elections in the name of democracy, and establish parliaments; however, the fact is that they do not express the satisfaction of the people as these government rig the elections. As an old socialist has said: Elections in the socialist countries are a “one-horse race,” and hence the result is that the candidate wins the famous four nines (99.99 percent).

[Asharq Al Awsat] What are your thoughts on what some are describing as an internal split within Islamist movements between patriotic and revolutionary divisions?

[Al-Qaradawi] Splits happen frequently, whether in Islamist or non-Islamist movements. This is because there are those who do not like continuous silence, and they have violent and revolutionary character, and hence they split, and establish another group whose course is violence. However, what is important in all this is the mother group, which in many cases is the one that remains, and the splinters become unable to do anything, and they dissolve in society.

[Asharq Al Awsat] But why do Islamist groups fail in implementation?

[Al-Qaradawi] This is not restricted only to the Islamist groups. All the idealistic movements that have principles for which they call, when the time comes for implementation the idealistic call becomes one thing, and the implementation becomes another. This is the nature of man himself, and the nature of human beings. Not all movements are like this, and it is wrong to generalize this judgment; nevertheless, the Islamist movements remain better than others, because religion protects from severe deviation; all democrats are the first ones to encroach upon the principles of democracy.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Let us move to the current relations between the Muslim Brotherhood, and traditional Salafism. Recently a form of competition has started to emerge between the Salafi tendency of the Muslim Brotherhood on both the political and jihadi arenas, and this competition has been spread even within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood themselves. What do you say about this?

[Al-Qaradawi] This is true. The Muslim Brotherhood tendency is a broad one. Sheikh Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, when describing the group says that it includes all the concepts for which all groups call. He says that it is a Salafi movement as it calls for returning to the Koran and Sunnah, it is a Sufi tendency as it calls for purifying the hearts and returning to God, it is a Sunni way that is based on honoring the Prophet’s companions and on the work of the Sunni school of thinking; moreover, it is a political body, a sports group, a youths league. The group includes all the reformist concepts. The advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood lies in its comprehensive character and its balance, as it does not exaggerate in supporting one tendency at the expense of another. For instance, the Salafi tendency sometimes prevails over the Muslim Brotherhood; this tendency adopts a hard-line attitude about issues including the interpretation of God’s qualities, the arguments between the Salafi and the Ash’ari [Sunni sub-sect believes that that man does not have the power to act before he actually acts and that God creates this power in him at the time of action], the Maturidi [Sunni sub-sect believes that before the action man has a certain general power for action but that this power becomes specific to a particular action only when the action is performed], and others. Thus, the Salafis enter the arena, and these issues and others become the focus of a major debate, arguments, and fighting. This exists in particular in the Gulf countries, where the Muslim Brotherhood tendency has been influenced by the Salafi tendency.

[Asharq Al Awsat] But the relations between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood have not been good, and these relations have become more critical in the case of the traditional Salafi after Hamas entered the political arena?

[Al-Qaradawi] The traditional Salafism has become several schools of thinking, and is no longer a single school. There is a Salafi movement that is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, and now there are those who say to the Salafis: Now you are talking like Al-Qaradawi. There are Salafis who have become close to centrism, which is based on combining the opposites, combining mind and matter, combining the spirit and the material, sometimes interpreting and at other times abstaining from interpretation, and combining intellect, action, religion, and politics. Moreover, we cannot disregard the development of the Salafis; in the past they did not talk about politics, but now they participate in the political battles and the elections after they reproached the Muslim Brotherhood for a long time for doing so. The Salafis also have developed in several jurisprudence issues, such as “photography,” which they used to consider one of the major crimes, but now they consider it allowed.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Is this change due to enlightenment, or has reality imposed this change?

[Al-Qaradawi] There is no doubt that the reality has imposed change on them, including getting in touch with the world, and their travel to the world countries, after a large number of them used never to leave their own countries, which was the cause of not changing their thinking. When the Salafi goes out, and gets in touch with the various peoples, he definitely will revise his views. Also there are those whose reading has expanded, and got acquainted with books they never expected to read at any time. Man is not a stone, and there are many influences that are bound to cast their shadow on the individual.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Has the Muslim Brotherhood abandoned the jihad currently represented by the Hamas Movement?

[Al-Qaradawi] The groups that have been based on jihad, such as the jihadi or Salafi jihadi groups have been established against the Muslim Brotherhood. The first jihadi group was established as opposing the Muslim Brotherhood, and accused it of betraying the principles. Such groups have carried out some acts of violence against the Jews, the British, and some citizens, such as the case of Al-Khazindar [In March 1948, members of the Muslim Brotherhood secret apparatus assassinated a judge, Ahmad al-Khazindar Bey, who had given a prison sentence to a Muslim Brother for attacking British soldiers]. We said to them: We have tried such things, but they have not been helpful, and we have not gained anything out of them other than detention, suffering, and victimization.

Man ought to be able to change his plans on the basis of what he sees. All Islamist movements are entitled to try for themselves, and start from zero until they reach the conclusions of the preceding groups. The jihadis who reproached the Muslim Brotherhood for some issues, have gone back, retreated, considered themselves to have been wrong, and issued more than 12 books most of which are revisions, including the Islamic Group in Egypt, and many others that are based on violence, or use military force against the governments or against the citizens themselves.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Sheikh Ahmad Yassin subscribed to the principle that his movement should not engage in any political activities. He stood by this principle until he was assassinated. After Hamas won the elections, and joined the political process, does the current situation in Palestine prove the correctness of the stance of the Hamas founder?

[Al-Qaradawi] The political issues are subject to improvisation and change; they are not firm principles, but they are viewpoints that change with the change of situation and circumstances. Hamas’s refusal to join the political process and the elections has its circumstances. However, when Hamas discovered that there is someone who was going to usurp the state, encroach upon it, and that its members would become prisoners, it decided to fight the elections. Hamas won the elections contrary to the expectations of its opponents; thus the elections proceeded without rigging, contrary to many of the elections that take place in the Arab and Muslim countries.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Recently Sudan failed to keep its southern province. The secession is taking place under the influence of an Islamist address by Al-Bashir, who threatens to apply Islamic Shariaa in the south. Are Al-Bashir actions an embarrassment for Islamist groups?

[Al-Qaradawi] First of all, Al-Bashir will not apply Islamic Shariaa in the south, because any region that does not contain a Muslim majority does not have to apply the Shariaa, as the case is in South Sudan. Shariaa only applies in the regions that have Muslim majorities. The application of Shariaa is not what has led to the secession of the south; there are numerous reasons for this secession, which started with the British occupation that isolated South Sudan from North Sudan, and considered it an independent state, as the northern citizen would not be able to enter the south without special procedures, and the south was instilled with the culture of hating Khartoum. However, Sudan has not exerted any effort since its independence to combat what the colonialist powers had entrenched, and to change the inherited concepts; moreover, there are schemes plotted for that purpose.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Are you in favor of the conspiracy theory?

[Al-Qaradawi] I am not in favor of the conspiracy theory. However, the issue cannot be ignored. The reality has proved that there are conspiracies that scheme to secede the south from Sudan. Unfortunately, the world around us is talking in the language of blocs, and the scattered entities are getting together; however, the Arabs and Muslims still are in a state of increasing fragmentation and division. Europe that had fought each other, has found its interest in uniting and disregarding the entire past, contrary to what we do.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Have you been offered the post of president of Al-Azhar?

[Al-Qaradawi] No, never, and it can never be offered to me at any time.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What about the post of the general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood?

[Al-Qaradawi] It has been offered to me several times, but I personally declined.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What were your reasons for declining?

[Al-Qaradawi] I found that it would be better for me to be a guide for the nation in general, with all its groups and tendencies, rather than be a guide for one of the groups, because this is more beneficial.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Was there government pressure involved?

[Al-Qaradawi] No, nothing like this.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What is your personal opinion of the attendance by Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Ashura [anniversary of the battle of Karbala and martyrdom of Imam Hussein Bin-Ali, 10 Muharram every Hegira year] celebration in Turkey? Is there a Shiite invasion of the Sunni cities?

[Al-Qaradawi] With regard to the Shiite invasion, I have said it repeatedly that in order to achieve effective rapprochement among the two schools of thinking, we ought to refrain from promoting one school of thinking in the societies of the other school. Because of this, the Shiites have become angry with me, especially after I called on the Sunni ulema to strengthen the Sunnis with any culture that protects from this invasion. This is because the Shiite school of thinking is trained for preaching their creed, and allocating large funds for this. Moreover, the Shiites have behind them a country to guide them.

With regard to Turkey, there are those in Istanbul who are known as Alawi [Shiite sub-sect, and an offshoot of the Shiite Twelvers], and perhaps they are the ones who celebrated Ashura. The attendance by Recep Tayyip Erdogan definitely was due to political reasons, especially as he is known for his skill and diplomacy; it is an attempt to win the hearts of all Turkish sides, especially the Alawi, the same as he did with the Kurds.

[Asharq Al Awsat] From an Islamic jurisprudence perspective, why is there always a crisis over every issue related to women, as it became apparent in Saudi Arabia recently over the work of women as “cashiers”?

[Al-Qaradawi] The crisis cannot be attributed to the Islamic jurisprudence. It is a crisis of some people in understanding these issues. The Salafi tendency was one of the most hard line about issue; however, recently new ideas have started to enter the tendency, and to create some kind of flexibility. The best proof of this is the conference of Islamic University in Medina to present the efforts of the Kingdom to serve the Islamic issues, as there was distinguished presence of women, and they participated in the research work and verbal interventions. This was the first time I saw such participation. Moreover, some time ago, I read about the discussions of the issue of “women driving cars,” the discussions took place publicly, which showed the development of the situation and the gradual steering away from rigidity. With time, the viewpoints of such issues will get closer.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Can you give us your opinion on two controversial issues; the mixing of the sexes and listening to music?

[Al-Qaradawi] What is meant by mixing of the sexes? Sometimes the term suggests something different from what is intended. This is as if it is mixing two issues together. If we are talking about man meeting woman in the mosque, as they meet in pilgrimage, mini-pilgrimage, scientific institutions, and scientific lessons, Islam does not prevent this. There are no mosques for women; what is known as Women’s Gate at the Prophet’s Mosque was ordered by the honorable Prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, in order to prevent men brushing against women. Islam has not ordered the existing severe separation between the sexes, because man is from a woman, and woman is from a man. God Almighty says: “The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil [Sura Al-Tawbah, from Verse 71].” Therefore, a woman has the right to enter the parliamentary and Shura councils. Women are half the society. Why can man decide the affairs of women, while women cannot decide and participate in deciding their own affairs?! When there is a need for mixing the genders in worship, education, or social activities, it is imperative to observe the Shariaa controls, such as absence of privacy, absence of excessive makeup, and observing the necessary ethics of lowering the eyes, and politeness in talking walking, and movement in order to prevent the situation from becoming chaotic.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What about singing and music?

[Al-Qaradawi] Previously, I wrote a book about singing and music in which I allowed singing and listening to music. This is an issue over which the faqihs, past and present, have disagreed, and over which many books have been written. The fact is that singing, whether or not accompanied by a musical instrument, is allowed, but under controls including that its contents do not contradict the creed, Shariaa, and Islamic ethics such as mysteries of Iliya Abu-Madi, which were sung in colloquial by Muhammad Abdal-Wahhab in his song “Without Asking Why;” the poetry of Abu-Nuwwas that says [poetry] “Do not blame me, because blame is a temptation, and cure me with what was the illness;” the song “The one with daring eyes;” or the song “Life is a cigarette and a drink.” Also the way of performing ought to steer away from wantonness. This also is linked to women, as it is allowed to listen to women, as there is nothing wrong in listening to a woman singing “Beloved mother?” The honorable Prophet listened to two women slaves. However, women’s voices ought to steer away from wantonness and arousing lust. The controls include that singing should not be coupled with something prohibited, and hence the quantity of listening ought to be observed, and there ought to be no excess in listening.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Your Eminence, your relations with the Salafis in the past has gone through major tensions. How are your relations with them now?

[Al-Qaradawi] Now, they are good relations. Here I am today in the country of the Salafi. It is clear that my relations with all are as good as we might wish with all age groups. Moreover, I do not adopt a hostile stance toward Salafi tendency; it is merely a stance of criticism in some aspects. I always call on everybody to adopt centrism. I also am in favor of Sufism. It is imperative to adopt what is best in Sufism, as the Sheikh of Islam Ibn-Taymiyah and Imam Ibn-al-Qayyim did; they were among the greatest Sufis, but they rejected from Sufism what is inappropriate. Personally, I call for “making Sufism into Salafi” and “making Salafi into Sufi.” The Sufi takes from the discipline of Salafi in not following the fabricated Hadith, polytheist rites, and tomb-side rites, and we want the Salafi to take from the Sufi tenderness, spirituality, and piousness. From this mixture we get the required Muslim.

[Asharq Al Awsat] With whom among the Saudi Sheikhs do you have special relations?

[Al-Qaradawi] Recently I had a meeting with my friend Sheikh Salih Bin-Humayd, preacher of the Kaaba Mosque and chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council; this is in addition to Dr Muhammad al-Aqla, president of the Islamic University in Medina; Sheikh Abdullah Bin-Mani, who is an old friend. I have great amicable links to the Saudi mufti, and I met him when he was first appointed as Saudi general mufti. The mufti said to me that he was a reader of my books, including “Imperativeness of the Islamic Solution” and “The Imported Solutions,” in addition to my books in political thinking. Also I had great amicable relations with Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin-Baz, God have mercy on his soul.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What about Sheikh Salman al-Awdah?

[Al-Qaradawi] (Laughs) He is one of my closest friends, and they consider him a follower of Al-Qaradawi’s course.

[Asharq Al Awsat] And Sheikh Hasan al-Saffar?

[Al-Qaradawi] There are good relations between him and me. I have met him recently in Qatar, and I sent him a letter of thanks when he denounced the stance adopted by the Kuwaiti man against Lady Aishah [Prophet’s wife], God be satisfied with her.

[Al-Salih] Have you seen Al-Jama’ah series, in which a characterization of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Hasan al-Banna, was presented, and which was shown on the television screens last Ramadan?

[Al-Qaradawi] The fact is that I did not see it, because I was busy, but I saw a few sections of it, and I was told about it. It seems to me that it was not fair in presenting the life of Al-Banna, it exaggerated some issues at the expense of others, most prominently is that the series ended before his death, while it should have ended with the end of Hasan al-Banna and his assassination. The series ended without mentioning his assassination in order not to condemn his murderers.

[Asharq Al Awsat] How has age changed Sheikh Al-Qaradawi?

[Al-Qaradawi] There is no doubt that it added more maturity. The longer one lives, the more his experience increases, the more his reading increases, the deeper his insight gets, and the more his maturity increases. As they say, life is the best teacher, and life is a school for anyone who lives it with open eyes and mind.

[Asharq Al Awsat] How do you describe yourself?

[Al-Qaradawi] I am one of the soldiers of Islam. I am a soldier of God Almighty fighting with knowledge, work, and call for God. I wish to conclude my life by martyrdom for the sake of God. We have a well-known prayer: “O God, we beseech you to grant us happy life, martyr’s death, winning in judgment, and victory over the enemies.” Praise be to God, we are happy with our belief, and I wish that God concludes my life with martyrdom, and that my martyrdom be at the hand of a non-Muslim.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Do you suspect that one day your martyrdom will be at the hand of a Muslim?

[Al-Qaradawi] This might happen by a crazy person.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Have you ever been threatened?

[Al-Qaradawi] Only the Jews have threatened me publicly. I have not been threatened by a Muslim. However, it is not excluded that someone affiliated to the extremist groups would come and want to get rid of me.

[Asharq Al Awsat] Your Eminence, who do you miss?

[Al-Qaradawi] I miss most of my friends, who have gone one after the other, and now I am alone. However, praise be to God, I feel very happy because people love me everywhere.

[Asharq Al Awsat] What are your thoughts on the latest fatwa by Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyyah Group [Supporters of Muhammad Sunnah Group] about ElBaradei nominating himself as a candidate in the presidential elections, the fatwa that says that it is allowed for the guardian to detain, imprison, or even execute ElBaradei, because of his destabilization of the country and of the state security?

[Al-Qaradawi] No one is allowed to say this, because the Constitution has secured this and granted it to others (Al-Qaradawi means being a candidate in the elections).