• Women
  • September 14, 2008
  • 13 minutes read

Top Islamic Scholar Speaks Out

Top Islamic Scholar Speaks Out

On Monday and Tuesday, Egypt’s Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper published a very interesting two part interview  with   Shaikh Yusuf_Al-Qaradawi, considered one of the most influential Islamic scholars.   Qaradwi has written dozens of books and has his own TV show on Al-Jazeera, Shariah_And_Life, where he discusses different every day aspects of Islamic Law. 

Much of his popularity is a result of his perceived independence.  He notes in the interview how, in recent decades, Al-Azhar University, the premiere Sunni school for training religious clerics, has come under the control of the government.  Everyone affiliated with it, from the Mufti to the lowest level scholar, is an “employee of the state.”  Knowing that their salary depends on staying in the good graces of the state, limits how much they can and are willing to say. 

 The Shaiik also notes his independence from any particular group saying that the Muslim Brotherhood  once asked him to be the Supreme Guide, but he explains “I left them because I did not want to focus all my efforts on one group… I apologized and said I would rather be the guide of the Umma then to a specific organization.”  

For these reasons, al-Qaradawi has a massive following, so its worth looking at some of the things he had to say to Al-Masri Al-Youm. 

On Democracy:
Qaradawhi had a clear message for the Egyptian government:  Democracy is essential and the people must have the right to choose their leader.  He called on all Egyptians to advise their President on how to follow the right path, calling this an important duty.  However, the interviewer was skeptical, saying that this might work in theory, but how can an average citizen get their message across to the President?   Qaradawi responded by saying that he did not mean each citizen individually, but in a collective sense, using all available mechanisms, such as the media, the newspapers and the pulpit at Friday prayers. 

Qaradawi wants to see the citizens become active enough so that Parliament can become more than just a tool in the hand of the government.   He points to Western parliaments as a model to emulate in the sense that when the Government violates the Constitution, the Parliament holds it accountable.   

Faced with more skepticism about the practicality of such a plan, Qaradawi cited the case of Pakistan, where the people, through peaceful demonstrations, forced President Musharaf to resign.  But unfortunately, “we have not even reached the level of Pakistani democracy, as you won’t find in our country a President who is satisfied with one term or even two, rather he wants to stay in power and if he leaves office, he wants to leave it to his son.”

Shaikh Qaradawi advised the Egyptian President to listen to the needs of the people and to distance himself from the idea of having his son inherit the Presidency.  The people must be free to choose the next President was his clear message.

Shaikh Qaradawi had some interesting things to say about economics, prompted by the question “How do you view the economic situation in
Egypt right now in light of Islamic Shariah?”  His answer was pretty clear “The government applies secularism in everything, including the economy, which will not improve, either here or in any other Arab state, except through production and distancing itself from all that angers God such as injustice,  monopolization of resources and the exploitation of the weak by the powerful.”  Qaradawi does not say his name specifically, but when he speaks of monopoly, he is probably referring to Ahmed Ezz, a steel tycoon and member of the NDP, who is often accused of monopolizing the steel market and keeping prices artificially high. 

Al-Qaradawi also noted how “the Islamic economy is based on justice and an equitable distribution between the producer and the consumer,” but notes how Egypt is largely a consumer society.  It does not produce enough and is forced to import goods.   He is vague on specific details, but he seems to be referring to the issue of growing Wheat.  Despite having the most fertile land in the world, Egypt is not self-sufficient in wheat and is forced to import, putting it at the mercy of the global price of wheat.  When the global price is high, the poor, who depend on subsidized bread, are hit the hardest.  This winter and spring was especially bad on this front. 

On Shias and Wahhabis:
Towards the end of the interview the Shaikh was  asked “which is the more serious or most penetrating? The  Wahhabi spread /extension  or the Shia ?

Shaik Qaradawi noted that the Wahabis are noted for their rigidness with dealing with other opinions.   Only they can be correct, but that was the extent of his comments about the Wahabis. 

However, he had alot more to say about the Shias, which he notes are considered Muslims, although there are some fundamental disagreements.    But their danger is in their attempt to assault Sunni societies.  ”Unfortunately, there are Shias now in Egypt…Since the age of Saladin until very recently, there wasn’t a single Shia Egyptian.  They tried to gain one but they never succeeded.”   But now they are openly spreading their ideas in the newspapers and on television” he said.  According to Qaradawi, this might be because the Sunni societies have a certain vulnerability because the Sunni ulema did not fortify Sunni society against the Shia threat because we always employed the phrase “avoid/stay away from fitna in order to unite all the Muslims.” 

 What he seems to be saying is that the Sunnis were taking the high ground, in pleading for greater Muslim unity, so as to avoid fitna.  As a result the Shias took advantage of this to try and spread or recruit Shias in the Sunni societies. 

But he is clear what has to be done: “We (the Ulema) must stand up and protect Sunni societies from the Shia assault”

In July, Al-Masri Al-Youm ran a story on how the Ministry of the Interior was indoctrinating officers in anti-Shiite ideology: 

 Dr. Abdel Moneim al-Barri, professor of Islamic Culture of Facutly of Da’wa and chief of deposed Al-Azhar scholars front revealed that Ministry of Interior has called him and a number of scholars specialized in Shiite ideology to deliver some lectures to state security investigation officers inside some prison buildings and dept. offices on the Shiite ideology and plans to break through the Sunni countries.  A security source refused to comment on this issu 

One might have argued that the anti-Shia views expressed in the above  Al-Masri Al-Youm piece were not significant as they were confined to a very limited segment of the society.    But given Al-Qaradawi’s popularity, it is much  harder to dismiss these comments.  The number of Shias in Egypt is minuscule and it does not seem like a serious threat.  But Shaikh Qaradawi thinks it is.   He might be “moderate” on democracy, but as far as Sunni-Shia relations, these comments do not seem very moderate or tolerant.