Qaradawi, Yusuf (1926–)

views updated

Qaradawi, Yusuf

The Egyptian cleric Yusuf Qaradawi is one of the world's most influential Sunni Muslim scholars. Extremely popular in the Middle East, his weekly television show, al-Shari'a wa'l-Haya (shari'a [Islamic law] and Life), is watched by some 40 million people via the Arab satellite station, al-Jazeera. Through the Web site, Qaradawi has issued over 150 fatwas (Islamic legal rulings) on how to merge Islamic law with modern life. Seen as a radical extremist by some, others claim Qaradawi is a progressive voice of moderation in troubled times.


Qaradawi was born in the village of Saft Turab, Egypt, on 9 September 1926, the only child of a poor peasant family of devout Sunni Muslims. His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was just a year old. Without parents, Qaradawi's aunts and uncles raised him, and they encouraged him to obtain a local profession such as shopkeeping or carpentry. However, Qaradawi chose to pursue a religious education, one of the few opportunities available to boys of humble backgrounds. He memorized the Qurpan before his tenth birthday and, after completing his secondary education, he enrolled at al-Azhar University in Cairo, one of the world's oldest continuously functioning universities and the most important center for Sunni Islamic scholarship.

In 1953 Qaradawi graduated from al-Azhar University's department of basics of religion and, in 1954, he earned a degree from the Arabic language department, finishing at the top of his class of five hundred students. Following his graduation, Qaradawi worked at the Institute of Imams at the Waqf Ministry of Egypt (Ministry of Religious Endowments) and then at the Department of Islamic Culture at al-Azhar. It was during this time that Qaradawi began his career as a writer, teacher, and scholar, and often preached at mosques in Cairo. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was detained in an Egyptian prison several times because of his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood organization, which was noted for antiregime activities and which eventually was banned in 1954.

In 1961, in an exchange of scholars, al-Azhar sent him to Gulf State of Qatar to run the state's Religious Institute in the capital city of Doha, where he has remained in self-imposed exile for more than four decades. In 1973 he established and became chair of the Department of Islamic Research at the University of Qatar. In the same year, he was awarded his doctoral degree. In 1989 Qaradawi founded the Research Center of Sunna and Biography of the Prophet at the University of Qatar, which he continues to head.

In 1997 Qaradawi helped create and lead the Dublin-based European Council on Fatwa and Research, a group of Islamic scholars who consider the moral, religious, political, and social issues facing Muslims and issue fatwas to help Muslims live within Islamic law. In 2002 Qaradawi became head of the newly created International Union for Muslim Scholars, also based in Dublin. (The headquarters are in Ireland because Arab countries refused to allow these groups to form, whereas Irish law permits them.)

Qaradawi is the author of more than fifty books. His The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, first published in 1960, became a classic text for its practical application of Islamic law to modern life. However, he is best known for his popular Sunday evening television show al-Shari'a wa'l-Haya. A strong proponent of using media to education and unite the Muslim world, Qaradawi also serves as chairman of, an extensive Web site supported by the Qatar government. Approximately 150 of Qaradawi's fatwas appear on the site.

Far from his humble beginnings, the elderly Qaradawi, who has long enjoyed the support of the Qatar royal family, lives in a comfortable, well-adorned home in Qatar. He is married and has seven children. He remains one of the most influential Islamic scholars in the Arab world.


Name: Yusuf Qaradawi

Birth: 1926, Saft Turab, Egypt

Family: Wife; four daughters; three sons

Nationality: Egyptian

Education: al-Azhar University, Cairo, earned degrees in 1953 and 1954; Ph.D., 1973


  • 1954–1961: Attends Institute of Imams, Waqf Ministry of Egypt, and Department of Islamic Culture, al-Azhar University
  • 1960: Publishes The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam
  • 1961: Director, Religious Institute, Doha, Qatar
  • 1973: Founds and chairs Department of Islamic Research, University of Qatar
  • 1989: Founds and chairs Research Center of Sunna and Biography of the Prophet, University of Qatar
  • 1997: Chairs IslamOnline Committee; started; founder and president, European Council on Fatwa and Research, Dublin, Ireland
  • 2000s: Hosts al-Shari'a wa'l-Haya (Shari'a and Life), weekly television show, al-Jazeera
  • 2002: Chairs International Union for Muslim Scholars, Dublin, Ireland


Qaradawi came under the influence Hasan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood during his teenage years. Al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, preached religious renewal, strict discipline and prayer, fierce nationalism, and a violent rejection of the Western infiltration into the Muslim world. By the end of World War II, it had become one of the region's largest and most influential Islamic organizations. Qaradawi's association with the Muslim Brotherhood, historically known for its use of violence, resulted in several detentions in Egyptian jails. He was first imprisoned in 1949 and three times following the 1952 Egyptian revolution that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. Nasser subsequently outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954. Although Qaradawi remains a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (which, since the 1980s, has toned down its violent rhetoric and has been legalized), he has refused several offers to take over leadership of the organization.


Opinions of Qaradawi range widely. Considered by many in the Arab world as a voice of moderation, he is often branded as a violent extremist in the West. He also incurs the wrath of some fundamentalist Muslims who believe that Qaradawi concedes too much to the infiltration of Western ideals, such as women's rights and democracy. Qaradawi's fatwas have sparked significant controversy across the board, especially his rulings regarding women's rights, homosexuality, and condoning of the Palestinian use of suicide bombers.

Qaradawi's ideas regarding women draw mixed reviews. Breaking with fundamentalist Islamic scholars, he believes strongly that education should be available to all Arabs—men and women alike—and he supports women's right to work outside the home. He has also called for more women to serve as jurists and even as judges. In fact, three of Qaradawi's four daughters hold doctoral degrees from a British university, and the fourth earned her master's degree at the University of Texas. All of them work and drive. However, Qaradawi has also supported the rights of a husband to beat his wife—as a last resort and only to do so lightly—as well as the compulsory wearing of the hijab (women's head covering).

On the issue of homosexuality, Qaradawi's fatwas are decisive: Homosexuality is a perversion and a corruption of human sexuality and should be punished. According to a television interview with the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which aired on al-Jazeera on 6 June 2006, Qaradawi said that homosexuals should receive "the same punishment as any sexual pervert—the same as the fornicator." In the Arab region, where homosexuality is commonly treated as a crime punishable by fines or incarceration—less severe than the punishment for fornication—Qaradawi's teachings on the subject are seldom questioned. However, many Westerners and Europeans, who are outraged by his implied approval of extreme punishment, consider his views extremely homophobic. His acknowledgement that Islamic scholars disagree on the terms of punishment has done little to assuage the anger of the human rights community. According to MEMRI, Qaradawi commented: "Some [scholars] say we should throw them from a high place, like God did with the people of Sodom. Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement."

For his part, Qaradawi appears genuinely baffled by the West's tolerance of gays and lesbians. "One wonders if the West has given up on Christianity," he told British newspaper the Guardian in 2005. "We supposed that the West's history and roots were in Christianity and the latter objects to homosexuality. The Torah also says sodomy is punished by God. We shouldn't give the impression that Muslims are alone on this" (Bunting, p. 31).

Qaradawi has received significant attention because of his fatwa that the Palestinian use of suicide bombers—including women and children—is an acceptable form of jihad (holy war). According to BBC Monitoring, Qaradawi told his al-Jazeera television audience in 2002, "The Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the 'children bomb' and these human bombs must continue until liberation" (Abdelhandi, 2004). He also condoned targeting Israeli civilians. Although the United States revoked his ten-year visa in 1999, Britain—on the invitation of London's mayor, Ken Livingstone—issued Qaradawi a visa in 2004, and his visit to participate in a conference sparked considerable controversy in the country.


Magda Amer (also Majda Amr) (c. 1951–) is a well-known female Islamic preacher in Egypt who teaches shari'a, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and women's rights in Islam at the Sidiqi Mosque in Cairo's middle class Heliopolis neighborhood. In addition to more strictly religious topics, she also counsels women on how to deal with their husbands, even including material she takes from popular Western books such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Amer also is a biochemist, a lecturer in immunology at Ayn Shams University, and runs Egypt's only health food shop in Heliopolis.

Heba Kotb (also Hiba Qutb) (c. 1967–) is a medical doctor who obtained a Ph.D. in clinical sexology from Maimonides University in Florida in 2004. She runs a sex therapy clinic in Cairo's Muhandisin district, and her weekly satellite television show Big Talk is broadcast from Cairo throughout the Arab world, offering frank discussions about sexuality. Kotb insists that Islamic teachings encourage sexual pleasure for married couples and decries the ignorance about sexuality that pervades Arab society, particularly among women.

Qaradawi's call to violence is not indiscriminate, however. Although he declares that Palestinian suicide bombers are martyrs because Israel is a militarized occupying force (thus making all Israelis the enemy because almost all Jewish Israelis must serve in the military), he firmly condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, and urged Muslims to give blood to help the injured. He also condemned the 7 July 2005 subway bombings in London that left fifty two dead and seven hundred injured, as well as the 19 March 2005 car bombing that occurred in Doha, Qatar, killing one British citizen and injuring numerous others.


There will likely be multiple and conflicting legacies related to Qaradawi. To some, he will be remembered as a violent extremist who condoned killing Israeli civilians, including women and children. He will be remembered as an instigator who encouraged terrorists and terrorist organizations such as Hamas and al-Qapida. Others will remember him as homophobic, pointing to his fatwas that condone physically punishing and perhaps even putting to death homosexuals. His secular critics will also note his rulings on the allowance of wife beating and compulsory wearing of the hijab.

Whereas his rulings on women's rights—including the right to an education, the right to work, and the right to participate in civil affairs—make him a man of compromise and moderation to some, Islamic fundamentalists see him as giving away too much to the West and non-Islamic culture. Likewise, Qaradawi's allowance that photography and pictures, as well as some music and art, are lawful has drawn sharp criticism as un-Islamic teachings.

Despite the complexities that will likely be reflected in Qaradawi's legacy, to millions of Muslims around the globe, Qaradawi will be remembered as an influential and authoritative voice that attempted to merge Islamic law with the modern world.


Abdelhadi, Magdi. "Controversial Preacher with Star Status." BBC. Updated 7 July 2004. Available from

Bunting, Madeleine. "Friendly Fire: Madeleine Bunting Meets Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar." Guardian (London) (29 October 2005): 31.

Miles, Hugh. "Two Faces of One of Islam's Most Important Clerics: Hugh Miles on the Man Some Call a Fanatic and Others a Moderate." Daily Telegraph (London) (20 July 2005).

"Muslim World Needs Democracy, Says Qaradawi." Muslim News. Updated 8 July 2006. Available from

Pearl, Judea. "Another Perspective, or Jihad TV?" New York Times (17 January 2007): A19.

"Qaradawi Deplores Algiers Bombings." IslamOnline. Updated 11 April 2007. Available from

"The Qaradawi Fatwas." Middle East Quarterly 11, no. 3 (2004): 78-80.

Shadid, Anthony. "Maverick Cleric Is a Hit on Arab TV: Al-Jazeera Star Mixes Tough Talk with Calls for Tolerance." Washington Post (14 February 2003): A01.

"Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Homosexuals Should Be Punished Like Fornicators" [Television interview transcript]. al-Jazeera TV, 5 June 2006. Available from

                                              Alisa Larson