Muslim leaders defend Al-Qaradawi visit

Muslim leaders defend Al-Qaradawi visit

By Hugo Duncan

Press Association, 19 July 2005

Muslim leaders have defended the forthcoming visit of a controversial cleric who praised suicide bombings by Palestinians. Egyptian-born scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 79, who is banned from entering the United States, has been asked to speak at a conference in Manchester just weeks after the London bombings. Al-Qaradawi, who is head of an Islamic research centre in Qatar, visited Britain last year as a guest of Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. The visit sparked protests from Jewish groups and gay people, who al-Qaradawi also criticised.

Although he distanced himself from suicide attacks in the West he defended suicide attacks against Israelis. He is expected to speak at the Muslim Unity Convention at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on August 7. Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadhan Foundation, which organised the event, said: “I do not think that it is a problem. He is a moderate and he says what he has said has been taken out of context and we take his word on that. He is a respected figure in the Muslim community and that is why he has been invited, to help promote cultural and religious diversity.”

Last year, al-Qaradawi told the BBC programme Newsnight: “It’s not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God.” He added that it did not matter if women and children were the victims of such attacks. “Israeli women are not like women in our society because Israeli women are militarised,” he said. “I consider this type of martyrdom operation as indication of justice of Allah almighty. Allah is just. Through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak what the strong do not possess and that is the ability to turn their bodies into bombs like the Palestinians do.”

But al-Qaradawi was one of the first to condemn the September 11 attacks on the United States, saying: “Islam, the religion of tolerance, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin.”

Al-Qaradawi was born in a small village in the Nile Delta in 1926. He studied Islamic theology at the Al-Azhar university in Cairo, from where he graduated in 1953. He has written extensively on Islam and is a respected scholar and household name in many Arabic-speaking Muslim communities. His involvement with the outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood landed him in trouble, and was jailed in Egypt before moving to Qatar in 1963. The brotherhood is thought to be one of the religion’s oldest fundamentalist organisations and has a history of violence.

Following the attacks on the capital, the Government promised to clamp down on hard-line and extremist preachers. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has the power to ban people coming into Britain on the grounds of national security and to maintain public order. He also hopes to speed up new anti-terror legislation, including a new offence of “indirect incitement to terrorism”.

But it is understood that al-Qaradawi will be allowed into the country. A Home Office spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases but added: “The Home Secretary has the power to exclude and most exclusions are on the grounds of national security, or that someone’s presence would not be conducive to the public good. They can also be made based on concerns about an individual’s character, conduct and associations.” A Manchester City Council spokesman said: “We are aware of these arrangements and we are discussing the position with the police who are, of course, co-ordinating activities in the aftermath of the London bombings.”

The chairman of the Ramadhan Foundation, Mohammad Umar, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Sheikh Qaradawi and all the Islamic clerics in the Muslim world have totally condemned what happened in London. It is not justified and what happened was inhumane. The people who perpetrated this criminal act in London on 7/7 are not martyrs, but mass murderers.”

Mr Umar said al-Qaradawi had been invited to the conference long before the July 7 attacks. The Foundation would be discussing his attendance with the Home Office, Greater Manchester Police and the Bridgewater Hall, he said. “We will re-evaluate it based upon our meetings with the Greater Manchester Police and Bridgewater Hall,” he said. “Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been invited as a guest and Islam teaches us to honour all guests… if Yusuf al-Qaradawi does come, we will honour him as a guest.”

Mr Umar said al-Qaradawi had been “demonised” over isolated comments relating to Palestinian suicide bombings. “Why look at one point of Qaradawi?” he asked. “Let’s look at the bigger picture, look at his contribution to inter-faith, look at his contribution towards moderation. If you want to build bridges in the UK, then Yusuf al-Qaradawi would be a vehicle of doing that. Rather than demonising him and alienating him, let’s work together.”

Conservative former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe called on the Government to block al-Qaradawi’s entry into the UK. “I think he probably should (be stopped),” she told BBC Radio 4’s today programme. “I don’t say that lightly, because I don’t think it is a power that should be used lightly. But nevertheless, at a time when we have suffered suicide bombings here, to allow in and to offer any platform at all to somebody who has quite unashamedly supported suicide bombings in the Middle East is, to say the very least, insensitive and unwise. We are either serious about countering the current threat or we are not.”

London Mayor Ken Livingstone defended al-Qaradawi today, saying: “He remains in the eyes of all leading academics on Islam a leading progressive Muslim. The storm which has broken over the cleric is pointless, he argued, saying: “Not only is he not coming (to Britain), he was not aware that he was invited.” The mayor’s office telephoned al-Qaradawi’s office with an Arabic speaker and were told that he is not coming to Britain. Mr Livingstone, who has welcomed the cleric on previous trips to London, believes he is a moderate and engaging face of Islamic scholarship. He said that al-Qaradawi has condemned the London suicide bombings. Britain now has a problem with disaffected Asian youth, he said.

Asked if al-Qaradawi was the kind of figure who should be welcomed into Britain, as someone who has condoned suicide bombings in the past, he said: “I think it is this consistent double standard about the Middle East which has done so much to create disaffection amongst a whole generation. They see massive pressure on Iran, the bombing of Iraq.” On suicide bombers, he said: “I urge everyone to stop killing. I have a broad political principle that killing people is not a good idea. It seldom achieves the objectives that people set out by it. I have to recognise that both sides have done horrendous things to each other in a conflict that has spanned virtually my entire life.”