European Eye on Radicalization
The International Union of Muslim Scholars, which is designated by different Gulf Cooperation Council (GGC) states as a terrorist organization, announced on Monday, September 26, 2022, that its former president and founder, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, had died, at the age of 96. Al-Qaradawi was one of the world’s most influential Sunni clerics, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ideas and fatwas are accused of being responsible for enabling and fostering jihadist extremism and terrorism.
Al-Qaradawi was helped in spreading his ideas by the government of Qatar, which gave him a prominent place on its state television channel, Al-Jazeera. Al-Qaradawi was often described by his supporters as a “moderate”, but his speeches and rulings cannot be said to have encouraged peace and tolerance; to the contrary. Take Libya, for example. Many supported the Arab spring revolutions in general and in Libya, given Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi’s brutal immediate response, there was a special sense of justice to the uprising. However, Al-Qaradawi went much further, inciting the people of Libya to murder Al-Qadhafi and calling this as a religious duty—a way to have a closer relationship with God. This is hardly the only fatwa Al-Qaradawi issued that inflamed already dicey situations, leading to more bloodshed in the Arab world than there had to be.
In June 2013, a week after Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), launched an open attack on the Syrian opposition in Al-Qusayr, Al-Qaradawi responded to this sectarian provocation in kind, calling for all who were capable to join the jihad in Syria. While couched in defensive terms, the framing of Al-Qaradawi’s call was unambiguously sectarian, a call to fight the Syrian regime and its Hezbollah allies as Shi’is. Al-Qaradawi’s call helped swell the wave of foreign fighters from different parts of the world arriving in Syria to join Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).
What al-Qaradawi did in Syria in 2013 was in many ways a repetition of what he had done a decade earlier with Iraq. In January 2003, as the American-led “coalition of the willing” prepared to invade Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa declaring that “those who were killed fighting the American forces are martyrs.. Those who resist attempts to control Islamic countries have the intention of jihad and have the spirit of defending their homeland.” The blame for most of the misery in Iraq that followed the fall of Saddam must fall on Saddam himself, and secondarily on the predecessors of ISIS and Iran who immediately set about sabotaging the country’s democratic experiment, but Al-Qaradawi, given the chance to assist the forces of order, threw his support behind those who sowed chaos and destruction.
While many Muslims and even Islamists have reconsidered aspects of their ideology, especially around Israel, as it becomes clear the problems of the region cannot be blamed on the Zionist project, Al-Qaradawi remained stuck in his ways. Though Al-Qaradawi later revoked a fatwa justifying suicide bombings against Israelis, he only did so because he said Palestinians now had better weapons—in other words, he did not regret the suicide bombings that had taken place, and for the simple reason that Al-Qaradawi did not recognise Israeli civilians as “innocent”; he believed they were all legitimate targets for murder. In a 2009 book that in some respects “moderated” Al-Qaradawi’s other positions, the legitimacy of jihad remained unchanged, and the same year Al-Qaradawi called for God to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people … and kill them, down to the very last one.”
Being a loyal member of the Muslim Brotherhood, committed to the ideology of the group’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, and efforts to foster a “jihadist spirit” among the youth, Al-Qaradawi took positions on current issues that provided religious cover for practices and ideas that were often headed in dangerous and unpredictable directions. Immediately after the Brotherhood president of Egypt, Muhammad Morsi, was removed in 2013, Al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa inciting attacks on the army and police. Al-Qaradawi repeated this incitement in one of the sermons given from a mosque in Doha, and Brotherhood groups did indeed carry out deadly terrorist operations against the army and police.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi has issued a number of odd fatwas regarding the situation in Turkey, especially with regard to its autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Al-Qaradawi once said that Erdogan was at least supported by the angel Gabriel, and may perhaps be an earthly manifestation of the angel, sent to solve crises. Al-Qaradawi hinted broadly he considered Erdogan the caliph of Muslims during his hosting of programs on Al-Jazeera. Al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa calling for Turks to vote for Erdogan during the 2014 Turkish presidential elections—which is all the more notable since Al-Qaradawi said it was impermissible to participate in the Egyptian elections a year later. According to Al-Qaradawi, participation in the Egyptian elections was a sin in Islam.
The memoirs of Osama bin Laden provide evidence of Al-Qaradawi’s influence on, and assistance to, terrorist organizations. Bin Laden says he was “committed” to the Muslim Brotherhood in his early years, and they shaped him like no other influence. “No one has guided me like the Brotherhood,” Bin Laden wrote. Bin Laden also specifically mentioned that Al-Qaradawi’s fatwas and his presence on Al Jazeera were beneficial to the jihadists. “If [Qaradawi] spoke, this would boost popular confidence,” said Bin Laden, and with Al-Jazeera promoting the Arab revolutions and this was giving a chance to “half-solutions like the Brotherhood”, which could act as a gateway for “the spread of sound ideology,” i.e. jihadism. “Therefore, the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to true Islam is a matter of time,” wrote Bin Laden, who warned his followers against entering into any confrontations with the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, in its turn, publicly mourned Bin Laden’s death.
There was political cynicism and opportunism in Al-Qaradawi’s career: he helped cloak Qatar’s policies in the Islamic faith. And Al-Qaradawi’s lifelong role as a Muslim Brotherhood member meant he was devoted to what might be considered political causes rather than religious (in the spiritual sense) matters—but Al-Qaradawi would have rejected the notion of a separation between these things. Al-Qaradawi was, in the end, his own kind of idealist, but the ideals he held to gave cover to killing and destruction on a vast scale across the Middle East and beyond, a great shame considering his position could have been used to further the causes of peace, mercy, and tolerance.