«A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion School of Philosophy, ...»
In the minds of the general public, al-Qaradawi projects an ambivalent image of himself that continues to be subject to a mixed bag of receptions. Since being propelled into the limelight, he has often been caught in a political storm both within and outside the Muslim world following his forcefully-expressed fatwas on highly-sensitive religiopolitical issues. On an intra-Muslim level, critics have written and spoken against his persistence in dispensing with some classically-established norms of Muslim jurisprudence in favor of an easy interpretation of Islam that is more closely resonant with contemporary trends. His statement of support for women to play a significant role in politics and nominate themselves in the parliament, for example, was an innovation (bid’a) to many self-identified extremists, albeit it being a much-needed stepping-stone
Qaradawi has often been marked as an extremist due to his Islamist vision, his advocacy of views that are considered inconsistent with human rights as specified in Western national constitutions and international charters, his vocal opposition to foreign policies and events that he (and many Muslims) perceived as anti-Islam, and many more. His sanctioning of suicide bombing in Palestine as a defensive tactic against Israel troops and in Iraq against American troops (which he has never retracted despite pressure from various Muslim groups), for example, was a profound shock to many in the West and the Arab-Muslim world and a major premise to extremists to justify violence through a loose interpretation. Given his prominence, many of his previous fatwas were assumed to have had far-reaching consequences, even if he himself was never personally involved in terrorism. Accordingly, al-Qaradawi has been banned from entering the US since 1999, and had been portrayed by the British media for a period of time as a scholar of “terrorism”.
Yet, as mentioned in the previous passage, the scholar perceives of himself as neither an extremist nor an innovator. He has been among the very few Muslim intellectuals championing the concept of waṣatiyya (moderation), which strikes a perfect balance between the two ends of religious fanaticism and religious indifference and allows the blending of the unchanging tenets of Islam with the dynamic expediencies of the modern time. His method of working mainly involves applying independent reasoning (ijtihād) and its manifestations (e.g., analogy and consensus) as well as “cross-madhhab” referencing (integrating the approaches used by the various classical schools of Muslim thought) while keeping to the general principles stipulated by the Quran and Sunna in order to solve contemporary problems that are not defined
waṣatiyya within a traditional Muslim frame of reference, and thus, his aversion to both extremism and liberalism may not necessarily mean he sits within an exact equilibrium between the two extremes. Rather, it is apparent from his verdicts that he maintains a balance of both puritanical and liberal thinking, applying one or the other where he deems fit with the best of intentions and to the best of his knowledge. For example, while he fights vehemently for women’s rights, he brings to his thinking a specific, predetermined interpretation of women’s role in life that may not fall perfectly in line with that which is normative in the West. In a similarly confusing way, al-Qaradawi vouches for what he describes as a “human brotherhood” – a bond that supposedly does not discriminate by religion, nationality, or culture - but there is, at the same time, a distinct emphasis on the supremacy of Islam and exclusivity of the Muslim umma that may border on being divisive.
Throughout al-Qaradawi’s writings, lectures, and fatwas, a few themes have continued to surface rather consistently and without much variation, if any. The scholar’s propagation of da’wa and the revival of Islam, first and foremost, can be said to be at the very core of his work, serving as an umbrella that encompasses other constitutive objectives, which necessarily include supporting Islam and Muslims in the West. In his memoir, al-Qaradawi criticizes the al-Azhar education system for not having emphasized the importance of propagating Islam and designing a curriculum that trains students to become missionaries (Gräf and Skovgaard-Petersen, 2009). In addition, the scholar appears to be deeply concerned with the declining authority of ‘ulamā as the collective guardian, reference, and guide of the Islamic religion in the face of globalization and post-colonial challenges in many Muslim countries. His
intellectuals is likely to have been oriented towards establishing a central authority that primarily oversees Muslim affairs across the globe, perhaps much like the role of the Church in Christianity.
3.1.3 Al-Qaradawi on Islam and Muslims in Europe It may be mistakenly assumed that al-Qaradawi’s first foray into the world of European Islam and Muslim minorities occurred at around the same time he founded the ECFR in the 90s. However, his interest in the niche had already begun to develop in the late 50s prior to the publication of his very first book, the Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, the writing of which was initiated as a response to a need for a concise guide to contemporary issues faced by Muslims in the West (Gräf and Skovgaard-Petersen, 2009). Having had this interest as a starting point, al-Qaradawi ventured further by attending conferences in Europe in the 70s that centered on the study of Islam and of the integration of Muslims in the European and North-American context.
In the 80s, al-Qaradawi played a prominent role in the Arab-speaking world in calling for more awareness of the “plight” of Muslims in the West and a greater responsibility for helping them sustain and develop their religious beliefs and identity.
The scholar urged that this be done by establishing Islamic schools abroad, providing access to Islamic books in European languages, training Muslims from non-Muslim lands in Arab universities, and sending scholars to the West to guide the Muslim communities in the region. He further established his authority and presence within the network of Islamic organizations in Europe by joining the Board of Trustees of the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies in 1985. By this time, he had become a powerful
networks built their popularity, such as the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) founded in 1983, and the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) founded in 1989, including those that had initially rejected al-Qaradawi’s thinking before overturning their position upon recognizing that the scholar’s popularity in the West could help their own causes. In 1997, al-Qaradawi was elected as chairman of the ECFR, which was founded with the aim to provide a platform for European Muslim scholars to discuss issues relevant to Muslims in Europe and to serve as an exclusivelyEuropean fatwa body that complements the more established, longer-serving fatwa councils in the Muslim world. Since the ECFR’s inception, the scholar has continued to hold a commanding influence on its fatwa-producing role, with many fatwas having been derived quite literally from the scholar’s own writings (Gräf and SkovgaardPetersen, 2009).
One of al-Qaradawi’s most notable contributions to the understanding and shaping of the life of Muslim minorities in the West was to develop and popularize fiqh al-aqalliyyat - allegedly first used by Taha Jabir al-Alwani, the founder and former chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). The Jurisprudence of Minorities was created as a means to establish new interpretative efforts to facilitate the practice of Islam in the face of challenges exclusive to the Western context (this will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.2). This development is argued to have made many Muslim practices significantly easier to adhere to for Western Muslims – or at least in theoretical terms, as evidenced by the relatively-lenient verdicts in alQaradawi’s first and most popular book, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. The
3.2 Tariq Ramadan Tariq Said Ramadan, mononymously referred to as Ramadan, is a Muslim academic and philosopher of Egyptian origin born in Geneva, Switzerland on 26th August 1962. Acclaimed by Time magazine in 2004 as one of the world’s most influential people, the Swiss has risen over the years to become a leading EuropeanMuslim thinker in the field of contemporary Islam, having penned a number of globally-read books and given media-circulated lectures, mainly within the past decade, on issues of Muslim identity, integration, and ethics that quickly launched him into the international spotlight. As a reformist thinker, Ramadan has attracted as many critics as admirers from all ends of the political and religious spectrum in the West and the Arabspeaking world; the fact that there are more books and articles about him, most of which are dotted with criticisms, than his own writings is evidence of his controversial image.
3.2.1 Education and Experience There is very little, if any, information about Ramadan’s early years growing up in Geneva. The scholar himself has never been known to divulge this aspect of his personal history. In his book - What I Believe - published in 2009, he advises those who seek to understand his thinking and intellectual development not to rely on virtual encyclopedic entries that are riddled with factual errors and biases and then devotes a chapter exclusively for recounting a brief story of his life, albeit only from the age of eighteen. It is mainly from this short chapter that one can reliably discern the key
Ramadan professes to have been raised in a family that attaches great importance to humanitarian concerns. From the age of eighteen in the early 80s until he began engaging with the issue of Islam and Muslims in the West near the end of that decade, the scholar travelled to many third-world countries to give assistance and raise global awareness of endemic social, economic, and political issues such as poverty, corruption, domestic violence, and illiteracy. Although his commitment then was not proclaimed in the name of Islam, he argues that it was of high value to his parents.
Ramadan undertook his tertiary education at the University of Geneva, where he earned his MA in Philosophy and French literature and his PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies. The scholar’s research focus centered on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, which enabled him to branch out later into the worlds of other philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Marx, and others, and to analyze their views against those of Nietzsche. Following his graduation, he began a teaching career at a high school in the city of his birthplace, Geneva, and later served as its dean. After many years, Ramadan decided to resign from his post, feeling a need to seek a change and to return to the fundamentals of his faith, and having been spurred by the predicament befalling the image of Islam following a series of Muslim-related controversies and events such as the Iranian Revolution (1979), the Rushdie Affair in Britain (1989), and the Headscarf Affair in France (1989). Having turned his attention to contemporary Muslim issues, Ramadan’s priorities shifted to defending his religion against misconceptions and prejudices and showing that there is a crucial, workable, common foundation to the values espoused by Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and other secular
with his family to Egypt to undertake an intensive study of the Islamic sciences – a fasttrack course designed to allow him to complete an equivalent of a five-year university program in less than two years through a private tutoring arrangement.
3.2.2 The Martin Luther of Islam and an Islamist in Disguise Ramadan’s status is confusingly tinged with admiration and controversy, with some celebrating him as the Martin Luther of Islam, some accusing him of being an extremist or Islamist in disguise, and a fair few labeling him as a heretic. Much of the skepticism that critics attach to his thinking, approach, and personality is mainly attributable to his unwavering commitment to the core aspects of Islamic beliefs (which, in many cases, supposedly means rejection of secular ethical humanism), his philosophical way of proffering and engaging mainly with generalities, and his personal blood ties with his deceased maternal grandfather, the late Hasan al-Banna.
Ramadan has been accused of using “doublespeak” and conveying different messages to different types of audience, fuelling the image of him concealing a sinister agenda, such as Islamization of the West, beneath a well-constructed rhetoric of “reconciliation”. The scholar rebuts this in many places, most identifiably in his book, What I Believe, arguing that the accusations of “doublespeak” leveled at him were simply an outcome of “double-hearing” (a tendency to hear what one wants to hear out of confirmation bias), and that any perceived differences in how he delivers his message to his varying kinds of audience is due to his using their respective frames of reference for a more effective delivery while keeping to the same content. Many Western critics see inconsistency in Ramadan’s position as a mediator between the West and the
feasibility of being both a Muslim and a European, his loyalty to the core values of the West has often been judged rather narrowly by his assertive opinion on specific issues such as homosexuality, veiling, and the like.