Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926) is a Sunni Muslim theologian and one of the most highly respected scholars in the Arabic-speaking world and the wider Muslim world. He is considered by his followers as a moderate thinker and part of the Muslim reformist tradition, continuing the work of early reformists such as Muhammad ‘Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, though unlike them, he does not argue that Islam must update itself to meet modern needs. Rather, he argues that Islam already provides genuine answers to modern questions. His position is consistent with the wave of revivalism triggered by the perceived failure of secular nationalism following the 1967 Egyptian loss to Israel and spread throughout the Muslim world. He informally serves as the main ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, for which he is controversial, especially in Egypt, his country of birth. And, though Muslim Salafis and members of the Brotherhood are frequently at odds, al-Qaradawi has been embraced by some Salafis, thus crossing multiple boundaries in Islamic thought.
His main topics of interest include the role of women in Islam, education, Islamic finance, Islamic minority rights, the family, arts and entertainment, Islamic law, and the Palestinian cause, though he is best known in the western press for his controversial positions on various highly politicized topics, including religious violence, homosexuality, and Israel. As such, he has been barred from traveling on numerous instances to European countries and to the United States.
Qaradawi studied in the Faculty of Theology at Cairo’s al-Azhar University, where he organized an Azhari group of Muslim Brotherhood members and preached on behalf of the Brotherhood. Qaradawi received a doctorate from al-Azhar in 1973, having written a dissertation on obligatory charity (zakat) in Islam. Despite his academic connections to al-Azhar, he is perceived as an independent scholar and an Islamic authority without ties to religious institutions and has been critical of al-Azhar’s ties to the Egyptian government as well as a major proponent of Azhari reform.
Al-Qaradawi’s ideas are widely disseminated throughout the Arabic-speaking world and through translations of his major works. His most prominent impact is through the weekly program “Shari’a and Life” (shari’a w’al-hayat) on Al Jazeera, which has aired regularly since the network’s founding in 1996. The program is a platform allowing him to discuss various topics, and is followed by millions of viewers. He also has a weekly program on Qatar Television where he answers viewer questions; the same station broadcasts his weekly Friday sermon. He was also the main scholar behind Islam Online, a popular, Cairo-based Islamic website featuring resources and fatwas, and he was one of the first scholars to develop a personal website. These media platforms have amplified his message, making him perhaps the foremost legal scholar in the Arabic-speaking world.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi has had a major impact on the growth and direction of religious institutions in Qatar. He moved to Qatar in 1961 to lead an institute of religious studies and quickly established himself as a popular preacher. He became a personal guide to Sheikh Khalifa al-Thani, who granted him a Qatari passport after Egyptian authorities refused to extend his stay in Qatar. This allowed him to travel and lecture widely. He served as the principle of the Religious Institute (ma’had dini) beginning in 1961 and founded Qatar University’s Faculty of Shari’a, which began accepting students in 1977. In 1973 he became the director of the Islamic Studies Department at Qatar University’s College of Education, and in 1980 founded the Centre for Sunna and Sira Studies, also at Qatar University. In 2008, the Emir’s wife, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser opened the al-Qaradawi Research Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal at the Qatar Foundation’s Faculty of Islamic Studies. He is also affiliated with a wide variety of Islamic institutions outside of the Arab world, including prominent organizations in Europe.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood since the age of fourteen, having joined after listening to a speech by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. He was arrested in 1954 along with other Brotherhood members on suspicion organizing a failed assassination attempt against Egyptian President Gamel ‘Abdel Nasser, and released two years later, though was barred from preaching. Throughout his college years he was mentored by the Azhari scholar Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1996), also a member of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has twice requested that he serve as their supreme leader (al-murshid al-‘amm). Although he turned them down, he continues to serve as a primary inspiration for the Brotherhood.
Like Qaradawi, other Muslim Brotherhood members have been drawn to Qatar as a friendly space where they can meet and disseminate ideas without risk, compared to the hostile political climate in Egypt. Qaradawi has often played a role in organizing Brotherhood meetings in Doha.
The Arab Spring
In February 2011, Qaradawi traveled to Cairo to lead prayers in Tahrir Square a week after longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was removed from office. Qaradawi has been outspoken in his condemnation of the popular military coup that unseated President Muhammad Morsi and has issued fatwas supporting protests against the military government. For this, he was roundly criticized by the Egyptian government and by Egyptian religious scholars in support of coup.
“Al-Qaradawi Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal,” Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies (2013), accessed November 25, 2013.
Juan Cole, “Egyptian Backlash against Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi’s Call for foreign Intervention in Egypt,” Informed Comment, July 29, 2013, accessed November 25, 2013.
Bettina Gräf and Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, “Introduction,” Global Mufti: The Phenomenon of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, eds. Bettina Gräf and Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen (London: Hurst & Company, 2009), pp. 1-15.
Bettina Gräf, “Yusuf al-Qaradawi,” The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics, John L. Esposito and Emad el-Din Shahin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 222-236.
Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, “Yusuf al-Qaradawi and al-Azhar,” Global Mufti: The Phenomenon of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, eds. Bettina Gräf and Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen (London: Hurst & Company, 2009), pp. 27-53.
Husam Tammam, “Yusuf Qaradawi and the Muslim Brothers: The Nature of a Special Relationship,” Global Mufti: The Phenomenon of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, eds. Bettina Gräf and Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen (London: Hurst & Company, 2009), pp. 55-83.