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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Controversial preacher with 'star status'
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab Affairs Analyst

The sheikh has done TV phone-ins on religious programmes in the Arab world

The arrival in Britain of the Islamic preacher, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, to take part in a conference has sparked a row because of his controversial views on suicide bombings.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi achieved a star status with the emergence of the Qatari satellite channel, Al-Jazeera, several years ago.

Thanks to his weekly appearance on the religious phone-in programme Al-Shariaa wa Al-Haya (Islamic Law and Life) he has become a household name for many Arabic-speaking Muslim communities.

He is an articulate preacher and a good communicator.

The subtext of the programme, and indeed that of Sheikh Al-Qaradawi's responses to all the issues raised throughout the broadcast, is that Islam has an answer to all of life's problems.

That is essentially the ideology of Islamist movements across the region.

Through his (Allah) infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do
Sheikh Al-Qaradawi

According to an Arabic language website dedicated to Sheikh Al-Qaradawi he 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.

Twenty years later he was awarded a PhD for his thesis on how Zakat (Islamic alms) can contribute to solving social problems.

Muslim Brotherhood

He has written extensively on Islam and is regarded as a respected scholar.

His website describes him as the most prominent voice of moderation in Islam (wasatiyya), building bridges between traditionalists and modernisers.

It is his involvement with the outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that has landed him in trouble.

The group, founded in the 1920s, is one of the largest and most influential Islamist organisations in the region.

It has a history of violence, but now says it is committed to peaceful means to create an Islamic state.

Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has been jailed several times in Egypt.

But he has lived and worked in the Gulf State Qatar since 1963 where he now heads an Islamic research centre.

Suicide bombings

It is particularly his views on suicide bombings that has courted controversy, but mainly in the West.

He has distanced himself from suicide attacks in the West but he has consistently defended Palestinian suicide attacks against Israelis.

Recently he told Al-Jazeera that he was not alone in believing that suicide bombings in Palestinian territories were a legitimate form of self defence for people who have no aircraft or tanks.

He said hundreds of other Islamic scholars are of the same opinion. In this respect, he is very much in tune with what the vast majority of people in the Arab world believe.

Defending suicide bombings that target Israeli civilians Sheikh A-Qaradawi told the BBC programme Newsnight that "an Israeli woman is not like women in our societies, because she is a soldier.

"I consider this type of martyrdom operation as an evidence of God's justice.

"Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do".

Despite his popularity, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi is not without his critics in the Arab world.

Some see his regular preaching on Al-Jazeera as an uncritical regurgitation of Islamic dogma out of touch with the modern world.

The BBC's Peter Marshall
"His presence [in the UK] has stirred a political storm"



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