The prominent Islamic scholar Youssef al-Qaradawi leveled severe criticism at Egypt’s Salafi movement, describing its thinking as both stagnant and extreme. Al-Qaradawi, who heads the International Union of Muslim Scholars, blamed the rise of Salafis on the absence of a genuine role for the moderate Islamic institution Al-Azhar. Salafi groups have called for drafting laws based on the Quran and the Prophet Mohamed’s teachings. Though they have abstained from politics in the past, Salafi leaders announced they were considering a political role following the 25 January revolution. Until the 1970s and prior to leaving Egypt, al-Qaradawi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He considers himself a moderate Islamic scholar. In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, he accused Salafis of adhering to literal interpretations of the Quran and tradition, even though religious fatwa should change to accommodate new issues. Muslims should not be confined to the interpretations contributed by scholars from past eras, he said. Al-Qaradawi added that the Salafi movement opposed the 25 January revolution and accused the revolutionary youth of deviating from Islam by disobeying authority. “Strangely enough, they now present themselves as the heroes of the revolution and its defenders,” he added. Egyptians have lost their confidence in Al-Azhar, he said, because its scholars obeyed the old oppressive regime. Al-Qaradawi said Egyptians want a civil, democratic and pluralistic state that respects religions but upholds Islam as the official religion of the state and the source of legislation and guidance.
The Global Muslim Brotherhood itself represents a variant of Salafism. As as French scholar Giles Kepel explains the historical fusion of Muslim Brother and Saudi “Wahhabist” influences resulted in what he calls “a new internationalist form of Salafism.
After being driven out of Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s, many Brothers found shelter in Saudi Arabia. The Saud family establishment was extremely hesitant and cautious vis-à-vis the Brotherhood, and they were never permitted access to the core of Saudi society, and to deal openly with religious issues. This was seen as the exclusive domain of the Wahhabis, who had formed an alliance with the ruling family. But the Saudi elites nonetheless saw the Brothers as useful because—to put it bluntly—they could read and write. While the Wahhabi ulama were ill at ease in dealing with the modern world, the Brothers were well traveled and relatively so- phisticated. They knew foreign languages and, unlike the Wahhabi ulama, were aware that the earth was not flat. The Brothers had been in jail, had political experience, and were skilled in modern polemics that resonated widely with ordinary people. Most of all, they had stood courageously against Saudi Arabia’s archenemies, the communists and secularists, and were eager to continue the fight. At the behest of the World Muslim League—which Saudi Arabia created in 1962 to counter Nasser’s attempts to internationalize Al Azhar University and promote the view that Islam was compatible with socialism—the Brothers argued in a variety of public forums that communism and socialism were totally antithetical to Islam. As in Egypt, the Brothers became especially active in the field of education, which was considered by Saudi and Gulf rulers to be innocuous at the time…..a cross-fertilization of ideas took place between the exiled Brotherhood and the austere teachings of what might be described as the Wahhabi rank and file. That interaction, combined with the new organizational and financial backing of groups like the Muslim World League, would eventually lead to the rise of a new, internationalist form of Salafism. The Brotherhood played a crucial role in shaping this new ideological universe, which is now, in important ways, the dominant cultural force in the Arab Middle East.
Qaradawi, a virulent anti-Semite is often referred to here as the most important leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood, an acknowledgement of his role as the de facto spiritual leader of the movement. In 2004, Qaradawi turned down the offer to lead the Egyptian Brotherhood after the death of the Supreme Guide. Based in Qatar, Sheikh Qaradawi has reportedly amassed substantial wealth through his role as Shari’ah adviser to many important Islamic banks and funds. He is also considered to be the “spiritual guide” for Hamas and his fatwas in support of suicide bombings against Israeli citizens were instrumental in the development of the phenomenon. A recent post has discussed a video compilation of Qaradawi’s extremist statements. Qaradawi recently reiterated his support for suicide bombing in Israel and expressed his desire to die as a martyr “at the hands of a non-Muslim.”
In mid-February, Qaradawi returned to his native Egypt for the first time since being exhaled in 1981 and gave a sermon to a large crowed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.