Sunday, January 16, 2005

Mayor's Response on Al-Qaradawi.

Why the Mayor of London will maintain dialogues with all of London’s faiths and communities

A reply to the dossier against the Mayor’s meeting with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi

1. Introduction
In July last year, the Greater London Authority hosted a conference, attended
predominantly by Muslim women, discussing the potential impact on London of the
ban on the Muslim headscarf in schools in France. We did so because we felt that
any spread of religious intolerance and racism could have profound repercussions for
London, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world.
The conference was addressed by representatives of Human Rights Watch, the Sikh
community, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European
Community, the Green Party and a range of Muslim organisations, including
Professor Tariq Ramadan and the leading Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
The conference was preceded by a meeting of the European Council for Fatwa and
Research, a body bringing together a broad and diverse range of Sunni Muslim
scholars which seeks to reconcile the teaching of Islam with life in majority non-
Muslim European states. The council met in London at the invitation of the Muslim
Association of Britain. Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi is president of this body and I addressed
a press conference with him welcoming the council holding its meeting in London and
setting out my views on the ban on the Muslim headscarf. The Greater London
Authority was criticised in some quarters for my decision to share a platform with Dr
al-Qaradawi.
Dr al-Qaradawi has been visiting Britain for 25 years
Dr al-Qaradawi has visited Britain regularly over the past 25 years. No question has
ever been raised about his visits, which took place under both Labour and
Conservative governments. These visits included inaugurating various institutions,
attending the Justice Council of the Oxford Islamic Centre of which he has been a
member for many years, and visiting his daughters who studied at British universities.
On this occasion, however, an orchestrated and, in at least some of the tabloid media
racist, campaign was launched against the visit of Dr al-Qaradawi. (See Appendix 1)
This was based on the circulation of inaccurate allegations to the media, for example,
that Dr al-Qaradawi is anti-Semitic, calls for the executions of gay people and
advocates domestic violence against women. Literally overnight, having never
previously heard of him, virtually every tabloid newspaper in Britain became expert in
what were purported to be the views of Dr al-Qaradawi.
At the same time, a dossier was supplied to the Metropolitan Police calling for Dr al-
Qaradawi to be expelled from Britain. The Crown Prosecution Service, however,
found nothing in the dossier to merit legal proceedings.
It was also demanded that I should not share a platform with Dr al-Qaradawi and that
he should not be allowed to speak at City Hall.
One of the most authoritative Muslim scholars in the world today
Islam is one of the great world religions with more than a billion adherents worldwide,
including nearly ten per cent of Londoners. Dr al-Qaradawi is recognised as one of
the most authoritative Muslim scholars in the world.
3
As Mayor of London, I regarded it as my responsibility to welcome a leader of any
great religion, such as Dr al-Qaradawi. I would welcome any leader of any other
great world religion of similar standing, notwithstanding the obvious fact that we
disagree on particular issues.
This no more constituted endorsement of the views of Dr al-Qaradawi on an issue
such as lesbian and gay rights, than my meetings with Roman Catholic Cardinals
meant I shared their views on contraception or my meeting the Chief Rabbi
suggested I shared his view in opposing the repeal of Section 28.
Indeed, it is my firm belief that to refuse a dialogue with so prominent a religious
leader as Dr al-Qaradawi is not only unacceptable in itself from the point of view of
Londoners’ religious beliefs but would also only assist those extremists in the Muslim
communities who assert that a dialogue with western political leaders in impossible.
The beneficiaries would be those like Al-Qaida – whom Dr al-Qaradawi has been
forthright in condemning.
The Metropolitan Police Service has made clear that the support of London’s Muslim
communities is a crucial factor in foiling any terrorist attack on this city. The Muslim
Council of Britain, which is the main umbrella group of Muslim organisations in this
country, has called upon Muslim communities to assist the police in this. They have
sent their representatives to Iraq to argue for the release of British hostages.
How much more difficult would we make it for them if, on the basis of a misguided
campaign, London’s government refused to meet a person – Dr al-Qaradawi –
described by the Muslim Council of Britain as the most authoritative Muslim scholar
in the world today?
In fact, Dr al-Qaradawi was being painted as a profound social reactionary when, in
reality, as this report shows, he is one of the Muslim scholars who has done most to
combat socially regressive interpretations of Islam on issues like women’s rights and
relations with other religions.
Secondly, he is described as a supporter of terrorism, when, in reality he has been
one of the most forthright Islamic scholars in condemning terrorism and groups like
Al-Qaida and has tried to assist the French and Italian governments in securing the
release of civilian hostages in Iraq.
No case for rejecting dialogue
There is no case for refusing a dialogue with Qaradawi on these grounds. Indeed,
former United States President Bill Clinton, former US ambassador to the UN
Richard Holbrooke, the French foreign minister and the Italian foreign minister are
among those who, like me, have held talks or shared platforms with Qaradawi.
At the same time, like many people in the Middle East he is a strong supporter of the
rights of the Palestinians. He takes the view that in the specific circumstances of that
conflict, where Israel is using modern missiles, tanks and planes in civilian areas to
perpetuate the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, it is justified for Palestinians to
turn their bodies into weapons.
Some supporters of the present policies of the Israeli government argue that on
these grounds alone Qaradawi should be excluded from Britain and denied a
platform. I disagree. I condemn all violence in Israel and Palestine but no purpose will
be served by refusing to speak to either the Israeli or Palestinian sides.
4
Indeed, it would be impossible to refuse to speak to a person like Qaradawi who has
no personal involvement in violence of any kind, but at the same time speak to an
Israeli government, which kills Palestinian civilians with modern weapons every
week. That government is, moreover, headed by a person whom groups like Human
Rights Watch have suggested should be investigated for war crimes as a result of his
responsibility as Israel’s Defence Minister in the cold blooded massacre of more than
800 unarmed Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in 1982,
during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
In reality, as Northern Ireland has shown, the only way to resolve such conflicts is
through dialogue.
The ‘Islamic Conspiracy’ theory
There is an alternative approach to such a necessary dialogue embodied in the
dossier sent to London Assembly members entitled Mayor Livingstone and Sheikh
Qaradawi. This suggests that we face something like a Muslim conspiracy, led by
people like Qaradawi, directed against the whole of western civilisation and culture.
Peter Tatchell is a prominent exponent of this view when he warns of the ‘global
threat of “Islamo-fascism”’, which, he says, is more dangerous today than the rise of
genuinely extreme right wing groups like the British National Party.1
Applying this conspiracy theory, the dossier manages to turn the attack on religious
freedom represented by the ban on the Muslim headscarf in French schools into its
opposite. It quotes a series of authors who suggest that the headscarf is part of an
extremist Islamic conspiracy:
‘This fake Islamic Hijab is nothing but a political prop, a weapon of visual terrorism. It
is the symbol of totalitarian ideology inspired more by Nazism and Communism than
by Islam…. It is a sign of support for extremists who wish to impose their creed…’2
Another is quoted in the dossier saying:
‘The issue of the hijab is being presented as a first step on a long path of religious
duties culminating in “Jihad”…. It is time to save the world’s Muslims not from unfair
treatment, but from the extremism in their midst, which is threatening to burn their
bridges with the rest of the world.’3
Sikh groups distance themselves from dossier
In the light of statements such as these it is hardly surprising that not a single Muslim
organisation has associated itself with this dossier. In addition, four Sikh
organisations – Khalsa Human Rights, the National Council of Gurdwaras, the Sikh
Federation and the Sikh Secretariat – have explained that no evidence has been
produced by the authors to back up their original allegations that Qaradawi backs
forced conversions to Islam and have therefore distanced themselves from the
dossier.
1 Peter Tatchell, ‘Qaradawi Not Welcome’, Labour Left Briefing, November 2004
2 Mayor Livingstone and Sheikh Qaradawi, p.15
3 Ibid., p.14
5
The dossier takes this to laughable lengths when it distorts Qaradawi’s words to
suggest that his goal is to proceed from the conquest of Constantinople by Islam in
1453 to the conquest of Rome today. This is taken from one of the main sources for
the dossier the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) that was set up by a
senior officer in the Israeli secret service and specialises in finding quotes from Arab
media for circulation in the West. The translation and selection of quotes tends to
portray Islam in a very negative light.
To get a flavour of this it is sufficient to read the title of one MEMRI piece quoted in
the dossier: ‘Leading Sunni Sheikh Yusef Al-Qaradawi and Other Sheiks Herald the
Coming Conquest of Rome.’ The article starts: ‘in articles written by Islamic clerics,
the clerics herald the imminent conquest of Rome by Islam, in accordance with the
prophecy of Muhammad.’4
It may seem difficult to take such material seriously, but in some respects the
approach of MEMRI, echoed in the dossier, is reminiscent of the various anti-Semitic
conspiracy theories – this can be seen very easily if one simply substitutes the words
‘Jewish’ and ‘Judaism’ for ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ throughout the dossier.
The clash of civilisations
In this approach, though in an extreme way, the dossier reflects the agenda of part of
the neo-Conservative right in the United States who claim that the Cold War has
been replaced by a ‘clash of civilisations’. As Samuel P. Huntington, the foremost
exponent of this theory put it:
‘For forty-five years the Iron Curtain was the central dividing line in Europe. That line
has moved several hundred miles east. It is now the line separating the peoples of
Western Christianity, on the one hand, from Muslim and Orthodox peoples on the
other.’5
Huntington’s conclusion is:
‘The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity
and Westerners accepting their civilisation as unique not universal and uniting to
renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies.’6
This approach would be catastrophic for community relations in London and would
lock the world into a new Cold War.
There has undoubtedly been increased political mobilisation of Muslim communities
in Britain over the last couple of years. This however has been driven, not by an
Islamist conspiracy to reconquer Rome or impose Sharia law in Britain, but by
opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the perceived double standards applied to the
Palestinian/Israeli conflict and issues of equal rights in this country. The Muslim
communities have started to organise themselves to make their views on the Middle
East count and to defend their own cultural and religious rights – not to take away the
rights of anyone else.
4 Ibid. p.20
5 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 1996,
p.28
6 Ibid. pp.21-2
6
As Mayor of London, I have a responsibility to support the rights of all of London’s
diverse communities and to maintain a dialogue with their political and religious
leaders, irrespective of the fact that there will always been different views on many
issues. I have no intention of being deflected from that responsibility by tabloid
hysteria or the kind of unsubstantiated allegations made by the dossier.
Ken Livingstone
Mayor of London
2. Who is Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi?
The picture of Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi presented in the Mayor Livingstone and Sheikh
Qaradawi dossier bears no relation to reality.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is the umbrella body to which the majority of
Islamic organisations in this country are affiliated. The MCB describes Dr al-
Qaradawi as ‘the most authoritative Islamic scholar in the world today’. This view is
shared by western academic experts on Islam. For example Raymond William Baker,
Professor of International Politics at Trinity College Hartford and Adjunct Professor at
the American University in Cairo, states in his book Islam Without Fear that Qaradawi
‘is frequently identified as perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Islamic
world today’.7
Dr al-Qaradawi’s influence, with regard to relations between Islam and the West, the
duties of Muslims living in Western societies, the coexistence of faith communities,
the treatment of non-Muslims in majority Islamic countries, the necessity of political
democracy and the place of women in society, is widely recognised as progressive.
This is not only attested to by Dr al-Qaradawi’s co-religionists (except for
fundamentalist and conservative minorities who are bitterly opposed to him) – it is
also the view of western scholars specialising in the study of Islam and of those US
and European politicians who have sought his assistance in combating the threat of
terrorism and building bridges between the Muslim world and the West.
Dr al-Qaradawi has fiercely condemned atrocities carried out by Al-Qaida and similar
groups. His response to 9/11 was: ‘Our hearts bleed for the attacks that have
targeted the World Trade Centre, as well as other institutions in the United States,
despite our strong opposition to the American biased policy towards Israel on the
military, political and economic fronts. Islam, the religion of tolerance, holds the
human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against innocent human beings
a grave sin.’8
Sheikh Qaradawi’s stand on 9/11 was, Professor Baker has pointed out, ‘the latest in
decades of often courageous positions against the extremists’.9 It was in line with the
Economist‘s comment at the time that Sheikh Qaradawi ‘epitomises the moderate
Arab view’.10
7 Raymond William Baker, Islam Without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists (2003), p.4
8 ‘Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi Condemns Attacks Against Civilians: Forbidden in Islam’, Islam
Online, 13 September 2001
9 Mark LeVine and Raymond Baker, ‘Where are the Islamic Moderates’, AlterNet, 28 January
2003. Mark LeVine is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and
author of Islam, Globalization and Popular Culture
10 Economist, 20 October 2001
7
The dossier suggests (on page 8) that Dr al-Qaradawi did not condemn attacks on
Jewish community targets. In fact Qaradawi also denounced Al-Qaida for their fuel
tanker suicide bombing of a Jewish synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba in
April 2002, accusing the terrorist group of ‘spreading corruption on earth’. He was
reported as stating that ‘in Islam it is not permissible to attack places of worship such
as churches and synagogues or attack men of religion, even in a state of war’, and
that ‘no one may be persecuted or tortured because of their religion’.11
Dr al-Qaradawi branded the Bali bombing later that year as a ‘heinous crime’, which
was ‘no more than a total barbarism that is void of morality and human feeling as
well’. He stated that: ‘All Muslims are … required to stand hand in hand to wage war
on oppression and transgression low and high, regardless of who happens to be the
target of such oppression; regardless of nationality of victims, be they innocent
Australian tourists or wronged Palestinian citizens or any other person in the world.’
The charge of anti-Semitism
The dossier repeatedly charges Dr al-Qaradawi with anti-Semitism. When asked
about this at City Hall in July, in front of TV cameras from all over the world,
Qaradawi reiterated his often stated view that ‘we do not hold any enmity towards the
Jews’ and that ‘Judaism is regarded as a message with a divine origin and a high
status’. 12 In contrast to claims in the dossier that he makes ‘no distinction between
Jews and Israelis’ (page 30) and ‘uses sermons to call for Jews – not Israelis but
specifically Jews – to be killed’ (page 8), Qaradawi has repeatedly emphasised that
‘we do not fight Israelis because they are Jews but because they took our land, killed
our children and profaned our holy places’. 13
In a speech at the 2002 Doha conference on US Relations with the Islamic World,
Qaradawi declared:
‘We have bitterly contested time and again that our war with Israel is not a war of
religion and doctrine. We are fighting them for one reason: because they usurped our
land and made our people homeless and spilled our blood. We do not fight them
because of their religion. There were Jews who lived amongst us for hundreds of
years when the Europeans chucked them out of their countries and when they did
not find a refuge anywhere except in the countries of Islam. We welcomed them and
they lived in a dignified manner and they were amongst the richest people. We do not
fight them because they are Jews.’14
In a sermon at the Central London Mosque during his visit to London in July,
Qaradawi stated: ‘in Islam, it is not permissible to despise any person because of his
colour, creed, his nation or his race…. We are told that the Prophet once saw a
funeral passing by; he stood up in respect but he was told by someone, O Prophet of
Allah, this is a funeral not of a Muslim, it is a funeral of a Jew. The Prophet said, is he
not a human being? So humanity is honoured irrespective of what religion he
followed.’15
11 ‘Qaradawi Rejects Al-Qaeda’s Killing of Innocents’, report of Al-Jazeera TV broadcast on
23 June 2002, on the Islam For Today website (IslamForToday.com)
12 ‘Rabbi Weiss Welcomes Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’, MAB Online, 8 July 2004
13 ‘Anti-Islam Campaign Continues in US as Scene is Set for Iraq Invasion’, Islam Online,
7 October 2002
14 Speech at 2002 Dohar conference on US Relations with the Islamic World, Federal News
Service transcript
15 Dr Mozammel Haque, ‘Friday Sermons by Sheikh al-Qaradawi at the Central London
Mosque’, on the Islamic Cultural Centre and Central London Mosque website
(http://www.iccuk.org)
8
Contrary to the dossier’s claim (page 6) that Islam accords Jews and Christians
protected status in majority Muslim societies ‘contingent upon Jews and Christians
sticking to their pre-ordained junior status in society’, Sheikh Qaradawi has been
actively involved in campaigning for equal rights for non-Muslims. Raymond William
Baker states that the ‘New Islamists’ (the name he gives to Qaradawi and his cothinkers):
‘state categorically that a strong national community requires complete equality
between Muslims and non-Muslims in their civil and political rights as citizens…. In a
series of important works published later in the 1980s, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s
Non-Muslims in Islamic Society … the new Islamists significantly advanced this
project’. 16
It is Dr al-Qaradawi’s attitude towards non-Muslims that has attracted some of the
fiercest attacks on him by fundamentalist extremists within Islam. In the Middle East,
as one western journalist has pointed out, ‘his critics chastise him not for his support
of Palestinian suicide attacks or his opposition to war in Iraq, but for his demand that
Christians and Jews be respected as ‘people of the book’ who share the God of
Abraham’.17 In Britain, the extremist group Al-Muhajiroun condemns Sheikh
Qaradawi as an apostate [that is a person who has abandoned their religion] for
‘making the Jews, Christians and Muslims an equal brotherhood’.18
Condemning the destruction of Buddhist statues by the Taliban
Qaradawi does not restrict his call for peaceful co-existence between religious
communities to adherents of the Abrahamic faiths. In 2001, when the Taliban
decreed that the Buddha statues of Bamiyan should be destroyed, Qaradawi headed
a delegation of Muslim scholars who travelled to Afghanistan in a vain attempt
persuade the government to rescind the decree. He stated that ‘the demolition of
these statues would harm the image of Islam and will provoke the anger of the
international community, especially Buddhists who number 300 million’, arguing that
the Afghan government ‘should focus on fighting poverty, diseases, unemployment
and bloodshed on its soil and not on destroying relics, which are a living lesson of
history’. His fatwa declaring that ‘Afghanistan’s statues are not idols, do not threaten
Muslim beliefs, and do not contradict Islamic doctrine’ provoked accusations from
Islamic fundamentalists that he was defending ‘idol worship’.19
Sharing a platform with former President Bill Clinton
In the aftermath of 9/11 Dr al-Qaradawi has been active in building bridges between
the Muslim world and the West. In January 2004 he was one of the main speakers at
the US-Islamic World Forum in Qatar, along with Bill Clinton and Richard Holbrooke,
the former US ambassador to the United Nations. While criticising Washington's bias
in favour of Israel, Qaradawi insisted that Muslims wanted good relations with the
US. Qaradawi told the conference: ‘We should be coming closer, and coexist. We
should respect each other's freedoms.... We need to put our hands in each other's
hands and drive away evil.’20
16 Islam Without Fear, p.108
17 Anthony Shadid, ‘Maverick Cleric is a Hit on Arab TV’, Washington Post, 14 February 2003
18 Al-Muhajiroun press release, 7 July 2004
19 ‘Qaradawi to Lead Delegation to Afghanistan to Save Statues’, Islam Online, 9 March 2001;
Emad Mekay, ‘Muslim Scholars Denounce Taliban Statue Destruction’, Islam Online, 2 March
2002; Shadid, ‘Maverick Cleric is a Hit on Arab TV’
20 ‘Qatar to Permanently Host US-Islamic Forum’, Jordan Times, 11 January 2004
9
In October this year, Dr al-Qaradawi was a featured speaker at a major conference in
Cordoba aimed at exploring the common identity between Islam and the West.
According to the Islam Online report, the forum
‘brought together eminent Muslim scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Spanish Princess
Dona Elena [second in line to the Spanish throne] and her husband Jaime de
Marichalar, along with a host of other dignitaries…. The conference has drawn official
and media attention, as it was well attended by high-profile personalities, and
enjoyed extensive media coverage. Princess Dona opened the event along with her
husband … and the Mayor of Cordoba Rosa Aguilar as well as a number of cabinet
ministers. They highlighted common ties between the Islamic and western cultures,
stressing the need to close ranks and overcome differences between both cultures.’21
Repeatedly condemning hostage taking in Iraq
Over the past year Qaradawi has also been prominent in opposing terrorist groups
who have seized hostages in Iraq. He has declared that ‘Muslims are forbidden from
kidnapping innocent people who have nothing to do with wars’, and has demanded
that the hostage-takers ‘stop such practices which unfairly brand Islam with terrorism
and do disservice to its adherents’. 22 In August, Qaradawi blasted the terrorists who
had executed twelve Nepalese building workers in Iraq, saying that the killers were
‘people without religion and without brains’.23
After the journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were kidnapped by a
group demanding an end to the ban on the hijab in French schools, France’s foreign
minister Michel Barnier arranged a meeting with Dr al-Qaradawi in Cairo to ask for
his support in securing the release of the two men. Qaradawi broadcast an appeal on
Al-Jazeera television condemning the kidnapping as ‘incompatible with Islam’ and
calling for the journalists to be freed immediately.24
Michel Barnier sent a letter to al-Qaradawi thanking him for his ‘vehement
condemnation’ of the abduction of the French journalists and other civilians in Iraq.
‘With such a clear condemnation of the abduction of the French hostages’, Barnier
wrote, ‘you have sent a clear-cut message demonstrating respect for the tenets of
Islam’. 25
The dossier suggests that Qaradawi only condemns the abduction of civilians from
countries which opposed the invasion of Iraq. This is untrue. Italy, for example, has
military forces in Iraq. When the Italian aid workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta
were abducted in Iraq early in September, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini
visited Qaradawi’s home in Qatar to ask for his help. Frattini declared his ‘respect’ for
Qaradawi, whom he described as ‘a moderate Muslim leader’, and paid tribute to his
role in promoting dialogue with the West.26 Qaradawi for his part immediately
condemned the kidnapping of the Italians and called for their release.
He was also reported as having ‘begged the hostage-takers to release [Kenneth]
Bigley, “whose only fault is having come to Iraq to help rebuild”’.27
21 ‘Cordoba Forum Highlights Interfaith Dialogue’, Islam Online, 8 October 2004
22 ‘Islam Forbids Kidnapping, Killing Civilians: Qaradawi’, Islam Online, 10 September 2004
23 Agence France Presse report, 10 September 2004
24 Khalid Amayreh, ‘Muslim Leaders Blast French Kidnap’, Al-Jazeera, 1 September 2004
25 ‘France Thanks Qaradawi for Stance on Hostages’, Islam Online, 23 September 2004
26 ‘Qatar Joins Italy in Call to Free Hostages’, The Peninsula, 15 September 2004
27 Ayman Gomaa, ‘Why This is a Crime Against Islam’, Sunday Herald, 26 September 2004
10
Sheikh Qaradawi’s interventions over the hostage-taking issue have come under
attack from the terrorists themselves. In November the leader of Al-Qaida’s operation
in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has been held responsible for the murder of
numerous foreign hostages, released a statement over the internet attacking ‘the
ulema of the air and the sultans of the televisions’, whom he accused of having
‘abandoned the mujahidin’ and ‘surrendered them to their enemies’. The Palestinian
writer Munir Shafiq pointed out that Qaradawi was Zarqawi's main target. As one
commentator noted:
‘Qaradawi's condemnations of the beheadings and hostage taking, broadcast
regularly on al Jazeera and widely disseminated in the Islamic world, evidently had
had some impact on Zarqawi's standing and strategy, prompting this unusual and
bitter open attack. It's rather ironic that even as Qaradawi faces an escalating
campaign for his alleged aid and abetting of terrorism, the real terrorists themselves
are furiously attacking him for the opposite reason. For Zarqawi, Qaradawi and other
moderate ulema “weaken the forces of extremism in Islam” (Shafiq's words) by
rejecting their right to carry out atrocities.’28
Advocating democracy and pluralism
Through his popular programme on Al-Jazeera television, which has an estimated
audience of 45 million, Dr al-Qaradawi influences public opinion across the Middle
East and throughout the Muslim world. Writing in the New Statesman, Ziauddin
Sardar, author of the international bestseller Introducing Islam, described the effect of
Dr al-Qaradawi’s broadcasts:
‘Each week, al-Qaradawi surprises his audience with the humanity and pragmatism
of his fatwas. It is all right for women not to wear hijab, he declared recently, in
certain circumstances, particularly if they live in a secular country. It is essential for
Muslims in the west, however, to participate fully in the political processes of the
country where they live. Join political parties of all shades, he urged, because you
are simply “not permitted to refrain from it”. How refreshingly different this is from the
extremist pollution disseminated by the mullahs who grace television screens in
Egypt and Saudi Arabia.’29
Not only does Dr al-Qaradawi advocate Muslim engagement with mainstream politics
in the West, but he is also a leading proponent of democracy in Muslim countries. He
has stated:
‘It is the duty of the Islamic Movement in the coming phase to stand firm against
totalitarian and dictatorial rule, political despotism and usurpation of people's right.
The Islamic Movement should always stand by political freedom.’30
28 ‘Qaradawi’s Dangerous Ideas’, 9 December 2004, on the Abu Aardvark website
(http://abuaardvark.typepad.com). ‘Abu Aardvark’ is political scientist specialising in Middle
East studies whose weblog is a highly regarded and influential source of information and
analysis
29 Ziauddin Sardar, ‘A Voice of Reason – Al-Jazeera’, New Statesman, 9 September 2002
30 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ‘Islam’s Approach Towards Democracy’, Message Online, April/May
2002
11
In contrast to the dossier’s assertion (page 20) that ‘Qaradawi and his colleagues
have a very limited perspective on democracy’, John Esposito – co-author of Islam
and Democracy and one of the leading western specialists in Islamic studies – writes
that Dr al-Qaradawi is among those Muslim intellectuals who recognise ‘the need to
open up the one party and authoritarian political systems that prevail’ and have
‘reinterpreted Islamic principles to reconcile Islam with democratization and multiparty
political systems’. 31
Advocating equality of women
Far from being the misogynist depicted in the Mayor Livingstone and Sheikh
Qaradawi dossier, Qaradawi has condemned the fact that ‘entire societies have
mistreated their female members despite the fact that Islam has honoured and
empowered the woman in all spheres of life. The woman in Islamic law is equal to
her male counterpart. She is as liable for her actions as a male is liable. Her
testimony is demanded and valid in court. Her opinions are sought and acted upon’.32
When the International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS) was launched in July
with Dr al-Qaradawi as president, Soad Saleh, head of the Islamic jurisprudence
section in Al-Azhar University, said the IAMS attached great importance to the pivotal
role played by women in the Muslim world, pointing out that women have in recent
times assumed prestigious religious posts across the Muslim world. ‘In inviting
women to leave their hallmarks’, she said, ‘IAMS revives the key role played by
Muslim women all over the centuries.’33
Raymond William Baker has noted that Sheikh Qaradawi has:
‘vigorously condemned prevailing extremist thought that seeks to deny education to
women, citing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as only the most horrific example of
what the extremists aim for. The treatment of women in Afghanistan, he said, reflects
a false understanding of Islam “that must be rejected”. The Taliban, Qaradawy
continued, “prevented women from working and locked them their homes, including
thousands of widows who had lost their husbands in the war and who needed their
work to support their children. Some of these women are intellectuals and others are
university graduates”. He then took considerable pride in noting that “I have four
daughters, of which the first has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and is now studying on a
one-year scholarship in the United States, the second has her Ph.D. in chemistry, the
third is doing a Ph.D. in engineering, and the fourth in genetics”.’34
US academic Barbara Stowasser, author of Women in the Qur'an, has applauded ‘Al-
Qaradawi’s vision of a new, more gender-equal Islamic society’. She has
demonstrated how his Al-Jazeera broadcasts, with their emphasis on the right of
women to participate actively in politics, have been a significant factor in reversing
the conservative Muslim view that women should be restricted to domestic duties and
excluded from public life. In that respect, Dr Stowasser writes, he has played a
decisive role ‘as both exponent and catalyst of a new groundswell of Muslim public
opinion in favour of women’s Islamic political rights’. Because of this, she reports,
Qaradawi is a hero and inspiration to a new generation of socially engaged Islamic
feminists.35
31 John L. Esposito, ‘Islam and Civil Society’, in John L. Esposito and François Burgat, eds,
Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in Europe and the Middle East, 2003, p.95
32 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ‘The Voice of a Woman in Islam’, on Islamic World website
(http://islamic-world.net)
33 ‘Scholars Launch Pan-Muslim Body in London’, Islam Online, 12 July 2004. The IAMS is
referred to as the World Union of Muslim scholars in the dossier
34 Raymond William Baker, Islam Without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists, 2003, p.95
35 Barbara Stowasser, ‘Old Shaykhs, Young Women, and the Internet: The Rewriting of
Women’s Political Rights in Islam’, The Muslim World, Vol.91, Nos.1/2, Spring 2001
12
More generally academic experts have noted the progressive role Dr al-Qaradawi
within Islam. Noah Feldman, author of After Jihad: America and the Struggle for
Islamic Democracy, who was appointed by the US government to advise the Iraqi
governing council in framing the country’s new constitution, includes Dr al-Qaradawi
among those Muslim religious leaders who have promoted ‘a view of Islam that
emphasizes justice, human dignity and equality, the rule of law, the role of the people
in selecting leaders, the obligation of consultative government, and the value of
pluralism’.36
Similarly John Esposito expresses admiration for Qaradawi as a prominent member
of that tendency among Muslim scholars and activists who have emphasised ‘the
extent to which much of Islamic law – from forms of government, notions of
governance, to individual and collective rights, and gender relations – may be seen
as reflecting time-bound, human interpretations that are open to adaptation and
change. A cross section of Muslim thinkers, religious leaders and mainstream Islamic
movements from Egypt to Indonesia, Europe to America, engage in this kind of
reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism and
human rights. They include such religious scholars (‘ulama) as Sheikh Yusuf
Qaradawi …’.37
It is untenable to criticise the Mayor of London for associating with an influential
Muslim scholar of whom leading academic specialists hold in such high regard and
with whom European foreign ministers, a former US ambassador to the UN and a
former US president have been more than happy to meet, discuss and share a
platform.
3. A ‘case’ built on inaccurate ‘evidence’
The signatories to the 9 November letter to London Assembly members state that
their dossier contains ‘very specific, hard evidence’ against Dr al-Qaradawi. In fact,
the dossier does not accurately represent Dr al-Qaradawi’s positions. The mass of
material demonstrating his actual role, which is available to any competent
researcher, is not reflected in the dossier. It presents a caricature of Qaradawi.
The Middle East Media Research Institute
The authors place particular reliance on material produced by the Middle East Media
Research Institute (MEMRI), which was set up by a Ygal Carmon, former colonel in
Israeli intelligence.
The authors place particular reliance on material produced by the Middle East Media
Research Institute (MEMRI), which was set up by a Ygal Carmon, former colonel in
Israeli intelligence. Arab Media Watch has argued:
‘By passing itself off as an independent organisation with a quasi-academic name,
MEMRI has deceived a number of journalists into thinking it is a reliable source of
information. The fact that it has used duplicity to procure this impression, and that
almost all its staff members have been strongly partisan in their political and military
work, should cast immediate doubt upon its credibility as an organisation and the
accuracy of its work.’38
36 Noah Feldman, ‘The Best Hope’, Boston Review, April/May 2003
37 John L. Esposito, ‘Practice and Theory’, Boston Review, April/May 2003
38 ‘Media Myths: ‘The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is Objective and
Independent’’, Arab Media Watch, 24 May 2004
13
The Guardian’s Middle East editor Brian Whitaker has written the following:
‘My problem with MEMRI is that it poses as a research institute when it's basically a
propaganda operation. As with all propaganda, that involves a certain amount of
dishonesty and deception. The items you translate are chosen largely to suit your
political agenda. They are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the Arab
media as a whole.
‘This might not be so bad if you told us what your agenda is. But MEMRI's website
does not mention you or your work for Israeli intelligence. Nor does it mention
MEMRI's co-founder, Meyrav Wurmser, and her extreme brand of Zionism which
maintains that Israeli leftists are a 'threat' to their own country. Also, you're not averse
to a bit of cheating to make Arabs look more anti-Semitic than they are.
‘In your Special Dispatch 151, for instance, you translated an interview given by the
mufti of Jerusalem to al-Ahram al-Arabi, shortly after the start of the Palestinian
uprising. One question the interviewer asked was: 'How do you deal with the Jews
who are besieging al-Aqsa and are scattered around it?' MEMRI translated this as:
'How do you feel about the Jews?' – which is a different question. That left you with a
reply in Arabic which didn't fit your newly-concocted question. So you cut out the first
part of the mufti's reply and combined what was left with part of his answer to another
question.’39
During the US presidential election, MEMRI was responsible for translating a
statement by Osama bin Laden which was used as the basis for a report that Al-
Qaida was threatening terrorist attacks against US states who voted for Bush while
offering peace to those who voted Democrat. This was used by pro-Republican
media as a means of discrediting Kerry.40 The translation was quickly exposed as
inaccurate and the report as baseless.41
Yet MEMRI is used by the authors throughout the dossier as though it were a neutral
source providing reliable and unbiased information.
Kidnappings and murders of civilians in Iraq
Another example of the dossier’s inaccuracies concerns Dr al-Qaradawi’s attitude
towards kidnappings and killings of civilians in Iraq. As we have seen, Qaradawi has
tried to help western governments secure the release of hostages in Iraq. The
authors try to get round this by quoting Qaradawi’s comments on the French
hostages, where he argues that the French government played a positive part in
opposing the invasion of Iraq. They claim that this implies support for attacks on
civilians from countries that supported the invasion. However, as we know, Qaradawi
has specifically condemned the kidnapping of British and Italian citizens, despite the
fact that their governments participated in the war.
The dossier also gives credence to an entirely false report that Qaradawi had issued
a fatwa urging the killing of US civilians in Iraq at a meeting of the Egyptian
Journalists Union in Cairo on 31 August 2004. The authors note at one point (page
34) that Qaradawi himself immediately denied the report – indeed, he stated firmly ‘I
did not issue such a fatwa’,42 and if he had done so it would have been contrary to all
his other public declarations and actions – but they completely ignore his denial.
39 'Email Debate: Ygal Carmon and Brian Whitaker', Guardian website, 28 January 2003
40 Niles Lathem, ‘Monster’s Deadly Warning to ‘Red’ States’, New York Post, 1 November
2004
41 Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, ‘Bin Laden’s Audio: Threat to
States?’, on Informed Comment, 2 November 2004 (http://www.juancole.com)
42 ‘Islam Forbids Kidnapping, Killing Civilians: Qaradawi’, Islam Online, 10 September 2004
14
They also appear ignorant of the fact that leading Arab journalist Fahmi Huwaydi
obtained a recording of the 31 August meeting and was able to confirm that Sheikh
Qaradawi’s remarks had been completely misrepresented. Huwaydi further noted
that ‘his corrections have been completely ignored, and everyone continues to deal
with the first position attributed to him rather than the truth’. 43
Thus we are given a quote from a widely reprinted article by political commentator
Abdel Rahman al-Rashed attacking Qaradawi, which is based on the (non-existent)
‘“fatwa” about the religious permissibility of killing civilians in Iraq’.44 Then, on pages
15-16, much is made of a petition by Muslim intellectuals who accuse Dr al-Qaradawi
of ‘providing a religious cover for terrorism’. But the accusation is again based on the
false report that ‘Qaradawi in a fatwa in response to a question from the Egyptian
Union of Journalists said killing ‘all Americans, civilian or military’ in Iraq was
allowed’. 45 The dossier returns to this issue again on pages 34-5, where the
condemnation of ‘Qaradawi’s fatwa’ as ‘incorrect and terrorist in nature’ by a leading
Shi’ite scholar (pp.34-5) is similarly based on the false report of Dr al-Qaradawi’s 31
August statement.46
Indeed, the attachments to the dossier include the following quote from Qaradawi on
Al-Jazeera TV on 9 September which directly contradicts their own earlier assertions:
‘The principle which I endorse and insist on is that killing a civilian who has nothing to
do with military affairs is not sanctioned under any circumstances, nor is it sanctioned
to abduct or hold him hostage.’
As proof of Qaradawi’s supposed role in ‘terrorist fundraising’, the dossier (page 22)
refers to his position on the board of the al-Taqwa bank. However, in addition to Dr
al-Qaradawi, the bank’s shareholders include ‘prominent Arab figures from numerous
countries in the Middle East’, among them ‘the grand mufti of the United Arab
Emirates, and five members of his family; Mariam Al-Sheikh A. Bin Aziz Al-Mubarak
of a branch of the Kuwaiti royal family; and members of the prominent Khalifeh family
of the United Arab Emirates.’47 The dossier refers to the al-Taqwa bank’s ‘alleged
involvement in al-Qaida fundraising’, but provides no evidence to back up this
allegation.
The dossier finds it significant that Qaradawi has been banned from the United
States because of his support for organisations raising funds for humanitarian relief
to the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. They do not mention that Yusuf Islam
(the former pop singer Cat Stevens) was excluded from the US on precisely the
same basis.
43 The quotation is from an article by Fahmi Huwaydi in the Qatari newspaper al-Sharq. The
translation is taken from the Abu Aardvark website
44 Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, ‘Innocent Religion is Now a Message of Hate’, Daily Telegraph,
5 September 2004
45 ‘Stop Terror Sheikhs, Muslim Academics Demand’, Arab News, 30 October 2004
46 ‘Iraq’s Al-Sistani aide in Kuwait condemns Sunni Cleric Al-Qaradawi’s Fatwa’, BBC
Monitoring, 13 October 2004
47 Lucy Komisar, ‘Shareholders in the Bank of Terror?’, 15 March 2002, on the salon.com
website (http://www.salon.com)
15
The Muslim Brotherhood
Other sections of the dossier are equally inaccurate. For example, in the closing
section on ‘Sheikh Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood’, we are told:
‘Qaradawi promotes the Brotherhood’s absolutist Islamist message. This is closely
aligned with the Saudi backed Wahhabi stream of Islam, and the Pakistani-based
Islamist group, Jama’at-e-Islami. These Islamist movements are virulently anti-
Western, and are the ideological font [sic] for most modern day Sunni Islamist terror
groups, including Al Qaeda.’
In reality, as we have seen, Qaradawi bitterly opposes Islamist terror groups such as
Al-Qaida. His teachings are specifically condemned by the Wahhabist stream of
Islam. He promotes dialogue between Islam and the West in co-operation with the
likes of Prince Charles, Bill Clinton and the Spanish royal family, and rejects the
promotion of any kind of ‘absolutist Islamist message’, heading a tendency within
Islam that promotes an agenda of flexibility and reform. In a recent interview, he
reiterated his commitment to
‘… what we call moderate Islamism, which is able to harmonize the principles of
Islamic law with the advances of the modern age. It welcomes the useful from the old
and avails itself of the correct from the new. It respects the past, draws inspiration
from it, accommodates the present, and looks to the future. This is moderate Islam,
which respects tradition but does not neglect the intellect.’48
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, while he was once a member of that organisation, he
has turned down requests to assume leadership of the Brotherhood. Despite the
dossier’s repeated insistence that Qaradawi remains a member of the Brotherhood,
there is no evidence for this. For example, the French journalist and Middle East
specialist Gilles Kepel refers to him as ‘this former Muslim Brother’. 49
When the Christian Science Monitor interviewed him in 2000, Qaradawi clarified in
some detail what were termed ‘his own dormant links to the Muslim Brothers in Egypt
more than 40 years ago’. He stated that he was drawn to the Muslim Brotherhood
because they held a broad view of Islam and ‘never stood with traditional Muslims
against the modern ones’. Furthermore, he rejected any association between the
methods of the Muslim Brotherhood and present day Islamist terrorist groups:
‘“We never called for violence in our era like Al Jihad in Egypt or the Algerian groups
today”, says Dr Qaradawi in a voice full of ire, talking about the relation between the
Muslim Brothers, who suffered imprisonment trying to spearhead Islam in Egypt
under King Farouq and Gamal Abdel Nasser, and today's more militant Islamic
movements. “Such incidents that happened were due to the circumstances and
atmosphere of our time.” …
‘The prison years turned the Muslim Brothers away from a belief in armed struggle,
he says. “After people had been released from Nasser's prison, they forsook
violence. Their method became to introduce Islam peacefully in a civilized way – that
is why the Muslim Brothers joined the trade unions, doctors' associations,
engineering unions, lawyers' associations, and teaching staff at universities”, he
says. “They have never sought revenge.”’50
48 S. Abdallah Schleifer, ‘Interview with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’, Transnational
Broadcasting Studies, No.13, Fall 2004
49 Gilles Kepel, Bad Moon Rising: A Chronicle of the Middle East Today, 2003, p.60
50 Nathaniel Parker, ‘Urging Islam Toward Flexibility and Reform: Muslim Imam takes to TV
and Web to Spread his Message’, Christian Science Monitor, 16 March 2000
16
Although he expresses an historical debt to the Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi is by
no means an uncritical admirer of that tradition or of its existing leadership and
overtly opposes a number of its policies. Raymond William Baker has noted that
when Qaradawi ‘unambiguously embraced political pluralism, including the
competition of political parties’, he ‘explicitly rejected the contrary views of Hasan al
Banna, founder of the Muslim Brothers’. 51 In 1996, when the Wassat Party was
formed in Egypt as an alliance of Muslims and Coptic Christians committed to
democratic reform, the initiative was officially opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Professor Baker recounts that ‘Yusuf al Qaradawy lent the full weight of his prestige
to support of the Wassat Party, sharply criticizing the Brotherhood leadership for its
disavowal’. 52
Women’s rights
Regarding women’s rights, the dossier alleges that Qaradawi’s rulings ‘are rooted in
a strict religious interpretation that enforces gender stereotyping and separation’. But
many Muslim feminists and western academics, as quoted above, have placed an
entirely different interpretation on Dr al-Qaradawi’s position on gender relations. Nor
do Qaradawi’s efforts to place the mildest possible interpretation on the notorious
verse 4:34 of the Koran (see pages 24-5 of the dossier) provide any justification for
the claim that he promotes domestic violence. As Qaradawi stated in an interview
broadcast on Channel 4 News during his visit in July 2004: ‘The ideal was for Muslim
men never to beat their wives, and if husbands wrongly beat their wives, they have
the right to fight back.’ 53
The authors impute views to Dr al-Qaradawi that he has not expressed. His position
on the victims of rape is clear: ‘In the first place, any woman who is raped is not guilty
of any sin, for the situation is beyond her control.’ In their 9 September letter to the
Mayor the authors of the dossier claimed that Qaradawi has justified ‘placing the
blame on rape victims who do not dress sufficiently modestly’.54 The Mayor’s reply
pointed out that this was untrue. The dossier now admits that the offending opinion
was not that of Qaradawi but claims: ‘It is unlikely, however, that Qaradawi would
substantively disagree with Badr’s opinion’ – a view put forward without providing any
evidence to justify it.
The issue of female circumcision is given prominence in the dossier in order to
demonstrate the supposedly barbaric views of Dr al-Qaradawi on this question.
However, against who claim that Islam requires it, Qaradawi stresses that female
circumcision is not required by Islam.55
The Mayor’s record on this is completely clear. When he was leader of the Greater
London Council it successfully led the campaign for the practice to be made illegal in
Britain.
51 Raymond William Baker, Islam Without Fear, p.173
52 Ibid., p.199
53 Andrew Woodcock, ‘Controversial Muslim Cleric Preaches Love, But Defends Suicide
Bombings’, Press Association report, 13 July 2004
54 Letter to the Mayor re Dr Qaradawi, 9 September 2004
55 ‘Female Circumcision Not Obligatory: Qaradawi’, Islam Online, 7 February 2004
17
Lesbian and gay rights
The dossier also fails to substantiate the accusation in the 9 September letter to the
Mayor that Dr al-Qaradawi defends ‘the execution of homosexuals under Islamic
rule’.56 The authors refer to the Egyptian government’s repression of gay men
(page 9), but offer no evidence at all that Sheikh Qaradawi supported this. He has in
fact explicitly opposed repression of homosexuals. In the Channel 4 News interview
in July, when he was asked about his own view of Islam’s attitude towards
homosexuality, he replied: ‘It is sufficient for a Muslim to object to it verbally or at
least within his conscience. We are not required by our faith to declare a war against
homosexuality and homosexuals.’57
While it is true that Dr al-Qaradawi says that homosexuality should be discouraged,
this view is shared by many, probably most, representatives of the world’s major
religions. The Jewish Torah and the Old Testament specify that the penalty for
homosexual acts should be death: ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of
them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is
upon them.’ (Leviticus, 20:13) This does not mean that every Jewish or Christian
leader shares this view.
The abolition of Section 28 was opposed by leading Christians, Hindus, Jews,
Muslims and Sikhs. For example the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, was quoted as
saying that ‘in Judaism homosexuality is forbidden’, adding that abolition of Section
28 would ‘lead to the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to
marriage’ and ‘frustrate any attempt to educate children in the importance of
marriage as the basis of a stable and caring society’.58 Perhaps the authors of the
dossier believe that Dr Sacks should be excluded from City Hall along with Dr al-
Qaradawi?
Targeted proselytism?
Nor does the dossier provide any evidence that Sheikh Qaradawi is responsible for
‘the intimidation of the Hindu and Sikh communities through means such as targeted
proselytism’59 – the accusation in the 9 September letter to the Mayor that evidently
persuaded a number of representatives of Hindu and Sikh organisations to sign the
9 November appeal to Assembly members. In the absence of supporting evidence
for the charge, four of the Sikh signatories to the 9 November letter have since
written to the Mayor stating that they are ‘distancing themselves from this particular
campaign’. 60
Anti-Semitism
Accusations of anti-Semitism in the dossier also rely on second-hand summaries of
Sheikh Qaradawi’s sermons, without questioning their reliability. When one of these
reports was raised with Dr al-Qaradawi at his press conference at City Hall in July, he
challenged its accuracy and reiterated his often-stated argument that the
Palestinians’ struggle against Israel was not against Jews as such. A journalist asked
him: ‘In one of the newspapers you were quoted as saying, ‘Oh God destroy the
usurper Jews, the vile crusaders and infidels.’ Did you say that, are those your words
and is that what you believe?’ Qaradawi replied:
56 Letter to the Mayor re Dr Qaradawi, 9 September 2004
57 Andrew Woodcock, ‘Controversial Muslim Cleric Preaches Love, But Defends Suicide
Bombings’, Press Association report, 13 July 2004
58 Oliver Poole, ‘Faiths Unite in Opposition’, Daily Telegraph, 27 January 2000
59 Letter to the Mayor re Dr Qaradawi, 9 September 2004
60 Letter from Amrik Singh, Daljit Singh Shergill, Gurjeet Singh and Dabinderjit Singh to Ken
Livingstone, 16 November 2004
18
‘I published a book more than a year ago called Islamic Discourse in the Age of
Globalisation and I said in that book that I condemn many of the sermon givers within
Muslim societies who curse the Jews and the Christians or the infidel and this is
illegitimate and shouldn’t be done but we should condemn those who oppress us
only.
‘Now would you want me to condone or praise those who are destroying Rafa and
turning hundreds of Palestinian families into homeless, who have been persecuting
the Palestinian people? That is impossible, I can only condemn such people and I
can only pray to God that he will punish them for persecuting the oppressed.
‘We Muslims are taught that we have a problem only with the oppressors, those who
oppress us. We have to have a strong position towards them, this is what the
prophets of Islam have taught and I will continue to say what I said. If you want to
know what I said, this is exactly what I said; I condemned those who commit crimes
against humanity in Palestine and the oppressed Palestinians. We don’t have
hostility with Israelis because they are Jews.’61
Suicide bombings
It is true that Qaradawi justifies suicide bombings of Palestinian forces fighting
against the Israeli state. As he explained at the press conference on 7 July, he views
such methods as a
‘weapon to which the weak resort in order to upset the balance because the powerful
have all the weapons that the weak are denied. If the Palestinians had weapons
similar to those of the Israelis – tanks, F16 helicopters, they would not have resorted
to turning themselves into human bombs. This has been turned into a no-option
situation – they had to do this because they have no other means of resisting their
enemy and liberating their land…. When I gave my opinion that it was permissible for
Palestinians to resort to that situation, [I] was careful to say only in that circumstance
inside Palestine is such a method permitted because the Palestinians have been left
with no options. I don’t condone it anywhere else and I was the first to condemn the
attacks of 9/11.’62
The dossier points out (pages 7-8) that both Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch have condemned suicide bombings by Palestinian groups as a ‘crime
against humanity’. But the authors do not point out that Human Rights Watch has
also called for an inquiry into Ariel Sharon’s responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and
Shatila massacres, stating that there is ‘abundant evidence that war crimes and
crimes against humanity were committed on a wide scale’. 63 When the Court of
Appeal in Brussels refused to back an investigation into Sharon, on the grounds that
he was not resident in Belgium, this was condemned by Amnesty International who
stated that: ‘The massacres of Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were war crimes
and need to be fully and impartially investigated.’64
In all consistency, therefore, members of the ‘community coalition’ that produced the
dossier should also be calling for supporters of the Sharon government to be
excluded from City Hall.
61 Transcript of press conference at City Hall, 7 July 2004, on MAB Online
62 Transcript of press conference at City Hall, 7 July 2004, from MAB Online
63 ‘Israel: Sharon Investigation Urged’, Human Rights News, 23 June 2001
64 ‘Israel/Belgium: Dismay at Sharon Case Decision’, Amnesty International press release,
26 June 2002
19
4. The views of some of the dossier’s signatories
The outpouring of vitriol in the media against Dr al-Qaradawi came as a shock to
British Muslims, who were well aware of his role as a leading scholar and political
moderate. The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release decrying the
‘character assassination’ of Qaradawi and condemning ‘the very inflammatory reports
in today's newspapers about the current visit to the UK by the distinguished Muslim
scholar Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, President of the European Council for Fatwa and
Research, who is a voice of reason and understanding’.65
It should be borne in mind that the campaign against Qaradawi was launched against
the background of a rising tide of Islamophobia and incitement against Muslims in
Britain. The British National Party (BNP) had made an attack on Muslims the
centrepiece of its television broadcast for June’s European parliamentary elections.66
In July the Sunday Telegraph published a series of articles under the pseudonym Will
Cummins proposing that ‘an anti-Islam Conservative Party’ should try to outbid the
fascists in anti-Muslim rhetoric in order to take electoral advantage of ‘the enormous
popular groundswell against Islam’. 67 Denying that extremists and terrorists were
untypical of Islam, Cummins asserted that ‘all Muslims, like all dogs, share certain
characteristics’. 68
In an article in the Spectator, advertised on the front cover under the title ‘The
Muslims are Coming’, Anthony Browne used the example of Dr al-Qaradawi to assert
that ‘Islam really does want to conquer the world.’69
Four signatories to the anti-Qaradawi letter – Maryam Namazie, Fariborz Pooya,
Bahram Soroush and Nadia Mahmood take the extreme view that virtually every
strand of Islam is reactionary. For example, in a television broadcast in July, Bahram
Soroush observed:
‘There are distinctions. As in every phenomenon – and Islam is not excluded from
that – you have extreme, moderate, centre, etc. But that is not the issue. This is a
question of degrees; a relative thing. In any repugnant thing you can find things
which are less repugnant than the others. Our problem is with the whole of Islam…’
Bahram Soroush poured scorn on the idea that ‘a reformist – if such a thing was
possible – liberal or a softer version of Islam … is tolerable. That is an insult to
humanity. Our criticism, our attack, our problem with this Islamic movement is not just
with its extremist faction; it's with the whole of it. So I think to anyone like that I would
say … why not get rid of the whole thing?’70
65 Muslim Council of Britain press release, 7 July 2004
66 Transcript of BNP election broadcast, 28 May 2004, on the Salaam website
(http://www.salaam.co.uk)
67 Sunday Telegraph, 18 July 2004
68 Ibid., 25 July 2004
69 Spectator, 24 July 2004
70 Maryam Namazie, Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush, ‘Moderate Islam? On Qaradawi’s
Visit to London’, Worker Communist Party of Iran Briefing No.145, 12 July 2004. Maryam
Namazie, Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush are all members of the Central Committee of
the Worker Communist Party of Iran.
20
Not surprisingly, these signatories strongly support the French ban on the Muslim
headscarf in schools. Another signatory, Fariborz Pooya, insists that: ‘Banning
religious symbols from public institutions does not infringe on human rights.’ Those
who support the right to wear the hijab, he claims, ‘are really defending the right of a
savage political movement to impose its will on children, women and Islam-ridden
communities at large’.71
Maryam Namazie says:
‘I suppose if it [the hijab] were to be compared with anyone's clothing it would be
comparable to the Star of David pinned on Jews by the Nazis to segregate, control,
repress and to commit genocide.’72
Another of the signatories to the appeal to Assembly members, Nadia Mahmood,
says:
‘The movement defending the Islamic Hijab is not a movement to defend women's
rights. It is the movement of political Islam struggling for power internationally and to
gain a footing in controlling the lives of people in our planet. This movement
manifested itself in terrorizing people in Iran and Afghanistan, attacking twin towers in
New York, and nowadays in beheading innocent foreigners in Baghdad and in a
movement to defend women's right to wear Hijab in Britain.’73
The attempt to ban Professor Tariq Ramadan
Another signatory to the dossier, Alan Clarke moved a resolution to the national
executive of the National Union of Students in October this year calling for Professor
Tariq Ramadan to be banned from speaking at the European Social Forum in
London. The motion was supported by another dossier signatory, Luciana Berger.
The approach was similar to that taken to Qaradawi, with suggestions of anti-
Semitism, association with the Muslim Brotherhood, defence of domestic violence
and so on – without any substantiation.
Tariq Ramadan is a respected figure in both the Muslim and academic worlds. A
lecturer at the University of Fribourg and the Collège de Genève, he is the author of
numerous articles and books, most recently Western Muslims and the Future of
Islam, published by Oxford University Press, He also serves as expert on various
committees connected with the European Parliament. Last year Time magazine
numbered Professor Ramadan among the hundred leading scientists and
intellectuals in the world today.
In November 2003, Ramadan spoke in a television debate with French Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy and said: ‘My position is extremely clear, conjugal violence towards
a woman is unacceptable under Islam, that is what I say and I say it forcefully.’74
71 Fariborz Pooya, ‘Islamic Veil and Political Islam – an Attack on Civil Society’, Worker
Communist Party of Iran Briefing No.129, 26 January 2004
72 Maryam Namazie, ‘Unveiling the Debate on Secularism and Rights’, Worker Communist
Party of Iran Briefing No.129, 26 January 2004
73 Nadia Mahmood, ‘Is the Islamic Hijab a Women's Right?’, 26 June 2004, on the
Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq website (http://www.equalityiniraq.com). Nadia
Mahmood is a member of the Central Committee of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq.
74 A transcript of the debate can be found online at
http://perso.wanadoo.fr/mivy/linfo/sarkoshow/integral_s_ r.htm
21
In an article entitled ‘My fellow Muslims, we must fight anti-Semitism’ Ramadan said:
‘Anti-Semitism has no justification in Islam, the message of which demands respect
for the Jewish religion and spirit.’75
Ramadan has also called for ‘an absolute moratorium on all corporal and capital
punishments because their application is absolutely iniquitous and today falls
exclusively on the poor and on women.’76
At the July conference in London, Ramadan, made clear that it must be the choice of
the woman whether or not to wear the Muslim headscarf:
‘As Muslims we are against any kind of compulsion… We are against anyone who is
trying to force a woman to wear the Hijab against her conscience or her free will…
(applause) At the same time we are saying it is against human rights to force a
woman to take it off. Freedom of worship means if you want to wear it, wear it; if you
don't want, don't wear it.’
When these facts were pointed out to the National Union of Students they voted to
formally withdraw the anti-Ramadan motion.
With signatories with such a record of misrepresenting and trying to ban so eminently
moderate a figure as Professor Tariq Ramadan, the dossier’s claim to support
(unnamed) ‘liberal and progressive Muslim voices’ has no credibility at all.
Islam and other religions on lesbian and gay rights
Another signatory to the dossier, Peter Tatchell, cites Islam as uniquely reactionary
on lesbian and gay issues, writing:
‘the Islamic holy book, the Koran – deemed to be the word of God – unequivocally
condemns male and female homosexuality as ‘transgressing beyond bounds’.
Moreover, the Hadith, the collection of sayings attributed to the prophet Mohammed,
calls for the punishment of homosexual acts. The form of punishment is specified in
Islamic law, the Shari'ah. This is the clerical interpretation of the Koran and the
Hadith. It demands the death penalty for gay sex. Few British Muslims urge the
execution of queers. But even moderate Islamic leaders denounce the “evil” of
homosexuality….
The political consequences for the gay community could be serious. As the
fundamentalists gain followers, homophobic Muslim voters may be able to influence
the outcome of elections in 20 or more marginal constituencies. Their voting strength
could potentially be used to block pro-gay candidates or to pressure electorally
vulnerable MPs to vote against gay rights legislation.’77
Tatchell does not, however, point out that, as quoted earlier, it is the Bible and the
Jewish Torah, and not the Qur’an, which prescribe the death penalty for gay sex.
75 Ha’aretz, 26 May 2002
76 Quoted by Catherine Samary, "Tariq Ramadan a sa place dans le forum social européen",
on the Islam & Laïcité website
77 Peter Tatchell, ‘The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Britain’, Outrage! press release,
10 April 1998
22
In a New Statesman article about the conference on a woman’s right to choose
whether or not to wear the Muslim headscarf at City Hall in July, Tatchell wrote that
no-one at the conference supported the right of women not to wear the hijab. In
reality, as we have seen, one of the most prominent Muslim speakers, Professor
Tariq Ramadan made clear: ‘It is against the Islamic teaching to force a woman to
wear the Hijab.’
It is noteworthy that the Muslim lesbian and gay group, Imaan, has not associated
itself with the dossier and in a discussion of the Qaradawi visit on its website, not a
single contributor backed Tatchell. One of them wrote:
‘The intensive propaganda campaign against Qaradawi is a red herring used to
obscure the fact that Qaradawi came here to defend a woman's right to wear the
hijab – a right that has been attacked. Outrage and the other anti-Muslim groups do
not care about these rights…. Outrage's campaign against Qaradawi is offensive.
They are simply jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon... As a gay Muslim, Outrage
doesn't speak for me and a host of other people.’78
Leading members of the Green Party, of which Tatchell is a member, also took a
different position. Green Party chair and home affairs spokesperson Hugo Charlton
shared a platform with Qaradawi at the conference opposing the ban on the Muslim
headscarf in July and spoke against the attempts to:
‘deter the distinguished Muslim scholar Dr al-Qaradawi from speaking at City Hall.
Among those human rights issues, which are championed there, freedom of speech
does not seem to be one they are prepared to prioritise in this instance. Dr al-
Qaradawi is widely respected in the Muslim world and to decline him this venue can
only send a negative message to both the domestic and international Islamic
community. I strenuously support all attempts to build bridges and increase
understanding – this is best done through dialogue, an essential component of which
is allowing other people to speak. Whilst I understand and support the position of
those who oppose homophobia and sexism when it is to be found in any religion (or
anywhere else), I think that in this instance they have picked the wrong man, at the
wrong time and in the wrong place.’79
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP for South-East England, also made clear:
‘Sheikh al-Qaradawi has been the victim of an Islamophobic smear campaign in
some sections of the media, and has been associated with a fundamentalist position
on a number of topics, including the treatment of homosexuals and women. Most of
the criticisms levelled at him have been ill-informed – indeed Dr al-Qaradawi has
clearly stated that Muslims should obey the law of the land and has distanced himself
from a fundamentalist position.
‘I oppose discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head, and support the rights of
homosexuals to live free from discrimination and persecution, of Muslim women to
wear Hijab wherever and whenever they so choose, and of everyone to practice their
religion in a climate of free expression. I do not believe these rights are incompatible.
78 Contribution to ‘Qaradawi and Livingstone’ thread, 25 October 2004, Imaan Forum, on
Imaan website (http://imaan.org.uk)
79 Muslim Association of Britain press release, 16 July 2004
23
‘At a time when Muslims find themselves victims of vilification – both in the press and
by government agencies – it is more important then ever that our commitment to
human rights and equality is not expressed in a way that can fan the flames of
populist Islamophobia.
‘It will never be possible for everyone to agree on everything, and we should
recognise this diversity by looking for common ground and sharing as many
platforms as necessary in the fight against discrimination and restrictions to our
personal freedoms.’80
Sympathy with Pim Fortuyn’s attacks on Islam
A number of dossier signatories sign themselves as the Lesbian and Gay Humanist
Association (GALHA). This organisation’s magazine, The Gay and Lesbian Humanist
published a sympathetic obituary of the racist and anti-Muslim Dutch politician Pim
Fortuyn. The article, by the magazine’s editor, denied that Fortuyn was a right-wing
extremist and insisted: ‘Fortuyn did not embrace the tradition of being so far to the
right as to fall off the edge of anything that is decent.’
The article concluded:
‘It was easy to stick Jörg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen into a box conveniently
marked “right-wing, fascist, therefore not to be taken seriously” (even though both of
them are more complex than popular media allow us to believe). It's harder to pin a
one-size-fits-all badge on a man like Fortuyn, of whom a schoolteacher queuing to
sign a condolence book said: “There were so many things that couldn't be said in our
country, and it took someone with Pim's courage and charisma to say them.” … his
“crime” in the eyes of many was that he said his country could take no more
immigrants. And, like many readers of this magazine who may consider themselves
politically opposite to Fortuyn in some areas, Fortuyn attacked Islam for its
intolerance to gay people.’81
The proposal for a new law against incitement to racial hatred, the primary purpose
of which is to extend to Muslims the legal defence afforded to Jews and Sikhs under
existing race relations legislation, has been opposed by leading members of GALHA
such as Terry Sanderson who quotes with approval Will Cummins whose extreme
views on Islam were highlighted earlier.
80 Ibid.
81 Andy Armitage, ‘Flame and Fortuyn’, Gay and Lesbian Humanist, Summer 2002
24
5. Conclusion
The ‘Islamic Conspiracy’ dossier sent to London Assembly members, as has been
shown, was inaccurate and misleading. Its effect would be to close off any dialogue
between London and mainstream representatives of one of the world’s great
religions.
In reality, it is the responsibility of the Mayor to sustain such a dialogue with all of
London’s faiths and communities irrespective of the many areas where different
views will be held. Rejecting such dialogue is directly against the interests of all
Londoners and will merely strengthen religious extremists – potentially directly
threatening Londoners. To reject a dialogue with any of the world’s, and London’s,
great religions because of differences is to misunderstand the purpose of such
discussion – only if everyone were agreed on everything, which they never will,
would such dialogue with all the world’s great religions be unnecessary.
25
Appendix 1
Some of the press
coverage of Dr al-
Qaradawi’s visit to
London in July 2004

(Via Alphonse van Worden .

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