Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the charismatic and influential Egyptian cleric and one of the leaders of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood group, died on Monday at the age of 96, in Qatar, where he had been living in exile following the military’s overthrow of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt in 2013.
Al-Qaradawi was considered one of the most influential Islamic scholars living. Al-Qaradawi had a prominent role within the intellectual leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian political organization, although he repeatedly stated that he was no longer a member and twice (in 1976 and 2004) turned down offers for the official role in the organization.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist organization founded in Egypt, is a Pan-Islamic, religious, social and political movement. The movement's self-stated aim is the establishment of a state ruled by Sharia law, and winning hearts and minds by means of charitable work is a major aspect of the group.
Al-Qaradawi had for years hosted a religious phone-in show on Al Jazeera TV that was watched by tens of millions of Muslims worldwide.
Although al-Qaradawi's supporters described him as a moderate, some Western and Gulf states branded him an extremist. Al-Qaradawi has been banned from entering the United States since 1999 and the United Kingdom since 2008, though he visited London in 2004. France announced in March 2012 it will not let him enter.
Role in the Arab Spring
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt nearly a century ago and has branches across the region, played a major role in the 2011 uprisings that rocked the Middle East and rose to power in Egypt’s first democratic elections, after the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Al-Qaradawi made a triumphant return to Egypt for the first time in decades in February 2011, addressing tens of thousands of supporters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the pro-democracy uprising that toppled Mubarak.
But the year-long rule in Egypt of President Mohammed Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, proved extremely divisive, and the military removed the him from power in 2013 amid mass protests. Morsi died in 2019 after collapsing in court.
Al-Qaradawi remained a staunch critic of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who led the overthrow of the Brotherhood and who rights groups say has established an even more authoritarian government than the one led by Mubarak.
Egypt considers the Brotherhood a terrorist group and has arrested thousands of its members. Ahmed Mussa, a prominent pro-government TV host, called al-Qaradawi “the biggest inciter of terrorism” and blamed him for attacks inside Egypt.
A complicated man from a complicated organisation
The cleric was a man full of seeming contradictions: On the one hand, he condemned the 9/11 attacks in the United States by jihadist militants from al-Qaeda and backed the pro-democracy uprisings against the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Syria during the Arab Spring.
On the other hand, he also called on Muslims to fight Americans in Iraq following the 2003 invasion and claimed that Islam justified Palestinian suicide bomb attacks against Israelis during the second Palestinian intifada that began in 2000.
In July 2003, he visited Stockholm, Sweden, for a conference at the Stockholm Mosque arranged by the Muslim Association of Sweden. During the conference al-Qaradawi expressed his support for suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, calling the fight against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories a "necessary Jihad," for which he was roundly condemned by Western figures.
Al-Qaradawi's seeming contradictions mirror that of the Muslim Brotherhood itself -- as authors writing in the Council on Foreign Relations magazine Foreign Affairs noted, "At various times in its history, the group has used or supported violence and has been repeatedly banned in Egypt for attempting to overthrow Cairo's secular government. Since the 1970s, however, the Egyptian Brotherhood has disavowed violence and sought to participate in Egyptian politics".
The group is proscribed as a "terrorist" outfit by Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, among others.