If you feel that your feet were bound by an invisible piece of rope but you think that you are free, how do you know that you were tied up in the first place? Simply keep walking until you feel the rope distressing your ankle, only then would you be aware of your real limits. Something of this sort happened to the young Egyptian Islamic herald Amr Khaled, who has recently become an engaging media phenomenon after he introduced changes to the conventional perception of the “Sheikh” and added new elements to the preaching discourse. He has won the approval and blessings of the more traditional clerics who themselves had found it difficult to reach the hearts of the new generations.
Nowadays, the shaved young Islamic propagandist has found himself in a confrontation with Youssef Al Qardawi, the popularized Sheikh with a zealous discourse. In addition, he is an Islamic thinker with political and social ideas regarding the crisis of the Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Amr Khaled sees an opportunity to reintroducing Islam to the West through Danish crisis. Therefore, he is now calling for a large conference to be held in Copenhagen where Muslim scholars and clergymen will meet to engage in dialogue with their non-Muslim counterparts in early March. Qardawi on the other hand rejected this idea and instead called for a counter conference in Bahrain to take place mid-March under the leadership of “the Global Coalition to Support the Prophet Mohammad.” Moreover according to Asharq Al Awsat (3 March 2006), Al Qardawi reprimanded Amr Khaled for his peacemaking efforts as he considered this may bring about an end to the Muslim anger. He emphasized the “need for Islamic nation to wake up.”
However, Amr became more insistent despite Qardawi’s objections to sign a statement back in February that was also signed by 41 prominent Islamic figures, as Qardawi argued for a stronger statement. Among those who had signed the statement were Amr Khaled himself, Salman Al Ouda (Saudi Arabia), Ekrima Sabry (the Mufti of Jerusalem), Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah (the Lebanese Shi’a scholar) and others. Qardawi said that such a soft declaration would break the flow of the “nation’s uprising” and he now rejects the Copenhagen conference allegedly for the same reason. Does this mean that Amr Khaled and his camp are wiser, more moderate and more learned than Qardawi? Does it mean that Qardawi is jealous of them? The answer to both questions is no.
Surely, the rejection of Qardawi and his team will say that Amr Khaled and his supporters, or the members of the “Copenhagen group” are brothers, nevertheless brothers who took a wrong stand. From my perspective, the matter is really beyond right and wrong.
Al Qardawi is more aware of the importance that group feeling remains active and inflamed, thus making it an issue of “identity” for which Islamists are known to be professional in mobilizing. Thus the way Qardawi perceives the crisis is as a great opportunity to “revive” an Islamist political project and to make the most out of the momentum created by the Danish cartoons fiasco for other battles too. The logic is the following: whoever manages to unify the masses of the Muslim world and elsewhere in protest against the Danish transgressions could do the same for other purposes.
Qardawi and those like him believe that the Ummah has stepped away from supporting their project. They consider that the rallying of the Ummah around them, and their method as the only way to resolve the crises including that of Palestine and of identity and culture, which in their view should be strictly Islamic. Furthermore, they seek to rally the masses for other political, economic and sportive issues. They seek to re-draft social and political life according to a perspective inherent to the fundamentalist discourse.
The Danish cartoons crisis was ideal in this respect. Qardawi spoke frankly in his interview with Asharq Al Awsat speaking about the demonstrations, the boycotts, and the global Muslim campaigns, saying, “What has occurred is the instigator for the Muslim nation which was torn by political differences but is unified by the love for the Prophet (PBUH).” He then spoke about the “young” Amr Khaled who provoked the Sheikh, as he does not understand the implicit gain behind keeping the Muslim rage inflamed. He told Asharq Al Awsat, “I have advised him several times not to break the flow of the awakening of the Muslim nation for the sake of Denmark.” This whole account makes us realize that there are certain objective conditions that must remain, as they are conducive to the existence of some ideologies and discourses. For those, the climates of crises are ideal.
Some followers of those ideologies may be not fully aware that such crises are ideal and not negative; they are not aware of the full picture and act with the best of intentions. They may disturb the waters and cause some embarrassment and this was clear to me as I read what seemed to be a sincere commentary by the young propagandist Amr Khaled who was disappointed by Qardawi’s statements. Khaled said, “Sheikh Qardawi is an honorable scholar who taught me the essentiality of dialogue. However, I see no reason for his objections.” What our young Islamic herald missed was that the “dialogue” that Sheikh Qardawi once taught him was only good for attracting supporters. However, when those supporters number hundreds of thousands and are ready for action upon instruction of the Sheikh then things are bound to be different.
Over the next few days, I believe we will increasingly hear talk asserting that Amr Khaled is only a preacher, not a jurist. Consequently, they will say, he is not qualified to lead. I agree with this opinion. However, the point is when this was voiced by impartial writers and analysts before the present crisis and the ensuing confrontation between Khaled and Qardawi, some Islamists would quickly consider this a biased attack that aimed at the spread of Islam through the success of Khaled in reaching deep into the minds of generations and classes that were previously untouchable by traditional clergymen.
It seems however that the Islamic movement strategists believe it is time Khaled handed his responsibilities back. He has consumed his role and now the rest is up to the Islamist jurists who are closer to the movement. Their role now is to mobilize, redirect, and rationalize the masses towards the ultimate goal: the actualization of the social, religious and political project of the Islamist politicized parties.
When Qardawi shouts, “revenge, revenge; rage, rage,” he is in fact maintaining the survival of the Islamic movement. Had the Danes apologized according to the conditions of the Muslim masses and had for example taught the full biography of the Prophet Mohammed by Ibn Hisham in their schools, then this would have been less of a gain than having the masses perpetually aligned in a state of religious anger.
Naturally, in the eyes of the global “protectors of the religious rage of the masses,” mobilization and religious tension are great results of the Danish crisis for the shrewd Islamists. Perhaps, this is not realized entirely by the younger generation and those who do not realize are an embarrassment.
Sheikh Qardawi in fact is re-enacting a pre-Islamic scene from our Arabic heritage. He is imitating Al Zeer Salim who saw revenge as the reason for existence. He had the chance to take revenge on several occasions however; he preferred to continue fighting which became his reason for existence. This state of mind is not something especially akin to Qardawi and those like him, but is rather salient in the Arab culture as a whole with its varied political trends. Like Amal Dunqul’s words in her poem to assassinated Egyptian president Sadat, that warned him not to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Qardawi repeats this warning to Amr Khaled, to “not make peace.”