[Asharq Al-Awsat] For a start, let us go back to the speech delivered by King Abdullah, custodian of the two holy mosques, at the ceremony awarding him the prestigious King Faisal Award for Serving Islam. What is your reading of the indications of his hesitation in accepting the award, even though the decision was unanimous?
[Al-Qaradawi] I think that anyone who had listened to the speech by the servant of the two mosques must have been moved by it. I know that the man is not captivated by appearances, and his only concern is to please God before anything else. That I think is the reason why he was hesitant to accept the award on behalf of all who serve Islam quietly and without publicity. That is to his credit, and we wish him more successes in serving Islam, the Islamic nation, and Islamic civilization. There are people working in the service of Islam and the people see their deeds, look up to them, point them out and publish their names in news papers and the various mass media. Those who work in the limelight are well known. But there are others called in this day and age, “the unknown soldiers.” They work and many do not know that they are working. The likes of those were mentioned in the Sunnah, and the Prophet called them “the pious that are invisible.” The Prophet says about them: “Allah loves the philanthropists that are pious and invisible, that are unknown when present, and unmissed when absent, their hearts are guiding stars and they are saved the treacherous dark nights.” Those people are like the roots of a tree; they provide the tree with the means of life and nutrition and watering, but you do not see them. Or, like the foundation of a building – the building is built on it but the eyes do not see the foundation. As the Arab poet, Ahmad Shawqi said in praising those who build establishments without the people knowing them: “The foundation went humbly out of sight, after raising high the beautiful structure.” It is on the shoulders of such people who are “pious and invisible” that the “messages” are carried, and the nations live, and not always on those known by the people and in the limelight.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But is it not the case that in order to deliver the Islamic message you have to work in the open and raise your voice loudly, as did the prophets and messengers who were entrusted with delivering the heavenly messages?
[Al-Qaradawi] Yes, as a rule work should be in the open, but there are times when the work is better done without publicity, as for instance, when you give charity to the poor. There are people who, if you ask them for charity in public they pay, and if you ask them in private they do not pay anything or not as much as they would have in public. At any rate, what matters is that the good deed is done for the sake of God, not for publicity and appearances. Fame in itself is not derided in Islam; it is doing things for fame that is derided. The prophets are the most famous of people and Imams such as Abu-Hanifa, Malik, Ahmad, al-Shafii, Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Ghazali and Ibn Al-Qayyam are very famous, but fame was not their aim. There are people who worship fame to the extent that it became their God and that is dangerous to the nation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us turn to the ramifications of refusing you a visa to enter Britain, what impact did that have on you personally and on the Islamic community in Britain, and the Islamic minorities in the world?
[Al-Qaradawi] For a start, it does not really matter to me personally whether I enter Britain or not. Britain is not the world, and planet Earth is vast. I condemned the refusal as a matter of principle; because there was no excuse for it, and international human rights agreements provide for the freedom of movement from one country to another. That is why I rejected the British Government’s action, and so did the Islamic community in Britain. However, the refusal to grant me a visa was not done on the spur of the moment; it has roots. Four years ago I went to London for two reasons: The first was the meeting of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, which I am honored to chair; the second was to establish the Universal Union of Islamic Scholars. When I was allowed entry, the Zionist lobby in Britain made a big noise at the time and wanted me deported. The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone took it upon himself to defend me and he did it passionately and strongly. And the Jews who reject Israel stood by me too, and eight of their Rabbis went out with me to the airport to bid me farewell. It is an old story. I was interviewed by a famous British Television program at 7’o’clock (Channel 4 News!) and they asked me about the reasons said to be behind the refusal to allow me entry to Britain. There were said to be three reasons: first, my view of the permissibility of “martyrdom operations” in Palestine and my strong support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah against Israel; second, that I am anti-gay and hostile to gays – they call it same sex relations to mitigate their crime; and third, that I allow men to beat their wives. Of course I explained to the program the case of “martyrdom operations which I allowed within the confines of Palestine for the simple reason that the Palestinians do not have the kind of weapons that Israel has – an arsenal of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, and that the Palestinians are in self-defense. The person that has no other means but to turn himself into a human bomb in order to strike back at his enemies who strike at him, his family, and children in their home, burn his fields and uproot his trees. God has given that Palestinian what his Jewish enemies do not have – the will to sacrifice themselves as the Palestinians do. As for gays, I explained to the British TV program that I am not alone in my stand against gays; Jewish Rabbis, Christian clergy, and Muslim “ulemas,” religious scholars, all of those are against gays because all the Holy Books, the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam stand against this crime. If humanity accepts this crime, humankind might become extinct in a generation or two – if men do with each other without women, and women do with each other without men, that means no reproduction, and human kind becomes extinct. With respect to the third issue – the beating of women, I said that it was allowed in the Koran; however, beating women does not mean that the man takes a whip or a stick and breaks the woman’s head; it was meant to be symbolic – like the saying: if it were not for fear of God on the Day of Judgment, I would have hit you with this “siwak” – toothbrush. Beating is not recommended; the Prophet never hit a woman, and said: “the best among you never hit their women.” All this has prevented me from entering Britain. But contrary to what the British Government says, the Muslims in Britain say that they learn from me the approaches to moderation and middle ground; dialogue with others; tolerance with those who choose to differ; the approach to facilitating instead of complicating, preaching glad tidings instead of woes, and refraining from extremism and intransigence that is so prevalent among many Muslims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I understand that you went to Britain to preach Islam, not for medical treatment?
[Al-Qaradawi] No, it was not for medical treatment. I had a permission to enter the UK that was valid for five years; and I always had a 5 year permit. The last time my permit expired was about a year ago, and so I applied for a new visa, not for medical treatment or anything else. I entered the UK dozens of times before that. I have been entering the UK for the past 30 years for many various reasons, and I lectured there at universities and academic institutions and societies. There was nothing against me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the Mayor of London’s defense on your behalf, the British media say that contacts between you continue to this day, is that right?
[Al-Qaradawi] No, that is not true. There are no contacts between us. The man was sympathetic toward me. That was all. By the way, he wrote a book in which he talked about me and had it published. We inaugurated the European Council for Fatwa and Research at the London City Hall (GLA Headquarters) and he said that he prevented President George W. Bush from entering that Hall. His attitude was religious. He also held a European meeting to discuss the issue of “hijab” – the veil, after France had forbidden girls from wearing it in schools, and he invited me to talk at that meeting. But there have been no contacts between us for a long time now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has transpired that you will be among a delegation of Muslim clergy intending to meet the Pope in the Vatican. Is that true?
[Al-Qaradawi] No. No, I am not participating in that delegation. We adopted a position after the statements made by the Pope against Islam, the Prophet and Islamic Shariaa, and we find that what he said was unjustifiable. We, the Universal Union of Muslim Scholars of which I have the honor of being president, issued a statement in this regard, and we called on the Pope to withdraw his remarks because they were offensive to a great nation of 1,500 million Muslims in the world, and they offend the Prophet, history and the Shariaa for no obvious reason. He was aggressive toward us, and he was still new at that time. He refused to withdraw his offensive statements, so we froze relations between us and the Vatican until such time as he issues something to make us feel that things have changed. So far, nothing of the sort has happened. Some of the brothers in Jordan wanted to go to the Vatican; well, let them go, we do not prevent them from going, but as for us, our position is known.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What in your view is the best way to control Muslims’ reaction to offenses against Prophet Muhammad, in a way that reflects positively on improving the actual image of Islam and prevents distorting it?
[Al-Qaradawi] I think such things should not be allowed to pass quietly, because that is a kind of way of taking the Islamic nation lightly – what else does it mean for cartoons that were published two years ago, that caused outrage in the world from East to West, to be published again in 17 newspapers? This is a kind of challenge and provocation to a great nation of 1,500 million Muslims. So there should be a reaction. The reaction may take many forms: some of which should be in scientific manner to correct their perception of the Prophet as a bloodthirsty man and womanizer and explain to them their erroneous views by explaining the reality of the prophet’s personality and the reality of his life and his message. Another form of response is political. All Islamic states and governments are required to sever political ties with Denmark and expel all Danish ambassadors from their countries, and should take all necessary steps to express the nation’s anger, if they continue in their erroneous ways. And, there is the economic response – boycott. We have in the past called for economic boycott, but the enthusiasm of many people cools after a while. We should resurrect the economic boycott anew and we should establish a centre to keep to continue acquainting people with Prophet Muhammad. As you see, we have more than one form of response, and if need be, then peaceful and quiet demonstrations may take to the streets to express anger over the Prophet.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your view, does this not call for building bridges with the concerned Christian and Jewish institutions to adopt a charter of conduct prohibiting offenses against the person of the religious symbols?
[Al-Qaradawi] Yes, we are demanding that from the West, so that the entire world may live in peace and avoid causes of conflict. It is essential that religious sanctities of all religions be respected. We do not get angry only with regard to Prophet Muhammad, but also Jesus Christ, Moses, and any abused prophet. We believe in all the heavenly books and all the prophets sent to mankind. Yes, we do need an international agreement or a charter to honor all religious objects of all religions and prevent religious conflicts. It is enough that we have political and economic conflicts. We should agree on a common denominator at least, and thus give the various sections of humanity a chance to be familiar with each other and know each other, instead of conflict, hate and war.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the European Council for Fatwa and Research; it has been said that its activities have diminished lately. What are the reasons for that?
[Al-Qaradawi] On the contrary; its activities are extremely vigorous. At present, it publishes a quarterly journal containing its research, and a monthly publication covering a variety of issues. It meets once or twice a year and deals with very important issues. The Council is actually ascending rather than descending, and we thank God for that.