Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Despite his controversial fatwas (religious edicts), the Muslim scholars of the Al Azhar Islamic Research Council consider the membership of Islamic scholar Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi “enrichment to the Council’s activities.”
Ulema [scholars] from the Islamic Research Council, the most prominent body of Al Azhar believe that Al Qaradawi’s membership is a positive addition because of his effective role in sponsoring Islamic dialogue, not to mention international dialogue between religions, towards which Al Qaradawi shows great interest. However, one Islamic intellectual believes that Al Qaradawi’s late membership will undoubtedly lead to a clash between two different approaches at a time when society is suffering from stagnation.
In various interviews with Asharq Al-Awsat a number of Al Azhar ulema have stressed that the controversy and disagreements over some of Al Qaradawi’s fatwas and opinions have not prevented his membership to the council.
One of Al Qaradawi’s controversial viewpoints some years ago was of the council itself, which he described as weak, and called for the council to include highly qualified Islamic ulema in order to revive it. Al Qaradawi stated that the council’s weakness was proof of Al Azhar’s weakness and stagnation and its inability to develop. This caused much controversy among the ulema of Al Azhar and pushed some people to accuse to Al Qaradawi of suffering from jealousy.
This comes within the context of the Council’s recent agreement to increase the number of non-Egyptian members following mounting criticism because of the council suspending its policy that stipulates that 20 members must be selected from outside of Egypt, in addition to 30 Egyptian members.
Four new non-Egyptian members have been elected; Dr Al Qaradawi, who is a Qatari national of Egyptian origin; Dr Muhammad Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon; Sheikh Hammudah Annahar, the mufti of Yemen; and Dr Muhammad Ahmad al Salih, member of the Scientific Council of Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, the number of non-Egyptian members of the Research Council has increased to seven members as there were previously three non-Egyptian members who were elected: Dr Abdusalam al Abbadi, former Jordanian Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs; Sheikh Ali Abdul Rahman al Hashimi, Adviser for Judicial and Islamic Affairs to the President of the UAE; and Dr Mustafa Abdul Wahid Ibrahim, a professor from Umm al Qura University in Saudi Arabia.
The process of selection begins with applications being submitted by the ulema to the council and each application has to be recommended by two council members. The members then vote on the recommended applications.
Al Qaradawi received the highest number of votes from the committee that was formed to choose the four ulema. Due to the conditions of joining the council, many ulema refrain from applying to be nominated despite the fact that the field is open to candidates. They prefer to be selected by Al Azhar because if their application is rejected then this may have a negative impact on their reputations amongst their compatriots.
Dr Abdul Muti Bayyumi, member of the Research Council and professor of Philosophy and Creed at Al Azhar University, stated that Dr Al Qaradawi’s membership to the council “is proof of Al Azhar’s openness.”
“About a year ago, the council began to work towards selecting figures from outside of Egypt in order to activate the council’s statute,” explained Dr Bayyumi. “The membership of prominent scientific cadres to the council from outside of Egypt, who are capable of [issuing] fatwas and [conducting] research, is an addition to the council and gives it an international characteristic,” he said.
“Dr Al Qaradawi’s membership has not been delayed in contrast to what some people believe.” “Previously, the council did not include members from other nationalities. As soon as this article within the statute was activated, Sheikh Al Qaradawi was one of the first to join the council,” explained Dr Bayyumi. He expressed his hope that Al Qaradawi’s membership to the council would consolidate moderation in the Muslim world and that Al Qaradawi’s prominent efforts would be in harmony with Al Azhar’s work as this institution embraced and educated Al Qaradawi.
Dr Muhammad al Rawi, member of the Islamic Research Council, said, “Sheikh Dr Al Qaradawi has spent his entire life fighting for his religion and has suffered a great deal in this field. The selection of Al Qaradawi by Al Azhar was completely correct.” Dr al Rawi considers Al Qaradawi’s membership to the Research Council an important addition to the principle of dialogue that is sponsored by Al Azhar, the largest Islamic institution in the Muslim world, because, according to Al Rawi, Al Qaradawi has never missed an opportunity to participate in dialogue during which he always refers to the Quran and Sunnah [Prophetic traditions].
On his part, Dr Mohammed Rafat Othman, Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at Al Azhar University and member of the Research Council, stated that Al Qaradawi is one of the most prominent ulema of our time and well informed in scientific research, particularly in jurisprudence, and that he deals with topics and issues in depth whether via his books, his appearances on satellite television channels, or his sermons at Friday prayers or on any other public occasion. Dr Othman admits that Sheikh Al Qaradawi’s membership to the council has been delayed for a long time since he has been worthy of membership as he is a prominent figure. However, according to Dr Othman, this delay was due to the code that specifies that membership to the council is granted only to those who apply for it.
As for the Islamic intellectual Jamal al Banna, he expressed surprise that Al Qaradawi applied to join the Islamic Research Council that he himself described a “rigid and stagnant institution”. Al Banna added, “No one can dispute Al Qaradawi’s struggle, capabilities, and knowledge and he should have been at the top of this institutional hierarchy for decades; but joining [the council] now may undervalue him especially as he will not change anything at Al Azhar. He should have apologized and declined [membership] honorably.”
Al Banna expects that Al Qaradawi joining the Council will lead to clashes between him and other council members based on the differences of opinions on various issues. Al Banna pointed out that the article regarding the inclusion of 20 non-Egyptian members to the council must be activated so that the Egyptian characteristic can be removed from a council “that is supposed to be international because it is fundamentally an Islamic institution.”
Sheikh Al Qaradawi was born in the village of Saft Turab in Al Mahallah al Kubra in the Nile Delta, Egypt in September 1926. He memorized the Koran before reaching ten years of age. At a later stage, he decided to study at the Faculty of Usool Adeen at Al Azhar University and graduated in 1953.
Al Qaradawi obtained a diploma in Arabic Language and Literature in 1958 at the Advanced Arabic Studies Institute. He obtained a Masters degree in Quranic Studies in 1960, and a Doctorate in 1973. His thesis was based on Islamic alms and how they can solve social problems.
Al Qaradawi has been imprisoned based on the fact that he was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was imprisoned for the first time in 1949 during the Egyptian monarchy and was subsequently detained three times during the reign of former President Gamal Abdul Nasser until he left Egypt for Qatar in 1961 to head a religious institute there.
Al Qaradawi obtained Qatari nationality in 1977 and was the dean of the Islamic Shariaa College in Qatar University until 1990. He became the director of the Seerah and Sunnah Center at Qatar University, a post which he still occupies today.
Sheikh Al Qaradawi has written over 80 books and has appeared on numerous religious television programs. His method is based on moderation and facilitation in his fatwas. When there are differences in opinions, Al Qaradawi tries to bring together evidence backed by Shariaa and this is a method that has stirred up controversy over some of his fatwas. He has been accused of putting his opinion before Shariah in response to pressure and requirements of the modern era, while his supporters believe that he reaches his conclusions by relying on the foundations of jurisprudence for example by bringing together contradictory hadith [Prophetic traditions] by investigating the circumstances behind each one in addition to studying the comparative schools of thought in order to reach the most acceptable opinion.