Mecca, Asharq Al-Awsat- A few yards from the Grant Mosque in Mecca, Asharq Al-Awsat sat down for an exclusive interview with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in which he attacked the Shiite expansion and Iranian ambitions and dreams. He stressed that “Iran is a country of dreams and ambition, a country of the old Persian Empire and emperors, and the issue is a mixture of Persian, sectarian Shiite tendencies and fanaticism.” Sheikh al-Qaradawi insisted that his views regarding Shiite expansion remain unchanged and that many states that were purely Sunni now have some Shia. He stated that “Egypt, that I know very well and I know that 20 years ago did not have one single Shiite since the days of Salah al-Din, has now been infiltrated. They now have in Egypt, people who write in the press and write books and people listen to them. It is the same also in Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and other non-Arab countries such Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Senegal.”
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happened, and why the talk about Shiite invasion of Sunni countries at this time in particular?
[Al-Qaradawi] I would like to take the opportunity of the last ten days of Ramadan, and of being in the neighborhood of the House of God, Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, and surrounded with the blessings of the time and the good deeds that we see around us and the good intentions, to congratulate the Islamic nation all over the world on this blessed occasion and invoke God to make it always return with security, faith, safety, Islam and guidance to what pleases him, and to make this season, a season of glad tidings and blessings for Islam and Islamic nations, everywhere. I would like also to say that I have always been one of those who care immensely about the unity of the Islamic nation and find it in the interest of this nation that all Muslims be united on achieving certain objectives, in the interest of their faith, their worldly affairs, and confronting their common enemies, and to leave aside controversial doctrinal matters for learned people to discuss among themselves. That is why I supported inter-faith dialogue and attended every conference held for this purpose. In all the conferences that I attended, I warned of certain things. Foremost among these was verbal abuse of the companions of the Prophet, and I said that this is a red line. The companions of the Prophet have preserved the Koran and delivered it to us. They reported the sunnah and the sayings of the Prophet to us. They led the conquest and disseminated Islam among the nations. They performed heroic deeds, took marvelous moral stands that filled the books of history; and they are the people whom God has praised in surat “al-Tawba,” “al-Fath,” and “al-Hashr.” An example of God’s praise is verse 100 of surat al-Tawba, where God says: “The vanguard (of Islam)- the first of those who forsook (their homes) and of those who gave them aid, and (also) those who follow them in (all) good deeds,- well- pleased is Allah with them, as are they with Him: for them hath He prepared gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein for ever: that is the supreme felicity.” History says they are the unique generation with whom the eyes of this world is adorned by seeing people like them in their virtues, in their aims, in their abandonment of pre-Islamic vice and their care to behave according to Islamic morality and faith. As I said earlier, the companions of the Prophet are a red line. Moreover, cursing or verbal abuse is alien to Islamic manners. The Muslim does not curse or verbally abuse and the sayings of the Prophet command “do not curse my companions”, nor curse the wind because it does what is ordered to do, and do not curse ‘fever’ as it is penitence, and do not curse time [dahr] for God is time, and do not curse the cock; it wakes people up for prayers. The Prophet even said: Do not curse those who worship other than God, lest you give them an excuse to curse your God out of ignorance. In other words, do not curse their god, so as not to give them an excuse to retort by cursing your God as you cursed theirs. At every conference, I said cursing the companions of the Prophet is a red line that should not be crossed. The other line not to be crossed is the attempt to proselytize for one sect in a country where all Muslims belong to one sect. In order to become closer to each other all should refrain from doing these two things: cursing the Prophet’s companions and proselytizing for one sect in the country of another. How would there be rapprochement when the Sunnis sanctify Abu-Bakr and Umar [the Prophets companions and successors] and A’ishah [the Prophet’s wife] while the Shia curse them. The second issue is: do not invade me in my country. My country is Sunni and there is no need for you to disseminate your sect in my country, because if you do, I will have to defend my sect, and I will have to say that your sect is void, and severely criticize it; and I will say you are disseminating wrong in the land of right. I will be obliged to say that, so do not invade my country and my society. And let me ask: What would you gain from invading a Sunni country? I put this question to their top religious leaders many years ago when I visited Iran. I asked: what would you gain by invading a Sunni country to disseminate your sect? Do you expect to convert ten people, one hundred, a thousand or two? You may, but you will gain the animosity of an entire country when the people realize that you are spreading the Shiite sect and all the people will turn against you. I remember that Sheikh Ayatollah Muhammad Ali al-Taskhiri was present when I said that. We became friends after we met at the International Association of Islamic Ulema and we met at other conferences since. He said: “by God, you are right.” He added: “There used to be a strong and friendly relationship between us and the Sudanese revolution and they allowed us to open an office in Khartoum, which we did. Sometime later, the office director published the letter of a Sunni Sudanese, claiming that he was guided to the right path and had converted to the Shia sect. The letter attacked the Sunni sects and called on people to convert. When the Sudanese Government learned of this, they closed the Iranian revolution office and deported the manager and employees to Tehran. This is what I say and draw attention to at every conference. Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams-al-Din, one of the grand Shia scholars, says the same thing: “No missionaries from one sect should go to proselytize in the country of the other sect.” “Neither the Sunnis nor the Shia should disseminate their sect in the countries where the Muslims in that country belong solely to one sect. Nevertheless, I have found that in the past two years, by observation, statistics and personal knowledge, that the Sunni societies have been subjected to organized Shia missionary work. I have seen that in Egypt, the country that I know very well. I know that 20 years ago not a single Shiite was in Egypt since the days of Salah-al-Din, but they have managed to infiltrate the country. They have people who write in the press, and publish books, and they have an audience. It is the same story in Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, in addition to other non-Arab countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Senegal.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Gulf States?
[Al-Qaradawi] Even the Gulf States and Syria, but of course, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have Shia communities and therefore, unlike countries where there was no Shia, conversion to the Shia sect does not stand out. I am talking about societies that are purely Sunni, and it is this aspect which disturbed me and I wanted to warn early of its dangers. If the issue is left to develop, and we keep quiet and do not resist, you would find after sometime that the Shia sect has permeated the Sunni societies and then we would have a big problem. We will have Shia minorities demanding their rights, clashing with the Sunni majority and have conflagrations and wars. When I drew attention to this issue, I meant to guard against a large sedition [fitna] taking place in the future. It is a kind of preemptive action to prevent war taking place in the future among the followers of the same religion. The Iranian News Agency, which attacked me because of what I said, has admitted that there is a Shia tide in Sunni countries and regarded it as one of the miracles of the House of the Prophet. The news agency asked why you do not admit the fact that the Shia sect is winning and that this is one of the miracles of the House of the Prophet? Even Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who is a moderate Shia sheikh and a friend of mine, made a strange comment in this respect. He said: “I wonder why Sheikh al-Qaradawi is so enthused against Shia missionary work, but was not so enthused against Christian missionary work.” It was strange that this came from him because it was me who stood forcefully against Christian missionary work since the Colorado Conference of American Missionaries in 1978 for the Christianization of Muslims in the world and for which $100 million were allocated at the time, in addition to the establishment of the Zwemmer Institute. I have toured the Islamic world warning against this Christianization campaign. I then worked for establishing the International Islamic Charitable Organization which has its head office in Kuwait. This organization was set up to confront that Christian campaign and I raised at that time the slogan “pay one dollar and save a Muslim.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have specific statistics for conversion to the Shia sect?
[Al-Qaradawi] No, I do not have any specific figures and it is difficult to have any, but we are in the process of preparing some statistics. That is why our Iranian brothers asked if I had any statistics. These things are done in secrecy. When a certain sect endeavors to infiltrate a country where that sect has no followers, it cannot be expected to announce itself or the identity of those who converted to it. It would be kept secret so that the society does not become alerted and stand against the activity. Our Shia brothers are skilled in this as they have a principle that means double faced dealing with an issue, whereby what appears on the surface is not necessarily the real intention. Their sect allows this and they do not see it as religiously or morally abhorrent. So they are not going to tell you how many have converted, and if you ask any of them they would probably exaggerate and say their numbers can be counted in tens of thousands, which is untrue. On the other hand, if the issue is left to its own devices, they might approach people who do not have the intellectual or religious defenses, and it is possible that they would approach and exploit the poor; they have the money for temptation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Rumors have it that there are Iranian charity organizations in many countries which exploit charitable work to disseminate and win converts to the Shia sect.
[Al-Qaradawi] I have no doubt about that and I believe there is money allocated for spreading the Shia sect. Since the Khomeini revolution, Iran has described itself as a state with a message; a state based on a belief and a message. The belief is the Shia sect and the 12 Imams; and its message is support for this sect and spreading it throughout the world. It is not surprising that millions or even billions are allocated for this purpose, and capable men trained and prepared for this in religious learning circles. This issue does not need statistics or proof. The evidence is there. There are Sunni societies where there were no Shiites and now there are Shiites. They know it and the Iranian News Agency admitted it and said it is a miracle of those of the House of the Prophet. Sheikh Fadlallah asks why I was strongly against Shia missionary activities and not as strongly against Christian missionary activities. And Sheikh al-Taskhiri says that I call the dissemination of the Shia sect ‘missionary’ as I call Christian proselytizing ‘missionary’, as if the issue is a matter of semantics. I did not create that name; it was Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams-al-Din.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We have noticed that many Arab intellectuals have stood with you in your campaign against the Shia tide, but some of your students have abandoned you in that campaign.
[Al-Qaradawi] We cannot say that my students or some of them have abandoned me. One or two of them might have been tempted by the political victories of the Iranian revolution or the victories of Hezbollah, but thank God, the majority of my students all over the world is still with me. I have received messages from many and wherever I go in Saudi Arabia, people that I do not know come to me and say “we are with you, go ahead.” I also have the support of many religious scholars and thinkers; if I do not have the support of one or two people that does no harm; it is only natural.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It looks as if you are saying Iranian money has changed some ulema’s minds and views?
[Al-Qaradawi] Certainly, money plays a role, but I cannot accuse everyone who supports Iran of having received money and I cannot accuse them all. There are people who have received and are still receiving money, and shuttle trips are taking place between them and Iran. This is well known. Also, there are people who have strong views but are dazzled and blinded from seeing the whole picture; they see it only from one angle.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have a famous saying: “The Sunni factions or sects are the saved ones; other Islamic factions (sects) are in hell.” So, where would that leave other groups such as the Shia Imamis and Zaydiyya?
[Al-Qaradawi] It is not me who claimed this to be a saying of the Prophet. All groups or sects claim they are the saved one and everyone else will go to hell. The Sunni groups or sects believe they are the saved ones and I have my own opinion about this and I do not accept this alleged saying of the Prophet. But even if we accept it for the sake of argument, it points to some important issues – that divisions were inevitable and differences among the groups are wide and only one group is saved from hell and all others are not saved, but they remain Muslims. All groups are Muslim and there is only one Islamic nation. We the Sunnis regard ourselves as the nation because 90% of Muslims are Sunnis, albeit divided into the four sects; al-Maliki, al-Hanafi, al-Shafi’i and al-Hanbali.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sometime ago you met a group of British Jewish rabbis in Doha. Asharq Al-Awsat covered the event through your friend, Sheikh Dr Kamal al-Halabawi, who attended the meeting. There was a dialogue in which you stressed the importance of Muslims and Jews cooperating on the common denominators they have. Are there any common denominators on which all Islamic groups including the Shia can participate, instead of divisions?
[Al-Qaradawi] I am a believer in dialogue with all human beings. Muslims are commanded to heavy dialogue with all other religions. I said that at the interfaith conference convened in Mecca, which King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called for. I called for widening the dialogue to include not only the people of the book – Muslims, Christians and Jews, but also idolatry religions. Why not have dialogue with the Buddhists or Hindus who number thousands of millions? The major religions dominate most of the world. I have called for dialogue with the Jews, not the Zionists, because the Koran says; “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong” [Al-Ankabut 29:46]. The Zionists have done wrong; they have invaded Palestine and established a state there, they shed blood and forced the people of the land out of their country and they are colonial settlers. There can be no dialogue between them and us. There was colonization in Algeria, but they did not replace the people of the land and drive them out of their country. Thus, I call for dialogue with all religions, and consequently I am not against a dialogue with the Shia, but if they want to invade our countries, convert us into Shia, uproot us and exploit poverty and need and so forth, then I would reject having any dialogue with them and I would reject rapprochement with them too. I have participated in many dialogues and attempts at rapprochement, but if the purpose of dialogue is to convert the Sunnis to their sect, then I would refuse any attempt at rapprochement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your comment on the criticism leveled against you that in your criticism of the Shia expansion, and in your call for regarding them as enemies and in taking sides against Iran, you have abandoned your criteria of priorities and balances, on which you have written a book?
[Al-Qaradawi] There is confusion in these issues. I have called for the varieties of [fiqh] Islamic jurisprudence that a scholar should take into consideration, such as the jurisprudence on rules, purposes and consequences, balances and priorities. The important thing is not the names or the terminology, but the understanding of the meaning of this terminology and their correct implementation. Take balances for example. Should I for instance keep quiet about the invasion of my society by another sect whose correctness I doubt, for the sake of a joint stand against the United States? If I see preserving religion as more important than the United States or anything else, the balancing process becomes a dangerous one, and here comes the role of jurisprudence to decide which of the two issues should come first. This is to be decided in the light of the jurisprudence of priorities and balances. In my view, protecting my religion comes first, because it is my salvation on the Day of Judgment and my happiness in this worldly life. The imbalance happens in the jurisprudence of balances and priorities, when something is given a disproportionate importance and made your top priority. The Prophet has said: “Faith is seventy something branches; the highest is the saying of ‘No God but Allah’, and the lowest is the removal of harm from the road.” The meaning is clear. There are people who confuse the priorities and put the removal of harm from the road as their top priority. It is important to apply the jurisprudence of balances and priorities properly.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true that a number of lawyers have lodged a case against you demanding your deportation from Qatar?
[Al-Qaradawi] (laughing) – This is laughable and strange; some even said I am too old and should be put under guardianship. The strange thing is that this also applies to the Imam Khomeini – who lived to be more than 90, and it applies to Khamenei and Al-Sistani and many of the Shia grand scholars. It’s ridiculous and I do not bother myself with it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your reply to Tehran’s attack describing you as a Masonic and Zionist tool?
[Al-Qaradawi] The accusation was made by the Iranian News Agency, not by Iran, so we should not say Iran. What the News Agency has said was a kind of sheer ignorance about me and my history; it is an ignorance tainted with lies. Who could say that I work for the interests of Jews, Zionist and Masons when all my life I have been working against them? Since I was 15, in the second elementary year at Al-Azhar institute in the city of Tanta, I used to go out on demonstrations, shout slogans, read poems and make fiery speeches against Zionism and the Balfour Declaration. I am still doing that. They should have asked the Palestinian organizations about my stance on the Palestinian cause, and ask the Zionists who they regard as their worst enemy. They publicly say that their worst enemies are the religious scholars, and of those, Al-Qaradawi is the worst enemy. They incited people to assassinate me; I was not allowed an entry visa to Britain, the United States and many European countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What would be expected to happen after the attempt to disseminate the Shia sect among the Sunnis? [Al-Qaradawi] If the Iranians are rational people and they want to win over the Sunnis that make up 90% of Muslims in the world, they should abandon their attempt to convert them. Too ambitious and fanciful dreams of changing the Islamic nation into a Shia nation, or, as the Iranian News Agency put it, a miracle of the House of the Prophet, is delusion, and it might lead to very serious conflict within the Islamic nation. In the light of the jurisprudence of balances, they should come closer to the nation [the Sunnis] and not get carried away by their dreams. But if they continue with their position, I am not going to abandon mine, and it is my duty to open the eyes of the nation, and it is my covenant with God as a scholar.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are rumors that Iran would try to use those converts to disturb some states if an Israeli or US strike takes place against Iran?
[Al-Qaradawi] It is natural that when a person changes from Sunni to Shia, he is likely to feel he has become something else and change his affiliation. An Egyptian in such a case would begin to feel his affiliation is with Iran; in the same way as the Shia of Lebanon see themselves closer to Iran than their Lebanese brothers. This is something I cannot deny. Iran is not an ordinary country; it is a country of dreams and ambitions of a Persian empire like the old Persian Empire and Persian emperors. The issue is mixed with a Persian tendency, a sectarian Shia tendency and fanaticism. We should take this into consideration when looking at this matter objectively.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some see Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as controversial in some of his fatwas and opinions. What is your comment on this?
[Al-Qaradawi] I do not like to raise controversies and I hate arguments. This is my principle in teaching and in fatwa. I have adopted the principle of innovation and facilitation and this does not suit everyone. My fatwa and writings in general disturb two kinds of people; those who are against any change whatsoever, and those who are ultra-liberal. I always tend to discipline myself, my thoughts and my fatwa with the Sharia rules and principles, in addition to sound logic which should be in conformity with sound reason. No religion can come up with anything that stands contrary to reason.