Senior Muslim Scholars
Senior Muslim Scholars
9 September 1926 – 26 September 2022
HE Sheikh Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi was a man of faith, of courage, of letters, of oration, of the people, and of political and social activism. Declared the third most prominent public intellectual by Foreign Policy in 2008, Al-Qaradawi was both intelligent and bold. Such intellectuals are polarizing by nature, and Al-Qaradawi was no exception.
Like the late Queen Elizabeth II, Al-Qaradawi was born in 1926, two years after the dissolution of the Caliphate and two years before the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Qaradawi’s life spanned the tail end of colonialism, the partition of India, the formation of the State of Israel, repeated Arab military defeat, the Soviet-Afghan War, the fall of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 attacks and the American-cum-Global War on Terrorism, the Arab Spring, the rise and following pariah-status of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Arab-Israeli normalization. The child is father of the man: the global events before and during Al-Qaradawi’s life instilled in him a sense of pan-Islamic urgency.
Born in Suft Al-Turab in rural Egypt, Al-Qaradawi’s father died when he was just two years old. He was raised by his uncle and, at the age of fourteen, went on to study at Al-Azhar’s branch in Tanta. His formative years were spent studying the Sharia; he graduated from Al-Azhar in 1953 and was sent to Qatar in 1962, where he established the Department of Islamic Studies and the Faculty of Islamic Law and Islamic Studies at the Teacher Training College in Doha. Having gained favour with the then-emir of Qatar, Sheikh Ahmad Bin Ali Al Thani, Al-Qaradawi became a Qatari citizen. This was the first step to his role as a global scholar.
Al-Qaradawi’s career in the Arabian Gulf exposed him to hardline Salafis, a group with which he engaged respectfully. Being no stranger to controversy, he combined the thought of Ibn Taymiyyah with the traditional madhabist approach taught at Al-Azhar. By this point, he had already established himself as a pan-Sunni theologian. Upon returning to his native, Shafi’i-dominated village after studying at Al-Azhar, Al-Qaradawi would sometimes teach the local community Hanafi dispensations. For his was a way of fiqh al-taysir, or giving Muslims easier, pragmatic solutions to practicing their religion in everyday life.
Unlike many Arab scholars, Al-Qaradawi’s reach spanned far beyond the Arab world and the Western Arab diaspora. His PhD thesis on zakat (1973)—later published as a book and deemed to be the most comprehensive work on the topic—established him as a globally recognized scholar. It was praised by Abul Ala Maududi, who, along with Abul Hasan Nadwi, were sources of influence to Al-Qaradawi. He visited and cooperated with Salafi, Sufi, and Deobandi groups in the Indian Subcontinent, and his scholarship earned the praise of Mufti Taqi Usmani. In 1979, Al-Qaradawi led Maududi’s funeral prayer.
Al-Qaradawi established the international Union of Muslim Scholars, a pan-Islamic (including Shia) organization with headquarters in Doha and Dublin. Beyond traditional Muslim lands, Al-Qaradawi was responsible for the establishment of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. He also influenced the Fiqh Council of North America both directly and through his students.
Al-Qaradawi authored 120 books, many in a simple, accessible style. He extended his global reach through www.islamonline.net and Al Jazeera (particularly through the program Al-Shari’a wal Hayat), for which he was the de facto religious guide, a rank that he also held with the Muslim Brotherhood.
While Al-Qaradawi’s theology polarized sectarians, his role as an advocate of the Muslim Brotherhood was the source of the greatest rift in public opinion regarding him, both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Al-Qaradawi maintained that Muslims were not at loggerheads with the West but had the right to defend themselves against injustices. As per his vision of wasatiyya (moderation), he defended Islamic jihad while condemning terrorism. He initially issued a fatwa that permitted suicide bombings by Palestinians against Israelis but later redacted it when circumstances had changed. He was one of the first Islamic scholars to condemn the 9/11 attacks. His support for the Arab Spring and Western-backed regimes would ultimately lead to political antagonism from Egypt (where he was sentenced to death in absentia in 2015), Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Morsi’s fall from popularity and the resulting coup brought down the Muslim Brotherhood with it, and Al-Qaradawi’s popularity also waned.
Al-Qaradawi is survived by his third wife, four daughters, three sons, and twelve grandchildren. May Allah envelop him in His mercy.