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Opinion

Sheikh al-Twoface
Extreme duplicity or matter-of-factness?

September 24, 2003
The Iranian

Doha, Qatar -- Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably Islam's most influential cleric, takes the podium at Omar ibn al-Khattab Mosque, a short distance away from the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, and delivers a khutba, Friday sermon. The cleric's big theme of the day is the arrogance of the United States and the cruelty of the war it unleashed on Iraq.

Consider his web site, Qaradawi.net, where the faithful can click and read his fatwas (religious edicts) -- the Arabic interwoven with html text -- about all matters of modern life, from living in non-Islamic lands to the permissibility of buying houses on mortgage to the follies of Arab rulers who have surrendered to U.S. power.

However the actual deeds of Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi vary from what he preaches. There are the preacher's children: One of his daughters made her way to the University of Texas where she received a master's degree in biology, a son had earned a Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and yet another son embarked on that quintessential American degree, an MBA at the American University in Cairo. Al-Qaradawi embodies anti-Americanism as the flip side of Americanization.

An American friend took exception to my categorisation of the Sheik's views as the manifestation of extreme hypocrisy. He retorted that it was not extreme but rather practical.

"I don't see a contradiction," he said. "You want your kids to have the best education, so you send them to the US. But that doesn't mean that you want the US (a) dropping bombs on your cousins in Iraq, or (b) bringing their morality into your country."

In fact, he added, weren't some of the early leaders of India (and Pakistan at the time, I suppose), the ones who insisted on the British leaving, themselves educated in the West? They wanted to send their kids to England for their education too. It's been going on like that for thousands of years. The elite frequently send their kids to the best schools, whether abroad or at home but they don't have to agree with the morality or foreign policies of the leading countries, my friend insisted.

He went on that if the Sheik's message was about US "incompetence" in business affairs, then his sending his kids to be educated there would be more difficult to understand, though still not impossible. To come to the conclusion that he shouldn't have his kids educated in the US he would have condemned the "incompetence of the Americans at educating foreign students."

I made a final riposte because as a Pakistani I cannot tolerate the double standards prevailing in the Islamic Crescent. Sheikh Youssef al-Qadrawi is extremely popular in Arab states, especially in the Persian Gulf with a weekly religious and fatwa (religious edicts) program hosted by the many Arab satellites.

He has indeed issued many edicts, which are a compulsion for Muslims to abide to in order to ascend to the heavens. All universally condemned the fatwa issued against the life of Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini, which I hope gives you the indication of the power of fatwa, please note the following two fatwas (in Arabic) by the Shiekh:

1-Depositing money in American banks is a crime of highest order that constitutes ultimate sin for Muslims.

2- Buying American products is a sin for every Muslim.

If someone sends his own children to the US, he definitely draws on the US banking system and indulges in the consumption of US products; on both counts his fatwa stand dead in water. Therefore I find the Shiekh culpable of the unpleasant two-facedness. What he finds superior for his own self and his family should be good for other Muslims too.

I only charge him of double standards because if the academic environment of the US is first-rate for his offspring, then it would hold that it is a superior place for other Muslims too. Equal opportunity for everyone is the only way we will progress within the confines of culture, tradition and limitations of our region.

Muslim children should be moulded with the greatest gifts that their parents can give them. Sheik al-Qaradawi has obviously done very well with his children and educated them at the finest institutions. However why does he forbid this very opportunity for the children of his fellow Muslims? In the end, Islam teaches us that what is good for the children of the ulema should be good for commoners too!

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