Shaikh Al-Qaradawi – a drama with portents

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Last November Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared in the Commons, “Mr Speaker, it is by seeking to build on shared interests and shared values that we will isolate extremists and foster understanding across faiths”.

He also floated the idea of setting up in Britain an European Centre of Excellence for Islamic studies.

Hollow laughs and guffaws from the stalls.

Act 1, Scene 1  House of Commons, 30 January 2008

Cameron: …This guy wants to come to our country, and we do not think that he should be allowed in. He was banned by a former Conservative Home Secretary, so why will the Government not ban him? Let me explain what this man, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, believes. He thinks that gay people should be executed, and encourages people to turn their bodies into bombs. Why can the Prime Minister not tell us his decision now? Does he think that Yusuf al-Qaradawi should be allowed in or not? A simple one – yes or no?

PM Brown: He is not in our country; the issue is… [ Interruption]

Speaker of the Commons: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer the question [ Interruption. ] in his way, without jeering him down.

The Prime Minister: In 2006, a decision was made not to exclude al-Qaradawi. We are looking at that again. He has applied to come into this country, and a decision will be made in due course. I have to say that it has to go through the proper judicial processes, but he has not been allowed into this country at this stage.

Act 1, Scene 2

The Muslim on the Clapham omnibus reading his Guardian of 1 February comes across this item:

“David Cameron was under fire yesterday after it emerged that the radical Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi had been admitted into the UK when the Tory leader was working in the Home Office….. al-Qaradawi was allowed into the country five times by a Conservative home secretary, Michael Howard. On at least one of those occasions, in August 1993, Cameron was a special adviser to Howard”.

Act 1, Scene 3

The Guardian, 7 February 2008: “The government confirmed to the Guardian that Yusuf al-Qaradawi had applied to come to the UK but had been refused”.

The Epilogue

“By their fruits shall you know them”. In refusing the 80-year old Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi – a world renowned Islamic scholar, head of the European Council for Fatwa & Research and patron of the Islamonline portal –  entry into the UK, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has placed a marker on what is to be expected if he is elected at the next General Election. He has shown his susceptibilities.

He has done the worst possible thing – casting an authentic Islamic scholar as a part of the problem, rather than the solution.

Why else has he overturned the precedents of the past –  by both Tory and Labour governments?

Qaradawi was last in London in July 2004 at the invitation of the redoubtable Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. At the time, Livingstone defended the invite on grounds that Qaradawi was “one of the most authoritative Muslim scholars in the world today” who “has done most to combat socially regressive interpretations of Islam on issues like women’s rights and relations with other religions”.

Livingstone believed that the disinformation on Qaradawi originated from the pro-Israel black propaganda body MEMRI. During this visit, Qaradawi also addressed a packed Muslim audience at the Islamic Cultural Centre and emphasised the role of Muslims as the moderate community –  of the middle.

The Brown decision indicates an indifference to the Muslim community as a domestic constituency. A more alert politician would have known of the fall-out of Khangate –  the revelations that the MP Sadiq Khan had been bugged while visiting his constitutency member Babar Ahmad in prison. This episode has heightened the sense of Muslims being the nation’s suspect community.

Secondly, it indicates a lack of confidence in facing down David Cameron.

Third, it seems Brown and his neo-Cons will only recognise those Muslim scholars who fit neo-Con requirements of what Islam should be.

The decision on Qaradawi is a portent of what is meant in the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ – Muslims in Britain will be guided on the ‘acceptable’ sources of Islam.

As Rosa Alvarez Fernandez observes, ‘the publication and dissemination of the works of Al-Banna, Mawdudi Sayyid Qutb, Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Al-Qaradawi among other thinkers give rise to strong suspicions in some sections of the British society. By depicting them as foreign and dismissing them as godfathers of terror, the vast, diverse and rich works of these figures are criminalized and condemned in blanket fashion. Here, two interrelated acts of denial are at work. First, Muslims are denied the process inherent in all civilizations, of re-reading, adapting and re-elaborating their cultural traditions. Secondly, in this ethnocentric vision the West and the Muslim World are essentially made into separate entities, not subjected to cultural osmosis. Paradoxically, the West finds it very valid and legitimate to export its ideas and values (as it has been the case since the major encounter in the 19th century), such as nationalism, secularism, Marxism, Western life-styles, technologies and so on in the Muslim World. However the same West is unable to stomach cultural permeation from others. Moreover, if we are still at pains to fully accept the heritage of al-Andalus (Andalucia) and the faithful transfer of classical Islamic culture to Europe, how are we going to accept the modern and contemporary Islamist influences that could be part of the cultural European landscape?” (in Arches Quarterly, Vol.1, Edition 1, p.35- 38).

So when Gordon Brown talks about the idea of ‘setting up in Britain a European Centre of Excellence for Islamic studies’ there can only be hollow laughs and guffaws from the stalls.