Does Yusuf al-Qaradawi Qualify as an Intellectual?


The May/June issue of Foreign Policy lists its picks for the world's top 100 public intellectuals. It's a pretty predictable group—Noam Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Thomas Friedman, Alain Finkielkraut, Orhan Pamuk, etc. The list includes, FP says, the "world's most introspective philosophers and rabble-rousing clerics. A few write searing works of fiction and uncover the mysteries of the human mind. Others are at the forefront of modern finance, politics, and human rights." It was rather surprising, then, to see that the rabble-rousing cleric referenced is the extremist Egyptian preacher and Al-Jazeera host Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Now I understand that by including al-Qaradawi on its list Foreign Policy isn't endorsing the preacher's views anymore than Time Magazine's Man of the Year gongs qualify as endorsements of Stalinism, Nazism, or, more recently, Putinism. It is, of course, merely an acknowledgement of his considerable influence in the Middle East. And while al-Qaradawi is undeniably an influental public figure, is he in any sense an "intellectual"? Because if he qualifies, I'm afraid that the folks at FP will have to start considering people like John Hagee (or the late, unlamented Jerry Falwell) on future lists.

FP describes al-Qaradawi accurately as "Perhaps the most influential preacher in Sunni Islam [and the host of] the weekly show Sharia and Life on the Al Jazeera satellite channel," but should perhaps mention that, in his capacity as "influential preacher," he advises the death penalty for gays and apostates and recommends that husbands beat disobedient wives. On suicide bombings, the Sheik is unequivocal: "It's not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God," and "I consider this type of martyrdom operation [suicide bombing] as an evidence of God's justice." On Muslims that have committed the sin of apostasy: "'He is no more than a traitor to his religion and his people and thus deserves killing." On wife beating: "If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her… If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to admonish her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive areas.'" In other words, try to punch her in the stomach, where the brusies won't show. After rumors surfaced that the Crown Prince of Qatar was spotted in a London gay bar, al-Qaradawi recommended that he be executed by stoning, "whether he is married or unmarried." Lionel Trilling, this guy is not.

Incidentally, all of this was known to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who famously invited al-Qaradawi to London, claiming that the he was "a powerfully progressive force for change" in the Middle East. But in February, the British government refused to grant al-Qaradawi a visa, stating that "The UK will not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify any act of terrorist violence."