A popular Egyptian Muslim preacher and television superstar is organising a conference in Denmark this week in a first high-profile religious effort to turn the page on the Prophet Mohammed cartoon controversy.
But the initiative by Amr Khaled, who is taking several prominent religious figures and a group of Muslim youths to Copenhagen to raise awareness about the Prophet, has exposed rifts between Muslim scholars.
Sheikh Youssef Qardawi, the Qatar-based cleric with a large following in the Middle East, has criticised the Khaled-sponsored conference opening on Thursday and is preparing a competing event in Bahrain next week to highlight Muslim anger over the cartoons.
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Mr Qardawi told Asharq al-Awsat, the Saudi newspaper, that he had refused to meet with a Danish government delegation and had warned Mr Khaled against actions that could benefit Denmark in this dispute.
First published by Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten in September – and later reprinted in other newspapers across Europe – the caricatures of the Prophet provoked a furious reaction, ranging from boycotts of Danish goods to violent riots in several countries. The crisis reflected a deep conflict, which some analysts saw as growing Islamophobia in Europe while others interpreted as a clash between western values and Islam.
The boycott of Danish products is continuing but the protests have subsided, allowing for the initiation of a dialogue over the roots of the crisis. A Saudi-backed television show, for example, has taken a group of young Arabs to Denmark to discuss the controversy.
Mr Khaled is a modern-day, clean shaven preacher, who wears a suit and promotes a non-political Islam in weekly television sermons on the Saudi-owned Iqraa station.
He has spent a good part of his time in recent years in the UK, where the government has solicited his advice on dealing with discontent in the Muslim community.
Mr Khaled said the demonstrations against the cartoons represented a warning that a problem exists. “But you have to resolve this problem and you have to move to a dialogue,“ he told the Financial Times.
He said that, as part of his efforts to calm the crisis, 120 Muslim preachers, including the heads of the official religious establishments in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, had backed a statement saying that protests, but not violence, were a legitimate reaction to the cartoons. This week, several preachers will be accompanying him to Copenhagen to meet with Danish religious figures.
Mr Khaled said there were two schools of thought about how Muslim scholars should approach the cartoon dispute, one favouring more confrontation, the other calling for dialogue and co-habitation.