Egyptian clerics clash over Islam’s approach to West

Cairo — It isn’t just East and West that are divided over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Two of the most popular Muslim preachers on Arab television are feuding over whether dialogue or protest is the best approach in the clash of civilizations.

In the pro-dialogue corner is Amr Khaled, who has become wildly popular among young Muslims and women for his youthful style and his sermons applying Islam to day-to-day modern life.

The 38-year-old Mr. Khaled is heading to Denmark – where the drawings were first published – for a conference Friday during which Christian and Muslim religious leaders will discuss the fallout of the prophet cartoons.

For Sheik Youssef el-Qaradawi – a 79-year-old who hosts a weekly show on the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera – the trip to Copenhagen looks like a surrender.

“Dialogue about what?” Mr. el-Qaradawi asked on Al-Jazeera. “You have to have a common ground to have a dialogue with your enemy. But after insulting what is sacred to me, they should apologize.”

The split between the television clerics has touched a wider debate over how to deal with the West and promote the Islamic world’s interests.

The cartoons – first published in September then reprinted in European papers in January and February – sparked protests around the Muslim world. Some turned violent, with protesters killed in Libya and Afghanistan.

The drawings were seen as an insult to Mohammed, depicting him as violent and primitive. Sunni Muslim tradition bans any image of the prophet, since depicting him risks insulting him or encouraging idolatry.

The protests have largely subsided amid calls by Islamic and Western leaders for a stop to violence. But bitterness remains on both sides: Some Muslims feel the West intentionally sought to insult Islam’s most revered figure, while some in the West see Muslims as violently seeking to stifle free speech.

Last month, Mr. Khaled and a conference of some 40 Islamic scholars said the time for protests had passed. They urged discussion instead.

“The deep-rooted solution of this problem is through dialogue to reach an understanding and coexistence between the nations,” Mr. Khaled said.

For Mr. Khaled, a 38-year-old Egyptian, the controversy is an opportunity to engage with the West rather than hold onto old grievances many Muslims feel toward Europe and the United States.

“We have to lay a future base to build our own renaissance,” he told Associated Press in a telephone interview from London on Wednesday.

“There are two schools of thought. One is that all of our actions should be reaction to what happened to us in the past 20 years, which is a lot. The other school wants the Islamic community to take the initiative to plan for the coming 20 years.”

Mr. Khaled has emerged as the most prominent of a new generation of Islamic leaders – distinct with his designer suits and trim mustache, rather than the beard and robes worn by traditional clerics, such as Mr. el-Qaradawi.

Mr. Khaled began preaching almost 10 years ago in social clubs and gatherings in private homes in Egypt. He drew enthusiastic young followers from the middle and upper middle class with his moderate advice and modern style.

He has a weekly program on the Saudi religious channel Iqraa in which he avoids political issues, telling stories about the life of Mohammed and God’s mercy instead of punishment.

His lack of formal religious training has brought him criticism from traditional clerics. Although he studied accounting, he is now pursuing Islamic studies in London.

Mr. el-Qaradawi – also Egyptian – is a hard-liner who often weighs in on politics. He has sparked controversy by condoning attacks on U.S. civilians in Iraq and issuing a religious edict allowing kidnappings in Iraq, although forbidding the killing of hostages.

Mr. el-Qaradawi’s supporters accuse Mr. Khaled of giving up before the West makes concessions over the cartoons.

“The Muslims’ uprising hasn’t born fruit yet, and the West wants us to get out of it without any gains,” Egyptian columnist Selim Azouz wrote Wednesday in the Qatari daily Al-Raya.

Fahmi Howeidy, an Egyptian who writes in the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, said Mr. Khaled was weakening the Islamic world’s hand by going to Denmark.

“Who should be approaching whom?” he said. “The newspaper should approach the victim, or vice versa?”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via the Globe and Mail, Canada
Mar. 8, 2006
Nadia Abou El-Magd

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 8, 2006.
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