Quite early in his life, Shaykh al-Qaradawi came under the influence of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (The Society of Muslim Brothers), a religious and social movement founded by an eminent Egyptian reformer, Shaykh Hasan al-Banna in 1928. Shaykh al-Banna believed that Islam represented not just a body of beliefs and rituals but a comprehensive ideology and a system of life which encompassed religious, social, economic and political dimensions. He forcefully spoke against the British military occupation of Egypt and the foreign control of public services. In the 1940s the Ikhwan emerged as the most popular force against British imperialism in Egypt and against Zionism. The organization grew rapidly and by 1945 had half a million active members.
From the days of its inception, the Muslim Brotherhood has espoused an active engagement with society through a network of religious, educational and communitarian institutions and projects. It set up its own schools, hospitals, companies and factories and made inroads into universities, trade unions and the armed forces. By the mid-1940s the Ikhwan began to adopt a radical posture in political matters, as a result of which it came in conflict with the ruling establishment. The organization was banned by the government, and Hasan al-Banna was assassinated by the Egyptian secret police in 1949.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi’s close association with the Muslim Brotherhood earned him the wrath of the Egyptian authorities and he was imprisoned during King Farouq’s reign in 1949 and later by Jamal Abd al-Nasser. He left Egypt for Qatar in 1961. In 1977 he laid the foundation for the Faculty of Shariah and Islamic Studies at the University of Qatar and became the faculty’s dean.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi is a prolific writer, having written nearly 100 books and tracts, which primarily focus on Islamic law. Two of his well-known books, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam and Islam: The Future Civilization have been translated into English, French, Urdu and many other languages. He has been honoured with several coveted awards and prizes, including the Islamic Development Bank Prize in Islamic Economics in 1991 and the King Faisal International Prize for Islamic Studies in 1994. He is the president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars. A distinctive combination of traits and characteristics sets him apart from his contemporaries and other scholars in the Islamic world. These include his moderation and balanced judgement, his unrelenting effort to present Islamic principles and teachings in the context of present times, his concern and engagement with the problems and challenges facing the Muslim ummah in the Arab region and in the Islamic world, his emphasis on forging unity and consensus on fundamental issues among Muslims in general and among the ulama in particular, his advocacy of dialogue with non-Muslims, and his endeavour to reach out to large numbers of people through the use of modern information and communication technologies.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi has criticized narrow-mindedness, intolerance and bigotry in a section of Muslims as well as the prevalence of certain un-Islamic and retrogressive practices such as female genital mutilations, which is still widely practiced in parts of Africa. He urged the Taliban to desist from tearing down the Buddha statues at Damiyan in Afghanistan, which went unheeded.
In keeping with Islamic precepts regarding the protection of the life, property, honour and the judicial, religious and cultural autonomy of non-Muslims in the Islamic state, Shaykh Qaradawi has consistently supported the protection of the rights and identities of non-Muslim minorities living in Muslim countries. He has stated: “Non-Muslim people who live under the protection of an Islamic government enjoy special privileges. They are referred to as "the Protected People" (ahl al-dhimma or dhimmis), meaning that Allah, His Messenger and the community of Muslims have made a covenant with them that they may live in safety and security under the Islamic government. In modern terminology, dhimmies are "citizens" of the Islamic state. From the earliest period of Islam to the present day, Muslims are in unanimous agreement that they enjoy the same rights and carry the same responsibilities as Muslims themselves, while being free to practice their own faiths”.
He has also supported inter-faith dialogue, especially between Muslims and Christians and Jews. He told a group of rabbis from the radical anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta, who visited Qatar in 2008: “There is no enmity between Muslims and Jews. Jews who believe in the authentic Torah are very close to Muslims. Muslims are only against the expansive, oppressive Zionist movement, not the Jews.”
The horrendous acts of violence and wanton killing by a small group of fanatics and militants on the fringes of Muslims societies have evidently widened the gulf between Muslims and the rest of the world. The terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, London, Mumbai and other cities have reinforced the negative perception of Muslims and have increased the mistrust between Muslims and the wider society in Europe and the US. Suicide attacks carried out by misguided youths in many parts of the world, in which innocent civilians, including women and children are killed, have heightened the atmosphere of fear and insecurity around the world. The Al Azhar University in Cairo and Darul Uloom Deoband in India as well as many prominent scholars and institutions of Islamic learning around the world have condemned reckless violence and terrorism—which are ostensibly legitimated in the name of jihad--in unequivocal terms. In 2007 one of Osama Bin Laden’s most prominent mentors, Salman al-Awdah, wrote an open letter criticizing him for “fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families”. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of al-Qaeda’s founders, who had described the 9/11 attacks on the US as “a catastrophe for Muslims,” said in 2007, “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property”.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi has unequivocally declared that violence and terrorism and the killing of innocent people is against the principles and teachings of Islam. He condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and urged Muslims to donate blood to the victims of the carnage. He stated: “Islam, the religion of tolerance, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin, this is backed by the Qur'anic verse which reads: “Who so ever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and who so ever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind" (Al-Ma'dah:32). The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said, “A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he doesn't kill another person illegally.” Islam never allows a Muslim to kill the innocent and the helpless.” However, Shaykh al-Qaradawi has justified the armed resistance by the Palestinians against the oppressive state of Israel and by the Iraqi people against the US-led occupation forces. He has been banned from entering the United States and Britain on this account.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi’s moderation and balance and broad-mindedness are reflected in his views and in his fatawa on modern education, globalisation and Islamic law. Interestingly, three of his daughters hold doctorates from British universities. One of them, Ilham al-Qaradawi, is an internationally recognized nuclear scientist. Shaykh al-Qaradawi has issued a fatwa in favour of organ transplantation and blood donations.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi was among the first Muslim scholars to realize the great potential of modern information and communication technologies, especially satellite television and the Internet, for the dissemination of Islamic principles and teachings. His regular programme on Al-Jazeera TV “Al-Shariah wal-Hayat” (Shariah and Life) is highly popular and is watched by an estimated audience of over 40 million across the Middle East and North Africa as well as by expatriate Arabs in North America, Europe and Australia and New Zealand. IslamOnline is a highly popular website which Shaykh al-Qaradawi helped found in 1997. The website regularly carried his fatawa on a wide variety of subjects and issues. He is the head of the Ireland-based European Council for Fatwa and Research. His speeches and sermons are regularly uploaded on YouTube.
True to the cherished tradition of the Muslim Brotherhood, Shaykh al-Qaradawi has consistently pursued an active and relentless engagement with the pressing issues and challenges facing the Muslim ummah. However, he turned down offers, in 1976 and 2004, to lead the Ikhwan. He supported the uprising against the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and urged him to step down. At the same time, he cautioned the Egyptian people that violence against public institutions was prohibited by Islam.
Following the massive uprising of the Egyptian people which forced Hosni Mubarak to step down, Shaykh al-Qaradawi visited Cairo, after a gap of 50 years, to address a huge gathering—estimated at between one and three million--at Tahrir Square and to deliver the Friday sermon. “Don’t fight history, “he told the multitude of people gathered at the iconic Tahrir Square. “You can’t delay the day when it starts. The Arab world has changed,” he thundered.
In his sermon, Shaykh al-Qaradawi spoke in favour of democracy and pluralism, which have long been the recurrent themes in his writings and speeches. He began by saying “O Muslims and Copts,” referring to Egypt’s Coptic Christians who have been living in the country since the first century of the Christian era. He showered praise on both Muslims and Christians for standing together and for ushering in a democratic revolution. “I invite you to bow down in prayer together, “he told the Copts. He urged the young people to safeguard this newly-won and precious freedom. “Protect it. Don’t you dare let anyone steal it from you,” he cautioned.
Shaykh al-Qaradawi urged the Egyptian military officers to fulfill their promise to hand over power to a civilian government founded on principles of democracy, freedom and pluralism. He called on the army to immediately release all political prisoners. He voiced the feelings and sentiments of millions of Egyptians when he said, “We want a new government without any of these faces whom people no longer stand.”