Born in the village of Saft Turab in the Nile Delta, Al-Qaradawi, an Islamic theologian, was raised by his uncle after his father’s passing. There, he attended “kuttab” (Qur’anic schools), memorizing the Qur’an by the age of 9.
He eventually began to lead Ramadan prayers in his area, and joined the Institute of Religious Studies in the Egyptian city of Tanta, graduating nine years later.
He met the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna, when he was giving a speech at the school.
Al-Banna’s writings influenced and shaped Al-Qaradawi’s political and religious thinking for years to come.
The Brotherhood was deemed dangerous by Egypt in the 1940s, and a terrorist organization by many countries later in the century.
As a young man, Al-Qaradawi attended Brotherhood meetings and lectures, and joined its youth wing at the age of 14 after meeting Al-Banna.
Al-Qaradawi later pursued his studies at Al-Azhar University, studying Islamic theology and graduating in 1953.
He was imprisoned during the reign of King Farouq in 1949, and three times under Gamal Abdel Nasser, for plotting a failed assassination attempt on the president in 1954, for preaching against the presence of the British command in Egypt, and for escalated Islamic political activity.
After his release, Al-Qaradawi continued his studies and received his master’s degree in Qur’anic studies in 1960 from Al-Azhar University.
The Brotherhood was forced underground in the 1960s soon after his graduation, prompting his move to Qatar in 1961.
While working in Qatar, he grew close to then-ruler Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani and was granted a Qatari passport.
From his new post, Al-Qaradawi openly advanced his inflammatory political interests in the region and broadened the Brotherhood’s Qatar chapter, backed by Doha.
His professed mission was to reclaim the proper mantle of Islam by liberating the Muslim world from Western hegemony.
After Sheikh Khalifa was deposed by his son Sheikh Hamad in a bloodless coup in 1995, Al-Qaradawi rose to greater prominence.
The cleric justified the coup as “necessary” for the nation, and he developed closer ties with Sheikh Hamad thereafter.
In 1996, the state-owned news channel Al Jazeera went on air, with “Ash-Shariah wal-Hayat” as one of its top live shows.
As host, Al-Qaradawi was given a platform where he reiterated his radical views to an estimated audience of more than 40 million.
He has written extensively on Islam and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), while building close relations with Islamic organizations worldwide.
Through the publishing of his book “Fiqh Al-Jihad” in 2009, he spearheaded a global campaign to reaffirm his view of jihad in the Muslim world.
He issued extreme and violent fatwas (religious edicts) that justified suicide bombings, violence against all Jews, and the killing of American soldiers, apostates and homosexuals.
For years, millions across the Arab world watched Al-Qaradawi’s face on TV. He exploited new media to reach a global audience, gaining fame by serving in various Islamic organizations and hosting his own shows, starting from the 1970s on Qatari radio then moving to TV.
He frequently appeared on Al-Hayat TV, BBC Arabic, Palestinian Authority TV, Al-Faraeen TV and Al-Hiwar TV.
Al-Qaradawi established the International Union of Muslim Scholars in Doha in 2004, which was listed as a terrorist organization by various Arab countries. He founded several other organizations to spread his extremist ideologies.
As the Arab Spring gained momentum and created a power vacuum, Al-Qaradawi voiced his support for the overthrow of the Syrian, Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian governments.
In a thunderous voice on “Ash-Shariah wal-Hayat” in 2013, he lambasted Muslim countries as weak, calling for people to overthrow their governments and launch a war against all who oppose the Brotherhood.
He referred to these people as “khawarij” (enemies of Islam), including those who participated in the June 2013 revolt against then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Brotherhood.
Al-Qaradawi issued fatwas calling on Egyptians to boycott the 2014 election that brought Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to power. The cleric called on the nation to “resist the oppressors” and support a Muslim state.
He was sentenced to death in absentia in 2015 by Egypt’s government for his involvement in a 2011 jailbreak during the uprising that ousted then-President Hosni Mubarak.
In January 2018, an Egyptian military court sentenced Al-Qaradawi, again in absentia, to life in prison on charges of incitement to murder, spreading false news and vandalizing public property in relation to the 2015 death of a police officer.
Since Sheikh Hamad handed power to his son Sheikh Tamim in 2013, Al-Qaradawi has remained close to Qatar’s current emir while continuing to rise in global notoriety.
On jihad and terrorism
Al-Qaradawi is an avid advocate of suicide bombings, saying in a fatwa on his website that martyrdom is a higher form of jihad.
In a 2005 interview on the BBC’s “Newsnight” program, he praised suicide bombings in Israeli-occupied Palestine as martyrdom in the name of God.
“I supported martyrdom operations, and I am not the only one. Hundreds of Islamic scholars supported these operations. We were in the International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Kuwait and hundreds of scholars signed a fatwa (supporting such operations),” he said.
Al-Qaradawi condemned the 9/11 attacks in a statement a few days after they occurred, and forbade the killing of American civilians, drawing a contrast between an unprovoked attack and a war against occupiers in a fatwa issued later.
He justified an uprising against the American presence in Iraq and permitted the killing of those who fight.
He encouraged Muslims who were unable to fight to financially support mujahideen (those engaged in jihad) everywhere in foreign lands.
In a juxtaposition to his documented rhetoric, he recently denied supporting extremists in a tweet from his official Twitter account.
“I stood against extremism and extremists for approximately a quarter of a century,” he tweeted. “I saw its threat on deen and dunya (religion and the temporal world), on the individual and society, and I have reinforced my pen, tongue and thought (to support) the call for moderation and reject exaggeration and negligence, either in the field of fiqh and fatwa (Islamic jurisprudence and legal pronouncement in Islam) or in the field of tableegh and da’wah (revelation and preaching).”
On Jews and Europeans
Al-Qaradawi has issued fatwas authorizing attacks on all Jews. On Al Jazeera Arabic in January 2009, he said: “Oh God, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam … Oh God, take the treacherous Jewish aggressors … Oh God, take this cunning, arrogant band. Oh God, they’ve spread too much tyranny and corruption on Earth. Oh God, take this Jewish Zionist band of aggressors and do not spare a single one of them. Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none.”
He has similar disdain for Europeans, advocating for the return of Islam to the continent on Qatar TV in 2007.
“I think that Islam will conquer Europe without resorting to the sword or fighting. Europe is miserable with materialism, with the philosophy of promiscuity and with the immoral considerations that rule the world — considerations of self-interest and self-indulgence,” he said.
“It’s high time (Europe) woke up and found a way out from this, and it won’t find a lifesaver or a lifeboat other than Islam.”
Al-Qaradawi’s fatwas against women include justifying the beating of wives. “Beating is permitted (to the man) in the most limited of cases, and only in a case when the wife rebels against her husband,” he said on Al Jazeera’s “Ash-Shariah wal-Hayat” in October 1997.
“The beating, of course, will not be with a whip, a stick or a board. The beating will be according to what the Prophet (Muhammad) said to a servant girl who annoyed him on a particular matter: ‘If it were not for fear of punishment in the Hereafter, I would have beaten you with this miswak (a teeth-cleaning stick)’,” Al-Qaradawi added.
“Likewise, the beating must come only after admonishment, and expelling (the wife) from the bed (as is said in the Qur’an 4:34): ‘Admonish them, leave them alone in their beds, and beat them’.”
In a fatwa posted on www.islamonline.net, Al-Qaradawi said: “It is forbidden to beat the woman, unless it is necessary, and she ‘is in a state of rebellion’ against the husband and flouts him. This is temporary discipline (ta’adib) that is permitted to him according to the Quran in exceptional circumstances, when other efforts of admonishing (the wife) have failed and removing her from the bed as Allah said: ‘As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them pretexts (for annoyance): for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all)’ (Qur’an 4:34). Despite this permission for the hour of necessity, the Prophet said: ‘The good men from among you do not beat (their wives)’.”
In the case of masturbation, Al-Qaradawi said on Qatar TV in 2006: “Female masturbation is more risky than male masturbation … Sometimes women insert a finger, and some women insert objects that may be risky, especially since the hymen is very sensitive, and any tampering with it may tear it. This might expose the woman to accusations. She may tell them ‘I did this or that,’ but they may not believe her. They will think she must have had forbidden relations with some guys.”
Al-Qaradawi’s far-reaching fatwas and contentious doctrines are a dangerous threat to the Islamic world and beyond, which is why he has been banned from many countries. His usually calm temperament belies his allegiances to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.