To read Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s 1984 book Islamic Education and Hasan al-Bana is to
get an Islamic education. Nobody should be allowed to talk about Islam or
political Islamism without having read this or similar texts. Just as with
Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” the Islamists, too, disdain to conceal their aims.
Yet those who don’t read their actual texts, speeches and debates but only their
public relations misinformation know nothing.
It’s easy to see why
Qaradawi is the leading Sunni Islamist thinker in the world today, the spiritual
guide behind Egypt’s Islamist revolution. He knows how to express his ideas
clearly and persuasively.
Here is his depiction of the Muslim world
before the rise of revolutionary Islamism to power and prominence: “The
condition of the Muslim nation was like a wasteland in the middle of the
Blind imitation of self-made Western laws and
appreciation of foreign values had set over the lives of Muslims... whose names
were no doubt Islamic but [whose] brains were West-bred.”
different angle on what for the Western author would be a tale of Western
imperialism and the technological and organizational backwardness of Muslim
peoples. Qaradawi does not put the emphasis on Western strength or even
injustice but on Muslim weakness. He does not flinch from facing the
humiliations of the situation. He promises – as the Arab nationalists did 60
years ago – that his doctrine will bring rapid development and tremendous power.
Like Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once said, Qaradawi pledges to the West,
“We will bury you.”
Islamism is a formula to turn inferiority into
superiority, to make the Muslim world number one in the world. It uses religion
and is formed by key themes in Islam, but ultimately has nothing to do with
religion as such. This is a political movement.
Qaradawi is not upset by
recent US policy, but by Western policy going back over a century. This
bitterness is not going to be conciliated. The problem is not in Western actions
– which anyway cannot be undone – but with the interpretation of these actions.
They are seen as rooted in a desire to destroy Islam, as being based on a
permanent enmity, and no gesture by contemporary Western leaders can lead to the
end of this view. On the contrary, such things will be interpreted through the
prism of this view, as a trick or a sign of retreat and
Moreover, Qaradawi does not talk about the need for
urbanization, the equality of women, modern education, and greater freedom.
Indeed, his view is totally contrary to that of leftist, liberal or nationalist
Muslims, who would stress the need to borrow any ideas and methods other than
purely technological ones, from the West in order to gain equality and even
Think of how Asia has succeeded – Japan, South Korea,
Singapore, and now even China – through eagerness to blend borrowings,
adaptation and its own historic culture. No, for Qaradawi the issue is
completely one of the abandonment of Islam.
Equally, while defeat in
World War II taught Japan to forget about military conquest and China’s decades
of relative failure taught it to change course, Qaradawi favors blood and
violence, revolution and totalitarianism.
Note, too, that Qaradawi is far
more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill demagogic firebrand. He does not
criticize the Muslims who wanted to become Westernized. Rather he feels sorry
for them, calling them “victims.” That’s how one builds a movement with a wider
base of support, though the actual Islamists in the field rarely show such a
Moreover, as a man of religion, Qaradawi feels no need –
at least consciously – to create a new ideology.
Indeed, human action is
not at all the fountainhead of his view of history: Nevertheless, Qaradawi
refers to the movement as revolutionary. He knows that its goal is to seize
state power and then use that position and the compulsion it offers to transform
“When circumstances reached this limit, God’s will came into
action. He took over the responsibility of the protection of Islam.... To revive
Islam, to put life in the dead spirit of the nation, and to carry it to the
climax of success and development. He chose Hasan al-Banna, who laid the
foundation of the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement.”
This passage is notable
for its claim that Banna was divinely inspired, literally a
Western observers often take for granted or discount the
seriousness of movements claiming they are a direct instrument of God’s will.
They are used to subvert far weaker contemporary Western religious impulses or
look at those from the past that crumbled in a test of wills with rationalism,
modernism, material interests, and personal hypocrisy.
Yet the sincere
and profoundly belief that one’s worldview is a product of divine will – an
attitude shared by not a single leader or party in any industrialized state –
has profound implications. It means that you don’t sell out, get seduced by
materialistic lusts, or moderate your ideas and goals, except as a conscious,
short-term tactical expedient that you reverse at the first possible
The West has not dealt with such a situation of a sincerely
held, radical ideology that motivates people for a long time. The suicide bomber
has become the symbol of that characteristic, which used to be called
“fanaticism” and can now merely be summarized as people who really believe what
they say and intend to do what they declare, even unto death.
writes, “If discourse is but verbal and the characters of such persons are free
from those principles which he is propagating, then such invitations [to support
these ideas] dash against the ears and become empty echoes.”
years after Qaradawi explained the movement’s ideas clearly, the opponents of
Islamism have barely begun their attempt to understand and educate others on
this ideology.The author is the director of the Global Research in
International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. His forthcoming book is Nazis, Islamists,
and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Yale University
Press). (rubinreports.blogspot.com) (www.gloria-center.org)