Qaradawi: Sharia “Gradualism” For Egypt—And Beyond

Yusuf al-Qaradawi (1926—) is a modern Muslim scholar and preacher best known for his popular Al Jazeera program “ash-Sharia wal-Hayat” (Sharia and Life), and his website Islam Online (now On Islam). He has also published some fifty books, including The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam and Islam: The Future Civilization. Al-Qaradawi was born in Egypt, and attended Al Azhar University. Qaradawi was a follower of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna during his youth, and was imprisoned first under the monarchy in 1949, then three times after the release of his Tyrant and the Scholar, poetic Islamic plays expressing political messages. He has also worked in the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments, has been the Dean of the Islamic Department at the Faculties of Sharia and Education in Qatar, and has been chairman of the Islamic Scientific Councils of Algerian Universities and Institutions. Qaradawi is the head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, and is considered the “Spiritual Guide” of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Friday February 18, 2011 marked Qaradawi’s triumphal return to Cairo, which was sanctioned by the nation’s provisional military rulers, and punctuated the so-called “Arab Spring.” Just before the overwhelming electoral victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and other mainstream Sharia-advocating political parties in Egypt, Qaradawi issued a fatwa (on November 24, 2011) revealing his traditional Islamic Weltanschauung about how Islam’s totalitarian religio-political legal code should be fully re-applied, gradually—in Egypt, and beyond.

The key extracts from Qaradawi’s fatwa (hat tip Dave Reaboi), are provided just below, followed by a brief elaboration of the views of Caliph Umar b. Al-Aziz (r. 717-720 AD), whom Qaradawi cites so approvingly as a timeless example for Islamic governance, according to the Sharia:

Gradualism in applying the Shariah is a wise requirement to follow. In doing so, we will be following Allah’s Laws with regard to physical nature and teachings of Islam. Gradualism was observed in enjoining the obligations of Islam such as Prayer, fasting, et cetera, and in forbidding the prohibitions as well… Being a divine law, gradualism is to be followed on the political level nowadays. That is to say, gradualism is to be observed when it comes to applying the rulings of the Shariah in today’s life when Muslims have been socially, legislatively, and culturally invaded. If we want to establish a real Muslim society, we should not imagine that such an end can be achieved by a mere decision issued to that effect by a king or a president or a council of leaders or a parliament. Gradualism is the means through which such an end can be fulfilled. Gradualism here refers to preparing people ideologically, psychologically, morally, and socially to accept and adopt the application of the Shariah in all aspects of life, and to finding lawful alternatives for the forbidden principles upon which many associations have been founded for so long. Gradualism in that sense does not mean we are to procrastinate and put off applying the Shariah. It is not to be taken as a pretext for discouraging people and foiling their pressing demands to establish Allah’s Laws. It, rather, should spur us to spotlight our aims, set our plans, and decide, sincerely and wisely, on the gradual stages to be taken in that respect. In that way, step by step, and through wise planning, organizing and determination, we can reach the last and long-awaited stage of applying all the teachings of Islam heart and soul. This was the same approach that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) adopted so that he (peace and blessings be upon him) could change the pre-Islamic life of degeneration and ignorance into the enlightened life of Islam. There is an example in that respect which is related concerning Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz* [r. 717-720], whom the Muslim scholars regard as the fifth rightly-guided caliph and a true follower of his great-grandfather, Umar ibn Al-Khattab [r. 634-644]. Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz’s son, Abdul-Malik, who was a firm pious young man, said to his father one day, ‘O father! Why you do not implement the rulings firmly and immediately? By Allah, I would not care if all the world would furiously oppose us so long as we seek to establish the right [that Allah Almighty has enjoined].’ These words show how zealous that young man was to destroy all signs of corruption and deterioration immediately and without delay whatever the consequences. But the wise father said to his son, ‘Do not deal with matters hastily, son. Allah Almighty [Himself] despised drinking alcohol twice in the Qur’an and did not declare it forbidden but in the third time. I am afraid that if I enjoined the right on people at one stroke, they would give it up all at once, which might lead to sedition.’ That attitude of Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz shows that he saw it wise to tackle matters gradually. He was guided in that respect by Allah’s dealing with prohibiting alcohol. Umar wanted to lead people step-by-step towards establishing the right and this, in fact, is the wise juristic approach to handle matters.

Lastly, Qaradawi lionizes Umar b. Al-Aziz (r. 717-720 AD) in this fatwa. Here is what this Caliph Umar (often referred to as Umar II, Umar b. al-Khattab, r. 634-644, the second “Rightly Guided Caliph” being Umar I) wrote to one of his governors about the Sharia-based regulations of dhimmitude for non-Muslims, according to a legal treatise composed by the great Hanafi jurist Abu Yusuf (d. 798):

After the preliminaries [greetings]; do not allow any cross to be exhibited without smashing and destroying it; no Jew or Christian may be allowed to ride upon a saddle, but must use a pack-saddle, and let none of their womenfolk use a padded saddle, but only a pack-saddle; formal decrees must be issued in this respect and the public restricted from disobeying them. No Christian may wear a kaba, nor a fine cloth nor a turban! It has been reported to me that several Christians under your jurisdiction have relapsed into the cus­tom of wearing turbans, no longer wear belts at the waist, and let their hair grow freely without cutting it. Upon my life! if this happens in your entourage, it is on account of your weakness, your incompe­tence, and the flatteries that you heed, and these people know, in resuming their former customs, what kind of person you are. Keep a watch on all I have forbidden and do not contradict those who have done it. Peace.

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