Al-Qaradawi and the Shiite invasion

Al-Qaradawi’s statements, concerning the “Shiite invasion” to the Sunni societies, still arouses a huge controversy. Understanding his statements necessitates putting them in a bigger picture, where we can situate the importance of this issue with regard to the Arab and Muslim world.


First, let’s take a brief look on the Sunni-Shiite split. This split is 1,400 years old, and started with a fight over who should lead the faithful after the Prophet’s death in s632. However, this fight did not transform into a fragmentation between the Muslims until the death of Ali ibn abi Taleb, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. After the death of Ali, one side believed that the direct descendants of the prophet should take up the role of the caliph, and they were known as the “Shiat Ali”, or the Partisans of Ali. As for the Sunnis they believed that no one is worthy of taking up the role, regardless of lineage, and this matter is resolved by “Shura” (consultation). Up until this moment we are talking about a conflict or a sectarianism that’s taking place inside the Islamic state, something more like an intellectual difference, and the Islamic state preserved its political unity despite that. This status remained till 1502 when Ismail safawi, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, started his campaign till he unified Iran by 1509. Ismail was a Shia Muslim, and after seizing power in Iran he declared Schism as the official doctrine for Iran, before that Iran was a Sunni state. The importance of this glimpse was to point out that Schism was a political movement basically, and not a religious one, that started to intertwine with the spiritual or the religious aspect later on.


At this stage there was a new conception to the post of the caliph, according to the Sunni theory, it sought to rationalize the post of the caliph, he was elected and

Shura” was the main principle of ruling the Muslim states. The Shiite theory, on the other hand, theologized the conception of the caliph, and the post is confined to Ahl el-Bayt (the people of the house) who are the descendants of the prophet’s family and they are called Imams, note here that the Shia maintain that Ali was the first DIVINELY sanctioned Imam. Consequently, the Imam is immune to error since it is a religious position, further; the Imam is equated to the Prophet he does the same role, the only difference is that the sacred texts were revealed to the Prophet by God (Allah) other than that, they perform the same task.

The Shia’s believe in the religious authority of the Imams erupted the necessity of religiously re-interpreting the sacred texts, in order to determine who should lead the Muslims. The Shiites started to refer that the problem actually existed in the Islamic revelation itself, and that there was an exoteric and esoteric interpretations from the very beginning, and they went further by saying that only the Imam who could possibly posses these two aspects, they are basically united in him. Now, the debate has shifted, its not about who should be the successor of the Prophet, rather what’s the function of the Imam and his qualifications. Note here something, according to the Sunni vision only the Prophet is the infallible person, as for the Shiites the Imam is as infallible as the Prophet. The issue is significantly sensitive for the Sunnis because their teachings and obligations are derived directly from Sunnah (the sayings and the actions that were instituted by the Prophet), but in the Shiite envision Sunnah – and according to some Shiite schools but not all the Quran also – is incomplete, and here comes the role of the Imam who the two aspects of authority are united in him. Anyway, in the day-to-day practices Sunni and Shiites share similar understanding of basic Islamic beliefs and exhibit no difference in performing their obligatory prayers.


Basically the main issue here was re-interpreting the sacred texts; Sunnis consider the sacred texts complete and tight, and thus the attempts of revamping or re-interpreting done by the Shiites were not accepted and the Sunnis considered them heretics however, they never judged them as infidels. On the other hand, Shiites considered those who don’t believe in the Imam‘s rule are infidels, however, they throwback this judgment later on in order to create some sort of convergence with the Sunnis.


Now let’s shift to Iran. Iran is imposing itself as the Shiite sponsor, and in the same time, it’s developing its role regionally. The main force that is directing Iran is its Shiite belief, therefore, it’s logical and normal that the Arab world represents the domain of its extension; in the region lives the majority of the Shiites in the world, historically it was part of the Persian Empire, it controls massive resources that are lumped and controlling these capacities promises not only a regional role, but an international one as well, but most important of all spreading the tenets of the Islamic revolution. Iran is aware of the Political vacuum that attributes the Arab world, its political and regional influence is remarkable through supporting and backing specific groups and parties, the thing that would be more inveterate when sharing a common understating and here comes the role of Schism, anyway, it’s working on 3 fronts: firstly, Its engaging in cooperative relationship with the Gulf countries, nevertheless, tainted with a parade of strength showing who’s the dominator. Secondly, Sponsoring and supporting the line of resistance in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. This point is conspicuously interesting, since, in my opinion, Israel isn’t the main threat facing Iran, unlike the Kurdish case; for instance, about 8% of Iranian population is Kurds, they inhabit the areas bordering Iraq and Turkey, and they represent a problem to the government especially with the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. Thirdly, Adopting an obscure strategy towards Egypt. From one side, trying neutralizing its role, basically by replacing its role as the main support for the line of resistance and inherently criticizing it, and from the other side presenting itself as paragon in the region, especially by challenging the US and Israel, while Egypt maintains its alliance with them.


Inside the region, there are two trends. Those who advocate cooperation with Iran, as it offers a crucial depth and a broader space for maneuver in dealing with the US and Israel, especially, over critical issues like Palestine, Lebanon…Fahmy Huwaidi represents one of the leaders of this trend. The other trend is composed of those who are suspicious of the Iranian intents and believe that its aspiring regional ambitions and not just simply defending the Arab causes, adherents of this trend are Arab governments mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and secular and leftist intellectuals.


So, how did Al-Qaradawi get into the middle of all that? Actually, he did not. The problem with Al-Qaradawi’s statements did not erupt because of him, but, because the statements were exposed to different interpretations; for those who are pro the cooperation with Iran, Al-Qaradawi’s statement were deemed disastrous for the attempts of unifying the efforts. For those who are suspecting the Iranian intentions, his statements represented an assurance to their fears. What fueled the situation even more was the interference of Islamic scholars, not only defending Al-Qaradawi, but attacking the Shiites fiercely. Nevertheless, the Iranian response to Al-Qaradawi was very harsh and offensive, remarkably, most of the responses focused on tainting the man’s reputation without real trail to refute what he said, in addition, there was no real study for this response in the Arabic media, the main concentration was on taking sides in the dispute, without really explaining what does his statements mean or what’s really referring to?


Let’s use Al-Qaradawi’s viewpoint to correctly answer that question. Al-Qaradawi is considered as a moderate Sunni scholar, however, he’s aware that his major role, not just interpretations of Quran and offering Fatwa (religious edicts), rather it is defending the sanctity of the sacred texts, and fortifying the society from any attempts of distorting its understanding of the religion.


According to Al-Qaradawi defending religion is priority, and cannot be subjected to any negotiations or bargains, thus he declares that he advocates the cooperation and alliance with Iran, yet he’s aware of the Iranian/Shiite aspirations and believes that they are not in the best interest of the society, for him, Iran is utilizing the religion for achieving political interests. Those who interpreted Al-Qaradawi’s statements feared that it could lead to a rupture with Iran, and then the Arabs would lose a substantial ally that not only share their concerns, but also, their beliefs, history and partially their culture. Al-Qaradawi, on the other hand, witnesses a severe weakness in the Arab societies, politically, economically and even socially, this situation would foreshadow a crisis for the religious convictions. For instance, Egypt is corrupted politically, in the citizens’ eye it is subject to the US foreign policy, and tightening its grip inside, the economy is in turmoil and the way its functioning is increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, as a result, the levels of corruption within the society increases in order to face the stance they are living in. On the other hand, Iran is representing itself as a successful paragon to this society, and most importantly, it’s a successful religious state, the thing that becomes attractive especially to the youth. So, Al-Qaradawi is calling for fortifying the Sunni societies, and his call was not intending to provoke or offend the Shiites, rather to act as a wake up call for the Sunnis, who, in his eyes, are impressed with the Iranian role and convinced that it represents a chance to balance their position in the region. He understands that the calls for unity cannot lead to anything except turning a blind eye towards the Iranian intentions, unity comes only between equals and he is aware that this is not the case between the Arabs and Iran, and that’s the point that most of his interpreters, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, his adherents missed to understand.



Notwithstanding, the people would support and back Al-Qaradawi, although I cannot claim that they are totally aware of the meanings, but it is the position that the religion holds in their lives, moreover, Al-Qaradawi’s credibility is unquestionable in the Sunni/Arab world. Thus his calls were met with sentimental and strong support. This issue is directly related to the Arab character, religion holds priority, it’s a stable elements and its sanctity should defended by all means and at all costs.   

9 Responses

  1. […] Posted on September 28, 2008 by Rob I highly recomend readers check out Mr Egypt’s post  on Qaradawi.  I write an intoduction here because we have major copy and paste issues with Mr […]

  2. outstanding post; your analysis clears up a lot of questions i had. Now I see his comments as less bigoted and divisive then they first seemed at face-value.

  3. I actually did not hear about the Qaradawi controversy until reading about it here. I suppose mostly because it is Ramadan, and I sort of take a vacation from the news in Ramadan. I have other things to do. But, I went to the Masri El Yoom piece and read what Qardawi had to say. It is not as incendiary as it may first appear. I would say that from a orthodox Sunni point of view, Qaradawi’s statement that the Shia are مبتعيون is more or less taken as given. So that statement should not be too controversial amongst the ahl al-Sunna. I suspect also that the Shia know that their co-religionists view them in this regard. I can’t quite agree that the term he used will actually be understood to mean “heretics” at least not with the same implications that the word carries in the Western tradition. To those embedded in the discourse, the word will have immediate resonance as referring to the concept of بدعة or “innovation” in religious belief or practice-a serious enough transgression in the eyes of the orthodox, but still not heresy in the Christian sense of the word. It is fairly clear that El Qaradawi does not mean it in that regard either, as he readily acknowledges that the Shia are Muslims. Most Sunnis look at the issue this way too; but they also regard it as perfectly acceptable for each to pray with the other. I happen to live in a mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhood-mostly Shia, but the closest mosque is avowedly Sunni, and Shia and Sunni pray there together.

    But if you turn on the tellie, you can hear the Shia call to prayer broadcast over the airwaves. At sunset, it comes ten minutes after the Sunni call to prayer, which during Ramadan you may hear in the streets as well; I suppose the neighbors turn their tellies up. That and the call to prayer itself are innovative in Sunni conceptions:

    الله اكبر
    اشهد ان لا اله الا الله
    اشهد أن محمداً رسول الله
    اشهد ان علياً ولي الله
    حيّ على الصلاة
    حيّ على الفلاح
    حيّ على خير العمل
    الله اكبر
    لا اله الا الله

    Lines four and seven are not pronounced in the Sunni call to prayer and are considered innovative. (If you are in Egypt, you can go to Ibn Tulun Mosque, and see the first four lines written on the pier in front of the the daqqa. It is worth going to Ibn Tulun for its own sake, by the way.)

    Mind you, the term بدعة is thrown round with abandon in popular discourse, as is حرام. But Qaradawi is using it carefully and precisely in his capacity as a spiritual guide, one of whose principle duties is to answer questions from the faithful. He could scarcely have refused to answer the question. Yet in answering, he would have felt responsible to give a measured, responsible reply that reflects more or less mainstream Sunni conceptions.

    The doctrinal differences, then, are anlagous to those between the Orthodix and Catholic Churches or between Catholics and Protestants, and just about as old. Taken in that light, protests that analagous pronunciations might be considered outrageous in Western discourse are not entirely on the mark. In some Protestant circles, it is quite acceptable to denounce Catholicism as idolatry:
    Granted this is from a group, the Local Church Movement, followers of Korean convert Watchman Nee and his disciple Witness Lee, who themselves might be considered adherents of heretical doctrines. But the controversy over Catholic “idolatry” is well entrenched in American Protestantism:,+idolatry&source=web&ots=dh6F98PpkY&sig=yuI-BmmybSeWTYU_vlfY10ITxaY&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA64,M1.

    Compare also a Jewish view:

    In fact there is no clear concept of heresy in Arabic as it is understood the Christian sense (recall that almost all Arab Christian sects would be considered heretical in the Western Church); a clear indication of this is that the closest Arabic equivalent is هرطقة, which is clearly a borrowing from a European language. The English dictionaries include heresy and heretical in their definitions of the words derived from بدع but those are not necessarily trustworthy definitions. A closer approximation is مروق, which is used in Islamicist discourse as a denunciation of those who do not agree with whatever doctrine is being propounded. (The same root is used in the borrowed concept of a rogue state دولة مارقة).

    Had Qaradawi said that the Shia are مارقون, he then would have been using incendiary language.

  4. Semi-expert,
    As usual thanks for sharing your insights from Lebanon. Also, thanks for the insight on the different linguistic differences between the words. This is very helpful.

    I agree with your point about the Bida’a comment not being especially inflammatory. But the part about the Shia’s trying to invade Sunni society seemed somewhat moreso. It really didn’t have much to do with religion here, but it just seemed, at least to me, a somehwat provactative statement for someone who in the past has been known for trying to bring the Sunni and Shia together.

  5. The invasion of the Shia part was indeed somewhat more, how shall we say it? Innovative? Rather out of character for El Qaradawi. Too.

  6. I saw Qardawi on Al-Jazeera basically say that he has many friends who are Shia. What he is stressing is that everyone should know their place as the consequences of proselytism between the groups could lead to many problems. I believe he is also frightened at what happened in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam and that it could repeat elsewhere with terrible consequences.

  7. Although the opinion piece is quite interesting, its historical background is flawed. Let us just concentrate on the first paragraph: The name of “partisans of Ali” was used to designate those who defended Ali’s right to become the caliph since before his death. And there was a strong and long-lasting Shiite state before the Safavids, namely the Fatimids, who were based in Egypt.

  8. thanks for your comment, I will track down Mr. Egypt and have him respond.

  9. Thanks for your point Ana, however, I’m totally aware of what you’ve referred to.
    But firstly let me explain few points about this article that are important to mention, so that you can have a better look to what I have written. The historical background that I’ve wrote was not intended to narrate the Shiite history, rather to designate 3 main points: Why does Schism represent a threat to the Sunni societies as was mentioned by Al-Qaradawi? To Understand ,in a simple manner I admit, the origin of the idea, that Schism is a Political movement not a religious one. Thirdly, the relation between Schism and Iran, Iran represents the Shiites stronghold, and its very obvious that Schism played a different role in the Iranian society than it did in any other society that has encountered Schism at any period of its history.
    Concerning what you have remarked. I have mentioned that the split started with a fight over who should lead the faithful after the Prophet’s death in 632, yet this dispute did not develop to a fragmentation within the Islamic state. The fragmentation started after the 3rd caliph Uthman ibn Affan was assassinated. Various groups asked for retaliation to Uthman’s death and to kill and punish the rioters who killed Uthman, an incident that was called the First Fitna (first sedition). Under these circumstances Schism took place, but as a political movement and not a religious one, until this moment we are not talking about Schism that believes in the notion of the Imam. Anyway, after Ali’s death (by the Kharijites who are also Shiites) sectarianism took place in the Islamic state. But lets stress an important point out, the conflict over who should take up the role of the caliph started after Ali’s death between those who believed that the descendants of the Prophet are the only one who posses this right, and those who believed that this matter is resolved by Shura. Note here something, Ali was concerned to protect and preserve the unity of all the Muslims and to the last moment he tried to avoid any form of fragmentation between the Muslims. At this point the idea of the Imam started to develop in the Shiite conception, we must stress out that at this phase the political movement started to take a religious dimension that created a new form to this split between the Shiites and the Sunnis, and the Sunnis started to look at the Shiite conception as a threatening distortion to the sacred text, and understanding this point is critical and substantial in comprehending the Sunni vision of the Shiites.
    Anyway, Shiites remained an active party in the Islamic state and they had many attempts that even preceded the successful attempt of the Fatimids Caliphate. Yet that’s not the main point here, see the Safavid state forced the Iranians to adopt the Shiite doctrine, while the Fatimids didn’t seriously attempt to impose Schism by force over the states they had dominated. Moreover, the Safavid state managed to restructure the Iranian society and attempted to expand its reign to neighboring regions if it weren’t for the Ottoman empire which stopped it, they’d have able to expand outside. On the other hand, the Fatimids weren’t able to do the same job, since the Egyptians were ardent followers to the Sunni doctrine, in addition, the Fatimids dominated the Arabian peninsula which would’ve never tolerated a forceful spreading of the Shiite doctrine. Don’t forget a crucial remark in this context, Schism as exists today was a result of the Safavid state that was revived in the Islamic revolution in Iran.

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