Controversial Muslim leader to hold conference in Ireland

A CONTROVERSIAL and highly influential Muslim religious leader, banned from Britain and US, is holding a five-day conference in Ireland with top Muslim clerics from here and abroad.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is the head of the European Council for Fatwah and Research (ECFR), which is based in Dublin at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI).

The council is located here, in Clonskeagh, while Sheikh al-Qaradawi is based in Qatar.

The Imam of the ICCI Sheikh Hussein Muhammad Halawa is the current secretary general of the ECFR, although the ICCI has asserted that the two bodies are “completely independent”.

Speaking at an international conference on extremism and terrorism in Dublin, Usama Hasan, an Imam and lecturer in Britain, said Sheikh al-Qaradawi was “massively influential and probably the number one scholar in the Arab world”.

He said that the annual session of the ECFR was being covered by Arab press as it was a “very influential body”.

He said Sheikh al-Qaradawi was a “very complex” character and described him as a “fundamentalist, but a progressive fundamentalist”.

Mr Hasan, who is a senior lecturer in Middlesex University and a former militant, said Sheikh al-Qaradawi was banned from several countries because of his view on suicide bombings in Israel.

The sheikh, aged 84, has publicly stated that Israeli women, including pregnant women, are legitimate targets for suicide bombings in Palestine and Israel.

Said Mr Hasan: “He came to London and the [then] mayor Ken Livingstone welcomed him to city hall. I was there and the Sheikh repeated his fatwah about killing women and children and he said ‘Israeli women are not like our women. Israel is a militarised society, all young people do military service, therefore they are legitimate targets’.”

He said Sheikh al-Qaradawi was also very anti-gay and that led to him being banned in Britain. The sheikh has publicly said that homosexuality should be punishable by death. He has also made controversial remarks about rape and domestic violence.

Mr Hasan said the sheikh was progressive on aspects of human rights, including the education and employment of women, dialogue with the West and promoting democracy. Sheikh al-Qaradawi also criticised the September 11 attacks.

The ECFR was in the spotlight last April after diplomatic cables from the US Embassy to the White House were leaked by WikiLeaks.

The leaked cables cited unnamed sources as claiming that the ICCI was answerable to Sheikh al-Qaradawi.

The ICCI rejected this an said the ECFR was an “Islamic theological body” that discussed issues such as coexistence of Muslims in Europe.

Sheikh al-Qaradawi reaches an estimated 40 million followers on Al Jazeera television. He led prayers to an estimated two million people in Egypt following the revolution there this year and called for the military to restore civilian rule.

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