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Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guide who supported the 2011 Arab Spring riots and shocked rulers in Egypt and the Gulf with his Islamist preaching, died on Monday. Hey what 96.
Born in Egypt, Qaradawi spent much of his life in Qatar, where he became one of the most recognizable and influential Sunni Muslim clerics in the Arab world thanks to regular appearances on Qatar’s Al Jazeera network.
Broadcast to millions of homes, his sermons filled the tensions that led Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to impose a blockade on Qatar in 2017 and declare Qaradawi a terrorist.
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His death was announced on his official Twitter account.
Qaradawi, who studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, has often been described by supporters as a moderate who offered a counterweight to the radical ideologies espoused by al-Qaeda. He strongly condemned the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States and supported democratic politics.
But it also sanctioned violence in the causes it fostered.
In Iraq, following a US-led invasion in 2003, it supported attacks on coalition forces and supported Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli targets during an uprising that began in 2000.
Several western states have denied him entry.
During the riots of the Arab Spring, he called for the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and declared jihad against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Qaradawi joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a young man. By supporting Islam as a political program, the Brotherhood has been seen as a threat by autocratic Arab leaders since it was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna, whom Qaradawi knew.
He turned down the chance to lead the organization, instead focusing on Islamic preaching and culture and building a following that extended far beyond the group.
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Its importance grew after the 2011 Arab uprisings.
Visiting Cairo after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, he told a packed Tahrir Square that fear had been taken away from the Egyptians who had stood atop a modern pharaoh.
The apparition captured the magnitude of change that seemed to sweep the region, with long-oppressed Islamists enjoying new freedoms and a member of the Brotherhood, Mohamed Mursi, was elected president in 2012.
When the army, encouraged by the mass protests, overtook Mursi a year later, Qaradawi condemned the new army-led order as it unleashed a vicious crackdown on the Brotherhood.
He called for a boycott of the presidential election that made army commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi president in 2014.
“The nation’s duty is to stand up to the oppressors, hold their hands and silence their tongues,” Qaradawi said.
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“He is a person committed to democracy and popular sovereignty from an Islamic perspective,” said David Warren, contemporary Islam scholar and researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
“But being a Democrat does not mean that someone has to be a pacifist, so in the context of a civil war like Libya and Syria, he could hold those positions by similarly saying that Gaddafi is a tyrant who should be killed …,” He has said.
Jailed numerous times in Egypt as a young man, Qaradawi was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court in 2015, along with Mursi and about 90 others. Qaradawi said the sentences, related to a mass jailbreak in 2011, were nonsense and violated Islamic law, noting that he was in Qatar at the time.
He criticized Riyadh for supporting Sisi, while his attacks on Sisi and aid to the Brotherhood fueled tensions between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another supporter of the new Egyptian government, from ‘other.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization in 2014.
In 2014, when Riyadh and its allies withdrew ambassadors from Doha, Qaradawi interrupted his Friday sermons, saying he wanted to ease some pressure on Qatar, his adopted homeland since the 1960s.
But he still criticized the new ruler of Egypt in his statements.
Qaradawi, who memorized the Quran at the age of 10, presided over the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS). He opposed takfir, a concept used by Islamic militants to justify the killing of Muslims who disagreed with them by declaring them non-believers.
Qaradawi also opposed the ultra-radical group of the Islamic State, saying he was totally in disagreement with Daesh “in ideology and means”.
When IS burned a captured Jordanian pilot alive in 2015, the IUMS claimed the group did not represent Islam in any way.
However, he rejected the US role in the fight against the group as being selfish. Critics noted how that stance seemed at odds with its tacit support for US action in Syria in 2013, when Washington considered – but never carried out – attacks on the Syrian government over the use of chemical weapons.
On that occasion, Qaradawi suggested that foreign powers were God’s instrument of vengeance.
The war in Syria, where Sunni rebels fought against the Alawite-led state backed by Shia Iran, turned Qaradawi against the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, which he once praised for fighting Israel. He condemned it as “the devil’s party”.
He surprisingly supported the Palestinian struggle with Israel.
In a 2013 visit to Gaza hosted by his ruling Hamas Islamist group, Qaradawi said: “We should try to liberate Palestine, all of Palestine, inch by inch.”