American Islamists rushed to offer tributes this week to a radical Egyptian cleric and spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was a long-standing supporter of violent jihad and murdering Jews.
Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, 96, died Monday in Qatar, where he was living in exile following the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. He was notorious for his extremist rhetoric, including an endorsement of suicide bombings; calls for Israel’s elimination, the killing of Jews and the execution of homosexuals; and support for wife-beating.
Homosexuality, he said, is “depraved practice in a society, disrupts its natural life pattern and makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals and a decent manner of living.” While some people may see killing gay people as punishment, he said, and “such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements.”
Qaradawi also claimed that Muslims killed fighting American forces in Iraq are martyrs. “Those killed fighting the American forces are martyrs given their good intentions since they consider these invading troops an enemy within their territories but without their will,” he said in a January 2003 interview with Al-Quds Press Agency.
Qaradawi founded the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which has a long history of supporting Hamas and calling for Israel’s destruction.
A delegation led by Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh that included senior leaders Khaled Mashaal, Mousa Abu Marzook and Husam Badran attended Qaradawi’s funeral in the Qatari capital Doha.
Meshaal, who now heads Hamas’ overseas politburo, praised Qaradawi for speaking up on Arab and Muslim issues, including the Palestinian cause. He also spoke about Qaradawi’s “visit to Gaza following the 2008 Israeli aggression, during which he voiced support for the Palestinian people and resistance in the face of the Israeli occupation.”
In a 2009 speech aired on the Qatari mouthpiece Al Jazeera, Qaradawi made vicious remarks about Jews, urging Muslims to put Jews in “their place” as Hitler had done earlier.
“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption,” he ranted. “The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them—even though they exaggerated this issue—he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”
In another speech broadcast on Al Jazeera, Qaradawi prayed for the opportunity to kill a Jew before he died: “The only thing I hope for is that as my life approaches its end, Allah will give me an opportunity to go to the land of jihad and resistance, even if in a wheelchair. I will shoot Allah’s enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus, I will seal my life with martyrdom. Praise be to Allah.”
Despite all this, American Islamists chose to whitewash Qaradawi’s radicalism in their tributes.
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of the country’s top Islamist groups, glowingly eulogized Qaradawi as “the most prominent and consequential scholar of Islam of our time.” Qaradawi, the statement added, was influenced as a teenager by “Hasan al-Banna, the charismatic founder of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (in 1928)” and “joined him in his mission of reestablishing Islam in its worship and transactions in the hearts and lives of Muslims and Muslim society, and re-envisioning the political integration of the Muslim Ummah, or global community, free of settler-colonial presence or imperial hegemonic influence in Muslim lands.”
The Muslim American Society (MAS), founded in 1993 as the “overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America,” emulated its parent organization in issuing an obituary describing Qaradawi as “a staunch opponent of imperialism and political oppression faced by the Muslim world.”
“May Allah have mercy on the scholar of the Ummah, the scholar, the jurist, the diligent, Mujahid Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi … and joins him with the prophets, the pious, the martyrs, the righteous, they are the best of companions,” said a translation of an Arabic Facebook post by Esam Omeish.
Omeish is chairman of the Waqf Washington Trust of CAIR National and board member at the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. He also served as MAS national president from 2004-2008. He was forced to resign from a Virginia immigration panel in 2007 after IPT footage showed him praising Palestinians who chose “the jihad way” to liberate their land.
Other CAIR leaders followed suit in positively showcasing Qaradawi as a prominent and moderate Islamic scholar.
“May Allah have mercy on you, forgive you and reward you on our behalf and on behalf of Muslims and humanity the best reward due for a scholar, and a revivalist, and a Mujahid for his Ummah (nation),” wrote CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.
CAIR’s Los Angeles director Hussam Ayloush described Qaradawi as the “scholarly champion of the oppressed.” Ayloush also published a “rough translation” of a poem penned by Qaradawi while serving time in an Egyptian prison in 1955.
“I will live while holding fast to the rope of my faith and I will die smiling so that my religion may live,” read the translation.
Other Islamists mourning Qaradawi included Osama Abuirshaid, Taher Herzallah, Yasir Qadhi, Suhaib Webb and Omar Suleiman.
Abuirshaid, whose organization American Muslims for Palestine has suspected ties to a Hamas support network, cited an Islamic hadith accompanied by the statement, “May Allah have mercy on the deceased of the Ummah (nation), its scholar, the laborer, the Mujahid, professor Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and may He compensate (our loss) with good.”
“Qaradawi exemplifies the role of the revolutionary scholar that stood in opposition to political foes and movements (chief among them Zionism and reactionary Arab regimes),” Herzallah, AMP’s outreach director, wrote in a Facebook post Monday. Qaradawi “embodied the activist scholar that we so desperately needed and continue to need … but also a man who was ready to engage in revolutionary struggle against colonialism and imperialism.”
Qadhi, a Texas-based ultra-conservative cleric, tweeted a photo of himself shaking Qaradawi’s hand with the message, “May Allah forgive his sins, exalt his ranks, accept his good deeds and preserve his legacy as a means of blessings for him and benefit for all of us!” Qadhi advocates for Saudi Arabian-styled restrictions on Muslim women’s lives and has spoken against capitalism and democracy.
Webb, an influential imam who converted to Islam in 1992 and heads the online Suhaib Webb Institute of Sacred Sciences (SWISS), said Qaradawi was such a powerful influence, “that even after his death, some of the living ‘duat’ [Muslim clerics] are scared to be associated with him by rightfully acknowledging his contribution. Such are balance and mature positions, like those of the Sheikh. Few can hold to them, while many will fall.”
While American Islamists present themselves as advocates fighting for the civil rights of Muslims and other groups, their eulogies for a radical ideologue expose their duplicity.
Abha Shankar is the Investigative Project on Terrorism’s research director.
This article was originally published by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.