DOHA: Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has been refused a visa to France, shot to pan-Arab fame through Al-Jazeera television and has been a major supporter of the Arab uprisings.
Accused in France of being anti-Semitic, the Egypt-born cleric threw his weight behind the NATO-led war on the regime of Moamar Qaddafi, issuing a fatwa or religious edict permitting the attacks by the non-Muslim force to back Libyan rebels last year.
The fatwa fell in line with the foreign policy of the ambitious rich state of Qatar which took the lead in backing the uprisings of what became known as the Arab Spring.
“Qaddafi is finished,” he heralded on the Doha-based Al-Jazeera, just days after demonstrations broke out in eastern Libya in February 2011 against the North African nation’s dictator.
In the same month, Qaradawi returned to Egypt from which he had fled in the 1960s and led mass prayers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square shortly after former autocratic president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in response to street protests.
Recently, he urged Muslims to pay due Zakat, or Islamic alms, to support the Sunni-dominated uprising against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Qaradawi, who has close ties with the leadership of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was imprisoned several times by the regime of president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In Qatar, he became a regular guest on a program on Islam since the launch of Al-Jazeera satellite channel in 1996. His television appearances widened his reach to audiences across the Arab world.
The cleric was also behind the launch of the IslamOnline website, which also specialized in answering believers on questions related to the practice of Islam.
He is accused of having made anti-Semitic and homophobic statements and was banned from entering Britain in 2008. He has also been banned from entering the United States since 1999.
Qaradawi had participated in several Qatar-hosted inter-faith dialogues grouping Muslim and Christian scholars, but he boycotted the 2010 event as the list of participants included Jews.
His office said at the time that the Palestinian question should be settled first before sitting down with Jews.
His entourage insists that he is moderate, although on his internet website Qaradawi rejects the notion of a secular state that is separate from religion, insisting that Islam cannot be apolitical.