Friday, May 18, 2007

The Sunday Times on Amr Khaled: enough to make you puke into your breakfast ful

Excerpt: "Gathered today in a rented suite of rooms on north London’s Holloway Road is a group of young Muslims, maybe 150, meeting their guru [Amr Khaled], who seems to have nothing in common with the solemn-toned elders of Islam, with their apocalyptic messages and threats to the faithless. Here is a man in casual co-ordinates with a clipped moustache, out of whom shines not righteousness but humour, a curious quality in a religion largely reluctant to laugh at itself, and a predilection to banter about football and trivialities.

These seem at first ordinary attributes to be offering his devotees, but turn out to be the very tools with which he wants them to change our view of their world. Just down the roaring thoroughfare outside is the Finsbury Park mosque, where Abu Hamza preached a doctrine of hatred and murder that saw him jailed for seven years. Out on these streets you could throw a net and catch plenty of disaffected young Muslims whose notion of Babylon is liberal democracy. But across the Arab world, and here on a London afternoon, they love this Arsenal fan with his jokes about how he wants their organisation, Life Makers, to be recommended by the Home Office: “No! Really!”

Khaled never studied at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s premier seat of learning. He is not a scholar. Indeed, to the outsider he might seem the equivalent of Cliff Richard on Christian retreat, a tame celebrity rattling his tambourine, but when you have been raised on an austere religion, he must seem thrilling. The theme song for Coexistence was supplied by Tamer Hosny, “the Egyptian Robbie Williams”, who went to jail for trying to dodge military service. “I was criticised for using him,” shrugs Khaled, “but he wrote to me from prison saying he wanted to do something for the Islamic world. Why not give him a chance?”

What Khaled offers is a happy compromise, a feelgood route to salvation, where piety and privilege are allowed to travel in tandem, but he is no liberal. He is credited with bringing a westernised youth back to its faith, and has no time for the mores that permit alcohol and smoking; he speaks against unmarried sex and endorsed the boycott of the Middle East’s Big Brother. He favours the hijab, or headscarf, over the niqab, seeing it as an obligation and he is allegedly responsible for the new wave of head-covering in Egypt and beyond. His own mother and sister took headscarves five years ago under his influence. “We don’t say covered women are better than uncovered,” he says. “I make sure I have both working on my teams so that people know Amr Khaled doesn’t only deal with covered women. It doesn’t mean Allah will not accept you: that’s down to the balance of the things you do.”

Link to article:

I keep trying to leave this comment on timesonline, but it never seems to appear: Amr Khaled's voice on a bad TV recording once tortured me and fellow passengers during a long bus ride, Siwa to Alex. Many of my educated Egyptian friends find him incredibly annoying, while I find this article patronising. For it's as if the only choice Arab men and women have is between 1/ a sexually repressed, non-learned Muslim preacher with an irritating voice, 2/ misogynistic Islamic fundamentalists, ignorant of the Shari'a, who would like to return to the 7th century 3/ a corrupt political elite. We might instead be told about the genuine 'moderate' and creative voices of 'reason' and intelligence and good humour In Egypt. But the Times loves a pious and affable man who gathers around him adoring, obedient 'children' who listen to 'common sense', as if torn from the terrible grip of the Muslim fanatics; that is how the Times might view the Muslim masses - like innocent children who, if they are not to be guided down a path of destruction, must be kept in the playroom with a nice simpleton as their teacher.

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