The 84-year old Yusuf al-Qarazawi, an internationally known Islamic ideologue of the background of Ikhwanul Muslemeen of Egypt, delivered his first public (khutba) sermon at Cairo in 50 years on Friday (February 18, 2011), emerging as a powerful voice in the struggle to shape his country following the mass revolution.
Qarazawi, a popular Islamic ideologue who has penned dozens of books and whose programme on television reaches an audience of tens of millions worldwide, addressed a rapt audience of more than a million Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate the uprising and honour those who died.
“Don’t fight history,” he urged his listeners in Egypt and across the Arab world, where his remarks were televised. “You can’t delay the day when it starts. The Arab world has changed.”
The sermon was the first public address in his home country by Yusuf Qarazawi since he fled Egypt for Qatar in 1961. An ideological inspiration to the Ikhwanul Muslemeen, banned in Egypt since 1954, Qarazawi was jailed in Egypt three times for his links to the group and spent most of his life abroad.
On Friday (February 18), he struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching. He began his sermon by saying that he was discarding the customary opening “Oh Muslims,” in favour of “Oh Muslims and Copts,” referring to Egypt’s Copt Christians, the largest minority community sharing ten per cent of the country’s total population. He praised Muslims and Christians for standing together in Egypt’s revolution and even lauded the Coptic Christian “martyrs” who once fought the Romans and Byzantines. “I invite you to bow down in prayer together,” he said.
He urged the military officers governing Egypt to deliver on their promises of turning over power to “a civil government” founded on principles of pluralism, democracy and freedom. And he called on the army to immediately release all political prisoners and rid the cabinet of its dominance by officials of the Hosni Mubarak Government.
“We demand from the Egyptian Army to free us from the government that was appointed by Mubarak,” Qarazawi declared. “We want a new government without any of these faces whom people can no longer stand.” And he urged the young people who led the uprising to continue their revolution. “Protect it,” he said. “Don’t you dare let anyone steal it from you.”
As the uprising in Egypt intensified in recent weeks, Qarazawi used his platform to urge Egyptians to rise up against Hosni Mubarak. His son, Abdul Rahman Yusuf al-Qarazawi, is an Egyptian poet who supported the revolution, and three of his daughters hold doctoral degrees, including one in nuclear physics.
Scholars who have studied his work say Yusuf Qarazawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic and multi-party civil democracy.
Egyptians streamed back into Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution, for a rally that was part prayer service, part celebration and part political protest. State television put attendance at two million.
Many said they had come to remember “the martyrs — the people who gave their lives to change Egypt to a new society of justice and freedom,” as Wael Lotfi el-Said, 39, put it. Vendors sold plastic cups emblazoned with the pictures of the “martyrs” — many now easily recognizable here from posters that have hung in the square and portraits that have appeared in newspapers. The Egyptian Health Ministry has said at least 365 people died in the uprising.
(With inputs from a report by David D Kirkpatrick in The New York Times, February 19, 2011)