Amr Khaled, Muslim Superstar TV Preacher

Times Online article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1667358.ece

It’s quite a long article; here are some juicy bits:

The 39-year-old lay preacher is no religious thunderer, but the leader of a section of youth not much considered, the ones who quite like us, who want to fit in, who would no more think of strapping bombs to their belts than eating bacon sandwiches on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Khaled’s name is known to few here, but in the Middle East it carries an iconic status. In 2005 in Yemen – one of his faith’s most hardline regimes, long suspected of harbouring terrorists – he addressed a vast stadium packed on one side with Yemeni women in burqas and niqabs with slits for eyes, like a convention of ghosts. “I’d be scared,” I say when I’m shown the picture. “I was too,” he giggles. “After such a big gathering you feel very hungry, in need of oxygen; I need to run.”

It is unusual for a leader of Muslim youth, who brings tears to their eyes with his emotional ministering, to volunteer the name of his favourite footballer – Thierry Henry of Arsenal – but Amr Khaled makes a habit of subverting expectations. On the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, I listen to him telling a group of London acolytes that their brothers and sisters should stop complaining about life in this country and start contributing; they seem to lap it up. It is the sort of gentle pep talk you might give to an indolent teenager prone to treating the house as a hotel: loving but firm. “We have become used to taking from the West,” he tells them. “Ask the generation before us why they came here. They came for political freedom. They came for health care, for education, for job opportunities. That is what we took, but our religion says that just as I take, so I must give. We have a duty to contribute to society.”

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.”

Khaled attended the 2006 World Cup final in Germany, not because of his passion for the game but because it was a chance to “co-exist” with other Arabs. “You have to have something to talk to them about,” he says. “In the Middle East these kids are crazy about football. I am not only going to tell them about faith and development, I’m going to tell them about being at the Cup final. Then I am one of them.” He plays football, tennis and squash. He watches TV, including the music and celebrity shows that would be condemned by the scholars. He took his five-year-old son Ali to see The Lion King in London to give him the “common experience” of theatre. “This is the way to think. If we have nothing in common with them, find out what they like and be part of it.”

And here’s the url to his website: http://www.amrkhaled.net

Apparently Time magazine has just named him to its list of the 100 most influential people of whenever:
http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100/article/0,28804,1595326_1615754_1616173,00.html

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Filed under arab, arabic, Islamic relations

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