Amr Khaled is a young, smiling, friendly Islamic preacher that stresses love, mercy and tolerance. During his sermons, Khaled is sometimes telling the faithful what they're not used to hearing from clerics -- that Muslims aren't blameless in tensions, that the West is not always bad and that dialogue is better than confrontation.
"A young Muslim goes to Europe with a forged visa, takes unemployment insurance there, then goes on TV and says, 'We're going to expel you from Britain, take your land, money and women,'" Khaled said recently on his weekly program on the Saudi satellite TV channel Iqraa, trying to explain mistrust of Muslims in Europe. "It's a rare example but it exists."
Did I wake up in an alternate universe this morning?
The 38-year old native of Egypt is a favorite of women and upper-class Muslims. He is shaven, wearing only a moustache, and dons a slick suit instead of the traditional robes.
"He is a very simple, moderate, humble man, easygoing. He makes you feel like you are his sister," said Zeinab el-Sherif, 32, a wealthy, veiled Egyptian businesswoman who has been a fan since hearing Khaled at her club a decade ago.
"He is so tolerant and friendly, he makes you feel good about your religion and yourself," she said.Yet, all is not well on the Middle-Eastern front. Many 'traditional' Muslims view him as a traitor to Islam. Khaled is scheduled to attend a conference of Islamic clerics in Bahrain that has been organized by one of his greatest critics, Sheik Youssef el-Qaradwi. It begins tomorrow. Khaled is expected to stress co-operation with the west, and an end to the violence over the Danish cartoons.
Khaled sees the controversy surrounding him as confirmation of a new approach by Muslims, one of reform and dialogue with the rest of the world.
"For the past three years, with youth across the Islamic world, we've been working for a faith-based renaissance in this region, which will not take place by clashes but by coexistence," he said in an interview with The Associated Press in Cairo.
He said he had expected the criticism over his new campaign. "An initiative by definition is something new, and I represent a school that has opposing schools of thought," he said.Khaled's following is growing. He has a huge base of young Muslims, women and the middle and upper class, who are disenchanted with the bearded, hellfire-spewing imams. Khaled steers his sermons to mercy and compassion, teaching that one can be a good Muslim and still be able to intigrate into the modern world.
Khaled was never trained as a cleric, instead having a background in accounting. He began preaching as a hobby, but soon found that talent far outshone the former. He has since pursued a doctorate in Islamic studies, with his thesis being: Islam and coexisting with the other.
The Egyptian government has banned Khaled, nervous of his popularity. He is not permitted to preach in any mosques in that country, and forced him to move his family out of Egypt.
If only more Muslim clerics could be like him...
I hope they don't assassinate this man. He's making himself a lot of enemies!