Fri, Mar 10, 2006 - Page 6 News List

`Prophet' cartoons spark feud between prominent clerics


It's not just East and West that are divided over the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Two of the most popular Muslim preachers on Arab television are feuding bitterly over whether dialogue or protest is the best approach in the clash of civilizations.

In the pro-dialogue corner is Amr Khaled, who has become wildly popular among young Muslims and women for his youthful style and his sermons applying Islam to the day-to-day cares of modern life.

The 38-year-old Khaled is heading to Denmark -- the heart of the controversy -- for a conference today between Christian and Muslim religious leaders aimed at discussing the fallout of the prophet cartoons.

But for Sheik Youssef el-Qaradawi -- a 79-year-old cleric who hosts a weekly show on the Arab satellite station al-Jazeera -- the trip to Copenhagen looks like a surrender.

"Dialogue about what?" el-Qaradawi said on al-Jazeera. "You have to have a common ground to have a dialogue with your enemy. But after insulting what is sacred to me, they should apologize," he added.

"The dialogue that Amr Khaled and his group, the so called new preachers, is breaking with the consensus," he said.

The split between the two prominent tele-clerics has touched a wider debate over how to deal with the West and promote the Islamic world's interests.

The cartoons -- first published in a Danish paper last September then reprinted in European papers in January and last month -- sparked a wave of protests around the Arab and Islamic world. Some turned violent, with protesters killed in Libya and Afghanistan and several European embassies attacked.

The cartoons were seen as an insult to Mohammed, depicting him as violent and primitive. Sunni Muslim tradition bans any image of the prophet, since depicting him risks insulting him or encouraging idolatry.

The protests have largely subsided amid calls by Islamic and Western leaders for a stop to violence. But the bitterness remains on both sides: Some Muslim feel the West intentionally sought to insult Islam's most revered figure, while some in the West see Muslims as violently seeking to stifle free speech.

Last month, Khaled and a conference of some 40 Islamic scholars said the time for protests had passed and now it was time to "move on to the stage of discussion."

"The deep-rooted solution of this problem is through dialogue to reach an understanding and coexistence between the nations," Khaled said.

For Khaled -- a 38-year-old Egyptian -- the cartoons controversy is an opportunity to engage with the West rather than continue longtime clashes over the grievances many Muslims feel toward Europe and the US.

"We have to lay a future base to build our own renaissance," Khaled said in a telephone interview from London on Wednesday.

"God be with you Amr Khaled," the Egyptian weekly al-Dustour said in a front-page headline in support of his trip to Denmark.

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