A leading Sunni Muslim scholar has denounced the use of violence against American targets in response to the anti-Islam movie “Innocence of Muslims,” and specifically condemned the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which US Ambassador Christ Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi expressed his disgust for “this deplorable and ugly film.” But he reminded his viewers that it “was produced by a group of Americans – not by all Americans” and said that attacking them was against the precepts of Islam.

In a sermon broadcast last week by Qatar TV and translated at the weekend by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), al-Qaradawi said: “Throwing stones at embassies and setting fire to them is not faithfulness, and nor is killing an ambassador, along with the people with him. This should not be our approach. Absolutely not. The US as a country is not behind this… We do not want the nations to learn to curse, we want them to learn virtue and manners. That is what we should be teaching the world, as well as our own nation.”

“This deplorable and ugly film,” he noted, “was produced by a group of Americans – not by all Americans. Brothers, it is wrong to pin the blame for abominations on people who are not responsible for them. It was not the Americans who made this film, but some American individuals. An evil extremist with a foul reputation, who burned the Koran in the past, joined forces with these people, some of whom are Christians, many of them, I’m sad to say, Egyptian Copts who emigrated to the US long ago. “Our manner of protesting should reflect sense and reason,” al-Qaradawi added.

Al-Qaradawi is a highly influential Egyptian-born cleric who memorably addressed an estimated two millions Egyptians in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in February 2011 soon after the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak last year. Very close to Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood, he has taken positions in favor of dialogue between Islam and other religions and against extremism, but has also legitimized terrorism against Israel, and made anti-Semitic statements. He has been barred from both the UK and France.

Al-Qaradawi was quoted by MEMRI in 2004 advocating the murder and abduction of American soldiers and civilians in Iraq, but said he had been misquoted. “All of the Americans in Iraq are combatants,” he reportedly told the newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. “there is no difference between civilians and soldiers, and one should fight them, since the American civilians came to Iraq in order to serve the occupation. The abduction and killing of Americans in Iraq is a [religious] obligation so as to cause them to leave Iraq immediately. The mutilation of corpses [however] is forbidden in Islam.” Al-Qaradawi denied the accuracy of the quote.

Al-Qaradawi has also been quoted calling the Holocaust “divine punishment” for Jewish corruption, and said Palestinian suicide bombings were “martyrdom operations” that showed “God’s justice.” In a 2005 British TV interview, on the subject, he said that “Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom, he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do.”