Incendiary Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi will visit Gaza next month, the head of Hamas’s Islamic affairs ministry announced Saturday.
It would be first visit by the Qatar-based cleric who is widely respected through the Muslim world, and has underscored his support for the Islamic terror group Hamas. The cleric is a household name on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel.
His planned visit also shows how Hamas has slowly been breaking its diplomatic isolation after years of blockade. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also expected to visit the Gaza Strip in May. The emir of Gulf state Qatar visited last year.
Gaza minister Ismail Ridwan didn’t say how long al-Qaradawi would stay. Spokespeople for the cleric weren’t immediately available.
The visit is also a boon to Hamas as it battles its Gaza rivals, hardline conservative Muslims who see the militant group as too moderate.
Al-Qaradawi was barred from entering France in 2012 to attend a conference, with the French government saying at the time that it does not want “extremist preachers” on its soil.
In 2008, he was refused entry to the UK after it announced it would “not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify any acts of terrorist violence or express views that could foster inter-community violence.”
In 2004, the cleric had given an interview to the BBC in which he justified Palestinian terror and the killings of Israeli women and children.
“Israeli women are not like women in our society because Israeli women are militarised… I consider this type of martyrdom operation as indication of justice of Allah almighty… Through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak what the strong do not possess and that is the ability to turn their bodies into bombs like the Palestinians do,” al-Qaradawi said at the time.
That same year, some 2,500 Muslim intellectuals across the Muslim world called on the UN Security Council to set up an international treaty banning the use of religion to incite violence.
The petition described several clerics, including al-Qaradawi, as the “theologians of terror” and the “sheikhs of death.”
The signatories of the petition accused him of “providing a religious cover for terrorism.”