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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Society, Politics, and Economy >
Are there Muslim televangelists-preachers?

The globalization of communications has produced Muslim media stars, including a new breed of charismatic and enormously successful preachers who reach millions, sometimes hundreds of millions, from Egypt to Indonesia. Like Christian televangelists, they fill huge auditoriums and sports stadiums and also disseminate their messages on DVDs, video and audio tapes, satellite television and radio, and the Internet. These Muslim telepreachers and their organizations provide an alternative to traditional clerics and mosques, muftis, and fatwas. Most preach a direct, down-to-earth message, dispensing advice on everyday problems, promoting a practical, concrete Islamic spirituality of empowerment and success. Three prominent figures, the Egyptian Amr Khaled, the Pakistani Muhammad Qadri, and the Indonesian Abdullah Gymnastiar, represent somewhat different styles in this growing phenomenon.

Amr Khaled has been called “the Arab world's first Islamic tele-evangelist, a digital age Billy Graham who has fashioned himself into the anti-Bin Laden … to turn around a generation of lost Muslim youth.” Clean-shaven and well-dressed in a fashionable Western suit, Khaled speaks in colloquial Arabic to millions of young Muslims, ages fifteen through thirty-five. He targets upper-middle-class Muslims in the Arab world and Arab immigrants living in the West, because he believes this audience is most capable of changing the Islamic world for the better.

Amr Khaled blends conservative religious belief with a charismatic personality and speaking style. Using management training jargon and an emotive crowd-pleasing performance full of stories, laughter, and tears, he relates Islam to everyday life. He does not talk politics, preferring to emphasize God's love while addressing issues of personal piety, daily prayer, family relationships, veiling, dating, and community responsibility. Muslim youth, in particular, are drawn to his down-to-earth religious and spiritual messages, which emphasize Muslim values and a positive, proactive attitude toward life. He replaces the negative “No, No Islam” of many Muslim preachers and fundamentalists with an affirmative “Yes to life Islam.”

Khaled encourages young people to focus not on the things they cannot change but rather on what they can change, like their attitude, behavior, and character. His message is simple and direct, prescribing everyday acts that empower people and contribute to the betterment of society:

• The garbage in the streets. Get rid of it yourself.

• The pothole in front of your house. Fill it yourself.

• The broken glass at your house. Replace it.

• Clean the mosques; do not be ashamed to do it yourself; your proactive attitude will give you courage.

• Give private lessons to your neighbors' children. Teach them languages or show them how to use computers.

• Teach an illiterate person to help reduce the percentage of illiteracy.

• Housewives, start a project to help women and widows by teaching them a skill that they can work with instead of waiting for financial support from others.

Khaled uses his Web site interactively to mobilize as well as instruct, garnering an overwhelming response to his requests from countries in the Arab world, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States. A call for clothing for the poor drew thousands of people in twenty-six countries who collected 1.5 million bags of clothes that were distributed to those in need.

In contrast to Khaled, who previously worked as an accountant, Muhammad Qadri is a trained religious scholar as well as a popular preacher. Trained both in traditional madrasas and at Punjab University, where in 1972 he earned an MA and PhD in Islamic studies, Qadri appeals to a broad audience: traditionalists as well as those who appreciate his integration of traditional Islamic sciences with modern disciplines. Noted for his liberal and tolerant views, he promotes greater unity among Sunni and Shii Muslims, interfaith dialogue, and outreach to Pakistani Christians.

Qadri founded the Lahore-based Minhaj-ul-Quran International, an international Islamic movement with centers working in ninety countries around the world. To a degree that is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, he relies heavily on electronic technology, using his publication house, which carries thousands of CDs and DVDs in Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, and English featuring his speeches delivered in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America.

Qadri has an established track record of denouncing terrorism in the name of Islam. An early critic of the 9/11 attacks, he challenges the Islamic legitimacy of those who approve or use violence for religious or political ends. On March 2, 2010, he attracted worldwide attention when he issued a 600-page fatwa, described as an “absolute” condemnation of terrorism without “any excuses or pretexts,” one that goes beyond all previous condemnations. He declared that terrorists and suicide bombers were unbelievers and that “terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses or ifs or buts.” Qadri's fatwa, which received extensive media attention, has been hailed as a powerful argument that takes Islam back from the terrorists and weakens terrorist recruiting. At the same time, however, he was also a strong critic of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Like their Christian counterparts, Muslim televangelists come in all sizes, shapes, and personalities. For theater and drama, few can compete with Abdullah Gymnastiar. Time magazine captured his dramatic, even charismatic, appeal: “In the spotlight as usual,” complete with “wireless mike … dry-ice smoke … and his backing quartet,” Gym's “velvet baritone is caressing the crowd … His free hand is waving, … and then is clasped to his chest in rapture.” His hour-long sermon concludes with “scores of women and men … openly weeping” and a long “roar of applause.”

Aa Gym was Indonesia's most popular televangelist for rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women, more famous than Indonesian film stars, and he still commands a following. Muslims and many Christians have been drawn by his emphasis on religious pluralism and belief that all religions ultimately preach the same message. His message is disseminated on TV and radio to sixty million people and through books, cassettes, videos, management training seminars, and aphorisms that appear on the red cans of Qolbu Cola, the soft drink he markets.

Complementing the work of Amr Khaled, Aa Gym combines religious teaching with a celebration of corporate capitalism and self-help advice, emphasizing people's ability to take control of their lives and fortunes and demonstrating this message with his enormously successful lifestyle as preacher, media star, and entrepreneur. He blends modern principles of business organization with Islamic teachings and Indonesian culture, calling it “Management by Conscience.”

Like many Indonesian leaders he has been a critic of violence and religious extremism, more effective than others because of his positive and motivating style. At his religious boarding school (pesantren) he taught many of the children of elite society. Major firms in Indonesia sent their top executives to his Islamic training center for a program including ethics and Quranic studies that emphasizes three keys to success—honesty (to gain people's trust), professionalism, and innovation. He preached the Seven Tips for Success (“Be calm, plan well, be skillful, be orderly, be diligent, be strong and be humble”) and Five Tips for a Good Product (“It should be cheap, high quality, easy to use, up-to-date and useful for both the world and hereafter”).

However, like some Christian evangelists', Aa Gym's meteoric rise has been cut short by scandal. In late 2006, at the height of his enormously successful and lucrative career, it was revealed that he had taken a second wife, a single mother of three and former model, who worked for his business group. Aa's first wife and mother of their seven children, who was very popular and often accompanied him on his speaking engagements, quietly agreed to the second marriage. Shocked and disillusioned, many of Aa's followers, especially women, dropped out of his programs. Others confronted him, charging, “You have sold out your religion.” Gymnastiar apologized publicly, countering unwisely: “Women tend to be monogamous, that's how their ‘software’ is … But men, you know … their software is different.” He explained that polygamy is better than extramarital sex. He also added, “What I did should not justify other men to do the same—I do not recommend it.” Like many a “fallen” Christian evangelist, Gym's credibility, ministry, and organization were deeply affected. His audiences, school enrollments, seminar attendance, and product sales dropped off precipitously; and religious, political, and corporate leaders withdrew their invitations and support.

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