Editors' preface: In July 2004, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi visited the United Kingdom, to address several conferences, including a conference against restrictions on the hijab, or Muslim women's head-covering. (Such restrictions have already been introduced in France.) Qaradawi is a 78-year-old Egyptian cleric and preacher, with a history of activism in the Muslim Brethren. He was forced from Egypt for his views, and he lives in Qatar, where he has become a media star by virtue of his immensely popular television show on Al-Jazeera television. Qaradawi has sometimes been portrayed as a moderate, who favors a tolerant Islam and who would reconcile Islam with modernity. For example, he condemned the September 11, 2001 attacks. On these grounds, Britain issued him a visa, and the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone (Labor), strongly endorsed him.
However, Qaradawi's visit intensified interest in his legal rulings, or fatwas. In particular, two rulings have contradicted the image of moderation purveyed by his supporters. The first is Qaradawi's endorsement of Palestinian suicide bombings. These attacks have been sanctioned by numerous clerics, but it was on Qaradawi's authority that the Palestinian Hamas began to deploy women to carry them out. The second is his strident condemnation of homosexuality, in which he has indicated his support for drastic "punishment." As a result of these rulings, Qaradawi's visit to London stirred strong feelings among those appalled by suicide bombings in Israel and by violent homophobia.
Since 1999, the United States has refused to issue Qaradawi a visa, although, in earlier years, he was an occasional visitor. But in Qatar, he has appeared as a speaker in two U.S.-Islamic dialogues. Livingstone has also invited Qaradawi to return to London for the European Social Forum, scheduled to meet in mid-October 2004. In the wake of Qaradawi's London visit, it seems likely that his American supporters will renew efforts to have him admitted to the United States.
The following are the texts of the two most controversial of his fatwas, as they appear in IslamOnline.net, a website supervised by a committee headed by Qaradawi. The site presently includes nearly 150 of his fatwas, on a wide range of subjects.
Question: I would like to ask about the ruling of Palestinian women carrying out martyr operations. Fulfilling this mission may demand that they travel alone, without a mahram, and they may need to take off their hijab, the matter which may expose part of their 'awrah. Would you please comment on this? I'd prefer Dr. Qaradawi to answer this urgent question, if you please.
Dr. Qaradawi answers: The martyr operation is the greatest of all sorts of jihad in the cause of Allah. A martyr operation is carried out by a person who sacrifices himself, deeming his life [of] less value than striving in the cause of Allah, in the cause of restoring the land and preserving the dignity. To such a valorous attitude applies the following Qur'anic verse: "And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (Qur'an, 2: 207)
But a clear distinction has to be made here between martyrdom and suicide. Suicide is an act or instance of killing oneself intentionally out of despair, and finding no outlet except putting an end to one's life. On the other hand, martyrdom is a heroic act of choosing to suffer death in the cause of Allah, and that's why it's considered by most Muslim scholars as one of the greatest forms of jihad.
When jihad becomes an individual duty, as when the enemy seizes the Muslim territory, a woman becomes entitled to take part in it alongside men. Jurists maintained that when the enemy assaults a given Muslim territory, it becomes incumbent upon all its residents to fight against them to the extent that a woman should go out even without the consent of her husband, a son can go too without the permission of his parent, a slave without the approval of his master, and the employee without the leave of his employer. This is a case where obedience should not be given to anyone in something that involves disobedience to Allah, according to a famous juristic rule.
In the same vein, the public welfare should be given priority to the personal one, in the sense that if there is a contradiction between the private right and the public one, the latter must be given first priority, for it concerns the interest of the whole ummah [Muslim community]. Given all this, I believe a woman can participate in this form of jihad according to her own means and condition. Also, the organizers of these martyr operations can benefit from some, believing women as they may do, in some cases, what is impossible for men to do.
As for the point that carrying out this operation may involve woman's travel from [one] place to another without a mahram, we say that a woman can travel to perform Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca] in the company of other trustworthy women and without the presence of any mahram as long as the road is safe and secured. Travel, nowadays, is no longer done through deserts or wilderness; instead, women can travel safely in trains or by air.
Concerning the point on hijab, a woman can put on a hat or anything else to cover her hair. Even when necessary, she may take off her hijab in order to carry out the operation, for she is going to die in the cause of Allah and not to show off her beauty or uncover her hair. I don't see any problem in her taking off hijab in this case.
To conclude, I think the committed Muslim women in Palestine have the right to participate and have their own role in jihad and to attain martyrdom.
Question: Please, could you tell me the ruling on homosexuality: sodomy and lesbianism. And if it is haram [prohibited], what is the punishment for it in Islam?
Dr. Qaradawi answers: We must be aware that in regulating the sexual drive Islam has prohibited not only illicit sexual relations and all what leads to them, but also the sexual deviation known as homosexuality. This perverted act is a reversal of the natural order, a corruption of man's sexuality, and a crime against the rights of females. (The same applies equally to the case of lesbianism.)
The spread of this depraved practice in a society disrupts its natural life pattern and makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals, and a decent manner of living. The story of the people of Prophet Lut (Lot), peace be upon him, as narrated in the Qur'an should be sufficient for us. Prophet Lut's people were addicted to this shameless depravity, abandoning natural, pure, lawful relations with women in the pursuit of this unnatural, foul and illicit practice. That is why their Prophet Lut, peace be on him, told them, "What! Of all creatures, do you approach males and leave the spouses whom your Lord has created for you? Indeed, you are people transgressing (all limits)!" (Qur'an, 26: 165-166)
The strangest expression of these peoples' perversity of nature, lack of guidance, depravity of morals, and aberration of taste was their attitude toward the guests of Prophet Lut, peace be upon him. [Here follows a digression on the story of Lot as related in the Qur'an.—Eds.]
Muslim jurists have held differing opinions concerning the punishment for this abominable practice. Should it be the same as the punishment for fornication, or should both the active and passive participants be put to death? While such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements.
 A fatwa is a Muslim jurist's authoritative answer to an Islamic legal question posed by a believer. –Eds.
 See Haim Malka, "Must Innocents Die? The Islamic Debate over Suicide Attacks," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003, pp. 19-28.
 This ruling is dated Mar. 22, 2004, at http://www.islamonline.net/fatwa/english/FatwaDisplay.asp?hFatwaID =68511.
 This ruling is dated Mar. 24, 2001, at http://www.islamonline.net/fatwa/english/FatwaDisplay.asp?hFatwaID=30519.
 A mahram is a close male relative in whose presence a woman need not veil and who should accompany a woman whenever she leaves the house or may be in the presence of a non-related male.—Eds.
 The 'awrah is that part of the body that must be covered for the sake of decency. In regard to females, most jurists define this as the entire body, except for the face, hands, and (perhaps) feet.—Eds.