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III. Norme religieuse, éloquence et persuasion

Varieties of Persuasion in Modern Forms of Islamic Proselytizing in Egypt*

Formes de persuasion dans les nouveaux prosélytismes islamiques en Egypte
Jacob Høigilt
p. 243-262


Cet article analyse la langue de Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî et ‘Amr Khâlid afin d’identifier des différences rhétoriques et de s’interroger sur la signification de ces différences sur le plan socioreligieux. Se basant sur les avancées de l’analyse du discours et de la linguistique textuelle,il pose les questions suivantes : comment s’adressent -ils à leur audience ? quels genres de public et quelles images de l’Islam véhiculent ils à travers leur usage de la langue ? Il sera montré que le langage de ces deux prêcheurs contribue à façonner deux types de renouveaux islamiques, où le contraste entre individualité/collectivisme, action/principes et tradition/rupture avec le passé est central. Cependant, on constate que ce nouveau type de prêche renforce de fait le renouveau islamique associé à Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî, même si les protagonistes eux-mêmes n’adoptent pas nécessairement le message de l’autre.

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  • * This article is based on ongoing research for the forthcoming thesis Writing Islamism: rhetoric and (...)

1In what ways is language shaping the contemporary Islamic revival in the Arab world? This question is the point of departure for the present article. If we accept that language is a “social semiotic” (Halliday 1978) and a form of “social practice” (Fairclough 2001: 16), we can expect it to both reflect and contribute to shaping current Islamic practices. Nevertheless, despite the great interest in the issue of the Islamic revival and Islamism generally, hardly any attention has been paid to the linguistic aspects of this phenomenon, either in Arabic linguistics or sociology. Given that language is not only a social semiotic, but also that linguistic practices within the current Islamic revival are very diverse, a study of Islamic discourses seems justified.

2This article is an attempt to make a start by analysing the language of two very different and prominent figures in the Islamic revival in Egypt: Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and ˁAmr Khâlid. The framework of analysis is Michael Halliday’s Functional Grammar, which I will present shortly. But in addition, and in order to situate their language within current Islamic practices in Egypt, I will make use of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept about the religious field. This concept is understood as a structured space of religious agents (ˁulamâ’, Islamic intellectuals, ûleaders etc.) who occupy different positions and are engaged in a struggle for the «monopoly of the legitimate exercise of the power to modify, in a deep and lasting fashion, the practice and world-view of lay people.» (Bourdieu 1987: 126) In this field, ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî represent in many ways the same religious ideology: they adhere to an orthodox, but not fundamentalist, approach to the holy texts of Islam, and they are morally conservative at the same time as they seriously and actively relate to the complex moral and social issues of late modernity. Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî is a widely respected Islamic scholar educated at al-Azhar, and as well as preaching, he has written numerous volumes that theorize Islamic revival and contemporary fiqh and ijtihâd. Through his close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, he is also a dominant figure in non-violent Islamism worldwide (Tammam 2006: 88-89). His authority rests in large part on his being a recognized and respected member of the class of religious professionals in Islam, the ˁulamâ’. ˁAmr Khâlid, on the other hand, has a secular education and builds his authority mainly on personal charisma. He is a lay person representing the new trend of Islamic preaching, where individuality, an intense spiritual experience, material well-being and earthly success are important factors (Haenni 2005, Luṭfî 2005). Theologically, he explicitly subordinates himself to Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and other major mainstream ˁulamâ’ in the Arab world. To sum up, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and ˁAmr Khâlid share the common goal of reviving Islam in contemporary society through their daˁwa, or call to Islam, but they go about this task in different ways and on different levels. How is this reflected in their written discourses? What can their language tell us about how they construe different images of the Islamic revival? And are these images in conflict or in harmony with each other? My contention is that the answers to these questions can give specificity to the diversity within the current trends of Islamic revival.

3Functional Grammar is designed to answer questions about meaning in linguistic structures. According to Halliday (2004: 23-24),

A language is a resource for making meaning, and meaning resides in systemic patterns of choice. (...) So when we analyse a text, we show the functional organization of its structure; and we show what meaningful choices have been made, each one seen in the context of what might have been meant but was not.

4In the analysis, I explore how ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî make meaning in what Halliday calls the interpersonal and in the experiential domains. On the interpersonal level I ask what relations they produce with their audience through their use of personal pronouns and Mood structures. While pronouns are an important linguistic means of signalling nearness/distance and solidarity/enmity (Brown and Gilman 1970, Wilson 1990: 46, 76), choices of Mood and modality (the use of declaratives, interrogatives and imperatives as well as modal auxiliaries to modify a verb) impinge on the role the writer creates for himself and for his audience (Halliday 2004: 106). As for the experiential domain, it is about how texts represent the author’s experience of goings-on in the world. In Halliday’s words:

the clause is also a mode of reflection, of imposing order on the endless variation and flow of events. The grammatical system by which this is achieved is that of TRANSITIVITY… The transitivity system construes the world of experience into a manageable set of PROCESS TYPES. (Halliday 2004: 170).

5Processes can be material, mental, or verbal. Each of these in turn determines to a certain degree what kind of participants will appear together with them. According to this premise, I have tried to detect how ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî use processes and participants to construct Islam as a textual figure of a particular kind. Lastly, I note some more general characteristics of their styles that clearly says something about their attitudes to written Arabic and the rhetorical tradition in Arab Islam. I then connect my findings to the Islamic field to see what they might mean in a religio-sociological sense.

6Before we start looking at the results of the analysis, a methodological disclaimer and an explanation of my choice of source material is required. My theoretical approach is an interpretive one, and I don’t claim to present a complete picture of how these preachers construe Islamic revival. The analysis is built primarily on three books by Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and four by ˁAmr Khâlid, which I have selected among many. I chose these books because they all clearly show a concern with normative discourse aimed at creating an Islamic revival in different ways, but there are other books that would be interesting too. I have also chosen to focus on some linguistic aspects among many. I agree with Henry G. Widdowson that such an analysis is necessarily a subjective interpretation to a large extent (Widdowson 2004: 11), but this fact does not mean that it cannot say anything substantial or interesting about a text – it just should not claim to be definite. This is all the more true of my own analysis, since to the best of my knowledge similar studies do not exist on this subject and would be very welcome. This article is thus an introduction, not a conclusion.

  • 2 The information about ˁAmr Khâlid’s books was obtained in an interview with Mirwat Anwar at Dâr arî (...)
  • 3 Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî is best known for his appearance in the weekly program al-Sharîˁa wa al-ḥayât on (...)

7As for the source material, basing the analysis on books has the weakness that Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and ˁAmr Khâlid are both famous for their television appearances – ˁAmr Khâlid almost exclusively so. In addition, ˁAmr Khâlid’s books are adaptations of lecture series he has given on TV, prepared by a team of assistants and then approved by him, so one could argue that it is an artificial basis on which to compare his discourse with Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s, who is an accomplished writer, and that ˁAmr Khâlid’s books are irrelevant as a medium for his preaching – a mere by-product of his real televangelist activity. These objections have to be dealt with in some detail. First, the books exist as material facts with ˁAmr Khâlid’s name as the author on the front page. Second, although ˁAmr Khâlid is first and foremost an orator, using with great success pitch variations and graphic effects in his lectures, it does not seem that his books are just poor copies of his live performances. On the contrary, the publisher asserts that they sell quite well, especially during the annual book fair in Cairo and during religious holidays. 2 Some of the copies I bought were into their fourth round of printings in three years, and the impression I gathered from ˁAmr Khâlid fans I spoke with was that they read his books, listened to his tapes and watched his shows. They are also easily available in upmarket neighborhoods of Cairo, typically placed on a shelf near the exit of the popular Metro supermarkets. Thus, his books can be regarded as one among many means to disseminate his message. In fact, in our context they become particularly interesting, as they introduce a completely new, quasi-oral style into the Islamic book market. In this capacity, ˁAmr Khâlid’s written texts constitute an interesting object of study. As for the basis of comparison, the TV appearances of ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî are just as different as their books in every regard, whether one looks at the purpose of the program, the interaction between the preacher and the others in the studio or the way they deliver their message. Moreover, we should note that such an analysis would require several non-linguistic parameters to be considered.3 The point of the analysis is exactly to bring out some salient linguistic differences and try to understand what they might mean, and to this end, a comparison of their written discourse is as valuable as that of their spoken discourse. With this disclaimer and clarification in mind, let us start by looking at their pronominal references.

Pronouns of friendship vs pronouns of power

8ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî have very different ways of using personal pronouns. In ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts, the dominant pronouns are ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’, mostly in the singular masculine. ˁAmr Khâlid himself is explicit about this aspect of his discourse and the reason behind it:

I have strived to make my style a conversational (ḥiwârî ) one that interacts with the reader directly. I talk to his mind at times, and to his heart at others (...). (Khâlid 2003: 5-6)

9This aim results in a very personal and intimate discourse. The following examples of sentences in ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts are typical and show how he speaks directly to his audience in both the singular and the plural, as well as using an inclusive “we” where both he and his readership supposedly belong:

أنت مأمور بالإحسان في كل صغيرة وفي كل كبيرة...

You [sing. masc.] are commissioned to do well in all matters, small and big... (Khâlid 2003: 38)

فأقول لكم أيها الشباب كلاماً نابعاً من قلبي

So youths, I speak to you words that come from my heart (Khâlid 2003: 50)

فرحته لفرح النبي أكبر من فرحته لأبيه. أين نحن من هذا الحب..!؟

His joy at the Prophet’s joy was greater than his joy for his father. Where does this love leave us...!? (Khâlid 2003: 32)

10ˁAmr Khâlid often shows his sympathy with the readers by using the inclusive “we”, whereby writer and reader(s) are depicted as sharing in whatever the text is about:

فَلَْنَقُلْ: سنعيش لديننا ولأمتنا ولبلادنا، وفي وسط هذا كله سنعيش نحن وأولادنا أفضل عيشة.

So let’s say: We’ll live for our religion, umma and country, and in the middle of all this we will live, we and our children, the best of lives. (Khâlid 2003a: 29)

11The combination of references to the reader, to ˁAmr Khâlid himself and the inclusive “we” creates a feeling of intimacy in his texts and evokes feelings of mutual sympathy between him and his readers. This echoes the atmosphere in his TV shows and produces an image of ˁAmr Khâlid as a friend and advisor rather than a distant religious authority.

12I will linger a little more on the references to the second person before I move on. Although most of these are in the singular masculine, there are some switches between the 2nd person singular and plural. This can be seen in the third quote above, and the following example is even more salient:

أرأيتم عظمة الدين، فإن مت فإن الحسنات تتوالى عليك، ألسن نحفظ الحديث (...).

Do you [pl.] see how great religion is – when you [sing.] die, the merits will rain down on you, haven’t we memorized the ḥadî th (...). (Khâlid 2005: 85)

13In the last sentence, there are references both to a single reader, a group of readers and the writer and reader(s) together, all within one short line of text. Why does ˁAmr Khâlid do this? In most written discourse, the use of the plural to address the readers is very rare. One obvious explanation is that ˁAmr Khâlid’s books are adaptations of his live appearances before an audience, and therefore some of the atmosphere from the original setting is transferred to print. But what is its effect, here, in writing? A reasonable interpretation is that it is a good way of combining an appeal to individuals and a creation of group identity. Patrick Haenni and Wâ’il Luṭfî both raise the point that as a product of post-modern globalisation, the new Islamic preaching is more focused on individuals and individualism than traditional preaching. This is no doubt correct, but it is only part of the story, at least as far as ˁAmr Khâlid is concerned. The active supporters of ˁAmr Khâlid are organised in committees that undertake social welfare work of various kinds. As a result, they belong to something that is bigger than themselves, a collective effort that is the result of individual awakening. Another point which also has got to do with group feeling is that the scattered references to a group of readers facilitate reading aloud to each other, for example in private religious study circles. In this way, ˁAmr Khâlid encourages interaction – not only between the readers and himself, but among the readers, too.

14Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s texts exhibit a very different pattern of reference. In his texts, the dominant pronominal references are to the third person singular and plural and the first person plural. All three references have their own significance and contribute to making Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s discourse different from ˁAmr Khâlid’s in the roles they create for themselves and their audience. Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî frequently employs the third person singular references to state something about the ‘ordinary’ Muslim:

... يغرس الإسلام فى نفس المسلم (...) التسامح مع المخالفين(...)

(...) Islam implants in the Muslim (...) tolerance towards [people] with different ideas (...)” (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 102)

فلا يقبل المسلم المعاصر: أن يظل القديم على قدمه

For the contemporary Muslim does not accept that the old [ways] remain as they are. (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 130)

15Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s reference to the general Muslim reads quite naturally as an indirect address to the reader of his text. The “contemporary Muslim” is none other than the reader of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s books. As we have seen, ˁAmr Khâlid very often employs the second person singular in this case. This reference is extremely rare in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s texts, and he generally refers to the readers indirectly through the third person singular instead. In this way, a certain distance between him and the reader is created, and his discourse is thus less intrusive on the reader than ˁAmr Khâlid’s. Instead of the intensely personal atmosphere that permeates ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s use of the third person singular marks his discourse as a more academic one, which generally does not create overt personal ties with the reader but puts emphasis on general arguments instead. In such a discourse, it is natural to employ the third person singular in examples to make them impersonal and general, like English “one” and French “on”.

16The references in the third person plural carry a very different significance. Such references normally denote the greatest distance between the writer and the ones he writes about, and is thus often accompanied by a negative evaluation (Wilson 1990: 58, 68). This is also the case with Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s texts, and significantly, references in the third person plural are found very frequently in his texts, much more often than in ˁAmr Khâlid’s. The following example is from a passage where he criticises fundamentalist ˁulamâ’:

والعجيب أن من هؤلاء من يجيز لنفسه أن يجتهد في أعوص المسائل، وأغمض القضايا، ويفتي فيها بما يلوح له من رأي، وافق فيه أو خالف، ولكنه لا يجيز لعلماء العصر المتخصصين، منفردين أو مجتمعين، أن يجتهدوا في رأي يخالف ما ذهب إليه.

The strange thing is that among these there are some [lit.: he] who allow themselves to perform ijtihâd in the most obscure matters and ambiguous issues, and to judge in them with whatever opinion has appeared for him, whether it is in agreement or disagreement [with consensus]; but he does not allow specialised, contemporary ˁulamâ’, whether alone or together, to perform ijtihâd [on the basis of] a judgment that opposes his claim. (al-Qaraḍâwî 2001: 36).

17Here, the pronoun ha’ulâ’, “these”, is put together with a clearly negative evaluation of the persons whom it refers to. Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî tends to employ the same pronoun when he writes about iconoclastic Islamic thinkers, whom he disapproves of strongly. He also uses the third person plural variant ‘ulâ’ika, “those” (e.g. al-Qaraḍâwî 1990: 105). In his books about Islamic revival that I have studied, references in the third person plural employed together with negative evaluation are very frequent. This is a rather imprecise and vague way of pointing to opponents, especially considering the fact that Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s books are often devoted to defining what is correct and incorrect in Islamic thought and practice. His opponents do not always use the same kind of reference. The liberal Egyptian Islamic thinker Naṣr Íâmid Abû Zayd, for example, is very explicit about which works and authors he criticises in his books, and he generally talks about thought directions which he disagrees with as just that – directions with a specific name and with specific references, instead of employing the vague pronoun “they” (e.g. Abû Zayd 2003). One of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s main purposes in his books about Islamic revival is to criticise both fundamentalist and secular thought as well as what he terms “the West”, i.e. selected aspects of Euro-American culture and society. He portrays these factors as threatening to the rightly-guided Islamic revival that all Muslims should unite around. Given this goal, a likely explanation for his widespread use of “they” and its variants is that he belittles his opponents by refusing to deal with them individually or in detail. In addition, the widespread use of “they” as opposed to the equally widespread use of “we”/”us” in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s texts forces the reader into a community with the writer against other communities. A consequence of this effect is that Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s pronoun use contributes strongly to making his texts seem polemical despite his otherwise detached and academic style.

18Compared with ˁAmr Khâlid’s use of “we” together with the extensive references to “you”, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s many references to “we” do not create an intimate relationship between reader and writer. Their main effect is instead to define contrasts between the referents of “we” and other groups in the text that are invariably associated with negative evaluation: he uses “we” to refer to all Muslims as opposed to the West, to centrists as opposed to fundamentalists and liberalists, and to conscious, activist Muslims as opposed to the “ignorant masses”:

إنه الثالوث الجهنمي الرهيب، يتآمر على أمتنا، وتتداعى علينا قواه كما تتداعى الأكلة على قصعته، ثالوث اليهودية والصليبية والشيوعية (...).

It is the hellish, frightful trinity that conspires against our umma, and whose forces rally together against us like hungry ones gather around the eating bowl, the trinity of Judaism, Crusaderism and Communism (...). (al-Qaraḍâwî 2001: 94)

بل نجد من هؤلاء من يرى أن النقود الشرعية هي الذهب والفضة (...)، فأما النقود الورقية فلا تعتبر نقوداً شرعاً.

We even find among these some [lit.: he] who claim that money, according to the sharî ˁa, is gold and silver (...), so as for bank notes, they are not considered money in a sharˁî sense. (al-Qaraḍâwî 1998: 95)

وفي مقابل هؤلاءالجامدين المجمّدين: نجد المنفتحين المتسيبين، الذين يريدون أن ننخلع من تراثنا كله، ما كان منه إلهيّا، وما كان منه بشريا، وأن لا نتقيد بنص ولا قاعدة (...).

Contrary to these ossified ultraconservatives we find the loose and slack ones, who want us to be stripped of our whole heritage, both the divine and human aspects of it, and that we be not bound by either text or rule (...) (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 133).

وهنا نجد أننا لو تركنا تحديد مفهوم «التطرف الديني» لآراء الناس وأهوائهم لتفرقت بنا السبل (...).

And here we find that if we were to leave the definition of ‘religious extremism’ to the views and whims of ordinary people, we would lose our direction [our paths would become scattered for us] (...). (al-Qaraḍâwî 2001: 31)

19There is an evident construal of a world of conflicts in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s division between “us” and “them” with his use of pronouns, and whether the referents of his “we” are ordinary, mainstream Muslims, the whole Muslim world or centrist ˁulamâ’ (they all appear quite frequently as referents in his texts), its effect is to divide the world into different communities on a solely religious basis. Consequently, his pragmatic use of pronouns serves a very different end than that of ˁAmr Khâlid whose use of pronouns creates intimate ties of solidarity with his readers. There is solidarity to be found in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s pronouns use too, to be sure, but not much intimacy, and the solidarity he evokes is not personal – his “we” is an impersonal and political one.

20To sum up the pragmatics of ˁAmr Khâlid’s and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s pronoun use, then, we may say that ˁAmr Khâlid casts himself as a coach who wants to have a dialogue and cooperate with his readers in order that everybody becomes more religiously aware. Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî , on the other hand, casts himself more as the objective scholar at the same time as he speaks in the name of all Muslims. These, in turn, are treated as a religio-political group opposed to other groups rather than as individuals.

Mood Structures: Engaging vs Instructing

21A striking aspect of ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts is the high number of interrogatives and imperatives found in them. This is a pattern throughout all his book, and the following examples are typical.

أنت ما هدفك وماذا تريد؟ حدد هدفك، فماذا تريدون يا إخوتي! تريدون الله؟ فالطريق إليه واضح، ولستم بحاجة إلى محاضرات طويلة، أنتم بحاجة إلى تذكرة من آن لآخر واسلك طريق الله.. لكن حدد هدفك، فإن لم تكن تعرف ماذا تريد سوف تتخبط في الدنيا وستموت وأنت لا تدري ماذا تريد، وستقف يوم القيامة وأنت لا تعرف أين تقف ولمن تذهب.. حدد هدفك.

You [sing.] - what’s your goal and what do you want? Define your goal – what do you want, my brothers! Do you [pl.] want God? Well, the road to him is clear, and you don’t need any long lectures. You need a reminder from time to time and to connect [sing.] to God’s path... But define your [sing.] goal, for if you don’t know what you want you will be lost in the world and die without knowing what it is you want, and you’ll be standing on the Day of Resurrection not knowing where you are or whom to go to... Define your goal. (Khâlid 2005: 42-43)

  • 4 See, for example, Khâlid, ˁAmr: “Mawˁidunâ 15 fabrâyir!!” in Ñunnâˁ al-ḥayât, no. 2, vol. 1, Februa (...)

22In this short paragraph, there are four questions to the reader/s and three identical imperative clauses. The whole paragraph is addressed directly to the reader, making the emotional impact much bigger than the use of a generic third person reference would have done. The bombardment of demands is a characteristic feature of all of ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts, and while interrogatives are the most prominent Mood here, imperatives occupy pride of place in other texts.4 The consequence of his use of interrogatives and imperatives is that ˁAmr Khâlid challenges his readers to react to his words. His focus is on quick reflection and action, hence the questions to the reader, which challenge him/her to give an immediate answer, and hence the imperatives that demand some kind of action on the part of the reader. The overall effect of ˁAmr Khâlid’s Mood choices is that his texts are pervaded by a sense of urgency and movement, and these are undoubtedly appealing qualities for a readership used to a rather more dry tone in religious books. By his direct address, questions and commands to the reader, ˁAmr Khâlid forces him/her to react to his propositions all the time, all through the book. In this sense, he makes the reader participate in the text, as it were, and this constructs him/her as a dynamic and conscious Muslim, even though the texts do not demand any serious sacrifices on the part of the reader.

23Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwi’s use of Mood structures, on the other hand, show him as intent on keeping his distance with the reader, at the same time as he is assertive about his authority to make grand claims on behalf of the contemporary Muslim world. In keeping with his role as scholar, he is generally descriptive, so the vast majority of his sentences are propositions. Although there are some interrogatives and one or two rare instances of imperatives, they never dot the text in the same way as ˁAmr Khâlid’s questions and commands do, and most of the questions are not rhetorical, but open ones that serve to drive the argument along, as is usual in academic texts.

24However, many of his propositions carry imperative force. Consider the following two statements:

وينبغي أن يكون الاجتهاد في عصرنا اجتهاداً جماعياً في صورة مجمع علمي يضم الكفايات الفقهية العالية (...).

The ijtihâd in our era should be a collective one, in the shape of an academy of highly qualified religious scholars (...). (al-Qaraḍâwî 1998: 16)

ولا بد للفقيه المعاصر أن يختار من الآراء المذكورة رأياً يرجحه، ولا يدع الناس في حيرة بين الرأي وضده (...).

The contemporary religious jurist must choose from the mentioned opinions one which he finds probable, and not leave [ordinary] people in bewilderment between one opinion and its opposite. (al-Qaraḍâwî 1998: 25)

25By the use of the verb yanbaghî , “it is desirable/necessary”, and the fixed accusative construction lâ budda li, “[someone] simply must do [something]”, both of which have an imperative effect, pragmatically speaking (al-Shahrî 2004: 344), he makes the propositions normative. This kind of normative statement is found often in his books, and reflects the fact that besides offering scholarly, descriptive accounts of contemporary Islam, he is also concerned to state how things should be. Unlike ˁAmr Khâlid, however, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî occupies himself not with individuals, but with the whole Islamic umma. Hence, he does not address his demands to the reader, but to abstract entities like “the interpretive effort” or generalized third persons like “the contemporary religious jurist”. In this way, the individual reader again disappears in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwi’s discourse to the benefit of the collective, and he casts himself more as a supreme guide for the Islamic community than a personal Islamic coach, which is the role ˁAmr Khâlid assumes with his intensely personal demands to the reader.

26In light of his normative discourse, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s plain statements about what Islam is and what Muslims do can be interpreted to communicate even more authority than the overtly imperative sentences I quoted above. Consider again the statement I quoted above:

فلا يقبل المسلم المعاصر: أن يظل القديم على قدمه

For the contemporary Muslim does not accept that the old [ways] remain as they are. (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 130)

يؤمن بالوحى، ولا يغيب العقل. [الخطاب الإسلامي]

[The Islamic discourse] believes in Revelation without discarding rationality. (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 65)

27These are propositions without any modality; they simply state facts about the contemporary Muslim and Islamic discourse. However, since Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s texts are strongly normative ones, these propositions acquire an imperative effect when seen in context. By using the generalised third person reference together with positive propositions about what the general Muslim does and what he doesn’t do, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî asserts his ability to not only speak on behalf of the ordinary Muslim, but actually define what a contemporary Muslim is and does, which communicates more authority than stating what the contemporary Muslim should be and do. The implicit message is that a Muslim who does not act in the way Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî instructs that s/he should act is somehow lacking in "Muslimness”, and that Islamic discourses that do not conform to the 15 characteristics he describes in his recent book about Islamic discourse are not really or fully Islamic (Qaraḍâwî 2004).

28This assertive way of defining both Muslims and Islam creates a picture of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî as being on top of a religious pyramid. His language in this regard fits nicely in with his position in Pierre Bourdieu’s description of the religious field, where the clergy engage in a constant fight with parts of the educated laity to retain control over the symbolic goods that religious doctrine and practice constitute (Bourdieu 1999). In this fight, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî seeks to achieve distinction by implicitly assuming his authority to define the Muslim umma and tell it what to do.

Processes and Participants: The Muslim vs Islam

29In contrast to traditional Islamism, ˁAmr Khâlid’s struggle for Islam is not fought primarily against structural enemies like the West’s cultural imperialism or the inadequate reliance on Islamic jurisprudence in the legal system. Consider the following quote:

الفرق بين وساوس الشيطان ودواعي النفس

كيف نعرف أن الوسوسة من الشيطان أو من النفس؟ حتى نعامل كل واحدة بما يجب أن نعاملها به.. الشيطان يوسوس للمعصية بداية، فإن جاهدته أو رفضته تركك مباشرة وذهب أِلى معصية أخرى، لأنه لا يريد منك معصية بذاتها، فهو يريدك أن تقع في كل أشكال المعصية وأي أنواع المعصية، (...).

أما النفس، فإنها مختلفة تلح على معصية بعينها، فإذا وجدت أن نفسك تلح عليك فلا تظن أنه الشيطان إِنها النفس، لأنها تشتاق إِلى لون معِّين وتلح عليه، فابتداءً هي لم تحضره، فبداية وسوس به الشيطان، ففعلته مرة، فتلقفته النفس وأعجبها فعندئذٍ تقوم بالإلحاح والإصرار، (...).

The distinction between Satan’s whispering and the calls of the self
How do we know whether the whispering is from Satan or from the self, so that we can treat each one in the way we ought to... Satan first whispers to encourage sinning, and if you resist him or reject him, he will leave you at once and move on to another sin. For he doesn’t want you to commit any sin in particular, but rather he wants you to commit all kinds of sin, (...).
As for the self, it is different. It insists on a particular sin, so if you find that your self nags at you, don’t think that it’s Satan – it’s the self, for it craves for one specific kind and insists on it. So in the beginning, it does not procure it, for Satan whispers about it first. Then you committed it once, and the self liked it, and from there it starts nagging and insisting, (...). (Khâlid 2005: 17)

30Clearly, for ˁAmr Khâlid it is the inner world that counts, the world of personal spirituality. What more can it tell us about how he represents Islam?

  • 5 E.g. Khâlid 2003b:76-77 and 184.
  • 6 See, for example, the Qur’ân 7:20 and 50:16.

31An analysis of the experiential aspects of his texts is instructive in this regard. Who are the participants in ˁAmr Khâlid’s scheme of things, what relationships do they enter into, what kind of processes are dominant, how are they realised grammatically, and what can this tell us about the form of Islam he shapes through his language? Like always in ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts, in this excerpt the reader is a prominent participant, referred to by the second person singular and the first person plural – the last type of reference occurs in the beginning of the excerpt and creates the atmosphere of solidarity and understanding I have already noted above. The two other active participants are Satan and the self. These figures appear several places in ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts.5 The division between a person and his/her self comes from the Qur’ân, which depicts the self as prone to evil, and Satan as whispering to humans to make them commit sins.6 What is interesting to note is that neither the self nor Satan is depicted as actually performing some tangible action, except in a metaphoric sense, when Satan “leaves” the reader and “moves” to another sin he wants the reader to commit. It is the reader, “you”, who must take responsibility for carrying out the sinful acts: «Then you committed it once...» This constellation of participants is a common feature of ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts, and it testifies to the intensely personal nature of his discourse. Whenever Satan is around, the reader, referred to by “you”, is also there to be influenced by him. And when Satan leaves, there is still the unruly self to cope with, a separate and wilful part of the individual which has to be controlled.

32Unlike mainstream, traditional Islamist discourse, like that of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and Muḥammad ˁImâra, ˁAmr Khâlid’s universe is not inhabited by Western secular power, corrupt, ungodly Arab regimes and “tendencies” (the term tayyârât is a favourite with Islamist writers) that promote this or that ideology. Instead, it is the powers that vie for domination within the individual Muslim that are focused on: the conscious will, the unruly self and the never-resting Satan. With his focus on personal spirituality and the presentation of the reader as responsible for actions, ˁAmr Khâlid creates a picture of Islam that is centred around the reader. His focus is on the individual Muslim.

33As for the grammatical realisation of the processes in the texts, it contributes to creating a world where the reader’s responsibility for what is going on is emphasised. When reading ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts in comparison with more traditional Islamic preachers like Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî , one is immediately struck by his limited use of the maṣdar, or verbal noun, and the passive voice. The use of the verbal noun is usually very common in modern written Arabic, and like English –ing participles, verbal nouns offer the possibility of omitting agency, thus foregrounding the action and backgrounding or obscuring the agent. The excerpts I have analysed here are typical of ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts in that there are very few verbal nouns. Instead, processes are realised by verbs in the active voice. When he does use maṣdar, he often includes the agent anyhow. A consequence of this is that his texts are full of explicitly attributed agency. Thus, ˁAmr Khâlid’s language emphasises the active role of the reader in the processes he writes about.

  • 7 More information on this quasi-organization, including its monthly magazine, can be found at ˁAmr K (...)

34I think that the construal of the reader as a responsible agent provides one explanation for why ˁAmr Khâlid’s discourse (and charismatic religious discourse generally, I suspect) affects people to such a great degree. With his combination of personal address and the casting of the reader as an active agent in all his texts, ˁAmr Khâlid can be said to raise consciousness about the individual as an agent who matters in a collaborative effort to improve Egyptian society. Important building blocks in this image of the reality are his use of pronouns and clauses filled with processes where the reader is given the role as agent. This is a highly effective tool for creating a feeling of individual responsibility that is hard to pinpoint because it is embedded in the grammar of his texts, but which still leaves an impact on the reader. This impact can be measured by the number of people that take active part in the projects started by him and the various local committees in the social initiative Ñunnâˁ al-ḥayât (Lifemakers).7

35While the constellation of participants and processes in ˁAmr Khâlid’s discourse produces an image of Islam as action and his reader as a spiritual entrepreneur, the characteristic transitivity patterns in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwi’s texts have a very different effect. In them, it is not the Muslim, but rather Islam that often appears as an agent on its own. He also frequently employs relational processes in a much more salient way than ˁAmr Khâlid. Let us look at Islam as agent first. Consider the following sentences:

وهذا الواقع لم يصنعه الأسلام، وإنما صنع في غيبة الإسلام عن قيادة الحياة تشريعاً وتوجيهاً، (...).

It was not Islam that produced this reality, but rather it was produced in Islam’s absence from guiding life through legislation and instruction, (...). (al-Qaraḍâwî 1998: 96)

يجعل [الإسلام] الإنسان موصولاً بالله على الدوام، (...).

[Islam] makes Man continually connected to God, (...). (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 91)

واضطر الإسلام في النهاية أن يشهر السيف دفاعاً عن نفسه، (...).

Islam was obliged in the end to unsheathe the sword in self-defence, (...). (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 113)

36In Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s books, it is first and foremost Islam, not the Muslims, which makes an impact on the world. On the whole, he has a preference for casting groups, concepts and schools of thought as agents instead of individuals, and thus we also find “Islamic discourse” as a prominent agent. (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: passim) The effect of his preference for such entities as agents is that people are backgrounded while doctrine is foregrounded, which is the complete opposite of what ˁAmr Khâlid’s discourse does. What about his use of processes when it comes to writing about doctrine? Consider the following examples:

ومن خصائص خطابنا الإسلامى فى عصر العولمة: أنه يؤمن بالوحى، ولا يغيب العقل.

One of the characteristics of our Islamic discourse in the era of globalisation [is] that it believes in Revelation without discarding rationality. (al-Qaraḍâwî 2004: 65)

وهذه بعض المعالم والضوابط الأساسية للاجتهاد المعاصر.

These [are] some of the fundamental features and restrictions for contemporary ijtihâd. (al-Qaraḍâwî 1998: 98)

37In the language of Systemic Functional Linguistics, both these sentences are relational. In Halliday’s words, relational sentences are about “being” and “having” (Halliday 2004: 210). Here, I am concerned with those which are about ‘being’, and which appear very often when Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî writes about ideological and doctrinal questions around which there is some debate. Such sentences “serve to characterize and identify” (Ibid.). And this is exactly what Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî does: he characterizes and identifies contemporary ijtihâd and Islamic discourse. Given his dominant position in the Islamic religious field, the very act of characterizing and identifiying at once asserts his power to do so and serves to disqualify discourses that do not conform to his own descriptions. The effect is made all the stronger by the fact that Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî seldom names specific thinkers whom he disagrees with (of which there are quite a few, both among liberals and conservatives), and indeed seldom treats in any detail thoughts on ijtihâd and other issues that oppose his own. So he states 1) that his own concepts of Islamic discourse and ijtihâd are simply how things are and 2) downplays the fact that there are competing views. The effect is to boost his own authority while disempowering the reader: he makes it harder for the reader to reflect critically. In Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s texts, the reader is construed as a pupil learning at the master’s feet. The point I wish to make here is not that this tells us anything new about Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s ideology, because it does not. One can pick up almost any book by him to see that he reiterates again and again that it is good enough to read and study for the Muslim activist, but that there is always a need for the specialists, who guide both the activist and the common people (al-nâs). The point is rather that he also does this implicitly, by the way he phrases important sentences about doctrine, like these ones about Islamic discourse and ijtihâd. This grammatical tool – the use of relational processes – bolsters his argument in a subtle way that is hard to resist for the reader, thus making Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s texts less transparent and open to argument. And by making his own opinions the definition of contemporary Islam, he makes it natural to view the Islamic religious field as a pyramidal structure, with himself on top, since he has got the power to define Islam.

Style: Traditional Eloquence vs Effective Simplicity

38Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and ˁAmr Khâlid form different images of Islam not only through their pronoun use, Mood and transitivity structures, but also in their different styles of writing. Style is a complex and comprehensive concept; here, I will only scratch the surface and comment on some obvious and salient differences.

39Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî transcends the regular scholarly attitude to language which we saw above and displays a reverence for the rhetorical repository that the heritage of religious Arabic discourse represents. This is apparent both in his own style of writing and in his quotations. To take the latter first: a regular feature in Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s texts is his quotation from a piece of poetry to illustrate a point. These quotations are more often than not taken from classical, Islamic Arabic poetry with all its rules and regulations (e.g. Qaraḍâwî 2001: 32 and 2003: 98). They thus require quite a lot of literary knowledge on the part of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî to be able to use them in an illuminating way, and quite a lot of poetic awareness on the part of the readers for them to appreciate it. In addition to this, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s own language exhibits a clear concern with eloquence. His use of rhyme and repetition is conspicuous. Consider this comment on Arab political leaders:

فهؤلاء عند الشباب في الظاهر زعماء وطنيون، على أوطانهم يغارون، وفي الباطن عملاء مأجورون، على دين أمتهم يغيرون، ولحساب أعدائها يعملون!

For these [rulers] appear outwardly to the youths as national leaders, jealous of their homelands. But inwardly they are hired collaborators, changing the religion of their nation, working to the benefit of its [the nation’s] enemies! (al-Qaraḍâwî 2001: 95)

He also actively exploits the poetic possibilities that the root system in Arabic gives, as in this statement about a correct ijtihâd:

فلا يغلو مع الغالين، ولا يقصر مع المقصرين.

So it does not exaggerate with the extremists, nor does it fall short with those who are incapable. (al-Qaraḍâwî 1998: 93)

40These rhymes and repetitions are typical of eloquent modern Arabic prose (Johnstone 1991, Justice 1987), and it testifies to Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s awareness of and respect for the Arabic rhetorical tradition that he incorporates many such passages in his texts.

41ˁAmr Khâlid is almost the opposite of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî in this respect. At no point in his texts does he quote Islamic poetry or classical Islamic texts. There are some scattered references to ḥadîth-s from the most well-known collections, but that is about it. As for his own style of writing, there is nothing in his texts that remotely resembles the kind of rhetoric found in either classical or modern Arabic religious prose. He does use synonymous repetition, but not to create the flowing, rhythmic style that Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî achieves. On the contrary, his style is very staccato, in what seems often as an attempt to convey into writing the oral discourse for which he is so famous. Consequently, the clauses begin and end quite abruptly, as here, when he compares the trials some people must go through in life with the process of refining gold:

كيف تُجَرِّبُ الذهب؟ بالنار.. أَتُرِيدُ ذهباً عيار (24)؟ عليك أن تَضَعَهُ في النار أكثر. فمن الناس من يخرج؛ كالذهب الإبريز.. إنه الذهب الخالص.. ذهبٌ من النقاء والصفاء بمكان.

How do you test gold? With fire... Do you want 24 karat gold? You must place it in fire for a longer time. Among the people, there are some who come out [of the fire] like pure gold... It’s really pure gold... Sheer gold of the utmost purity. (Khâlid 2003: 25)

42Despite his use of no less than four different synonyms for ”pure” in this extract, the text cannot be said to flow effortlessly along. Instead, the overdone punctuation does injustice to a language that is normally written with few full stops. Indeed, the only sign of reverence for the written Arabic language is ˁAmr Khâlid’s (or his editor’s) extensive use of vocalisation in places where it is often unnecessary, as this example clearly shows. In light of the fact that higher variants of modern written Arabic, like Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s, exhibit less vocalisation, this feature of his texts seems somewhat strange, or even clumsy. It is almost as if the vocalisation is a compensation for the flat and staccato-style language in his books. It seems that for ˁAmr Khâlid, the paramount goal is that his message comes across clearly and easily to his audience, and thus he uses rather crude rhetorical effects, like short clauses and the simple imperatives I analysed above. The differences between them are symptomatic of their attitudes to the literary heritage of Islam: Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî treasures the tradition of Arabic rhetoric and writes for a readership that is also supposed to do so. ˁAmr Khâlid, on the other hand, discards the old language, which he is probably not at home with himself, and introduces a new, simple and even crude style that is much more easily digested by a readership that is also uncomfortable with high-flying rhetoric.

43The linguistic differences between ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî contribute to create different versions of an Islamic revival, and can be summed up in three points. First, ˁAmr Khâlid’s texts construct his readers as active, individual spiritual entrepreneurs. Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî ’s texts construct his readers as a collective in need of guidance from above for their politico-religious task of reviving Islam. Second, ˁAmr Khâlid’s language is oriented towards concrete action with focus on the individual Muslim as agent, while Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s exhibits a concern to establish principles on which to base Islamic revival and to assert his and his colleagues’ authority to do so first and foremost. Third, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî’s language shows him to encourage a revival that is firmly rooted within a rich religious tradition, while ˁAmr Khâlid makes a clean break with the language of this tradition and builds a revival outside of it, as we saw in the previous section on style.

44These qualities of their language are homologous with their positions in the Islamic religious field in Egypt. As we have seen, Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî uses not only the issues he writes about, but the very structures of his language to implant a sense of authority and domination in relation both to his readers and those intellectuals who disagree with him. He seeks influence in the religious field through his knowledge and intellectual authority, and uses this authority to exercise the power of definition that makes him able to retain his dominant position in the field. His language reflects and contributes to this strategy. However, in doing this, he sacrifices the possibility to create for the reader an intense personal, religious experience, which is what ˁAmr Khâlid is able to do. As a lay person with aspirations in the religious field, he has to seek influence through something other than theological authority, and his strategy is to cooperate with and befriend his reader instead of instructing him/her. This cooperation is intensely personal and is in contrast and perhaps even opposition to the framework of traditional religious rhetoric, to which ˁAmr Khâlid is a stranger.

45What is the upshot of this difference when we relate it to the religious field in Egypt? At this point, I think a comparison with Bourdieu and his map of the field of cultural production in France in the 19th century might be useful. Put a bit crudely, Bourdieu divides this field along two axes: one according to cultural ideology, i.e. more or less avantgarde, which also means lesser or greater audience, respectively, and one according to symbolic capital, i.e. each agent’s position in the cultural hierarchy (Bourdieu 1993: 29-74). If we transfer this model to the Islamic religious field in Egypt, we can say that liberal or avantgarde agents generally have a very small audience, regardless of their internal hierarchy. Orthodox agents, including mainstream Islamists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, have a much larger audience. It is among this group that Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî occupies a dominant position. However, there is one important group in the public that neither he nor other agents of mainstream Islamism have been able to reach: the group of apolitical, religiously indifferent people, which is quite large and cuts across class borders. It is exactly this group ˁAmr Khâlid has managed to get interested in religion (see especially Luṭfî 2005), and his language – easy, engaging, intense as it is – might be a key tool for his success. In addition, and notwithstanding his new individualistic and hedonistic streak, he quite clearly accepts and even promotes the main doctrinal and moral principles of Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî and other dominant figures within the mainstream establishment. In view of this fact, their different construals of Islam and Muslims can be seen as a convenient way of effecting an Islamic revival on different fronts – a way of sharing the ideological workload.

46It has been claimed that ˁAmr Khâlid’s discourse is subversive, and that he challenges both the religious scholars’ authority and the traditional and dominant ways of being religious in modern Egypt (Wise 2003: 81-103, Wise 2006). Although I agree that he has introduced new ways of being religious, his language does not suggest that he is subversive, and neither does his apolitical and theologically orthodox message. As the comparison with Bourdieu’s map of the field of cultural production illustrates, an alternative way of viewing his role would be that he simply brings in a new dimension to the hegemonic mainstream Islamist discourse in Egypt, and that this dimension has not so much drawn the public away from traditional Islamism and religious scholars as it has introduced a new public to orthodox Islam. ˁAmr Khâlid has achieved this by mediating a traditional message in an attractive way that fits into late modernity’s focus on individuality and realization of oneself, and his language would seem to be an important reason for his success. This conclusion fits better with the fact that there are quite a lot of Egyptians who enjoy listening to and reading both ˁAmr Khâlid and Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî, and do not see any contradiction in this. Thus, if ˁAmr Khâlid’s appearance and language is of disadvantage to anyone in Egypt, it would seem to be the Islamic liberals, who advocate secularism to different extents and challenge orthodox Islamic theological doctrines. They have no great popularizer to help their thoughts gain acceptance among the public, and so the phenomenon of the new preachers contributes to making them seem even more marginalized now than before. The Islamic revival in Egypt takes place by both cooperation and guidance, and the former reinforces the latter. The ultimate result is the increased visibility of Islam in Egyptian public and private life, a tendency that is likely to continue in the years to come.

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* This article is based on ongoing research for the forthcoming thesis Writing Islamism: rhetoric and ideology in contemporary Egypt (working title), which I am preparing for the attainment of a Ph.D. degree at the University of Oslo, Norway. I would like to thank the Cairo Linguist Group, and in particular Gerda Mansour, Madiha Doss and Emad Abdel Latif, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for their valuable comments and criticism.

2 The information about ˁAmr Khâlid’s books was obtained in an interview with Mirwat Anwar at Dâr arîj, which publishes ˁAmr Khâlid’s books, in Cairo on 21.11.2006. Interestingly, publishers do not want to divulge exactly how many copies are printed. According to one editor at Dâr al-shurûq, this is because publishers are embarrassed about the generally low sales figures for books in Egypt, and since the climate among them is very competitive (interview with the author in Cairo, 22.05.2006).

3 Yûsuf al-Qaraḍâwî is best known for his appearance in the weekly program al-Sharîˁa wa al-ḥayât on al-Jazîra, while ˁAmr Khâlid is associated primarily with the channel Iqrâ’, where he has appeared in several series of talkshows about Islamic spirituality and Islam as a way of life.

4 See, for example, Khâlid, ˁAmr: “Mawˁidunâ 15 fabrâyir!!” in Ñunnâˁ al-ḥayât, no. 2, vol. 1, February 2005, p. 3, par. 2, at

5 E.g. Khâlid 2003b:76-77 and 184.

6 See, for example, the Qur’ân 7:20 and 50:16.

7 More information on this quasi-organization, including its monthly magazine, can be found at ˁAmr Khâlid’s website:

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Jacob Høigilt, « Varieties of Persuasion in Modern Forms of Islamic Proselytizing in Egypt », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 124 | novembre 2008, mis en ligne le 14 décembre 2011, consulté le 25 mars 2017. URL :

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Jacob Høigilt

Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo.

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Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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