Islamist Perspectives on International Relations: The Contributions of Sheikh Yousof al-Qaradawi and Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah

By Sami Emile Baroudi
Submitted to Session P2534 (Hizbollah and Contemporary Lebanese Politics, 2010 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
19th-21st Centuries;
This paper examines the perspectives on international relations of two leading Islamist intellectuals: Sheikh Yousof al-Qaradawi and Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. Held in high esteem in their respective Sunni and Shiite communities, Qaradawi and Fadlallah were chosen for four main reasons. First, they have produced impressive bodies of work, offering penetrating insights into the discourse of contemporary Islamists. Second, Qaradawi and Fadlallah represent the two major denominations in Islam (Sunnite and Shiite Islam), rendering it interesting to see how their different religious backgrounds influence the substance and style of their discourse. Third, they are self-proclaimed "moderates" advocating dialog among Muslims of different denominations and beliefs and especially with the West. It is appealing to examine how this "moderate stance" (al-wasatiyya) translates itself into each author's perspective on international relations. Finally, while dwelling extensively on contemporary problems in international relations, Qaradawi and Fadlallah lean heavily on the Quran and the Hadith to support their arguments and articulate their thoughts. This study is motivated in part by a forceful urge to unpack and comprehend the complex and subtle ways in which the sacred text permeates the discourse of Islamists and to shed light on the significance of the sacred to Islamists' conceptualizations of current international realities which are often portrayed as profane. In addition to trying to uncover what each thinker posits as the underpinning principles of international relations, the paper seeks to highlight each author's views on a range of contemporary problems in international relations, namely: 1) the nature of the current international system and the role of the United States in it; 2) the relationship between the United States (and more generally the West) and the Arab and Islamic worlds; 3) Israel and the Palestinian question; 4) the prospects for Arab and Islamic unity and the obstacles that stand in the way; and 5) globalization and its implications for the Arab and Muslim worlds. The paper relies primarily on textual analysis of the substantial oeuvre produced by Qaradawi and Fadlallah over the past quarter century which includes books, verdicts (fatwas), Friday Sermons and published interviews. In order to better situate our two authors' discourses, I further examine contemporary Arabic literature on international relations as well as sample works by leftist writers from the Third World (especially Latin America), Europe and the United States who subscribe to the same counter-hegemonic discourse of Islamists and the overwhelming majority of Arab intellectuals.