Story behind Qatar embracing a Sururi and a Muslim Brotherhood mentor

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What brought Muhammad Surur, who was known for his mainstream so-called political Salafism, together with his rival, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and his Muslim Brotherhood group in Qatar? The two opponents are known to possess a huge sense of self pride. Both view themselves as “guide to the nation” beyond the aspirations of any cult or organization.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figure Yusuf al-Qaradawi is the oldest and most influential presence among Qatar’s ruling political elites compared to Muhammad Surur, who propagated his ideologies with Qatari public circles. Al-Qaradawi came to Qatar as part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s displacement wave to the Gulf states during the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser, in 1961. He was later granted Qatari nationality.

Al-Qaradawi published in his memoirs about his early period in Qatar: “Since the first speech I gave in high school on the occasion of Syria’s separation from Egypt, the speech was of a political nature. This is how the public was introduced to me as a new comer. Soon Sheikh Ibn Turki invited me to commemorate the Isra and Mi'raj event during high school. Whenever there was a religious, national or social event, I was invited to participate in it.”

After Qaradawi’s first Ramadan in Qatar, he was able to establish himself among the Qatari political elites. This was something the Muslim Brotherhood has always sought to achieve following al-Banna’s own guidelines.

“When the first Ramadan came while I was in Qatar, Khalifa bin Hamad, Crown Prince and Deputy Governor invited me to his palace where his home and his office was. I would lead the Sheikh for Asr prayer, and then give him a lesson about the meaning of a verse or lecture on a particular topic or occasion, such as the Battle of Badr, Mecca’s surrender or Lilat al-Qadr. Sheikh Khalifa was keen to attend and never missed those sessions except due to an illness. In this mosque I met a number of friends including: Sheikh Salman bin Jassim, who came from Umm Qarn, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad, one of the brothers of Sheikh Khalifa, with whom I became a close friend, he used to come from old Rayyan area,” Qaradawi said.

Al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, highlighted his status compared to other Qatari scholars, and those across the Arab world in general. His relations with the Qatari officials strengthened his presence in Qatar.

“The arrangement that Ibn Turki made for me was that I would go to the mosque for half a month, and the rest of the month another scholar would give a lesson. But Sheikh Khalifa called Sheikh Turki’s son told him: Why did you change Qaradawi? He said to diversify. He told him, “I do not want diversification, I don’t want any other but al-Qaradawi.’”

“I went back to Sheikh Khalifa Mosque and then when the Sheikh transferred his palace to Al Rayyan, and became the ruler of Qatar he replaced the mosque of Al Rayyan with a mosque inside his palace. Only the elite could come to him based on instructions from his security men. The Sheikh remained keen to attend my lectures and continued to do so until his son Sheikh Hamad became ruler. This lasted for 36 years during Ramadan, with the exception of one holy month that I missed.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s profound state in Qatar was not only reached by mingling with the ruling family and its branches, but also through Qaradawi’s invites to his friends and prison mates from the Muslim Brotherhood and giving them job contracts in Qatar.

This allowed the Brotherhood to intensify their activities and spread their political movement within the socio-political structure of the country.

Al-Qaradawi said: “I had another practice besides my regular lesson during Al Asr prayer, it was performing the Taraweeh prayer. Member Ahmad Al-Assal suggested that we read a full part of the Quran every night during Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan so that we complete it by the end of the month just the way we used to do while we were in the military prison. We held it in a mosque next door with the support of Azhari brothers such as Sheikh Abdul Latif Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi and Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Musa and Sheikh Sayed Ragab.”

“We launched the prayer leading a row or a row and a half of praying men in this small mosque, and within a few days the number of worshipers multiplied, especially the Egyptians, Palestinians, Pakistanis and Indians,” he said.

Among the prominent names that al-Qaradawi brought from the Muslim Brotherhood was Hassan Issa Abdel-Zaher, who was famous for his research, which dealt with Abu al- A’ala al-Mawdoudi (the spiritual father of the movements of political Islam and lecturer of the principles of governance and ignorance), which was the first research done about al-Mawdoudi since his death. It was entitled “Abu al- A’ala al-Mawdoudi and half a century of Jihad in Islam”.

He had known Abdel-Zaher, who settled in Qatar in 1978, after he ascended the platform of the Ishaq mosque and Hessa al- Sweedy mosque and until he died in Doha.

In a few years, the Muslim brotherhood expanded. Yusuf al-Qaradawi said: “The number increased and with the emergence of contemporary Islamic awakening in the mid-70s of the 20th century, so we moved to the Al Shoyoukh Mosque, the largest widest mosque.”

Al-Sururiya in the Qatari scene

Muhammed Surur died on November 11, 2016 in Doha. He was known for his own cult which was caught between the Salafi stream and the Brotherhood and was best known in the Gulf region as “al-Surury” line.

Al-Sururiya movement became more popular with Surur’s multiple visits to Doha in the 70s. It competed with the propagated Muslim Brotherhood group, especially among the local circles where the Salafi trend is more in line with the Qatari society.

Following Surur’s defection in the late 60s from the Muslim Brotherhood with its Syrian branch, as he had joined them in 1953, he had consistently asserted his movement and his school for decades pushing against the group and attracting the Brotherhood members within the Gulf region and outside.

It is interesting to note that calling Muhammed Surur’s movement “Al-Sururiya” came from the Brotherhood itself. According to Surur, they labeled his students as such by way of disrespect in 1968.

As a result of his differences with the Muslim Brotherhood and the fear of spreading his views in the Gulf, he did not settle in one place. He moved out of Kuwait under pressure from the Brotherhood’s reform group, and went to London, where he stayed for almost 30 years. After September 11, he moved again to reside in Jordan for a few years, then went back to London before choosing Qatar as a final destination.

In 2013, Muhammed Surur settled in Qatar and was well received by Qatari officials. In the last three years of his life, Surur’s residence was not limited to Doha, but as a result of his frequent visits to Qatar, he had been a major influencer in Qatar since the early 1970s. He created a broad popular base for his current and critical school among the Qatari community.

Qatar’s former emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani announced in December 2011 the opening of the largest mosque in Doha, dubbed the Mosque of Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab, to attract the Salafis in the GCC after the wide spread of the Al-Sururiya line.

This mosque, with which Doha sought to strengthen the Salafi line was run by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Mauritanian Sheikh Mohamed Hassan bin Daddo. He was appointed by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs of Qatar as the preacher of Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab mosque on Friday, January 6, 2012, along with the Muslim Brotherhood member Egyptian Sheikh al-Ahwani Abdul Tawab Heikal; a close friend of al-Qaradawi.

The popular following that Surur had achieved undoubtedly became a cause of concern for the Brotherhood group. He has always been a source of concern to his former group and to al-Qaradawi. However, al-Qaradawi became more powerful because of his access to the decision makers in Qatar and across all its institutions.

The importance of the two names in the arena of political Islamist movements lies in their meeting in the city of Doha. Both men have not been keen to meet during all these years, except for a single reunion on an official occasion before the start of the Syrian revolution.

The intensity of the differences between Surur and Muslim Brotherhood have already been discussed on televised interviews. “They launched a fierce war against me, I can’t say that they were brutal and I was well behaved. We both did wrong, regardless whose harm was bigger.”

This is not limited to the insolence and coldness between the Brotherhood and Al-Sururiya school. The roots of the rift extended to methodological difference created by Surur in his new school, which brought together the Salafi movement and the Qotbi views.

On one hand, Al-Sururiya criticizes some of the Brotherhood’s practices and shortcomings in their jurisprudential and doctrinal aspects, including issues related to women, gender interaction, democracy and the relationship with Iran. On the other hand, the Brotherhood felt that the mainstream of Al-Sururiya has emerged out of them; in addition to their view that Salafism is detached from modernism and must get some Sufi influence.

However, as a result of the changes and political turmoil in the region, especially with the so-called Arab Spring, Al-Sururiya mainstream came closer to the Brotherhood’s ideology. The most prominent example was Salman al-Awda, one of the most prominent students of Muhammed Surur. Yusuf al-Qaradawi said in an interview when asked about him, he replied: “He is one of my closest contacts who is on the path of Qaradawi.”

Qatar, the two Sheikhs and the revolutions

The settlement of Muhammed Surur in Doha in 2013 along with Al-Qaradawi is extremely significant with regard to their weight as leaders to those movements. They extended their arms in various Arab and Islamic countries to impose Qatar’s presence before the international community. Doha used radical groups, with their dual branches (Brotherhood and Al- Sururiya) as well as their armed formations in the conflict zones.

Both Al-Qaradawi and Surur have played important roles since revolutions erupted in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Their positions were clear and explicit during their appearance on various fronts whether through financial support, advice, directing factions in the conflict zones.

In a speech organized by the Union in Doha in March 2013, Al-Qaradawi highlighted the nature of the relationship between the ruler and the governed. He stated that what is done by the Arab youth is not sedition in any way because Islam orders the removal of “injustices exercised by the rulers in its worst forms.” He added: “The loss of people's rights directs people to go against their rulers.”

He said that “Salafist fanaticism” and Sufism are aligned to fuse the Arab revolutions by supporting what he called “a toxic culture that links sedition to going against the rulers.”

On the other hand, Muhammed Surur also played a prominent role in inciting and supporting what he called the revolutions of the people. As stated in a meeting held in 2011 through a satellite channel affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. A large part of it was focused on warning Saudi Arabia of the spread of revolutions, demanding the release of detainees over issues of atonement and extremism. He described the Syrian revolution as a divine will, saying: “Allah willed this revolution to happen.”

The rivalry between the two currents in Syria was clear then as it is still today. The Qaradawi-Qatari views are dominating the coalition and the Syrian National Council, and stretch to faction of the Levant in Adlib and Aleppo. The Sururi-Qatari influence was evident on most of the Salafist-oriented factions such as Ahrar Al-Sham, the Army of Islam, and others.

According to observers and analysts, although the international community warned Doha to stop supporting radical groups, the story of the two Sheikhs who were brought together by Qatar and dispersed by political and caliphate aspirations, will remain the seeds of a more lethal and radical grouping, more like a distorted Siamese twin.