Amr Khaled is a Muslim preacher from Egypt. His popularity, especially amongst young Muslims, is such that the media sometimes refers to him as the ‘Islamic Billy Graham.’
Amr (rhymes with “charmer”) Khaled is the Arab world’s first Islamic tele-evangelist, a digital age Billy Graham who has fashioned himself into the anti-Bin Laden, using the barrier-breaking power of satellite TV and the internet to turn around a generation of lost Muslim youth.
“When you look at the reach of what he is doing and when you look at the millions he is touching, I don’t know another single individual in the region who is having the impact that Amr Khaled is having,” says the American Rick Little, an adviser on youth issues to the UN who has worked with Khaled on job creation schemes in the Middle East.
Khaled, 38, defies the stereotype of the Islamic preacher. In his Cairo office it would be easy to mistake him for a City banker. No flowing robes for him. He wears a hand-tailored cream suit, an open-necked sky-blue shirt,brown loafers and a Bulgari watch. The accountant-turned-preacher shifts easily between the worlds of religion and business.
To demonstrate the success of Khaled Inc, the CEO has at the ready a series of graphs and pie-charts in a tastefully designed Annual Report. Inside he points to the proof of his proudest boast: that Amr Khaled is more popular than the US talk show juggernaut Oprah Winfrey.
Certainly, it seems to be the case. A corporate graph shows the number of hits on the Amrkhaled.net website soaring far and beyond the Winfrey line. It is a strange point of reference for an Islamic preacher. He explains, though, that he is neither a preacher nor an Oprah. “I am in my own box,” he laughs. And perhaps he is.
Unlike other Middle Eastern preachers, Khaled has had a taste of life on the other side of the religious and cultural divide. Three years ago he was banned from speaking in Egypt because of his popularity. In self-imposed exile, he set up shop in London, where he says he lived “a wonderful life, in freedom”.
Khaled has returned to his home country in the past few weeks, but his experience of the West sharpened his perspective on the problems facing young Muslims, in England and in the Arab world. He has come back with a dream: “I am going now to build a bridge between the East and the West,” he declares.