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.
There is more than a touch of the thespian in Khaled, and he is well aware of the power of his words to motivate. His prime target is the youth of the Arab world, who feel that they are second-class citizens in a world dominated by the United States and its values. To these young people he has a tough message about the destructive force of self-pity. “We Muslims are living as parasites on the world. Our problem is that we have got used to taking without ever giving,” he says. “Don’t tell us it is a Western conspiracy against us, it is not.”
Khaled’s words capture what official reports into the Middle East have been pointing to with increasing alarm: that rising poverty, unemployment and illiteracy have made a toxic cocktail. Combined with authoritarian governments and hostility to the United States, the cocktail has turned deadly and made its young people easy prey for the likes of Osama bin Laden.
Khaled’s remedy is a tough personal regime of self-renewal, based on what he says are real Islamic values. His messages are drawn from the Koran, but they are shaped to the 21st century. Muslims are told why it is contrary to Islam to smoke, to litter the streets or to be lazy, and why it is good to collect clothes for the poor or to vote in elections.
– Source: Amr Khaled: Islam’s Billy Graham, Independent, UK, Jan. 4, 2006
Despite his studiously apolitical discourse, Khaled was forced to leave Egypt in 2002. He was attracting crowds in the tens of thousands at Cairo’s mosques, and jittery Egyptian authorities, wary of his popularity and growing influence, told him he either had to stop preaching or leave.
Khaled moved to the United Kingdom with his wife and young son Ali, but continued to beam his TV programs into Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. Rather than stifling him, the Egyptian ban helped Khaled’s popularity soar.
“The absence of Amr Khaled and other popular preachers and their forced exile was not a smart move on the part of the regime, which has a very strong vested interest in maintaining influential, moderate Islamic preachers,” said Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “The vacuum created by their absence is now leading to a state of polarization between the regime and the Islamists.”
The Egyptian government seems to be reconsidering its stance toward Khaled. Shortly after a string of terrorist attacks on Egyptian soil last year, he was allowed back into the country for the first time in three years. Since then, he has visited regularly and opened a new Cairo office for his British-based charity Right Start, though he still cannot preach in public.
He says the West must be willing to listen to the majority of Muslims who, like him, are moderates, but who nevertheless feel oppressed and misunderstood.
“Bin Laden is saying he is talking on behalf of Muslims,” Khaled said. “Who asked him to talk on behalf of us? Nobody. But now I’m talking on behalf of millions. They asked me to carry their voice to the world. So please, please listen to these people. Right now the extremists are a minority, but if you don’t do anything, they will be a majority.”
– Source: Muslim TV preacher reaches out to youth, San Francisco Chronicle, USA, Feb. 26, 2006