A Conversation with Amr Khaled
London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Amr Khaled is one of the most prominent Muslim televangelists, activists, and preachers in the Arab world, and he has been described by the New York Times Magazine as “the world’s most famous and influential Muslim television preacher.” He was chosen as the 13th most influential person in the world by Time Magazine in 2007. His television programs are famed throughout the Arab world, and he is known as a proponent of a moderate and tolerant brand of Islam. Amr Khaled talks to Asharq Al-Awsat about contemporary problems, his television programs and life, and the importance of charitable and volunteer work. The following is the text of the interview.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you prefer to be addressed by the ordinary people in the Arab world; Sheikh Amr Khaled, or Mr. Amr Khaled, or as a Preacher or Reformer?
[Amr Khaled] The people and the youth in Arab countries usually address me as Mr. Amr Khaled, and this is my preferred title. However in the end the issue of how one id addressed is a simple issue and what somebody achieves is more important than a title in of itself. Therefore the role of a reformer is the essence of my vocation, and titles are fleeting as are our lives.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] During your television programs you sometimes choose a role model for our youth to emulate and learn from, who would you urge the youth to emulate?
[Amr Khaled] I urge the youth to emulate the Prophet [pbuh], and God called on us to do this, as He said “Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” [Surat al-Imran; Verse 31]. This is the reason why I seek to love the Prophet [pbuh] for God has presented us with an ideal model in terms of morality, worship, and success. If there is a youth who wants to succeed in his professional life he will not find a better example amongst all of humanity than the Prophet [pbuh]. Especially as the Prophet’s message is renewable for all time; every successful individual is the star of his own time because he is able to realize the requirements of this time, whereas the Prophet [pbuh] is the only one who brought a message that is for all time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your “Mujaddidun” [Reformers] television program is almost in the middle of its run, in your opinion what has this television program achieved so far?
[Amr Khaled] So far, Mujaddidun has presented a new way of thinking about charitable and voluntary work, but it also presents this in an excellent and engaging manner. Mujaddidun represents the first engaging and interesting [Islamic] preaching program [on charitable work] on television. This in itself breaks barriers that confront the [Islamic] reformists, that is to say presenting their work in an interesting and engaging manner.
I can say that the Mujaddidun program managed to walk a difficult line between presenting an entertaining and engaging show and present a righteous and reformative message. In addition to this, those taking part in this program, and they are 16 youth from 9 Arab countries, have begun to appear as excellent models for charitable and volunteer work and success in their countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your idea for your forthcoming television show that is set to be broadcast during Ramadan? Has production started yet?
[Amr Khaled] The forthcoming Ramadan television show will be about the Prophet [pbuh] and it will reveal new perspectives about the way that the Prophet dealt with every aspect of life, which will help us work out practical steps we can take in our lives coming from the way that the Prophet dealt with such issues. This is the first time that I have spoken about my new show, and this information is exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat. The program will be entitled “With the Prophet of God, peace be upon him.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who are your close friends who you are able to talk about your concerns with?
[Amr Khaled] My closest friends are those who started this professional career with me more than 15 years ago, and at the same time they are those that I like to speak with. Some of them were my colleagues during secondary school and at university. My wife, my two sons, Ali and Omar, and my father and mother and sister are also my closest friends. There is also a third type of close friend who I seldom meet; and these are the audiences who engage with my television programs and the youth who engage with me on my website, and they are indeed very close to me. I may not have met many of them in person, but we share the same energy and hope. They increase my hope with their enthusiasm, and I increase their hope with my words. As I am keen to remain in sight and to be amongst the people, everybody even has my mobile telephone number. I don’t have a private number, because I believe that a major reason for the success of my vocation is engaging with the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that your previous television shows like “Life Makers” and “Call for Coexistence” achieved anything on the ground?
[Amr Khaled] I believe that – thanks to God – the previous shows achieved large successes on the ground, and that this occurred at varying levels. By the virtue of God, these programs had tangible effects that can be seen by everybody. It is my greatest joy that these effects were achieved, and it is not important who achieved this. I believe that my message is a message of goodness and reform and is not a violent or evil message. With regards to faith and commitment to religion, there have been many achievements amongst the youth, as well as in the areas of charity and voluntary work. There are many such projects such as the Life Makers television program, as well as the anti-drug campaigns and the projects to assist small businesses. All of this has had a positive effect, and I think that the most important thing to have been achieved is to create a new way of thinking about the importance of undertaking voluntary and charitable work. If the only achievement is the success of implementing this idea, this would still represent an acceptable success at this stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the Egyptian people have a natural inclination towards religion in spite of the enormous problems they are facing with regards to unemployment and poverty and other problems they are suffering from?
[Amr Khaled] By their very nature, the Egyptian people are religious. Faith is a part of their make-up. Therefore economic and social conditions, whether these are negative or positive, only serves to increase the faith and religious nature of the Egyptian people. This is not because they are not affected by these issues, but because religion is deeply rooted in the Egyptian people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From your position outside of Egypt in Britain, do you believe that the situation in Egypt will improve? What are you most concerned about for Egypt?
[Amr Khaled] I’m not far away, as I live between Egypt and Britain. Secondly, by my nature, I have great hopes and am very optimistic about the future, not just for Egypt, but for the entire Arab world. I believe that the entire Arab world will witness a better and more promising future. I believe that the coming 10 years will see hope towards a better future for our countries.
As for what I am most concerned about in Egypt, it is that the energy of the youth is not being utilized in the ideal manner and that they are not taking part in reforming their country. If we put youth into the equation of reform and charitable and volunteer work, we would be able to protect them from going astray and from the dangers of religious extremism, while at the same time, we would be adding a strong new element to this equation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you describe a day in your life to Asharq Al-Awsat’s readers?
[Amr Khaled] I am in Britain, and so my day is as follows. I begin the day with the Fajr [Dawn] prayers. My day begins here, and then I spend long hours preparing for my forthcoming Ramadan show. After this I browse my website and my Facebook page, and then I either go to the gym or play football with some friends. After this, I read the Quran, and then I use the telephone to follow up on some projects or call friends. As a big fan of restaurants, I usually eat dinner at a restaurant before reading until I fall asleep, I usually only get around 5 hours of sleep per night.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why have some satellite channels decided against broadcasting your television shows like Mujaddidun and Quran Stories?
[Amr Khaled] This is incorrect, as both Parts of Quran Stories was broadcast by El Mehwar TV, and the forthcoming Ramadan show will be broadcast – God willing – on the Egyptian channels. As for Mujaddidun, it is currently being broadcast on Dubai TV, which was one of the shows producers, and therefore it has the first broadcasting rights. However this does not prevent this television show being broadcast on other Arabic channels in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The four Grand Imams encountered a number of problems throughout their lives. Do Islamic preachers today also encounter similar problems?
[Amr Khaled] It is not just the four Grand Imams, or Islamic preachers, who face problems. Every prophet or messenger who comes with a message must encounter obstacles. If we look deeper, we would see that these obstacles are beneficial to the messenger. If a prophet goes to his people and they simply accept him and believe him, where is the story? How can we derive benefits from this?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With the increase in satellite channels, many young preachers have emerged, some of whom have been criticized by al-Azhar Sheikhs as lacking knowledge in Islamic jurisprudence and Shariaa law. What is your opinion of this?
[Amr Khaled] We must look at every issue in life as having two aspects, a positive aspect, and a negative aspect. The positive aspect in this case is that these preachers are enthusiastic after viewing the successful experience of their predecessors like myself and others. These youth interacted with the experiences of Dr. Aaidh al-Qarni, Sheikh al Oraifi, Ahmed al-Shukairi, and myself. The positive aspect [of this] is that these youth have found a model in their predecessors that they wish to emulate. However the negative aspect is that some of these preachers speak about issues that they are ignorant of, or issue fatwas when they do have no right to do so. I think that most young preachers are keen to distance themselves from issuing fatwas, and they advise other youths as best they can. In light of this, I think that their presence is a positive thing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You currently live between Egypt and Britain, and you have an office in Birmingham. I would like to ask why your office is located in Birmingham, rather than London.
[Amr Khaled] Firstly I am happy – thank God – that I have become the source for the western media with regards to gaining a true understanding of Islam and the true story of the Prophet [pbuh]. This role is a great opportunity for all of us as Muslims to express the reality of our religion, and not let others express their opinion of Islam or to speak on our behalf. As for the question of why I live in Birmingham, there are a number of reasons for this; firstly because London is an extremely busy city and I require concentration in order to prepare my scholarly material. This is why in Egypt I live outside of Cairo, and why in England I live outside of London in Birmingham. The second reason (he laughs) is a purely financial reason, and that it is far more expensive to live in London. Therefore my home, as well as the Right Start foundation which I am chairman of, are both located in Birmingham. God has blessed me in having a house in Egypt as well as one in Birmingham, and both of my homes are very close to mosques and therefore I am blessed in being able to attend group prayers at least three or four times a day, even in Birmingham. This is a great blessing from God to me and my children.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you had the opportunity here in Britain to preach directly to the people, especially since you preach a moderate and tolerant message and there are no restrictions on the mosques, universities and so on? Do you believe that preaching directly to the people is more beneficial, or do you prefer preaching via television?
[Amr Khaled] I perform my preaching in Britain freely throughout mosques, halls, and even houses, and amongst different communities. I always respond to the invitations of the Syrian community, and the Gulf community, and the Kuwaiti, Gulf, and Egyptian University associations. Last year I also began to give a series of lectures in English to non-Arabic speaking Muslims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have called for the advancement and development of the Egyptian youth so that they may benefit their country, in the same manner as Dr. Abdul Wahab al-Maseri, may God rest his soul. Do you believe that some people have been annoyed by this?
[Amr Khaled] This is completely untrue. Everybody knows that we have no hope in increasing our productivity unless we activate the youth. The youth today are the most important and largest category in the Arab world. These youth have pure hearts that have not been contaminated by the corruption of the world. As I always say, the youth are the greatest wealth that the Arab world possesses. If you look at the Prophet [pbuh] you would see that he targeted a category that nobody paid any attention to and that category was the youth. The gathering place [during the Prophet's time] was the House of al-Arqam Ibn Abi al-Arqam, and this was owned by a young man named al-Arqam. When the Prophet emigrated from Mecca to Medina, he was assisted in this journey by a group of youth including Ali Ibn Abu Talib and Asmaa Bint Abu Bakr. While the Quran was collected and brought together by a young man named Zayd Bin Thabet and Usama Bin Zaid commanded an Islamic army before he even turned twenty. Therefore I learned to trust and rely upon the youth from the Prophet [pbuh].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Mujaddidun or reform programs have been announced throughout the Arab world, including a blood donation campaign in Egypt and a project to look after orphans in Algeria. What connects such programs with your Mujaddidun [Reformers] television program?
[Amr Khaled] When we first began presenting the Mujaddidun television program, this was to present a positive example to our youth with regards to charitable and volunteer work across the Arab world, and to serve their countries and provide good work to the public. They carry out such activities in their countries, and this is without any instruction from me but rather because they want to take the initiative because they love their homeland, and so this is the true success. They are not waiting for me or anybody else to motivate them to serve society, but they are doing this in a natural and instinctive manner, provided that this is in harmony with the orientation of the ruler of each country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you explain the increasing popularity of your website among the youth?
[Amr Khaled] By the grace of God, my website was classified among the top 500 most visited websites in the world according to the Alexa website. My website is currently competing for the number 1 spot of personal websites with Oprah Winfrey’s website, and sometimes I am in top position, and other times her website is. I believe that my website offers the youth a huge space for them to express their thoughts and dreams, within the framework of showing respect to others. I also engage with the youth on a daily and weekly basis [via the website] whether this is through posting video messages, or via direct messages on the website. My website now possesses the warmth of fraternity along with activities which brings us together with the youth.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you reveal to Asharq Al-Awsat readers how you prepare your television programs?
[Amr Khaled] My psychological state during preparation undergoes several stages. The first stage is one of challenge and determination to read everything that has been written on the subject that I will be talking about. The second stage is setting the objective for the television program or address. The objective would originate from contemporary problems. The third stage is one based on imagination, and I will sit at my desk or in an open place and visualize how the youth will engage with this lecture. Sometimes I re-write the material several times as I look at it through the eyes of a 20-year old youth, or a 30-year old woman, or an old man or woman. I utilize various examples and ideas in order to serve all categories of society. This imagination stage is the most difficult in the preparation process. The fourth stage is observing people’s lives, meaning that I go out and visit people and I try to read how they live and what they think so that the ideas in the television program are engaged with their practical lives, and this is so that I am not living in an ivory tower or secluded from people. During this stage I make a lot of adjustments to the subject matter in light of what the people are in need of. The fifth and final stage is the writing process. This is similar to childbirth, and it is as if I am shouldering a heavy burden which I can only release onto the paper. I write everything that I plan to say on television on paper, including the examples that I will use, and even the jokes that I will make. I respect the preparation process, and I do not improvise from the set text. This is the blend that I try to present to the audience.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Amidst all of your preaching work, how do you relax?
[Amr Khaled] I live a life that suits me, thank God. I play sports regularly, especially football, and hardly a week goes by without me having the opportunity to play a match or two. I love restaurants, and I also watch football games, and I follow the Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, English and Spanish leagues. I occasionally have the opportunity to attend live football. I love walking, and on many occasions I walk for hours every day. I get many ideas while I am walking, but I always have the problem of finding a paper and pen before I forget them. I believe that the harmonious and natural life that I am living is a contributory factor to my ability to communicate with the people.