March 26th, 2010


Qaradawi ousted from IslamOnline?!

Serious drama has been happening for the last two weeks over at IslamOnline, one of the most visited Muslim websites on the web, which is based here in Doha. I frequently visit IslamOnline when looking up different points of view on a topic in Islam, since it's a fairly pluralistic website that will show you a range of fatwas on a given topic.

IslamOnline was started by Sheikh Qaradawi, an eminent Muslim scholar who lives in Doha, and who, while occasionally coming out with wacky and disturbingly anti-Jewish pronouncements, is generally about as mild and open-minded a mufti as you could hope to find.

Anyway, apparently in the last few weeks serious conflict has broken out between IslamOnline's board of directors, who are all of course Qatari, and its employees, who are based in Cairo. Some of this seems to be a normal labor dispute; some is a result of the new board of directors' desire to exercise editorial control over website content. According to one employee, for example, "We were receiving complaints (from management) about our discussions on women's health, homosexuality, and films."

The workers on Cairo went on strike; management in Qatar blocked their access to the site; Qaradawi tried to calm things down; and now it's being reported that the Qatari Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has ousted Qaradawi and set up a temporary board of directors for the website.

That's not actually what I wanted to tell you, though.

What's striking to me is that this dispute has been going on for two weeks and I JUST LEARNED ABOUT IT AN HOUR AGO from a passing Twitter comment from a former colleague. Since this story involves Qatar's most visible religious leader, one of the biggest Muslim websites in the world, and government intervention into the workings of a private nonprofit organization, you'd think it'd be considered... you know... NEWSWORTHY. And you'd think that since I read local news every day, I'd know about newsworthy things happening in Doha. But that is sadly very far from the truth.

It must be really wretched to be a local reporter in Doha. They must know about all kinds of newsworthy things like this that are happening in Qatar, but instead of writing about them, they have to publish press releases about Applebee's new burger menu.

There are a million things I will miss about Qatar when we leave here in a few months, but one thing I do fervently look forward to is living in a country where the media are EXPECTED to talk about controversial issues, instead of quesadilla burgers.