HE MADE IT ON TIME
The skyrocketing popularity of young preacher Amr Khaled has ranked him among the world's top 100 most influential people -- and, ironically, the most controversial back home.
"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." Thus said Rick Little, a US adviser on youth issues to the UN who has worked with the popular 39-year-old preacher on job creation schemes in the Middle East, to the Independent.
That testimony on the part of an American activist may partly explain why Time magazine has named Khaled among the top 100 most influential people worldwide. The magazine said that although the lay preacher "is not a household name in the West" he is still "a rock star for a segment of the Islamic world" and "a needed voice for moderation from within the Islamic world".
The magazine praised his programme Life Makers "because it encourages Muslims to implement plans to transform their lives and communities through Islam. It also urges them to get along peacefully with the West."
Time further said, "what really put Khaled on the world stage was his decision to host an interfaith conference in Copenhagen in March 2006, after the controversies over the Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Muslim clerics criticised him for extending an olive branch to the Danes. But Khaled did not back down."
Khaled was not chosen solely by Time. The US magazine names more than 100 individuals, leaving the rest to the public to choose. Muslim youths living in the US voted for Khaled, who ultimately ranked 13th among the "heroes and pioneers".
The fact that Khaled was the only Egyptian chosen among the 100 list has made the superstar preacher even more intriguing and, perhaps just as controversial. Many wonder why a US magazine like Time would name Khaled in the first place and whether that had anything to do with recent US and generally Western attempts to establish dialogue with moderate Islamic voices, as is currently the case with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Why isn't Khaled as appreciated in his homeland where he could be equally used to counter extremist thoughts? And would Khaled lose part of his credibility for dialoguing with the West, sometimes considered a stigma in the eyes of conservatives?