Muslim TV evangelist preaches Allah of love – Telegraph
By Carolynne Wheeler in Cairo
Last Updated: 3:35am GMT 26/02/2008
He is handsome and charismatic, and his velvety voice makes young women swoon. But his young female fans mostly wear headscarves, and while his gatherings look more fitting for a rockstar, they involve lessons from the Koran.
Moez Masoud, a 29-year-old Egyptian party-goer-turned-preacher, is sweeping the Middle East with his moderate Islamic message to love not just Allah but also others – and to play a full part in the modern world.
Muslim evangelist Moez Masoud
Mr Masoud provokes debate over contemporary issues
His views are controversial among more conservative imams both in Egypt, where he is based, and further afield.
But his television shows have garnered an audience of millions across the Middle East, his website attracts thousands of hits, and he fills hotel ballrooms and lecture theatres whenever he appears in public.
“I’m just about everyday things, you know? It’s about keeping it real,” said the young televangelist, as he prepared for an event at a Cairo hotel where he was to discuss how romantic love and marriage relate to Islam.
His message carries weight among his mostly educated and middle-class young fans, because – perhaps like many of them – he too has previously succumbed to temptation.
Mr Masoud spent his formative years in American schools in Kuwait and Cairo, and his adolescence and early twenties in a haze of alcohol and women.
“For a while, I just went with the flow, and coming from a rich, or at least better-off family, and going to American schools, the flow was partying,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“I didn’t think it was wrong. I just did what came naturally.”
Then came the life-changing experiences which he said showed him the path to God: the deaths of several close friends to a drugs overdose, to car accidents and to cancer, and his own surgery for a tumour on his spleen.
Despite the alarm of his mother, who had raised him as a secular Muslim open to the West, he began to pray and to learn the Koran.
Invited to address his first audience in 2000, in New York State, word spread quickly across the Muslim world and within two years he was invited to record his first television programme, Parables of the Koran, which began as a Ramadan special.
His mission has taken on new urgency with the growth of Islamic-inpsired terrorism around the world, spurred by what he sees as the complete misinterpretation of a peaceful faith.
“It scares me. It scares me because you can build so much and they just tear it down so quickly,” he said. “But we can get over it. I really believe that.”
In Mr Masoud’s latest Arabic-language television show, whose name translates literally as “The Right Path” but which he prefers to call Take a Right, he adopts the fast-paced format of the music-video generation to challenge stereotypes and push for greater tolerance.
He believes modesty for women is part of Islam, and his own wife wears a headscarf, but maintains the veil should be a personal choice.
He believes art, culture and music should be appreciated, rather than outlawed, and that while young Muslims should reject sex outside marriage, socialising with or even dating members of the opposite sex is acceptable as long as encounters are chaste.
And he is clear in his rejection of acts of terrorism like the 7/7 bombings in London, as well as the furore that surrounded the British teacher Gillian Gibbons, who was charged with blasphemy, jailed and eventually pardoned in Sudan after allowing her class to name a teddy bear Mohammed.
An episode of Take a Right was recorded at King’s Cross station to emphasise the innocent casualties in the London bombings, while Mrs Gibbons is the subject of a pop song whose lyrics Mr Masoud has penned.
“I felt it was a horrible misrepresentation of some childish, infantile people who happen to be cultural Muslims,” he said of the teacher’s case.
His televised shows have been ground-breaking; a mixed panel of men and women, with and without headscarves, debate contemporary issues in the context of Islam.
Hot topics include homosexuality, in which he calls on believers to hate the sin but love the sinner – evoking messages found in many Christian churches – and gender discrimination.
He encourages women to pursue fulfilling careers.
Traditional Islamist clerics criticise moderate preachers like Mr Masoud for advocating “Islam light”, designed to appeal to the middle class.
But he also attracts fire from secular voices in Egypt, who are concerned that he is drawing more people into the religious fold.
“This is part of the global phenomenon of Islamicisation in the Arab world,” said Hala Mustafa, editor of Egypt’s Journal of Democracy.
“There is no difference, Islamicisation is Islamicisation.”
“Honestly people, the lecture was more than perfect,” wrote a young Egyptian woman named Maha on one Facebook site.
“This guy is awesome, God bless him for what he is doing.”