Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CAIRO (LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH) — He is handsome and charismatic, and his voice makes young women swoon.

But most of his female fans wear head scarves, and although his gatherings look more fitting for a rock star, they center on the Koran.

Moez Masoud, a 29-year-old Egyptian partygoer turned preacher, is sweeping the Middle East with his moderate Islamic message to love not just Allah but others — and to play a full part in the modern world.

Mr. Masoud’s views are controversial among more hard-line imams; but his television shows attract millions, his Web site gets thousands of hits, and he fills lecture theaters and community halls.

“I’m just about everyday things, you know? It’s about keeping it real,” he said as he prepared for an event recently.

His message — largely delivered in English — carries weight among his mostly educated and middle-class young fans, because, perhaps like many of them, he has succumbed to temptation. Mr. Masoud, who studied in American schools in Kuwait and Egypt and graduated from Cairo’s American University, spent his adolescence and early 20s in a haze of alcohol and women.

“For a while, I just went with the flow,” he said in an interview.

Then came the life-changing experiences that he said showed him the path to God: the deaths of several friends — from drug overdoses, car accidents and cancer — and his own surgery for a tumor on his spleen.

Despite the alarm of his mother, who raised him as a secular Muslim, Mr. Masoud began to study 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 TV program, “Parables of the Koran.”

His mission has taken on new urgency with the growth of Islamic-inspired terrorism, spurred by what he sees as a 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.”

He is clear in his rejection of acts of terrorism such as the 2005 bombings in London. An episode of his latest television show, “Take a Right,” was recorded at London’s King’s Cross station to focus on the casualties of the attacks.

Traditional Islamist clerics criticize moderate preachers like Mr. Masoud for advocating what they call “Islam lite.” But he also attracts fire from secular voices in Egypt.

“This is part of the global phenomenon of Islamicization in the Arab world,” said Hala Mustafa, editor of Egypt’s Journal of Democracy. “There is no difference; Islamicization is Islamicization.”

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