DOHA (Reuters) - An Islamic center set up by U.S.-allied Qatar is trying to improve Islam's image in the West, defend women's rights and promote interfaith dialogue, its director, Muhammad Ahmad, said on Thursday.
"The main reason for establishing the Qaradawi Center is that we have been plagued by the danger of extremism and the defamation of Islam, not only in the West but the entire world, especially after September 11," Ahmad told Reuters, referring to al Qaeda attacks on U.S. cities in 2001.
The Qaradawi Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal, named after prominent Egyptian scholar Youssef al-Qaradawi, will also work to defend women's rights and fight misconceptions about their status under Islam, Ahmad said.
"We have to empower the role of the Muslim woman, to give her full political and democratic rights," he said.
The centre's publications shed light on aspects of Islam tarnished by attacks on Western targets by groups like al Qaeda which see them as part of a holy war against "infidels."
The center, set up by Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser, the wife of the Qatari ruler, plans to hold its first international conference on moderation in 2011 with the participation of scholars from various faiths.
"Islamic revival and renewal of thought is a kind of reaction to the modern world," said Ahmad. "You have to rethink and remodel some Islamic ideas to make them fit into the modern world."
Islamists reject as sacrilegious any change to Islam, which is based on its holy book, the Koran, and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad.
Qaradawi himself, a member of the centre's consultative committee, heads an international body of Islamic scholars and his opinions are widely respected in many Muslim countries.
Britain refused Qaradawi a visa in 2008, accusing him of justifying terrorism. The United States also denied him a visa.
Qaradawi condemned al Qaeda's September 11 attacks but has supported Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks on coalition forces in Iraq as acts of resistance against occupation forces.
"The atmosphere in Qatar is very positive as far as bridging the gap between the Muslim world and the West," said Ahmad. "The country is very open to the outside world."
Editing by Tim Pearce