Qaradawi was born in Egypt, and attended the Al-Azhar Theological Seminary before moving to Qatar. Following his father's death, the 2-year old Qaradawi was raised by his uncle. His family urged him to either run a grocery store or to become a carpenter. Instead, he memorized the entire Qur'an by age ten. Qaradawi was a follower of Hasan al-Banna during his youth and was imprisoned first under the monarchy in 1949, then three times after the publication of Tyrant and the Scholar, poetic Islamic plays expressing a message through theme. Other works such as Fiqh-al-Zakat (Laws of the Obligatory Charity) are Islamic law treatises which go into precise details.
Qaradawi worked in the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments, and was the Dean of the Islamic Department at the Faculties of Shariah and Education in Qatar, and served as chairman of the Islamic Scientific Councils of Algerian Universities and Institutions.
Qaradawi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has turned down offers to be the Muslim Brotherhood leader various times. Qaradawi is the head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.
Qaradawi has been a staunch defender of the Ashari School of Islamic theology. In an obituary written for the Egyptian Islamist Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali, Qaradawi wrote, "I know that our Salafi brethren do not like this, but I would like to say that the whole Muslim Ummah follows the Ash'ari school. So, has the whole Ummah gone astray? Azhar, Zaituna, Al-Qaraweyah, and Dupand of India (Qaradawi is mistaken in this, as Deobandis are Maturidis) are all Ash'aris. All religious schools in the world are Ash'aris."
Qaradawi hosts a television program on Al Jazeera called "Sharia and Life" in which he tackles controversial questions, such as the fate of Palestinian suicide bombers. Qaradawi's vision of a moderate Islam has included support for democratic principles: '"Islam calls for democracy and grants people the right to choose their governor"  and "Free integral elections should be guaranteed, where values of justice and rule of law also prevail" . He frequently quotes the hadith of Muhammad, saying "Extremism destroyed those before you".
Qaradawi is very popular within much of the Islamic world, and his tapes and videos are available as far away as Indonesia and Malaysia. Azzam Tamimi of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London has said "If Sheik Qaradawi gives a fatwa, that fatwa will be heeded tomorrow in hundreds of places around the world."