Dr Yousuf Al Qaradawi, a scholar who has devoted his life to portraying the tolerance of Islam, last night was presented with the Islamic Personality of the Year Award, which carries a prize of Dh1 million.

Al Qaradawi, 75, Egyptian-born but long a citizen of Qatar, said he considered the honour to be a recognition of his progressive school of thinking and explaining Islamic teachings. Al Qaradawi, who opposes extremism and inflexibility in interpreting and applying Islam, said there are many verses in the Holy Quran exhorting Muslims to adopt a life of moderation.

"Islam is the religion of mercy and and tolerance, justice and moderation, but there are some erroneous concepts which have twisted the image of Islam," he said. He attributed his winning the award to God's blessing. "Who could have imagined that an orphan who was brought up suffering from poverty and need would be recognised by the Islamic nation as one of the best?" he said.

"The first award I received was 1.25 Egyptian pounds, which was for the best child memorising the Holy Quran in the Western Zone in Egypt. I was less than 10 years old. It was a treasure for me, and ever since then I was known in the village as the preacher Yousuf."

Al Qaradawi thanked his mother who encouraged him to memorise the Holy Quran when he was just five years old. "My mother used to take me every day to 'Al Kuttab' where I was taught to memorise the Holy Quran," he recalled.

He also thanked his uncle who supported him after the death of his father when he was two years old. "I asked my first teacher to forgive me as I was incapable of paying the fees," he said. He also paid tribute to the great support and tolerance he receives from his wife and children.

"The award has increased the burden on me to work harder and better serve Islam," he said. The award was presented to him by General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence.

In his presentation address Sheikh Mohammed said rulers and scholars are responsible before God towards their nations. For Muslim leaders, Islam represents the main source of rules and ethics in daily life.

Scholars have the responsibility to apply Islamic teachings to modern life and rulers have the responsibility to ensure their full implementation. "We learn from your esteemed Islamic opinions which moderate our Islamic jurisprudence. We apply your valuable Islamic opinion and take it into consideration in all fields of activity," Sheikh Mohammed said.

"We all are committed - rulers and people - to applying Islamic teachings to the process of decision-making and the development of our country. "We have been honoured as you accepted this award. We are very glad in the UAE and Dubai that this award would have a constructive role in reviving Islamic research and encouraging the young generation to take up Islamic studies as a career," he said.

"I was very glad to hear the decision of the award's committee to select you as the winner of the Islamic Personality. Deep in my heart I was very glad, it was my own feeling that you deserve it. I do not interfere in the committee's decision.

When they informed me about the decision and briefed me about your background I told them that I have learned a lot from your moderate Islamic opinion and you are not new to me since I consider myself a student in your school," he said.

"I do not reveal a secret when I say that the President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has a similar opinion about your Islamic studies." Al Qaradawi thanked Sheikh Mohammed whom he described as a moderate but distinguished man who had "the softness of a poet, the courage of a fighter, and the skills of a politician, a reformer and a committed Muslim."

Meanwhile, in the Quran memorisation contest the winner was Abdul Aziz Abdulla Adam of Somalia, who received Dh250,000. In second place was Bashir Omar Abed of Chad, who received Dh150,000, and third was Suraqat Sabiu Saidu of Nigeria, who was awarded Dh100,000.