Lebanon’s Mufti: The Future Movement Wants My Turban

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Mufti Qabbani stands in his home during an interview with Al-Akhbar. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Qassem Qassem

Published Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mufti of Lebanon Mohammed Rashid Qabbani has a lot to get off his chest these days. In an interview with Al-Akhbar, the country’s top Muslim cleric talks openly about his dispute with his former allies, the Future Movement, among a number of other sensitive issues.

A few hours before iftar, Mufti of Lebanon Mohammed Rashid Qabbani is in his living room following-up on the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa.

Having just read a study about the poisonous materials contained in cigarette filters, he calls officials to ask about the number of smokers in his institution. He wants to ban smoking in Dar al-Fatwa because it is “forbidden and harmful.”

Away from the troubles of his post, the mufti speaks with candor about everything in a calm tone unlike the one he uses on the podiums.

In response to his well-known dispute with his former ally, the Future Movement, he says, “I do not have a disagreement with them,” and recounts the details from the beginning.

The Crisis with the Future Movement

“I took a position that was unacceptable to the Future Movement. But different opinions should not lead to slander. The Future Movement kept slandering the mufti of the republic,” he explains.

The disagreement began when “I took an administrative decision to stop Sheikh Osama al-Rifai in Akkar from issuing fatwas, for administrative reasons. One MP began telling people not to pray behind the mufti. Another saw me as an impostor.”

He falls silent, then says, “I do not know if they can think properly. Why are they acting like this?”

But that was not the only reason. The dispute took a sharp turn after the appointment of Najib Mikati who formed the current government after Saad Hariri’s fell apart.

At the time, Dar al-Fatwa decided to host the Broad Islamic Gathering (BIG). “Some politicians [from the Future Movement] proposed the idea of ‘Islamic constants,’ namely five controversial points intended to compel Prime Minister Najib Mikati to turn down the appointment,” the mufti recalls.

“I did not want to be involved, or involve Dar al-Fatwa, in this maze, so I asked to change one of those constants.”

But the incident was not enough for Future Movement to start the attack on the symbol of the Sunni sect, so they waited until “Hezbollah asked to visit me.” This is when real pressure began. “They asked me to cancel the appointment but I refused. The next day, their newspapers came out saying that the mufti has changed sides.”

This makes him raise his tone a bit. “This is a lie. I am not one to be on one side and move to another like politicians,” he insists.

But what led to the complete break in friendly relations was former prime minister Fouad Siniora’s “proposal to modify legislation no.18 of 1955, regulating the affairs of Sunni Muslims [in Lebanon].”

The submitted draft contained “19 items which took away the mufti’s powers on critical matters. What would be left for the mufti of the republic? Nothing, except the robe that covers his body. They even took away his turban and mantle, telling people not to pray behind him.”

The amendments meant that “the mufti would have nothing left to do but welcome visitors, talk to the media, and issue religious fatwas,” he complains.

Speaking about the “powers they want to take away,” he points to “an item in law no.18 which stipulates that the mufti of the republic is the religious leader of all Muslims, of all sects.” But according to Siniora’s amendment, he will become only “the religious leader of Sunni Muslims.”

“Why this deflation? If the law gave the mufti a major role that all sects agree upon, why should we restrict ourselves?” he questions.

Another example is “a passage that says the mufti of the republic is the highest authority for the awqaf [religious endowments].” If the amendment passes, “this text will be removed and thus the mufti will no longer be in charge of the awqaf. I will never approve of this,” he insists.

“As Mohammed Rashid Qabbani first and the mufti of the republic second, I will not allow anyone, no matter what his position, to mess with law no.18 and I will stand up to anyone who wants this. I will not accept to be replaced with a mufti without authority.”

He maintains that he is still committed to “calling for the election of a new Sharia Council. The old council’s term ended three years ago and was renewed. We need to hold elections according to the law.” He adds that “the elections will take place as soon as the situation in the country allows it.”

“There is no mediation – not even Saudi – between me and the Future Movement. Friends are urging us to stop disagreeing with each other. From my end, there is no dispute with them at all. They are the ones boycotting praying behind me. But they are free to do this.”

“Maybe it is modern and progressive politically not to pray behind me and disregard people’s dignity,” Qabbani says mockingly. “But how can you keep your dignity while attacking that of other people?” he asks them.

“I say this out of advise and without animosity or hatefulness: Future Movement officials should pay heed to God. Their followers are good people and are part of the silent majority. But their leaders are egotistical and the ego is what drove Satan out of paradise,” the Mufti concludes.

“They wronged us constantly and circulated false rumors and documents. Some mistakes were made, but there was no scandal or embezzlement.”

“These are all lies. Politicians lie to each other and think the mufti is of their ilk, so they get full of themselves and start to malign him. This is proof that there is no morality in politics,” Qabbani continues.

Militant Salafi Groups

Moving on to Salafi groups who practice jihad, Qabbani reminds us that “jihad in Islam is an obligation and an honor, but it has to be by the way of authority.”

As for the violence adopted by such groups, he believes “they are acting according to their own nature, customs, and violent disposition. Islam and the righteous forefathers are not responsible for this. The Salafi description has been given to those who do not deserve it.”

“They do not come to Dar al-Fatwa to speak to the mufti. They never met with me. Unfortunately, these are not the morals of Islam. Religion does not teach us to hate,” he adds.

Electoral Reform

So what does the mufti think of the proposed bill to adopt proportional representation in elections?

“I am not saying that proportionality will damage the Sunni sect. I do not criticize or object to the other point of view. I merely advise and suggest. First and foremost, proportionality is a fair electoral principle because it allows everyone to be represented. But it should have limitations and conditions,” he suggests.

“The law adopted by the cabinet was based on administrative districts that cancelled out proportionality. They were divided according to the political whims of those who drafted the law.”

Qabbani, however, insists that “proportionality is an acceptable and necessary principle. The 1990 Taif Agreement did not mention proportionality explicitly, but stipulated the adoption of an electoral law that would allow all the Lebanese to be represented correctly and rightfully.”

Relations with Islamist Forces

When asked about his relationship with Hezbollah, Qabbani replied that his “relationship with everyone is fine. We meet and listen to each other. And it is always by way of advice to everyone.”

But he turns back and attacks the politicians, insisting on the need to “respect the other opinion. They lie because they do not meet the other. They hate the mufti because he met with the other.”


The Arab Situation

Outside the troubled relationship with the Future Movement, the mufti of Lebanon supports “the reform of the Arab nation and fixing the political situation in each country. But this should not be through violence, so we could be ‘the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind.’ Now, we are not the best nation, in circumstance and behavior.”

He warns of the “dangerous repercussions of the Syrian and Arab situations on Lebanon. There will be really serious consequences, unless God and the politicians will it to protect Lebanon.”

“Things are calmer now. But it could be the calm before the storm. Lebanese politics is a politics of waiting and not initiative.”

“But we should protect our country from what happens outside, whether in Syria or any other Arab country.”

“We will head towards the abyss if the politicians and their masses do not realize that the politics they are currently practicing are foolish and reckless.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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