Tripoli Sheikh Shot Down Inciting Peace
Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012
A Tripoli sheikh is murdered by gunmen after attempting to quell the street violence that followed Wissam al-Hassan’s assassination.
It had been his wish to be martyred in Palestine say acquaintances of Sheikh Abdul-Razzaq al-Asmar. With that aspiration, he took part in a number of resistance actions against Israeli forces occupying South Lebanon before their 2000 withdrawal, including an operation in Sajd.
But Sheikh Asmar’s wish was not to be fulfilled. He was hit by a bullet as he attempted to quieten sectarian-motivated conflict in the Abu Samra district of Tripoli on Friday evening, during one of the alleyway wars he constantly used to warn against.
It was just before sunset. The area was extremely tense following news of the assassination in Beirut of Wissam al-Hassan, head of the Internal Security Forces’ information branch. Around 80 gunmen, supporters of the Future Movement or allied Islamist groups, gathered about 500 meters away from the headquarters of the Islamic Tawheed Movement. The gunmen prepared to attack the headquarters, as is common when the security and political situation in Lebanon and Tripoli reaches boiling point.
Sheikh Asmar approached the scene unaccompanied. He spoke to the men calmly, maintaining a demeanor familiar to anyone who had attended his Friday sermons or religious classes. “What you are doing is wrong,” he was heard telling them. “Who do you want to kill? Don’t you know that it is impermissible for a Muslim to shed another Muslim’s blood?”
The men did not reply, instead, they encircled him. It’s likely that Sheikh Asmar didn’t expect a response, given that the highly-charged political and sectarian climate deafens people to all voices of reason. He repeated his appeal, but was cut short by one of the gunmen who fired a bullet into his head, killing him instantly.
Shortly beforehand, the neighborhood’s electricity had been cut, and the privately-owned generators had not yet been switched on. Asmar’s body lay on the ground for three hours as attempts were made in vain to search for him. He was finally found on the corner of the street where he was slain.
The young cleric’s acquaintances were deeply saddened. He had a reputation for modesty, courtesy and kindness, qualities that marked his behavior until the last day of his life. At the age of 40, he was father to seven children and held masters’ degrees in both education and Islamic studies.
In addition to his work as a school teacher, Asmar had an exhaustive list of responsibilities in his community. He an inspector for the Dar al-Fatwa school in Tripoli, a member of the Muslim Clerics Association, head of cultural programs at Tawheed’s radio station, and imam and preacher of the Eirouniyeh mosque in eastern Tripoli.
It was there that local people showed their loyalty to him. When the Dar al-Fatwa had tried to eject him some years ago, the people refused and insisted that he be kept on as preacher and imam – even though his political views were at odds with those of the majority of his congregation.
Asmar’s sermons also featured unremitting criticism of Israel, which made him popular in the Palestinian refugee camps in North Lebanon, where he was often invited to speak, invariably stressing the need to prioritize the causes of Palestine, Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Asmar was a victim of what he had always sought to prevent. The only consolation for his admirers and acquaintances was the turnout at his funeral. Virtually the entire population of the district participated, with old and young alike joining the procession, and women showering his coffin with rice as it was carried beneath their balconies.
Tawheed officials had been advised not to hold the funeral in the daytime to avoid provoking trouble and to bury him at night instead, but they refused.
Many mourners resented the fact that the Dar al-Fatwa did not send representatives to the funeral as it should have done, seeing as he was a member. Nor did political groups for which he had long shown support. Perhaps that’s the fate of the unknown soldiers who die in any cause. Asmar was one of them.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.