Scholar deplores sectarian rhetoric

Ramadan majlis lecturer takes Muslims to task for unthinking obedience to Islamist leaders who exploit religious concept for political ends.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, with Al Allamah al Sayed Ali al Amin.
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ABU DHABI // Fatwas that declare other Muslims to be non-believers are divisive, encourage violence and must not be overlooked by Muslim states, a Lebanese Shiite scholar and author said this week. In the first of a series of scholarly presentations scheduled for Ramadan at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Al Allamah al Sayed Ali al Amin, a professor of religious and philosophical science at universities in Iraq, Qum and Lebanon, focused on takfeer - fatwas or opinions that label other Muslims non-believers, often exacerbating sectarian friction.

"Muslim states and leaders cannot afford to overlook these challenges," he said. "The way to deal with sectarian fundamentalists is to refute their fatwas and opinions on the basis of jurisprudence." At last year's majlis series Al Sayed al Amin, a known critic of Hizbollah and some of the Shiite leadership in Iraq, spoke out against Shiite religious scholars becoming political leaders. On Monday, he directed his remarks at state and religious leaders as well as at those Muslims who follow the advice of one particular mufti or, as in the Shiite tradition, belong to the flock of an Imam whom they aspire to emulate.

He mentioned Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Iran as examples of the divisive nature of chauvinistic Islamic leaders who proclaim themselves and their flock alone to be true Muslims, and everyone else a non-believer. Muslims were not obliged to follow their leaders in such cases, he said. "Even if a Muslim scholar concludes, based on his own extrapolation from jurisprudence, that someone has become a non-believer, it is still forbidden to follow the opinion of this scholar."

Al Sayed al Amin was referring to both Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Each follows a different tradition in fostering the relationship with a religious leader. "It is wrong for an Islamic interpretation to monopolise an Imam, claiming only he is right," he said, referring to the Shiite leadership system, which consists of an Imam for every community. Shiites have a strong tradition of following a particular Imam, devoting themselves to emulating him in word and deed and contributing money to the flock.

"And emulating the Imam in such cases is not the right thing to do because it is not based in jurisprudence, but rather based on something personal." Many observers of the region blame Islamic leaders who engage in takfeer for creating sectarian violence and exploiting religion to gain power. The recent events in Gaza where a faction of Islamists went head on against Hamas, themselves Islamists, is an example of Muslim factions trying to outdo each other on takfeer in the pursuit of political power.

"The Prophet used to accept someone's embrace of Islam simply when they said the shahada," said Al Sayed al Amin, referring to the first pillar of Islam when a convert acknowledges there is only one God and Mohammed is His Prophet. "Yet we still find religious leaders acting in the name of religion and failing to unify. We find power struggles in the name of religion." The concept of takfeer has existed throughout the history of Islam, often used to legitimise violence against a victim's life, honour and property, elements protected by Islamic law. In recent years, in response to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the term has been increasingly used by those who oppose Islamist rhetoric.

"All Muslims are brothers [and sisters]. And this is the fundamental truth for unity among Muslims, even when their opinions vary on interpretations of the non-essential matters," said Al Sayed al Amin. "The primary source that calls for closeness among Muslims is the Quran."