BEIRUT: Tensions ran high at a Beirut mosque Sunday as Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani came under fire at the funeral procession of a young teenager and was trapped inside the mosque for around two hours.
Several mourners who were at the funeral of Mohammad Shaar, 16, at the Khashuqji Mosque in the Beirut neighborhood of Qasqas, furiously objected to the arrival of Qabbani, who is seen by many supporters of the Future Movement as pro-Hezbollah.
Qabbani was stuck inside the mosque for approximately two hours as many mourners angrily protested his appearance and would not let him leave.
Hundreds had been gathered outside the mosque for Shaar’s funeral and began to protest when Qabbani made his way into the mosque. Several began to chant slogans against the mufti, such as “Get out, Qabbani,” and “God protect Sheikh Assir,” in reference to fugitive Salafist Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir.
Others also chanted “God, Hariri, Tariq al-Jadideh.” Tariq al-Jadideh is a Beirut district where the Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri enjoys wide support.
The relationship between the Future Movement and Qabbani has been strained since 2011, when the latter received a Hezbollah delegation on the day the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued an indictment against four Hezbollah suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Qabbani Sunday struggled to leave the premises of the Khashuqji Mosque, prompting the Lebanese Army and members of the Internal Security Forces to deploy in the area and help escort him out of the mosque.
An hour later, Information Branch members escorted a double of the mufti, shoving aside the crowd who tried to block their way and reach the decoy.
Head of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, Sheikh Ahmad al-Omari, imam of the Khashuqji Mosque, interrupted the funeral and repeatedly pleaded with the crowd to make way for Qabbani, but the protesters did not relent.
Qabbani was able to walk out of the mosque two hours later, accompanied by a number of Information Branch personnel dressed in full military gear surrounded by angry protesters. He left in an armored vehicle.
The mufti had come to the mosque to attend the funeral of Shaar, who died Saturday as a result of serious head wounds sustained during the Beirut bombing that targeted and killed former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah Friday morning.
Omari, who prayed over the body of Shaar, said Sunday that the Sunni sect was being targeted in Lebanon.
“The Sunni sect’s leaders, symbols, and security figures are being targeted by the Baathist regime and Hezbollah,” he said at Shaar’s funeral.
Addressing the Shiite sect, he said it needed to be wary of “the party of the devil,” meaning Hezbollah.
According to a statement released by Dar al-Fatwa, the mufti had originally intended for representative Sheikh Mohammad Anees Arwadi to attend the funeral, but later insisted on attending himself as Shaar was a young boy who did not belong to any political party.
But, the statement said, “there were those lurking among the ranks of the faithful ... who tried to split the Muslims and create strife within the mosque, for purposes that have become clear.”
According to the statement, Qabbani considered the incident a “transient event” which had little value and “is outside of the morality and ethics of Islam.”
The mufti held the political powers responsible, particularly caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and head of the Future bloc MP Fouad Siniora, whom he said were trying to “distort the mufti’s image” in order to gain control of Dar al-Fatwa.
For his part, Mikati strongly condemned the incident, saying that “the respect of Dar al-Fatwa and the sanctity of mosques is a duty, regardless of the circumstances.”
Mikati added that Lebanon had long asked the mufti to spare the community from strife and sectarian tensions, which only serve to weaken Dar al-Fatwa. He called on Qabbani “to take a wise decision” and to safeguard the Sunni community.
He also said the incident should be contemplated “from the perspective of maintaining our unity and our moderation and abandoning prejudgments.”
Future Movement MP Ammar Houri, who was present at the mosque, also told LBC that the incident was a reflection of the “pulse of the street,” and that the assault confirmed the level of tension in the country.
Tripoli Mufti Malek al-Shaar – who led prayers at the Shatah funeral instead of Qabbani, who was informed that he was unwelcome by the Future Movement – dubbed the Qasqas mosque brawl “unacceptable.”
“Mufti Qabbani’s initiative to visit the Khashuqji Mosque is blessed and what happened there is unacceptable and far from our Muslim traditions,” Shaar told reporters.
The Tripoli mufti highlighted that dialogue was the only way out to resolve Lebanon’s woes, adding that he supported talks with Hezbollah “even before the party pulls out from Syria.”
“My opinion is that Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria should not be a prerequisite to dialogue,” he said. “Dialogue is the only way out, and we need to lift the barriers and be wise before dangers strike.”
Former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss, for his part, called for punishing those who assaulted the mufti, branding it a “cowardly” act.
Hoss denounced the attack, saying that “what the Lebanese mufti has suffered and the events that accompanied it serve to provoke chaos and discord.”
He called for “imposing punishment on whoever was tempted to attack or assault the mufti.”
For his part, Future bloc MP Khaled Zahraman told local news station LBC that any attempt to harm Dar al-Fatwa “will not pass,” but added that Qabbani should have sent a representative to the mosque.
He also said that Sunday’s incident should serve as a lesson to the mufti, and he should “submit his resignation to ward off strife and preserve the [Sunni] community.”
Similarly, Future Movement MP Jamal al-Jarrah told local station MTV that Qabbani should realize that he was not wanted at the mosque Sunday, and “were he to take the people’s feelings and anger into consideration, he would have resigned.”