TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Tripoli’s residents are supporting the Army, rather than targeting it, according to North Lebanon Mufti Sheikh Malek Shaar, who condemned all those who attack the military as not being truly Lebanese. “All residents in Tripoli want the Army. All leaders and those concerned in the Army and its leadership say that whoever has attacked it is not Lebanese and has been arrested. And I confirm that Tripoli’s sons did not target the Army at all but there is an attempt to drag us into a battle with the Army – which is aware of the issue, and so are we,” Shaar told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview.
The mufti’s name has appeared more than once on a list of targets of assassinations, something that has in the past prompted him to leave the country for months at a time. He said that the Internal Security Forces advised him to flee again in 2012 because his life was at risk.
Concerning the existence of fatwas decrying Army soldiers as infidels, Shaar said such statements were not made by religious scholars either in Lebanon or abroad, and were intended instead to drag the Army into fighting with Tripoli’s sons.
“There is a desire for war and chaos to remain in Tripoli and the north, in addition to attempts to portray the residents of Tripoli as Al-Qaeda, terrorists, and [members of] the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria,” he said.
Last week, the Army launched a security plan in Tripoli to end three-year-long intermittent clashes in the city linked to the Syrian war, particularly between the majority Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh, which supports the Syrian uprising, and the mostly Alawite Jabal Mohsen, which supports the regime.
Militant groups have repeatedly targeted Army and security patrols in the northern city.
Shaar also touched on the legitimacy of Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as ISIS which have announced their desire to form an Islamic state, saying that “those who speak about the establishment of the Caliphate, I think they are talking about issues that are much bigger than them and their manner of thinking and understanding of legal provisions and their meaning.”
He said the need to establish an Islamic state was the groups’ way of making the West feel as though the only alternative to the current regime was their proposed method of rule. According to Shaar, such issues echoed “the fabrication the [Syrian] regime used to incite strife.”
Shaar said the implementation of the Tripoli security plan was the Lebanese state’s response to the demands of the city’s residents.
“The response came following calls made to the president and prime minister and those involved to take the initiative toward a security and development plan that is fair and comprehensive and that carries solutions to the reasons for the explosion that has been reoccurring in Tripoli, and in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen specifically,” Shaar said.
But, he added, the success of such a plan would not be apparent in its first or second week, but would require time.
“[The plan] did not arise only to silence the sound of gunshots, but also to eradicate the reasons that led to the explosion,” the mufti added.
He touched upon the possibility of there being regional interference in the implementation of the security plan, as well as an international element to the recent violence.
“What happened in Tripoli specifically, and what is happening in Lebanon in general, is a deliberate act and is a reverberation of the evil that is being brought to us from abroad,” he warned.
“There are evil hands stained with blood sparking all of this strife in order to drag the residents of the city by their political and sectarian and religious affiliations into raging war. Therefore, what is happening in Tripoli is a reverberation of the raging war in Syria.”
Shaar stressed that the security plan did not emerge “magically,” but was instead formulated as a response to international and regional action, after ambassadors of world powers expressed their concerns over Lebanese affairs.
“It is perhaps lucky that this country is the subject of the care and attention of the international public opinion, and it is its right to enjoy some kind of co-existence and progress,” the mufti said.
Regarding the Army’s entry into the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, Shaar said that since the Army’s arrival approximately six weeks ago, Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi had assured him that he considered every single Lebanese “like his son or brother” and that “the Army will never enter the structure of revenge.”
However, Shaar added that Kahwagi also informed him of the presence of a fifth column that has emerged to create a problem between the Army and the people of the city
As for the heads of armed groups and their attempts to cancel out the roles of the religious and political leaders in Tripoli, he said that it was the responsibility of religious scholars to identify with residents’ causes, but that the sheikhs and the scholars were being sheltered from harm by many people.
According to the mufti, it is “unacceptable” for armed groups to aggravate people’s pain by attacking the Army or the state.
“The interest of the country is the primary issue, for I cannot break down a wall from the nation’s walls to ensure the success of one team,” he said.
Of his recently rocky relationship with the Committee of Muslim Scholars, a national coalition of Sunni preachers, he said that he was not against the group’s existence. The committee feels it has a role to play, he said, and is seeking to cooperate with Dar al-Fatwa, the top religious Sunni institution in Lebanon.
“Concerning the Syrian issue, it was the subject of controversy between me and them because my convictions are that we should distance ourselves from the Syrian crisis,” the mufti said.
“I expressed my point of view that they should be independent from any political side.”
The final message that the mufti wanted to give was that he hoped his words would get through to Muslims across the world, and that they would “portray a positive picture about Islam and not a reason for the West to shun our religion.”
He spoke of his experiences while spending time outside Lebanon, in France, where he met a number of French leaders and officials, one of whom had an intense discussion with him and told him it was the first time he could truly say he had met a “man of peace.”
“I hope that we will tell the world of the values of Islam through our manners of treating them and our commitment to the law and the system of the state we live in,” the mufti added.