BEIRUT: Consensus among Sunni leaders led Sunday to the election of Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian as Lebanon’s new grand mufti, while former Prime Minister Saad Hariri praised the move and called on Derian to safeguard Muslim unity and fight extremism.
“What happened today is an expression of the strong will of all Muslims in Lebanon, to face the problems and reiterate the role of Dar al-Fatwa,” Derian said in his speech after the results were announced.
Of the 93 votes cast in the election, the new mufti, whose term will officially begin Sept. 15, received 74 votes, with nine for Sheikh Ahmad Kurdi, eight blank ballots and two eliminated.
After the election, former Prime Minister Hariri invited the electoral crowd to a lunch in the new mufti's honor at his Downtown residence in Beirut.
He made a speech in which he congratulated Derian for his election, saying “it is a blessed day, in which we are gathering united as Muslims in Lebanon.”
Hariri’s speech was centered on the need to fight extremism, which he warned was destroying the image of Islam and Muslims.
He called on the new mufti to allocate all his institution’s efforts “to safe-guard the Muslim unity and enhance and coexistence in Lebanon.”
“Dar al-Fatwa’s responsibility in this phase of the nation’s life is a great one, one that does not accept any hesitation or reluctance in fighting extremism," Hariri said. “We will not accept that a few extremists drive Muslims and Islam to a confrontation with their partners in the country and the nation.”
Hariri, who returned to Lebanon Friday after more than three years in self-exile, praised the “noble” $1 billion Saudi donation to the Lebanese Army, stressing that it came merely out of concern over Lebanon’s safety, with no political interest involved.
Before heading to Hariri’s lunch, Derian had met with the outgoing Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, who congratulated his successor and wished him luck carrying out his new responsibilities.
“There is no place after today for any division between the mufti and the Higher Islamic Council,” Derian said in his speech. “We have learned our lesson, and rather our lessons, about the horrible consequences of disagreement and division.
“I am determined to come back to the track of unity and cooperation with the Higher Islamic Council.”
Derian’s election came after Egypt and Saudi Arabia brokered a deal between Qabbani and the Future Movement, ending three years of tension at Dar al-Fatwa, which had resulted in two dueling Higher Islamic Councils.
The Future-backed members of the council have agreed to leave the Grand Mufti’s powers untouched, while Qabbani agreed to allow the election of a new Mufti to move forward.
The new mufti condemned both the lack of religiosity among some members of the Muslim society and the extremism among others.
“Our religion is a religion of moderation, tolerance and coexistence,” he said, stressing that extremism was never good for Muslims and the Islamic world.
Derian hailed the Saudi king’s initiative to donate $1 billion in aid to the Lebanese Army, pledging as the head of the top Sunni institution to continue supporting moderation against “extremism and terrorism.”
He said that extremism was a phenomenon that should be fought today not tomorrow, highlighting its contradictions with the teachings of Prophet Mohammad and the Quran.
“What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya is an enormous tragedy, and the harm we are doing to ourselves is more than what the Israelis can do in Gaza and Palestine.”
He strongly criticized the fundamentalist group Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria’s practices against the Christians of Iraq.
“How is the Christian in Mosul and other areas forced to leave his religion and his home, and how is his life and his family threatened?” Derian wondered, pledging to show solidarity and support to Christians oppressed by extremist Muslims.
Before the vote, Prime Minister Tammam Salam addressed the electoral committee, which comprised 103 political and religious figures eligible to vote in these elections, of which 93 were present during the polls. Most notably, the crowd included many of Lebanon’s former premiers and its current Sunni MPs and ministers.
“We are moving to the election of a new mufti, in light of what the Islamic world and Muslims are witnessing of deviant phenomena that are not related to Islam at all,” Salam said. “We thank and appreciate the efforts of all those who contributed to reaching this dear moment."
During the vote, the Muslim Scholars Committee held a protest facing the Dar al-Fatwa building, to reject the ongoing elections and condemn political interference in the religious institution’s matters.
The committee’s spokesman stressed on “the right of the scholars to elect their religious representative."
He said the election carried inside the building was not the result of a real consensus because the Muslim Scholars Committee was left out of the deal.
“We have a platform to transform Dar al-Fatwa and abandon the political authority over it,” another Muslim Scholars Committee member said. “We totally refuse the interference of politicians in purely religious insitutions, especially that many of those politicians refuse the religious interference in political matters."