BEIRUT: Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian was elected Lebanon’s new grand mufti Sunday, reflecting consensus among Sunni leaders that ended three years of tension between the Future Movement and outgoing Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani.
Speaking shortly after his election, Derian promised to work on enhancing the unity of the Sunni sect and defuse tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon.
“What happened today is an expression of the strong will of all Muslims in Lebanon to face the problems, correct the path and reiterate the role of Dar al-Fatwa,” Derian said.
“There is no place after today for any division between the mufti and the Higher Islamic Council,” Derian said. “We have learned lessons from the horrible consequences of division. Therefore, I am determined to return to the track of amity, unity and cooperation with the Higher Islamic Council.”
Of the 93 votes cast in the election, the new grand mufti, whose term will officially begin Sept. 15, received 74 votes, with nine for Sheikh Ahmad Kurdi, eight blank ballots and two canceled. Only 93 of the 103-member electoral committee showed up.
The grand mufti of the Sunni community is elected by the current prime minister, former prime ministers, Sunni Cabinet members and lawmakers, members of the Higher Islamic Council, current and former religious judges, muftis of districts and the secretaries of Dar al-Fatwa in Beirut and in the north. In addition to Prime Minister Tammam Salam, former premiers Fouad Siniora and Najib Mikati participated in the voting.
Derian’s election came after Saudi Arabia and Egypt brokered a deal between Qabbani and the Future Movement, ending three years of tension at Dar al-Fatwa, which had resulted in the rise of two Higher Islamic Councils.
The Future-backed members of the council agreed to leave the grand mufti’s powers untouched, while Qabbani agreed to allow the election of a new mufti to move forward.
Derian condemned the lack of religiosity among some members of the Muslim society; he also called for fighting religious extremism.
“Our religion is a religion of moderation, tolerance and coexistence,” he said, adding that extremism was never good for the Islamic world.
“We need today to fight poverty. We need today before tomorrow to fight militancy, extremism and violence in the name of religion in our circles,” Derian said.
He also called for more understanding in inter-Muslim relations and Muslim-Christian relations.
Acknowledging that relations between Shiites and Sunnis were not good, Derian pledged to work for the unity of Muslims in Lebanon and to ward off the threat of strife.
Derian hailed Saudi King Abdullah’s initiative to donate $1 billion in aid to the Lebanese Army, pledging as the head of the top Sunni religious authority to continue supporting moderation against “extremism and terrorism.”
“What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya is an enormous tragedy. The harm we are doing to ourselves is more than what the Israelis can do in Gaza and Palestine,” he said.
He strongly criticized the splinter Al-Qaeda group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), for expelling Christians from Iraqi cities.
“How can the Christian in Mosul and other areas be forced to leave his religion and his home, and how can his life and his family be threatened by this or that group?” Derian asked, pledging to show solidarity with Christians oppressed by extremist Muslims.
Before the vote began, Salam addressed the electoral committee.
“We are moving to the election of a new mufti, in light of the abnormal and harmful phenomena the Islamic world and Muslims are witnessing that have nothing to do with Islam and Muslims at all,” Salam said.
After his election, Derian visited Qabbani, who congratulated him and wished him luck in carrying out his new responsibilities.
During the vote at Dar al-Fatwa, the Muslim Scholars Committee, which supported Sheikh Kurdi for the post of the grand mufti, held a protest outside the building to reject the election outcome and condemn political interference in the religious institution’s matters.
A committee spokesman stressed “the right of the scholars to elect their religious representative.” He said the election that took place 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,” a committee member said. “We totally reject the politicians’ interference in purely religious institutions, especially since many of those politicians reject religious interference in political matters.”