BEIRUT: Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri slammed Dar al-Fatwa Sunday, saying the functions of Lebanon’s top Sunni religious authority have deteriorated and it no longer represents the voice of moderation. Speaking to a local radio station, Asiri held external powers responsible for what was happening in Dar al-Fatwa. “Where is Dar al-Fatwa? Who ruined Dar al-Fatwa after it was considered to be the moderate voice of Lebanon?” Asiri asked.
He said Dar al-Fatwa should play a role in combating extremism.
“Religious rhetoric is important and deviant ideology can only be fought with an enlightened ideology; that’s why we say weakening Dar al-Fatwa will not serve Lebanon,” said Asiri, who has been living outside Lebanon for several months. “We know who is conspiring against Dar al-Fatwa and who tried to debilitate its religious and spiritual functions.”
Asiri said the scale and influence of Dar al-Fatwa’s performance in Lebanon should be similar to that of Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate. “We know that the performance of Dar al-Fatwa today is no longer like what it was in the past,” he said, adding that the body should serve as a civilized Sunni center.
While noting that Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani was “good and qualified,” the Saudi diplomat said that the institution of Dar al-Fatwa should not be affiliated with any group.
Commenting on Asiri’s remarks, Sheikh Mohammad Anis Arwadi, from Dar al-Fatwa, said he believed Saudi Arabia was worried about the presence of extremist Salafist groups in Lebanon and was blaming Dar al-Fatwa’s weakness for their rise.
“But Dar al-Fatwa cannot control these groups when [ Sunni politicians] are at odds with it,” he said. “There should be consensus in Dar al-Fatwa [among Sunni politicians] that these groups have no protection and have nothing to do with Dar al-Fatwa.”
The Nusra Front in Lebanon, a local branch of a radical Syrian rebel group, has claimed responsibility for two suicide bomb attacks which targeted Hermel and Beirut’s southern suburbs, both strongholds of Hezbollah, earlier this month. It said the attacks came in response to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s war alongside President Bashar Assad.
A man identifying himself as Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari, who claimed to be based in the northern city of Tripoli, Saturday pledged allegiance in an audio recording to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria
Arwadi said that Qabbani might indirectly respond to Asiri during a speech he is to deliver from his house Monday. “He might say that it was former prime ministers, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam who weakened Dar al-Fatwa,” Arwadi said.
The sheikh ruled out the possibility that Qabbani would announce his resignation. He said that in his speech, the mufti would touch on the regional situation and developments in Lebanon along with the appearance of extremist Salafist groups in Lebanon.
Qabbani, who heads the Higher Islamic Council, is at odds with the Future Movement, Mikati, Salam and other former prime ministers, all members of the council. The long-standing dispute has effectively split the council in two.
Contrary to Qabbani’s will, members of the council who are close to the Future Movement convened under former Minister Omar Miskawi, the body’s deputy head, and extended the council’s term twice, each time for one year.
Considering the move illegal, Qabbani held council elections in April 2013 on the grounds that the council’s term had expired at the end of 2012. The council organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa.
Ties between the Future Movement and Qabbani have also deteriorated over the past few years after the latter received Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali and several Hezbollah delegations. Future supporters argue that Qabbani is biased toward Hezbollah and the March 8 coalition.
Miskawi said that Asiri’s comments were an indirect call for Qabbani to resign. “What the Saudi ambassador said summarizes our dispute with the grand mufti,” he added. “The mufti is obeying outside wills.”
Sheikh Hisham Khalifah, the director general of Dar al-Fatwa’s Islamic Endowments, said Asiri’s remarks were not typical.
“These are not the kind of remarks we are used to hearing from Saudi ambassadors. These are comments made by the ambassador of a state concerned with Lebanese affairs and with those of Sunni Muslims in particular,” Khalifah said.