BEIRUT: Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said Monday that injustice inflicted by the state on a group of Islamist prisoners and ongoing campaigns against Dar al-Fatwa by Sunni politicians were contributing to the rise of extremism in Lebanon.
“The rise of extremism among the Lebanese is not a coincidence, but the workings of a plan. Extremism in Lebanon couldn’t have thrived had it not been for two main factors,” Qabbani said in a speech delivered from his residence in Beirut.
He said that the first factor was arbitrary and systemic arrest of Muslim youth in Lebanon, many of whom are kept behind bars for years without trial.
“They were put in Lebanese prisons for all these years, where they learned about extremism and learned to love vengeance,” he said.
The grand mufti was referring to over 90 Islamist detainees being held by authorities since 2007 after clashes between the Army and Fatah al-Islam militants in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
Last year, the Justice Council began holding trials for the Islamist detainees after a courtroom was established in Roumieh prison.
Qabbani’s remarks came one day after Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri slammed Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s top Sunni religious authority, saying it no longer represented the voice of moderation that should combat extremism in Lebanon. Asiri also held external powers responsible for what was happening in Dar al-Fatwa.
Extremist Islamist groups have been on the rise in Lebanon recently. The Nusra Front in Lebanon, a local branch of a radical Syrian rebel group, claimed responsibility for two suicide bomb attacks that targeted Hermel and Beirut’s southern suburbs, areas where Hezbollah enjoys broad support, earlier this month.
A man identifying himself as Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari, who claimed to be based in the northern city of Tripoli, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, in an audio recording over the weekend.
Qabbani said that the second factor accounting for the rise of extremist groups in Lebanon was the “systematic” undermining of the moderate role played by Dar al-Fatwa and its scholars.
“This is done through attempts to undermine [Dar al-Fatwa’s] prestige and symbolism with the use of ... rumors and incitement,” he said.
He added that these campaigns had distorted Dar al-Fatwa’s image and thrown its scholars into disarray, weakening its role in combating strife and extremism.
“This is the tax we must pay for adhering to moderation and opposing that [Dar al-Fatwa] become a tool to be exploited by any side,” Qabbani said.
Qabbani, who heads the Higher Islamic Council, is at odds with the Future Movement, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and other former prime ministers, all members of the council. The long-standing dispute has effectively split the council, which manages the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa, into two.
The Future Movement also accuses Qabbani of embezzlement, a claim strongly denied by the grand mufti.