BEIRUT: The Higher Islamic Council will convene Thursday under former Minister Omar Miskawi to consider asking Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani to leave his post early in response to his controversial decision last week to expand the body’s electorate.
Speaking to The Daily Star Wednesday, Miskawi said the council would send a letter to Prime Minister Tammam Salam and former prime ministers proposing that Qabbani be asked to step down now, three months before his term officially expires.
“The proposals we will make aim at protecting Dar al-Fatwa,” Miskawi said.
Qabbani Saturday issued a decision to expand the electoral body that picks his successor from more than 100 members to around 2,800. He justified the move by pointing out that this was the size of the electoral body from 1955 until he was elected mufti.
Since the end of 2012, disputes between Qabbani and Saad Hariri’s Future Movement have split the council into two. One part is chaired by Miskawi and is considered to be close to the Future Movement, while the other is headed by Qabbani. Each of the councils considers the other illegitimate.
The council supervises the financial and administrative affairs of the institutions of Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country.
Earlier Wednesday, Miskawi and members of his council attended a meeting that included former prime ministers Najib Mikati and Fouad Siniora, the latter of whom represented Saad Hariri, chaired by Salam at the Grand Serail to discuss how to respond to Qabbani’s decision.
Former premiers Omar Karami and Salim al-Hoss were absent.
A statement issued after the meeting said attendees agreed to begin taking measures that would distance Dar al-Fatwa from personal and political interests that contradict the higher Islamic interest of the body.
The statement called Qabbani’s decision suspicious and said it came from an illegitimate body.
“It reflects the persistence of he who made them in rebelling against the concept of the state and its institutions and his disrespect for the law and the principle of legitimacy,” the statement added.
Salam and the former prime ministers said Qabbani’s move also aimed at undermining the unity of the Sunni sect and was “an unprecedented political plan to divide it by instigating divisions between its religious and civil officials.”
In response, Qabbani launched a scathing attack Wednesday, describing Siniora and other Future Movement officials as “liars.”
“They are meeting today at the prime minister’s office. Is this a threat to us? If members of the former council meet in the Grand Serail, will the Grand Serail scare us? Neither the Grand Serail nor he who is in the Grand Serail scare us,” Qabbani told a group of Muslim scholars at Dar al-Fatwa.
The grand mufti said the Future Movement, and particularly Siniora, had prevented the election of a new Higher Islamic Council since 2009. The council’s term has been continuously extended for one year since 2009 until eventually it split into two at the end of 2012.