BEIRUT: In a dramatic turnaround Friday, Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said he would transfer the day-to-day management of Dar al-Fatwa to religious scholars but would remain in his post until the end of his term.
“I announce now that I turn over Dar al-Fatwa in the Lebanese Republic to all Muslim scholars [ulama] in Lebanon starting Saturday morning,” Qabbani told a group of scholars who gathered in Dar al-Fatwa.
“I will continue to be the grand mufti to serve these scholars until the end my term. I will be present every day, whether at home or at Dar al-Fatwa, depending on circumstances, to help you in running Dar al-Fatwa,” Qabbani added.
The grand mufti’s term expires in September 2014.
Qabbani’s move comes two days after Prime Minister Najib Mikati and several former prime ministers called on the grand mufti to convene the Higher Islamic Council no later than Saturday, in order to assign a date for the election of new members. The attendees said they would take unspecified measures in the event that Qabbani turned down their request.
The grand mufti considers that the term of the current council expired at the end of last year. Contrary to Qabbani’s wish, 21 council members extended the term of the council last December until the end of 2013. The members who resigned from the council consider that Qabbani’s call for elections on April 14 is illegal, because he did not consult with them.
A statement issued following the special meeting with religious scholars at Dar al-Fatwa warned against denigrating the seat of the grand mufti.
It said the ulama supported Qabbani’s call for electing the Higher Islamic Council members on April 14, after the term of the former council expired.
“Those who are disrupting elections have objectives that are now well-known to all, and do not serve the interests of the Sunni sect,” it added.
Earlier in the day, Qabbani rebuffed the call issued by Mikati and the former prime ministers. In a letter to Mikati, Qabbani voiced his strong disappointment with the statement issued after the meeting of Mikati and the former prime ministers “because it includes implicit threats and hints to take certain measures [against the mufti].”
“The grand mufti adheres to decree 18 of 1955 ... and to laws that stipulate the powers of the grand mufti. These [regulations] mention no supervisory authority over the grand mufti, or that an authority can take measures against him as he carries out his duties,” Qabbani said in the letter.
The grand mufti said that convening a session of what he termed the “the former Higher Islamic Council” was wrong because its term had expired. “Thus it is not a legal step according to laws that organize the religious affairs of the Sunni sect, particularly decree 18 of 1955,” the letter added.
Qabbani said the Higher Islamic Council’s functions could not be disrupted if its members continued to carry out their duties as caretakers.
“Most members of the former council object to carrying out their duties as caretakers, and they are busy coming up with obstacles to prevent us from electing a new council – this is what is actually paralyzing the Higher Islamic Council,” the grand mufti added.
Qabbani added that his insistence on holding council elections reflected his desire to implement the law. “Is calling for elections the problem now? Is adhering to laws the problem, or is it the manipulation of laws?” Qabbani asked. “Let’s work together for the interest of this sect, its institutions and the country ... let us hold elections of the Higher Islamic Council called for by the grand mufti on April 14 together,” he added.
Qabbani said that those seeking to legalize the extension of the council’s term, contrary to the law, were doing so for personal interests.
Sources familiar with the issue told The Daily Star that in the event that Mikati and former prime ministers decide to sack the grand mufti, it would require a decree that the premier would then forward to the president to sign.
Separately, former prime ministers Omar Karami and Salim Hoss said they were against sacking Qabbani, in remarks published by a local newspaper Friday.