BEIRUT: Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani’s decision to transfer managerial duties at Dar al-Fatwa to religious scholars is a symbolic move and aims to show that the institution’s decisions are independent, said Sheikh Mohammad Anis Arwadi, member of the Higher Islamic Council. “It is not the significant move some are implying ... by this move, his eminence is saying that the decisions at Dar al-Fatwa are independent and cannot be hijacked by a certain political group,” Arwadi told The Daily Star Sunday.
“The grand mufti is delivering a message that Dar al-Fatwa has institutions, each institution is managed by a sheikh and at the top is the grand mufti,” Arwadi added.
Qabbani transferred the management of Dar al-Fatwa to religious scholars Saturday. Arwadi said the move does not mean that the mufti has relinquished his powers. “He only gives up his powers if he resigns.”
Qabbani said he would remain grand mufti until his term expires in September 2014.
A source from Dar al-Fatwa said Qabbani did not relinquish any his powers; on the contrary, he made his decision in line with them.
“He tasked religious scholars with the day-to-day administrative management of Dar al-Fatwa, he has the authority to ask anyone to handle this task,” the source said.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other former prime ministers urged Qabbani last week to convene the Higher Islamic Council no later than March 16 in order to set a date for electing a new council, which is the top administrative body for Sunnis.
They complained that by repeatedly turning down requests to hold a session, Qabbani was disrupting the functioning of the Higher Islamic Council, which he heads.
The officials also said they would take unspecified measures in the event that Qabbani turn down their request.
But the grand mufti responded in a letter to Mikati Friday that he could not convene the council, as its term had expired last year. Qabbani set elections for a new council on April 14.
Contrary to Qabbani’s bidding, 22 members of the council, close to the Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, extended the body’s term last December. This new term would expire by the end of this year.
They argue their decision is lawful because it was published in the Official Gazette and that Qabbani’s call for elections in April is illegal, as he did not consult them before making it.
Ties between Qabbani and the Future Movement have deteriorated over the past two years.
Dozens of protesters gathered near the headquarters of Dar al-Fatwa in the Beirut neighborhood of Aisha Bakkar Saturday in support of Qabbani.
Speaking on behalf of the demonstrators, Ahmad Merhi said the gathering was unplanned and aimed at supporting Qabbani.
“This meeting and spontaneous movement by Beirut’s youth comes to affirm that this organization is fortified and should not be used for political purposes,” Merhi said.
Sheikh Hisham Khalifeh, the general director of the Islamic Endowment, welcomed the protesters and relayed to them the grand mufti’s appreciation of their support.
Khalifeh expressed hope that politicians would take notice of their show of support to the mufti. “We hope that this movement will represent the return of wisdom to the minds of our politicians and [we hope] they will reconsider their thoughts, and that Dar al-Fatwa will not be treated this way,” he said.
“We refuse to divide unity among Muslims just like the grand mufti, who has held stances calling for the elections at the Higher Islamic Council to bring about a new council, rather than [the current] one that only convenes to issue political statements,” he added.