Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Recent Qaradawi Controversy over Sectarian Relations

In The Politics of Sects, Amira Howeidy covers a recent controversy over some statements issued by a well-respected, moderate Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf El-Qaradawi. El-Qaradawi is quoted to have said that Shias are "heretics" - but still within the bounds of Islam, according to him - and warned that they are "invading" Sunni countries. El-Qaradawi is popular among millions of people in the Arabic speaking world with his Al-Jazeera TV show on sharia laws. A wide range of newspapers and magazines covered the controversy this last week.

In the past El-Qaradawi has played a positive role in bringing the two sects closer (See, for example, Qaradawi, Rafsanjani Urge Unity). I was quite disappointed to see these recent statements. All I can say is that instead of fear-mongering, the Muslim clerics may want to focus on illuminating the spiritual and rational appeal of their faith and leave it on their audience to choose the best thereof (as recommended by the The Quran, 39:18).

This kind of slandering of other sect cannot be justified or tolerated in the name of freedom of speech either. Freedom without any limits or ethics is self-destructive. Even in the so-called liberal societies of the West you have laws against slander and hate-speech.

I was not able to confirm the statement attributed to Lebanon's leading Ayatollah, Syed Hussein Fadlallah, in that article from other news sources, that Fadlallah dared El-Qaradawi to challenge the Christian missionaries in Muslim countries. Given the political conditions in Lebanon and Fadlallah's own efforts toward bridging sectarian divides, I doubt that he would have made such a suggestion in those exact terms. Howeidy did not provide any reference in her piece. I did read in other news sources (Guardian, for example) that Fadlallah has termed El-Qaradawi's fear mongering a kind of 'fitna' detrimental to the larger interests of the Muslim Ummah, or nation. This makes sense, considering that today sectarian differences are being used as a tool to suppress anti-dictatorial and anti-imperial movements by the Arab regimes and foreign powers. See a piece by Omayma Abdel-Latif from the same Al Ahram on this line of argument: The Shia-Sunni Divide: Myths and Reality.

It is unfortunate that this controversy was stirred up in the holy month of Ramadhan, especially before the international day of Quds. The Quds day, commemorated each year on the last Friday of Ramadhan, is supposed to bring together Muslims for their common cause of peace, unity, and justice.

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