Kuwaiti preacher pushes bigoted discourse about the UAE
ABU DHABI – Statements by Kuwaiti preacher Othman al-Khamis condemning an interfaith centre in the UAE have sparked widespread controversy on social media.
The Kuwaiti preacher condemned the promotion of the Abrahamic Family House, a three-in-one religious complex that hosts a church, a mosque and a synagogue, claiming it to be an act of “infidelity.”
He denounced placing what he called the “distorted Bible and Torah” next to the Quran and questioned the project’s motives.
Khamis also criticised the erection of a Buddha statue in Abu Dhabi as an “act of Satan,” warning that Buddha could become an object of worship over time.
In response to the Kuwaiti preacher’s controversial statements, Emiratis launched the hashtag “#Othman_khamis_excommunicates_ UAE” on Twitter and condemned the preacher for meddling in their country’s affairs.
A popular Twitter account under the name “Bin Thani” described the sheikh as”an idiot” and accused him of hypocritically searching “for bars (pubs) when he visits the UAE.”
Other Emirati Twitter users explained the unifying purpose of the Abrahamic Family House.
“The Abrahamic Family House is made up of three buildings. Each building is dedicated to one of the Abrahamic religions, and each religion performs its rituals separately from the other .. You see, it is like a Nescafe 3 by 1 instant coffee,” Twitter user @Sha3rT_Yaas, write.
“Many of the hard-liners do not understand what the Abrahamic Family House is,” wrote Twitter user @bastaki1976. “To put it simply, three places of worship are set in one place where the rites of each religion are held in its own building, as a symbol of tolerance and human coexistence, and as a message of peace from the heart of the Islamic world. It is not, in any case, a fusion of three religions into one as hardliners believe.”
Some Emiratis said that the Kuwaiti preacher understands the true intentions of the Abrahamic Family House, but is simply looking for a way to criticise the UAE.
They claimed that Khamis has been “instructed to lead a campaign of incitement against the UAE, using religion to deceive the public.”
Twitter user @BelalAlsbah mocked the preacher’s statements, saying the campaign was “produced by Qatar, directed in Kuwait, and sponsored by Rolex.”
Emirati preacher Wasim Yousef, imam of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, said “Khamis excommunicated a whole complex. He excommunicated the Abrahamic Family House… I challenge him if he really read about the Abrahamic Family House or the idea behind the project. To cut it short, he wants to grab the spotlights by excommunicating people.”
Though most of the preacher’s statements on his YouTube channel deal with issues of jurisprudence, in which he relays approved fatwas, some include opinions that were prominent during the era of “awakening,”, a Muslim-brotherhood inspired movement that flourished in Saudi Arabia following 1979 but that has since faded.
In one of his lectures, Khamis says, “If you do not have to salute the flag of your country, then do not, and do not hesitate to insult the religious symbols of your country’s citizens, if they are not from your religion.”
Like Saudi religious scholars he knew during his studies at the branch of Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in the city of Buraydah, Qassim, which is the stronghold of Saudi conservatives, Khamis created his own website called “Al-Manhaj.”
At the end of the 1990s, Khamis gained a large Arab audience by appearing in televised debates with Shia scholars on Al-Mustaqila channel that broadcasts from London.
Khamis gained further prominence as sectarian religious discourse spread throughout the Arab world, with the cleric being one of the founders of the Safa channel.
After being featured on Al-Mustaqila and Safa, Khamis moved to the Wasal channel, which also promoted sectarian content.
Some social media users compared Khamis to Saudi cleric Muhammad al-Arifi.
This comparison has been rejected by supporters of the “New Year’s Lion,” a title given to Khamis by the Wisal channel.
Others have referred to the Kuwaiti cleric as the “Qaradawi of Kuwait,” in reference to Al Jazeera’s radical in-house cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as if he represented a new strategy for launching propaganda attacks on the Arab Gulf states from Kuwait.
Twitter user @s7h40 wrote, “Is the Qaradawi of Kuwait trying to ignite a new fitna, with instructions from his Al-Jazeera friends?”
Without naming the Kuwaiti preacher, Saudi professor Abdullah al-Ghadhami wrote,“There are indications that we have overcome a time of rigidity and extremism, and this is most often the case now. However, a video marked by extremism recently appeared on Twitter, and my comment is referring to that video.”
Some Gulf twitter users defended Khamis, however, launching the hashtag “#Othman_Khamis_Asad_Sunnah (The Lion of Sunnah).”
Twitter user Maaly Al-Barbarari (@Mrbrary), who is known to defend Qatar, said, “Khamis said the truth and defended Islam .. so they attacked him, but good and righteousness people defended and supported him.”
Some Emirati citizens have long cautioned against the cleric, who once held lectures in the country and presented a TV programme on an Emirati satellite channel.
They warned that his discourse runs against the country’s tolerant character.
Last Ramadan, Khamis appeared on Al-Jazeera’s “Sharia and Life” programme. Social media users posted videos and photos at the time of one of his earlier visits to Dubai in which he held lectures.
Twitter user @mbark2200 wrote, “These are the people of the UAE, not how the media wants to portray them. The people of the UAE are rather a people of religion and Sunnah, and here are some pictures of Sheikh Khamis’s lecture in the UAE. # Othman_khamis_the Lion_Sunnah.”