Lebanon’s Sunni authority monitors sermons closely

Friday 18/12/2015
Radical preacher Omar Bakri (R) holding special prayer for Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden

BEIRUT - Dar al-Fatwa, the highest religious authority for Lebanon’s Sunni Mus­lims, has been closely monitoring Friday ser­mons, hoping to restrain calls for extremism at least in the mosques it controls.
The move comes after the Fu­ture Movement and Hezbollah, the country’s leading political groups from Sunnis and Shias, respective­ly, started in December 2014 an al­most bimonthly dialogue to avoid sectarian tension, a source with the authority said.
Sunni Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Deiyan ordered the move to ensure that no Friday prayer leader would instigate against the Iranian-backed Shia group.
Hezbollah has been working to tone down criticism of the Future Movement by clerics it backs.
“But in recent months, the mufti got stricter in the measure, asking clerics under Dar al-Fatwa’s au­thority to focus on Islam’s tolerant teachings,” the source said.
He recalled videos aired on pro-jihadist websites since late 2014 and the actions of the Islamic State (ISIS) since then. The threats include one against Sheikh Hassan Merheb, as­sistant general inspector at Dar al- Fatwa.Merheb has long called for about 80 mosques not under Dar al-Fatwa’s remit to be moved under its supervision “as long as they are places where youth get their ideas and convictions about Islam from”.
“The fact that many mosques are not under Dar al-Fatwa’s author­ity is an old problem, dating back to the early stages of the [1975-90 civil] war but some are being used to spread diehard ideas, making the problem even more worrying,” the source said.
Dar al-Fatwa has struggled to have monopoly over Sunni mosques but authorities fear that other religious groups authorised to run mosques would urge follow­ers to foil any decision in favour of the top authority, a writer on Is­lamic thought close to the Future Movement said.
The movement, which has al­ways been on good terms with Dar al-Fatwa, says seminars led by the religious authority to disseminate religious tolerance would eventu­ally overcome extremist ideas if not uproot them altogether, the writer said, requesting anonymity. “Lebanon’s Sunnis are generally tolerant and not easily ready to up­hold extremist ideas,” he said.
The Islamic Cultural Centre, es­tablished by Dar al-Fatwa in 1971, has regular seminars focusing on tolerant aspects of Islam. Centre Chairman Omar Misseikeh said he has been speeding up the organi­sation’s schedule of lectures and preparing for publication of books and studies about “Islam’s tolerant ideas and tolerant past” in the com­ing year.
Dar al-Fatwa has admonished many clerics for preaching tough stances against Hezbollah, the source at the authority said.
“Regarding instructions that ser­mons should denounce extremism, we had a much easier job,” he said. “Our clerics have always talked about tolerance and it was easy to have them continue to do the same thing.”
“Some clerics who attacked Hez­bollah did so for its political agen­da, not for sectarian reasons. But in general, almost all clerics on both sides are now in favour of the dia­logue” between the group and the Future Movement.