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Grand Sheikh Of Al-Azhar, Why? Inter-Palestinian Reconciliation A Religious Obligation?


16 July 2010

By Mshari Al-Zaydi

It wasn't long before Egypt's Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, found himself involved in the problem of political fatwas in our Arab world. He recently issued a fatwa saying that "inter-Palestinian reconciliation is a religious obligation and sacred duty" and that "whoever obstructs or impedes this is committing a sin."

I am not against the idea of reconciliation or deny the importance of mending Palestinian fences…every concerned individual hopes for reconciliation between the Fatah and Hamas movements, not for the sake of Abbas or Mishal, but in order to spare the residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank from being used in the bazaar of politics and regional bargaining.

This is a noble cause with a lofty goal; however the rift between Fatah and Hamas is more than just an ethical issue, but rather is something that is political at heart. The inter-Palestinian reconciliation card is being used in a game played by the axes of power in the Middle East. The fever of regional exploitation has caught the Palestinian Cause, in the same manner as this caught the Lebanese scene. A lot has been said about this issue, and readers and observers are aware of the presence of these opposing regional powers, and the tools of this conflict that can be seen from Iraq to Lebanon to Palestine, and so there is no need to repeat this [at this time].

Very well, which of the Palestinian factions has the correct religious argument and position with regards to this conflict and division?

The Hamas movement and the religious groups in Gaza and elsewhere that support it would say: we possess the correct religious position and juristic argument, while eloquent speaker Sheikh Ismail Haniyeh, who is also Prime Minister of the Gaza government, would have no trouble responding to the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, quoting dozens of Hadith and Quranic verses, and supported by impassioned rhetoric, audio effects, and collective exclamations of victory by the audience.

Maybe the Fatah movement would be able to find somebody – if they haven't already – who is able to counter Haniyeh and his supporters, argument for argument, and hadith for hadith, and verse for verse.

In short, there is no benefit from invoking religious arguments and attempting to exploit particular moral values in the arena of political conflict; the only loser would be moral values themselves, while there are no political benefits to this whatsoever.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh previously accused his rivals in the southern movement of apostasy, which is something that I previously commented on. This tendency towards involving religion in political conflict is something that is rampant across the Arab political arena, and is utilized by most political parties.

However this approach is wrong, because religion, with all of its moral and ethical values, should be an important component in uniting elements, especially as it represents one of the major components of cultural identity for inhabitants of this part of world. Therefore religion should not be used as a tool in political conflicts.

We complain about political Islamist groups utilizing religion to achieve their political aspirations. Therefore how could the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, who is known to be a rational and wise scholar, fall into the same trap?

I wish that our wise Sheikh Dr. Ahmad al-Tayeb would devote his time and efforts to explaining an all-encompassing Islam, tolerance and the new school of jurisprudence, and avoid involving religion in political conflict.

In the end, I sincerely hope, from the bottom of my heart, that inter-Palestinian reconciliation is achieved as soon as possible, but that is a different story.

A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

 

 

 

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