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And Not in Defense of al Arifi - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Let me start off by stating that this article is a retraction of a previous article [Not in Defense of Sistani, 12/01/2010] in which I criticized my dear friend Dr. Mohamed al Arifi over his description, or let us say his “slip up” in reference to the renowned Shia Marja Ayatollah Ali Sistani. I would like to stress that my opinion is the same as the opinion expressed in that article that was published in this newspaper; however I wanted to nip the crisis in the bud before it developed any further. I appreciate those who expressed their viewpoints, and I understand and respect their reasons and justifications. In this article, I am not concerned with what Sheikh al Arifi said as what happened happened. This time I would like to pick up where I left off in my previous article; the necessity of calling for everyone to put a stop to the exchange of name-calling and swearwords.

It was expected that the Shia inside and outside [Iraq] would stand up to defend Sistani, as they have immense respect for him and are concerned with defending him. Yet Shia clerics and intellectuals should realize that condemning the action of cursing [religious] figures applies to both sides. As I indicated in my previous article, they should understand that the real way to extend a hand of peace to the Sunnis is not through bullish positions against the US or through empty threats towards Israel. Rather, they should explicitly renounce the Shia heritage of cursing the companions and wives of the Prophet, an act that the majority of Shia clerics, unfortunately, have failed to carry out or remove from their Twelver doctrine. Instead, they are content with making ambiguous comments that can be interpreted in different ways. However, we do appreciate those who have said this explicitly, though this is rare.

Furthermore, the position of Shia clerics and intellectuals towards the curses made by some of their clerics and leaders against some Sunni factions is still weak.

Ayatollah A’raji did not curse a religious figure but a well known and important Sunni faction using words I cannot repeat. Likewise, Muqtada al Sadr made no distinction between this Sunni group and the Mosad Israeli intelligence agency. Also Ayatollah Mojtaba described a famous Arab Muslim leader as non-Muslim. It was very wise and rational, and even religious, of the Sunni masses and their government not to pay much attention to such words. The Quran says: And when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’(Surat al-Furqan: 63). But it is neither logical nor fair that the Iraqi government and some Shia clerics are so outraged at Dr. Mohamed al Arifi’s criticism of Ayatollah al Sistani when, at the same time, they do not think about the swearwords and curses uttered by many Iraqi, Iranian and even some Gulf Shia scholars and leaders who have given even worse descriptions than those given by Sheikh al Arifi.

Back to the Sunni camp, I say that the danger of the support shown by some students and intellectuals to Sheikh al Arifi’s attitude surpasses the danger of the Sheikh’s comments. This is where the importance lies with regards to explicit warning against launching verbal attacks and cursing others regardless of whether or not they deserve them. Such support would give the green light to other scholars and preachers to use swearwords in describing other religious symbols inside or outside the country, the result of which could be catastrophic. It should all be criticized explicitly because the subsequent impact of exchanged verbal attacks is much greater than any intended interests.

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid is a journalist and former member of the official Saudi National Organization for Human Rights. Dr. Al-Majid is a graduate of Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and holds an MA from the University of California and a doctorate from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom.

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