Sheikh Dr. Mohamed al Arifi is dear to my heart and to the hearts of millions of Arabs, but the truth is dearer. By visiting the frontline where [Yemeni] troops are battling the Huthi rebels, al Arifi boosted their morale and urged them to fight on and this is an honorable Islamic and patriotic position. This is in addition to the appreciation of millions of Arabs for the “unconventional” superior preaching methods in addressing the youth and he urges them to promote virtue and keep away from vice.
In brief, Dr. al Arifi has a high media profile and has managed to reach millions in a professional manner and spread goodness among them. This sea of virtue can be polluted by one mistake; his recent verbal attack on [Iraqi Shia Cleric Ali] Sistani that he launched during an improvised Friday sermon.
Improvisation here is the crux of the matter. In my opinion, if he had written the sermon he would have reconsidered what he was about to say, especially as he knows that Sistani is an important figure and a Marja to the Shia communities inside and outside of Saudi Arabia.
The way al Arifi described Sistani was inappropriate not to mention the curses and swearwords that are unsuitable for clerics, orators, thinkers or intellectuals to use in reference to others even if they do adopt a different way of thinking or have committed a violation or embrace a different doctrine or religion.
The crucial factor is clarity, the power to convince, the ability to rectify mistakes and argue in a favorable manner rather than cursing others in such a humiliating manner.
In the memoirs of renowned Saudi clerics such as Sheikh Bin Baz and Bin Uthaymeen, may God rest their souls, none of the content contained curses or swearwords in reference to followers of other religions or schools of thought even though they were known to be fiercely loyal [to Islam].
Also, I do not think that it slipped Dr. al Arifi’s mind, or anybody else’s, that such negative descriptions of prominent figures of other religions is completely unacceptable. The work of a preacher is not restricted to the people of his own race or to the followers of his religion; he should seek to influence others and convey his message to them. In the era of satellite and internet breakthroughs, the region is witnessing a strong and fierce race to gain influence through these two tools. But to influence the followers of other religions whilst defame prominent figures is not possible.
For some nations, prominent figures are considered part of their culture that they protect. No matter how argumentative and convincing you are, and if you, either truthfully of untruthfully, want to defame their figures, then these nations would be devoted in their debates and arguments to safeguarding their own culture and figures and their social structure. This is exactly what the Serbs failed to realize after Yugoslavia fell apart in the 1990s. It is widely known that the relationship the Bosnian Muslims had with their religion was very weak to the extent that the only connection that most members of the then new generation had with Islam was their names. They were aggressively fought by the Serbs, who destroyed their mosques, killed their clerics, raped their women and insulted their figures. All of a sudden, Bosnian Muslims began to return to their religion and defend it with fervor until the balanced tipped in their favor and they made military and political gains that hurt the Serbs.
Whist we are criticizing the defamation and cursing of figures, what the Sunnis – from Tetouan [Morocco] in the West all the way to Jakarta in the East – hate the most is that Shia heritage treasures a great deal of cursing and swearing towards Sunni figures, mainly the Prophet’s companions and wives. I am certain that this heritage cannot be cleansed of its blemishes; this is a responsibility of those who wrote them. But at least a courageous position can be taken by those impartial, fair and rational Shia intellectuals who are enthusiastic about Islamic unity. They can reject any connection between such curses and swearwords and the Shia school of thought in the same way that renowned Shia researcher and friend Ahmed al Kateb and Sheikh Hussein Fadlallah and others have done.