In most cases, a religious scholar cannot give preference to one political party over another or interfere in political affairs, using his immunity and status to do so, without actually inflicting harm on the political status quo and the reputation of religion.
One clear example of this is Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, a prominent contemporary Muslim scholar and the “Jurist of the Sahwa” [Islamic Awakening] as described by the researcher Mutaz al Khatib in his book recently reviewed by intellect Radwan al Sayyed in Al Hayat newspaper.
Al Qaradawi recently became involved in a number of political crises. In one of his Friday sermons that he delivered in Doha, which have transformed into a weekly political statement, he attacked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and sided with Hamas. In fact he even called for punishing Abbas by stoning him to death before moving on to address the Egypt-Gaza border issue. He issued a Fatwa [religious ruling] a few days ago saying that Egypt’s plan to build an iron wall along its border with the Gaza Strip is “prohibited according to Islamic Shariah.” In response, members of the Islamic Research Academy in Al Azhar issued a Fatwa that invalidated al Qaradawi’s Fatwa.
How are we supposed to deal with Sheikh al Qaradawi’s opinions? Should we consider them religious edicts that are supported by concrete religious evidence or as mere political standpoints that could change in accordance with ever-changing policies?
Without doubt, they are clearly political standpoints and not Fatwas that have any kind of authority. However, the masses, or let us say the majority of the people, do not look at these views as personal opinions of a political activist called Yusuf al Qaradawi, but rather as instructions given by a great Muslim scholar and jurist. The danger of this lies in the consequences of religious scholars getting involved in political disputes.
It stems from the nature of Sheikh al Qaradawi’s political and intellectual formation that is shaped by the theories of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we are under no obligation here to go along with his experience.
Sheikh al Qaradawi is not the only one combining religion with politics; rather let’s say that it is a certain interpretation of religion. But there are sheikhs and muftis who disagree with al Qaradawi, the rest of the Sahwa jurists and the Islamists. For example there is Khomeinist Iran, and in Iraq religion, politics and spite have all been mixed together where Sunni and Shia religious figures carried out roles that further compounded the crisis. Talking about Iraq, we all know the magnitude of sectarian violence in that country and the extent to which key political players harbour anger and hostility against one another; even a secular figure like Ahmed Chalabi is hiding behind the cloak of Grand Ayatollah al Sistani, the highest-ranking Shia Marja in Iraq, whilst other Sunnis are calling in their Sheikhs from here, there and everywhere. The current Shia strategy in Iraq plays on evoking fear among the Sunnis and prolonging that fear. That is why the statement made by Saudi religious preacher Mohamed al Arifi against Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani at the beginning of a heated electoral season was ill timed. Al Arifi’s statement became material for the election campaigns of Shia parties and to them it was a gift from above. I don’t think that this is what al Arifi intended, nevertheless this is what happened.
Saudi Arabia is in the line of fire with regards to electoral propaganda of Shia parties. Needless to say, attempting to belittle religious icons in any society is absolutely unacceptable. However, this should not stand in the way of giving constructive criticism.
I wish our scholars and preachers would calm down a little and focus on explaining jurisprudence and reviving the moral principles of faith rather than getting involved in political wrangling.