Since April 9, 2003, the Sunni ulema of Iraq found themselves deprived of any authority to turn to: the Mufti and the ministry of Islamic affairs, (awqaf), were gone. Instead of the unified call for prayer, (azan), such call according to the Shiite tradition began to be heard. It is surprising that the official state religion should be made up of two sects.
This is especially true because a single sect prevailed in the country since H 182, when the Caliph Haroun Al Rashid, and some even say since the days of his father, Al Mehdi, dominated the judicial and jurisprudence systems. Yet there were obviously sporadic periods when the Shiite tradition swayed. In addition to the officially recognized status of the Sunni Hanafite tradition, which is sometimes substituted by the Shafiite tradition, there is the unofficial Shiite authority that rests on the ideal of the Imamate.
Only five days following the downfall of the Baath regime and after the bond between the sect and the state was dissolved, the Muslim Ulema Council was declared. Dr. Harith al-Dari, became its Secretary General through democratic election in which Sheikh Ahmad Taha received the majority of votes. However, Taha chose to retreat from the limelight. The Council combined almost all the groups of Iraqi Sunnis: Ahmad Al Bilsani from Kurdistan, Ibrahim Al-Hassan from Basra, Ibrahim Al Nima from Mosul and Ibrahim Al-Mudarris from Baghdad. The Shura committee of the Council was composed of 130 members, including 13 members in the secretariat general.
Sheikh Harith obtained his PhD in religious studies from the Al- Azhar University in Cairo in 1978. He wrote his dissertation on “Imam Al Zahri and his Influence on the Sunnite Tradition.” His thesis was published in 1985 in Mosul. And although it was printed during those times, the book, unlike those published by many clerics at the time, did not contain the customary flowery preamble that glorified Saddam Hussein. Sheikh Harith began a teaching career at the college that prepared mosque imams who led the faithful in prayers and gave the traditional Friday sermon. He also lectured at Baghdad University, and lived and worked abroad. Moreover, his son, Mutha, the official spokesman of the Council, also turned his attention to religious studies. He wrote his PhD dissertation on “the fundamental restrains to the practice of politics according to the Shariaa.” He is also a researcher in Islamic studies at Baghdad University.
Both father and son, as well as the other Sheikhs of the Council are perfectly qualified to promote the interests of the Sunnis of Iraq, and to benefit the affairs of heaven and earth. This is especially true once we realize that its secretary general is among the first to suffer the consequences of practicing terror against his brother, Sheikh Damir, and his colleagues the other members of the Council.
As its leader put it, the aims of the Council include increasing awareness among people, and to seek to achieve the unity of the people of Iraq. And since it speaks in the name of the Iraqi people, this means that it does not differentiate between the Sunnis and the Shiites, or among all Iraqis. Still, the Council has contacts with other sects in Iraq. During a meeting with the leader of Mandeans sect, Star Jabbar Helo, the Council declared its opposition to any act of aggression in the Western areas against the oppressed group.
On the other hand, the principles of the Council include a hard-line mind-set that has caused huge damage not only to the Sunni community but also to all of Iraq. Most noticeable among negative attitude was boycotting the general elections.
Unfortunately, the name of Sheikh Harith tops the list of the hardliners. All those who know him recall in particular his uncompromising attitude. Other Sheikhs share his radicalism. These include Abdulsalam Al Kubeisi and Bashar Faidi. Such extremism has led to the resignation of Council members who opposed the Council’s attitude toward the political process in Iraq, and objected to its perception of terrorism as resistance. And while the Council condemns any contacts by the Shiite groups with Iran, it seeks to deepen its links with outside forces under the pretext of gathering support for the resistance.
The presence of the Council through its official spokesman at a Beirut meeting that was called for by a hard-line group, as well as its connection with the al- Jamaa Islamia in Beirut, frustrated the victims of terror.
The Council is fully aware that ending the occupation of Iraq can be achieved by allowing the political process to succeed and not through military means. The Council is also aware that the environment of freedom that prevails in the country is an opportunity for it to assert its presence not only among the Sunni community, but among all Iraqis. But it can only achieve this through its positive participation in the political process. This is hardly the time to deplete the country from Talbani or Jaafari. It is the time for coexistence.
One can only criticize the Council’s declaration to the followers of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. While the declaration contained a positive element in the sense that it opposed the killing of Shiites who were not in government, it can only be condemned for agitating the public against the combat of terror. It is common knowledge that those who have barricaded themselves in Talafar and other Iraqi cities have enough evil in them that the entire world cannot tolerate.
The Council’s declaration of September 15 said, “Those among Iraqi Sunnis who wish to take part in the political process through referendum or the elections are free to do so. The best way to deal with them is through dialogue in order to explain to them the facts so that they would not be deceived by the appearance of things. They should not be dealt with by threats because such attitude is hardly a prudent one. It also ignores the interests of Iraq, as well as those of the jihad and the Jihadists. It is the duty of those who came from abroad to support them against the foreign occupiers to provide advice and guidance, and not to confiscate the opinions of others….We remind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, based on the ideal that Islam is founded on providing council, that he should abandon his threats and must apologize for making them. This is because they harm the image of jihad and undermine the effort of the Jihadists in Iraq.”
Still, what one may understand from the phrase “the jihadist effort in Iraq” other than recognizing the legitimacy of the followers of Al Zarqawi, and sanctioning the fight against the state. It is in the interest of the Iraqis, including the Council, that Zarqawi and his group should leave. For one thing, it is a foreign group, and its members are wanted in their own countries on criminal charges. Moreover, the group’s presence provides justification for other Iraqi factions to seek support from outside the borders. One can only imagine the horrific consequences on Iraq. For another, Zarqawi and his group are implicated in the killing of Iraqis and the plunder of their sacred places.
I don’t know why the Council believes that such group will provide it with a better environment and allow it to demand the post of the head of state. I also don’t understand why the Council makes it its primary concern to pardon the Baathists. It is as if its elders have forgotten their Hanfite elder, Abdulaziz al Badri. His body was carried from the headquarter of the security service to the burial place of Abi Hanifa, where the casket was opened so that those who were praying could see how his beard had been burnt and his face mutilated because of torture. He was subjected to such torture because he confronted the return of the Baathists in 1968, recalling what they had done when they first ruled in 1963.
Will the Council be pleased with the return of such horrible times, accompanied by the Zarqawi and his followers, whose hearts are made of stone?