BEIRUT: Members of Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani’s Higher Islamic Council are considering whether to go to court if summoned over two lawsuits, arguing that the two legal complaints were politically motivated.
“We will decide [whether to attend] based on development [of the case],” said Maher Saqqal, the deputy head of the council.
Last week, the Higher Islamic Council of former minister Omar Miskawi filed two lawsuits against Qabbani’s. One was filed against the 32 members of the body, accusing them of violating Shura Council decisions, stating that their council was illegitimate.
Since the end of 2012, disputes between Qabbani and the Future Movement have divided the council. One side is chaired by the grand mufti and the other by Miskawi. Each considers the other illegitimate.
The council, set up in 1930, supervises the financial and administrative affairs of the institutions of Dar al-Fatwa, the top Sunni religious authority in Lebanon.
“The Shura Council issued nine decisions telling them [members of Qabbani’s council] that you don’t have the right to form a council. But they have been ignoring this for over a year,” said Mohammad Mrad, a member of Miskawi’s council.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Mrad said the decision to file the two lawsuits came after Qabbani decided last month to expand the electoral body that would pick his successor.
“This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They violated all morals and values,” he said. Mrad said the judiciary could summon the accused this week.
Qabbani’s decision expanded the electoral body from more than 100 members to around 2,800. He justified the move by saying this was the original number of the body before he was elected grand mufti in 1996.
Qabbani’s term expires in September. The disputes could lead to the election of two grand muftis.
Last month, Sheikh Hisham Khalifa, who is the director general of Islamic Endowments and is close to Qabbani, called for the election of a new grand mufti on Aug. 31.
Miskawi urged Prime Minister Tammam Salam to work on electing a new grand mufti.
Media reports said Sunday that Salam and former Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora and Omar Karami have agreed to support Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, the head of the Higher Sunni Religious Court, as a candidate for the post.
Speaking to The Daily Star, a source close to Siniora said he could neither confirm nor deny the reports.
“Salam and the former prime ministers have agreed on implementing the law and holding the election,” he said.
Saqqal said that his council filed a lawsuit against Miskawi’s council over a year ago, accusing its members of misrepresenting the Higher Islamic Council.
“I believe this [the filing of the two lawsuits] was in response to what we did. ... These lawsuits are merely political. The prime minister and former prime ministers want to strip the grand mufti of his powers,” Saqqal said.
“[The secretary-general of the prime minister’s office] Suheil Bouji is behind all the Shura Council decisions,” he added.
Salam – the most senior Sunni politician in the country – and other former prime ministers back Miskawi’s council.
Mrad explained that the lawsuits did not target Qabbani, out of respect for Dar al-Fatwa.
“I will personally press charges against Qabbani once he leaves his post. I believe he is the first criminal,” Mrad said.
Another lawsuit was filed against Sheikh Khalifa, accusing him of inciting strife in a speech he delivered in 2012, in which he said that for the first time in Lebanon’s history, the Shura Council had issued a decision against the Grand Mufti.
“Unfortunately, those issuing the verdict were two Christians,” Khalifa was quoted as saying in reference to Judge Shukri Sader, the head of the Shura Council and his adviser Youssef Gemayel.
Miskawi’s council also filed a challenge to Khalifa’s call for the election of a new grand mufti, and to the decision to expand the electoral body.
Mrad said the charges pressed against Qabbani’s council are punishable with a prison sentence of one month to a year according to Article 372 of the Penal Code.