Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 January 2010
Issue No. 982
Region
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Qaradawi slams Abbas

Accused of treason by one of Islam's greatest living scholars, Palestinian President Abbas is rocked and on the defensive, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

A heated exchange of recriminations, name-calling and blame casting has been raging in occupied Palestine between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood following scathing criticisms of President Mahmoud Abbas by Qatar-based Sheikh Youssef El-Qaradawi.

Qaradawi, one of the world's most highly respected living Sunni Islam scholars, reportedly urged both the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to form a special committee that would look into charges that Abbas had colluded with Israel against Hamas during the three-week onslaught on Gaza last year.

Moreover, Qaradawi lambasted the manner in which Abbas initially dealt with the Goldstone Report as constituting treason and betrayal. He argued, possibly rhetorically, that Abbas and his aides should be stoned to death in the centre of Mecca if it was proved that they colluded and connived with Israel against their own people.

The highly charged statements infuriated the increasingly beleaguered Palestinian leader who retorted by saying that he was more religious than 90 per cent of Hamas's supporters. Abbas charged that Qaradawi's outburst was based on Israeli misinformation. He also accused the Egyptian-born scholar of displaying ingratitude, claiming that he had done a favour for Qaradawi by convincing Qatari authorities to allow him to stay in the country.

In fact, Qaradawi didn't say that Abbas colluded with Israel; he only called on pan- Arab and Muslim bodies to look into the possibility that PA-Israeli collusion may have occurred. Indeed, numerous reports based on Israeli, Palestinian and foreign sources had affirmed the collusion accusations, though the PA vehemently denies them.

However, the mere allusion that Abbas and his aides may have collaborated with Israel against Hamas -- though not voiced for the first time -- is being seen by the Palestinian leadership as an unacceptable insult warranting a strong reaction. Abbas instructed his media outlets to launch a vitriolic attack on Qaradawi. The PA's media called the prominent scholar, widely considered one of the most knowledgeable in the disciplines of Sharia, or Islamic law, an "ignoramus" and "puppet of the government of Qatar".

More obscene epithets were also used against Qaradawi, persona non grata in several Western countries for his outspoken support of Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.

On Friday 15 January, the Fatah- controlled Ministry of Religious Affairs circulated a special anti-Qaradawi sermon to be read at mosques all over the West Bank during the congregational prayer. Most imams refused to read the sermon, with many substituting it for sermons praising the ulema (religious scholars) and castigating those "ignoramuses" and "hoodlums" who assault and insult the scholars.

However, in some places like Ramallah, some newly-appointed imams, who also support the PA, lashed out at Qaradawi, accusing him of "dividing the ranks of Muslims" and of "spreading rumours and disinformation in manners not befitting a great scholar". PA Waqf (religious endowments) Minister Mahmoud Al-Habbash urged Qaradawi to "apologise to his Excellency President Mahmoud Abbas as well as to the Palestinian people".

Al-Habbash is a vehement opponent of Hamas who fled Gaza two and half years ago following Hamas's defeat of Fatah's militias who had sought to unseat Hamas, aided by American General Keith Dayton.

In truth, the real issue has more to do with the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas than between Qaradawi and Abbas. Qaradawi has always been a strong supporter of Hamas, although he never adopted a manifestly hostile position to Fatah or other Palestinian groups. Indeed, Qaradawi, who appears regularly on Al-Jazeera TV's flagship show "Sharia and Life", has consistently called for Palestinian unity, arguing that Palestinian disunity will only benefit Israel and the enemies of the Palestinian cause.

But Qaradawi also took an uncompromising stand against the blockade of Gaza and lately issued a religious edict forbidding the building by Egypt of a steel-and-concrete wall along Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. His edict contradicted another by Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the mufti of Egypt, which supported the construction of the steel wall. This prompted one Palestinian writer to lament that the Palestinian cause was getting lost between "Tantawi and Qaradawi".

There is no doubt that the vast majority of ordinary Palestinians, and probably other Muslim peoples as well, are more sympathetic to Qaradawi who has long stood against the US invasion and occupation of Muslim countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and who remained a consistent supporter of the Palestinian cause during the first and second Intifadas. This is why the ranting and ravings of Fatah spokesmen and leaders against Qaradawi have not been received well in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem and Gaza where people can generally voice their views without fear of PA reprisals.

Abdel-Sattar Qassem, professor of political science at An-Najah University in Nablus and a prominent intellectual and commentator, lambasted Qaradawi's critics, saying, "Sheikh Qaradawi is loftier and more sublime than paying attention to these midgets. Qaradawi is a fluttering banner of the Islamic umma [nation]; he is a shining symbol for all Muslims. He is a great scholar, a polymath; he is always at the forefront defending Arab and Muslim causes in general and the Palestinian cause in particular."

"Qaradawi is a giant in his knowledge, a giant in his morality, a giant in his humanity. We may differ with him on this or that issue, but this should never make us question his status and stature as one of the greatest living scholars of the Muslim umma," wrote Qassem this week. He added: "A nation that doesn't show respect to its best sons is a nation ruled by ignoramuses who would sell out their countries for the lowest price."

Concluding the article, Qassem wrote: "I apologise to Sheikh Qaradawi for what these ignoramuses are saying."

It is not clear when this fresh acrimony will die down. What is clear is that as long as the Hamas-Fatah showdown continues, polarisation, not only in the Palestinian arena but also in the wider Arab arena, will persist.

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