The Radical Sunni Preacher Speaks with Saudi Voice

The Islamic Arab world is preoccupied with shaping its attitude towards three interconnected issues: the global financial crisis, a potential Sunni-Shiite war and the tricky situation in Lebanon.

The most vocal exponent of these dilemmas is the Egyptian-born television preacher Sheikh Yusuf AlQaradawi, 84, popular in the Sunni world as an inspirational religious authority and gifted rabble-rouser.

Sunday, Oct. 12, he urged Muslims to take advantage of worldwide financial agony to build an economic system “compatible with Islamic principles.”

In Qaradawi’s view, “the collapse of the capitalist system based on usury and paper and not on goods traded on the market is proof that it is in crisis and shows that Islamic economic philosophy is holding up.”

And no wonder. He goes on to mention that “… the Islamic nation has all or nearly all the oil and an economic philosophy that no one else has.” Qaradawi urged Muslims to “profit from the crisis to bring about the triumph of the (Islamic) nation…”

The preacher was not whistling in the wind. The heads of major Gulf investment funds in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Kuwait and Arab moguls had just refused to ride to the rescue of frantic Western governments, banks and financial institutions.

Bader al-Saad, director of the Kuwait Investment Authority, with assets of $250 billion, told bankers in New York last week that he had no interest in buying distressed financial companies. (New York Times Oct. 13)

The most they can expect from these funds are short-term loans which they can count on being paid back.


Down with the Shiites


A month earlier, on Sept. 6, Qaradawi tossed another match; this one fanned the smoldering flames of interdenominational Islamic hatred, especially in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon.

Banned from the US and Britain, the radical who voices support for suicide attacks against Israel as a “necessary jihad,” turned his ire against Shiites.

In a message circulated across Arab media and websites, he said:

“Shiites are Muslims but they are heretics and their danger comes from their attempts to invade Sunni society.” He added: “They are able to do that because their billions of dollars trained cadres of Shiites proselytizing in Sunni countries… We should protect Sunni society from the Shiite invasion.”

This did not go down too smoothly in Tehran.

Ayatollah Mohammed Taskhiri, vice president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, called the television preacher’s remarks dangerous and “a calculated conspiracy against Iranian Shiites.”

A leading Lebanese Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, accused Qaradawi of instigating fitna or civil strife.

The radical Sunni preacher was not put off. “I am trying to preempt the threat before it gets worse,” he said. “The presence of Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon is the best evidence of instability.”

Quite soon, his comments were enshrined in a fatwa issued by the prestigious scholars of Qaradawi’s alma mater, Al Azhar University in Cairo.

Continuing his anti-Shia campaign, the Islamist preacher said in an interview published by the London Saudi paper Sharq al Awsat on Sept. 29: “I know that 20 years ago not a single Shiite was in Egypt… but they have managed to infiltrate the country… It is the same story in Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and non-Arab countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Senegal.


A religious tool in Saudi struggle for Lebanon’s soul


It is generally held in Arab capitals, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Gulf sources, that Qaradawi was put up to his vicious anti-Shiite campaign by circles close to Saudi King Abdullah. They have enlisted the Sunni demagogue, it is said, as a religious tool in their struggle for the soul of Lebanon in the face of Washington’s approval of Syria’s military drive to recover its domination of Beirut (as outlined in a separate article in this issue).

The Saudis do not share the US belief in Damascus eventually deserting Hizballah and Tehran. They view President Bashar Assad‘s Allawite clan as close kin to Shiites and therefore alien to mainstream Islam.

They are sure that Tehran’s brooding silence over this development portends a storm.

To scupper Washington’s developing friendship with Damascus, the Saudis are pumping out weapons and cash to arm Sunni militias in northern and southern Lebanon, and setting them up as a barrier to repulse a possible Syrian invasion. They are working indirectly through the leader of Lebanon’s Sunni political bloc, the majority leader Saad Hariri, whose father and friend to the Saudi throne, Rafiq Hariri, was the victim of a suspected Syrian assassination plot in 2005.

See through Middle East eyes, the two rivals battling over Lebanon look quite different from the way they appear to Washington: Both are external forces which appear to be heading for a confrontation.

Furthermore, the Syrian military concentration is seen as acting not only on behalf of Damascus but also Tehran.

The Beirut government and Islamic militias of the northern Tripoli area, which Damascus swears to destroy, are in fact Saudi proxies.

One senior Gulf official remarked to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources: The financial crisis is not alone in pulling Saudi Arabia away from America; there is also the conflict over Lebanon.

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