Lebanon: Guarding the Faith
By: Mshari Al-Zaydi -Asharq Al-Awsat
It seems that no language can surpass the language of sectarianism and that
no zeal matches that of fanaticism. This will remain to be the case until fate
In Lebanon, just when the war between Israel and Hezbollah started to subside (I cannot say ended) another type of war broke out: one that required identifying the warring camps as either good or evil. Matters have escalated to the point of sanctifying the acts of Hezbollah and exalting general politics to divinely inspired revelation. It became Hezbollah’s sacred mission, which had an advantage over any other political party. Yes, it was Hezbollah alone and everyone had to acknowledge its unique position and divine grace: Hezbollah!
The Shia fundamentalist party dragged the Lebanese Shia community in its wake for long and elaborate reasons, including bearing the financial responsibility, taking charge and caring for the sect, and determining its political direction – one that garishly and unmistakably points towards fundamentalism. Gone was the identity of Amal, which too had suffered from the terminal illness and disease that afflicts all chaotic militias – as Fadi Tawfiq states in his compelling book entitled God’s Narrow Land.
The party continued to dominate, tinting the whole Shia sect in its own hue, and like moths to a flame, they surrendered to the fires of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. These facts are not new and have been addressed on various other occasions, however, the question remains: Can we assume that the whole Shia sect is in line with Hezbollah? Does it all emerge from the same mould? Does it follow with conviction the party’s latest dream of the “Islamic Revolution’, a phrase that has adorned the Hezbollah flags of late?
The truth is that Lebanon’s Shia are a fundamental component of this country where the intellectual religious line blurs with the nationalistic one. Perhaps one of the most prominent religious and intellectual beacons in the history of Lebanon’s Shia is embodied in prominent thinkers such as Sayyed Muhsin Al Amin (who died in 1952). He was an author, reference and authority, as well as a renowned encyclopedic scholar. He was the rising sun of the Al Amin family who lived through historical times when modern Lebanon was being shaped and was crystallizing. This period witnessed the hardships of independence and clashes resulting from the French and English occupations. Al Amin was a decisive force in rejecting discrimination between the Shia and any other faction in Lebanon, extending to include the people of the Levant and encompassing the Orient. He believed the Shia to be an integral part of Lebanon and other countries in the region. This stance was reiterated and expressed decades later by a descendant and scholar of the Al Amin family, Sayyed Ali Al Amin, Mufti of the Jabal Amel and Tyre regions. He has currently come under ferocious attack by Hezbollah followers for his refusal to embark on the party’s latest adventure, his rejection to considering the party victorious and furthermore, for rejecting the hijacking of the Lebanese Shia and their captivity to the party’s policies.
Recalling and reviving the words of the scholar Muhsin Al Amin from long ago, Sayyed Ali Al Amin told Asharq Al Awsat newspaper last Tuesday (19th September 2006) “We are a part of the family in the Shia community, which is part of the Lebanese nation.”
On 17 September 2006, Sayyed Mohammed Hassan Al Amin, thinker and a religious scholar, spoke sadly to Asharq Al Awsat about the volatility of sectarian tensions, fearing for the solidarity of Lebanon and criticizing those who remain in complete isolation within their own party’s ideology. In response to a question about his expectations of Hezbollah’s next political steps, especially in light of its recent ‘victory’, he said: ‘Personally, I’m not satisfied with the manifestation of this group of Shia that has recently emerged and continues to grow, strength upon strength.” He made a vital point when he spoke about the overgrowth in the Shia community saying that it is a reflection of the crisis that afflicts the ‘project’ of the state of Lebanon. He elaborated: “I am convinced that Hezbollah’s presence is not a natural outcome. It is negatively consistent with the absence of a state and institutions, in addition to the growing isolation of sects.” He added, “Unfortunately, sectarian systems in Lebanon have assumed that the equality in relationships between sects and the balance of power is what constitutes political unanimity.”
These words of wisdom and warning voiced from the house of Al Amin, a historic house on Jabal Amel laden with the heritage of Lebanon’s Shia, have not been welcomed by the new face of Hezbollah as they were deemed blasphemous and discordant with the Shia consensus, whilst Hezbollah was the very party for which Sayyed Ali and Sayyed Mohammed Al Amin had called to be fully integrated into the Lebanese state, equally and without any differentiation. It is a project that Ali Al Amin considers to belong to the Imam Musa al Sadr himself, the Shia leader of 20th-century in Lebanon.
It was only natural, given the climate, that a statement was issued to the scholars of Al Amin, disowning Sayyed Mohammed and Sayyed Ali Al Amin. But the strange thing, as Mohamed Hassan Al Amin emphasized, is that the statement came from an anonymous party. A renowned figure in the family, he inquired as to the source of the statement but no one was identified, which led the Al Amin family to disregard this odd and mysterious allegation.
However, one wonders: What is the reason behind the refutation of this claim? What had the two Al Amin scholars denounced? They had acknowledged the fact that the community had been marginalized during a certain period of Lebanese history and that they are against Israel (naturally!). All that mattered was that they were against Hezbollah, but is criticizing the party congruent with rejecting the Shia doctrine, or even considered an act equal to denouncing Islam or one’s own country?
The significance of the voices of the Al Amin scholars is that they cannot be refuted, questioned, or marginalized, since the two figures have a distinguished academic and spiritual reputation. When they speak the language of sects, clans and families, they speak from a positive legacy for Lebanon’s Shia, which is their family legacy in addition to Muhsin Al Amin’s acclaim: he documented high-profile Shia members in encyclopedias, is the main symbol of Jabal Amel and of spiritual and academic guidance to Lebanon’s Shia.
They also rely upon the legacy of Sayyed Mohsen Sanad, who called for the unity of the state. Sayyed Mohsen refused to approve the sectarianism law that was issued by the French colonialists, after also being rejected by Sunni scholars of the Levant who considered the Muslim Shia a minority. He sent a message to the French delegate saying, “As the spiritual leader of the Shia Islamic sect in Syria and Lebanon, I wish to inform your Excellency that the Muslim Shia reject this resolution and this artificial segregation between Muslims.” The incident was stated in his rich biography, written by other notable Shia writers, and was later printed by the Dar Riyadh Al Rees in 2000. He also mentions in his book that he refused to be the first leader of Lebanon’s Shia scholars, after which he nominated Sayyed Muhsin Al Amin to be appointed chairman of the Shia in Lebanon and Syria, refusing to assume the post despite numerous requests from Shia scholars. In his biography, he states that most people of weak character would yearn for this title and post. (He later founded the Supreme Shia Islamic Council in Lebanon).
Speaking about Sayyed Mohsen Sanad on the 50th anniversary of his death, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said that Sayyed Mohsen was once visited by a Sunni Muslim who wanted to become Shia. Sayyed Mohsen Sanad told him, “There is no difference between Sunnis and Shia. We are all Muslims.” But the Sunni insisted, so Sayyed Al Amin asked him to utter the two testaments and when the man did, Sayyed Mohsen told him that he had now become Shia because it did not entail more than that. He would always affirm that Islamic unity must be based on the foundations of Islam, the subjective scientific dialogue that is based on Muslim mutual understanding of one another and away from misconceptions and fallacies.
This nationalistic reformist legacy, issued from a religious standpoint is what should be preserved. It is a legacy that should not be entrusted to just one guardian but assigned to many guardians. Will anyone listen or respond?