CAIRO: Egyptian Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi, a prominent Muslim scholar, warned against what he referred to as “the increasing presence of Shias among Sunni communities, arguing that it might eventually lead to clashes.
Al-Qaradawi, president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars, said in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm that he is starting to notice an increase in the number of Shias and is wary of their influence.
“The Shia Muslims have potential and are very cultured, unlike the Sunnis who lack the Shias’ abilities, Al-Qaradawi said, adding that the Sunnis are not well-informed about the Shia sect.
A Sunni Muslim himself, Al-Qaradawi was once one of the main advocates calling for unity between the two sects. However, he has concerns now that he sees the bigger picture, he explained.
“I only changed my stance when I began to fear what is bigger and more important than an [ideological] difference, which is a war, said Al-Qaradawi.
While Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, agrees with Al-Qaradawi that there is an increase in the Shia presence in countries like Iran, he believes that both sects should join forces and stand united against the West.
“What I really fear the most is the American plan that is supported by Israel to reshape the Middle East and get rid of the region’s main features, religions and ideologies, Habib told Daily News Egypt.
“It is very important that both sects come together. This responsibility lies with Muslim scholars, Muslim governments and NGOs who have to take serious and practical steps to build bridges between both ideologies and narrow the gap between them, Habib added.
He nonetheless believes that the Sunnis should resist any attempts by the Shia to dominate them.
Habib concluded that “the media is not the forum where these types of issues should be debated.
However, Al-Qaradawi’s opinions did not sit well with some media analysts.
Diaa Rashwan, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, described Al-Qaradawi’s stance as “exaggerated. He explained that his concerns are unfounded because “never has there been a country that changed its religious affiliation overnight.
“Even Prophet Mohamed did not spread Islam over a short period of time. So why is there a fear of a Shia invasion? Rashwan asked.
Rashwan rather blamed Israel for creating “civil and religious strife between the different Arab countries.
In an interview with The Associated Press (AP), Ibrahim Bayram, a political analyst with Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, found Al-Qaradawi’s statement “strange because he is considered a moderate cleric and he used to call for closer relations between Sunnis and Shias.
According to AP, a conflict erupted between Al-Qaradawi and Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of the most influential Arab Shias when Al-Qaradawi called Shias “heretics in an interview with the press. Fadlallah responded back to Al-Qaradawi in Kuwait’s Al-Rai Al-Amm newspaper accusing him of trying to incite “civil strife between Muslims.
Al-Qaradawi then replied with a statement to Al-Rai Al-Amm in Kuwait in which he said, “We Sunnis know that we are the only group that will survive. All other [Muslim] groups have been involved in heresy, reported AP.