Sheikh Hasan Alsaffar, a well-known Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, confirmed that AlAraifi's statements over the Shiite sect and Sayyed Ali AlSistani are extreme and abusive. He called upon enacting a law that criminalize incitement to hatred and abusing others.
In his exclusive interview with AlArabia.Net, he said that the Sunni-Shiite dispute over religious issues will continue and Shiites are not responsible of ending it. He, also, discussed other several topics such as AlBaqie events and the intervention of King Abdullah Al Saud and other sectarian issues in Saudi Arabia.
- Throughout the Islamic history, there were many ideological and sectarian conflicts which negatively influenced social peace. How do you read that in the light of the recent circumstances?
With no doubt, political factors; whether internal or external, are the main causes that raises and promotes sectarian disputes. In the light of such serious circumstances which the Arab World is going through, the Arab political system should realize that internal disputes endanger the unity. What had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as what happens in Sudan, Yemen and Somalia should draw the attentions of governments to the dangers of ignoring internal disputes.
- The Sunni-Shiite dispute is still the major obstacle on the way for unity of Muslims nations. In the beginning of this century, Sunni and Shiite reformers of scholars worked on this issue, and attempts for rapprochement between Islamic sects had appeared. What do you think about that while others believe that the Iranian Shiite dominance hinders the progress?
The Sunni-Shiite dispute over religious issues will continue, and Shiites are not responsible of ending it. Religious diversity is a fact in the society, but Muslims should not go beyond doctrinal differences. That can be achieved through a system that supports citizenship, and organizes the relationship between all citizens, without discrimination, on the basis of respecting the law and the system. This approach is applied in other states where people of different religions and sects live peacefully together.
- How do you analyze the current religious discourse? Is it true that the approach used lately by Sheikh Mohammad AlAraifi in his speech causes disunity?
The distasteful words that were uttered by Sheikh AlAraifi in his speech against the Shiite religious leadership like the accusation of blasphemy and immorality are among the extreme speeches that abuse Saudi Shiite citizens. Such accusations seem not going to end although there is an article in the Saudi Basic Law that prevents everything leads to sedition, division and disunity.
In December 31st, 2009, a writer in Okaz Newspaper published an article, in which he insulted the Archbishop of Maronites, Boulos Matar, but he did not reach the level of AlAraifi's insults against AlSistani. However, the newspaper offered its apology immediately in the next day, and the Saudi ambassador in Beirut called the Bishop and transmitted the greeting and apology of the Saudi Minister of Information. This is how others' feelings are being taken into account while the feelings of Shiite citizens are disrespected.
About a year ago, Sheikh Abdullah AlSa'ad, one of the Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia, released a fatwa in which he prohibits selling real estates to Shiite citizens in all regions of Saudi Arabia. This fatwa was published in websites and distributed in some mosques. Moreover, Sheikh AbdulRahman bin Abdullah AlSuhaim, a member in Riyadh Center for Da'wah and Guidance, does not permit visiting Shiite neighbors and prevents replying to their greetings. It was, also, published in the media that Sheikh Adel AlKalbani, one of the Imams of Makkah's Holy Mosque, described Shiite clerics and religious leaders as infidels.
- How can we reach a better relationship between Sunnis and Shiites with the participation of the government and senior religious leaders of both sects?
To achieve a better relationship between Sunni and Shiites, I believe that it is really important to establish equality and respect for human rights in order to avoid the feeling of superiority by a group and deprivation and injustice by another. It is, also, highly significant to criminalize incitement to hatred and abuse by any party to another, and to promote communications and dialogue.
- In the light of AlAraifi's last sermon, how do you see the position of human rights organizations in Saudi Arabia in regard of using and adapting other approaches of religious discourse?
There are two human rights organizations in Saudi Arabia; however, they are very cautious from getting involved in sectarian issues. Saudi Shiites communicated with these two organizations hoping that they would be the right establishments for handling this issue. To be fair, we marked some efforts and attempts in the beginning, but, by the time, their concern in this field retreated, and they have not handled any essential problems till now like establishing a cemetery for burying Shiite citizens in Dammam or a prayer place for Shiites in Khobar.
- About four or five years ago, in one of your previous articles, you said that the Salafi trend is the most active and influential trend in the Sunni sect. This trend is known for its extremity and refusal to others' opinions; therefore, it rejected the call for rapprochement between Sunnis and Shiites. Currently, are there any distinctive changes?
Among the Salafi trend, there are some figures who understand the necessity of dialogue and communications with Shiites, and speak about achieving coexistence. They are so careful in professing their opinions or in making initiatives for activating dialogue. Those figures express their resentment to the radical accusations and statements against Shiites only to Shiites, and conceal their views in front of those extremists because they do not want to bear the consequences of objecting such statements.
- Sunnis are upset of Shiites' insults to the three Caliphs; you admitted before that such insults do exist in books and heritage of Shiites. Are the insults against the three caliphs is still ongoing till now? And how do you justify that?
The efforts of Shiite reforms in the field of combating extremity in the Shiite community are so clear; especially by the prominent Shiite religious leaderships like Imam Khomeini, Sayyed Khamen'ei in Iran, Sayyed Ali AlSistani in Iraq and Sayyed Fadhl Allah in Lebanon. However, sectarian discrimination as well as the issuance of fatwas; religious verdicts that insult Shiites and describe them as infidels, make the mission of reformers among their community more difficult and complicated.
- Coexistence between sects; particularly between Sunnis and Shiites, in Qatif region impresses some observers inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Can you share us your own view?
Most of Qatif region population belongs to the Shiite sect, but there are, in Qatif, some Sunni tribes who live peacefully with Shiites because there were not any radical trends from both sects in the region. However, the current situation really worries me; there are many satellite channels that promote sectarianism and extremism in the region. Therefore, we have to hold the responsibility of protecting the new generation from adapting sectarian extremism, and continuing the state of coexistence, communications and cooperation between the citizens.
- (Nation first and sect second); you are known for being able of understanding the distinctions between loyalty to religion and loyalty to the nation. How can this be applied, and does your call for giving the precedence for the nation match with your call for releasing the detainees of Madinah events?
I do not mark any contradiction between loyalty to religion and loyalty to the nation because religion reinforces patriotism and loyalty. Nation is the shelter for all of its citizens where they find their dignity and sense their presence; nation is not specified for a religion, a sect or a tribe. Working on eliminating sectarian disputes is an approach for serving the nation and protecting its interests, and this was my goal behind working on handling the problem of AlBaqie events in Madinah last year. King Abdullah Al Saud, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, ordered of releasing all detainees of both parties in order to avoid the escalation of this problem and, then, it would be used against the interest of the nation.
- From your point of view, what did national dialogue offer to Sunnis and Shiites in Saudi Arabia?
In the beginning, national dialogue was very effective in promoting national unity and avoiding sedition and division between different sects and trends in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, national dialogue was diverted to discuss common issues like employment and health care services which are significant too, but they are not in the field of solving sectarian issues. The aim of national dialogue is to deal with the obstacles that hinder national unity and solidarity.
Moreover, the National Dialogue Center plays an important role in spreading the culture of dialogue. However, it still has not yet fully prepared citizens to accept ideological and doctrinal diversity and train them to cooperate in common projects disregarding their different sectarian affiliations. The culture of dialogue language that is used by the Center in its publications is still the language of one sect culture; the publications did not include any texts of other sects' sources books.
- Do you still support and believe that all Shiites are ready to sign an Islamic code of ethics through which they abandon all sectarian conflicts, and do you think that Shiites' openness to the culture of Sunnis more than the reverse?
Although Shiites suffer from many abuses, and despite all of their reactions to such abuses, I believe that most of Shiites would accept any serious call for rapprochement and communications. I, also, noticed that many Shiite religious leaders and intellectuals are ready to interact with any code that prevents sectarian conflicts and protect national unity.
In regard to openness, a group of Qatif's people invited some Sunni public figures; both men and women, from different Saudi regions to participate in Ashura programs in Qatif. This invitation was the third in a row during the last three years, and the Shiite community met them with all respect and hospitality. Last year, Dr. AbdulRahman AlMuhrij, a Sunni cleric, made a speech in a Shiite gathering place, and the attendance interacted with him. That shows the viability of the Shiite community to respond to any positive step or initiative.