Defying Shiite mainstream, Lebanese cleric reaches out to Jews
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Defying Shiite mainstream, Lebanese cleric reaches out to Jews

Anti-Iranian scholar Muhammad Ali Al-Husseini seems undaunted by Hezbollah in his philo-Semitic statements

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Lebanese cleric Sayyed Muhammad Ali al-Husseini (Facebook image)
Lebanese cleric Sayyed Muhammad Ali al-Husseini (Facebook image)

Israelis usually associate Shiite clerics in Lebanon with terror group Hezbollah, a powerful religious organization committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. But a Beirut-based cleric is surprising the public by spreading messages of peace and nonviolence in Hebrew on social media.

“We call on rabbis, priests and Muslim clerics — both Sunni and Shia — to underplay religious traditions and texts that call for violence, since they are more dangerous than nuclear weapons,” wrote Sayyed Muhammad Ali Husseini, secretary general of the Shiite group the Arabic Islamic Council, in Hebrew on his Facebook page Sunday.

Just days after Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah warned of a possible war with Israel following an attack by his organization that left two IDF soldiers dead on the border with Lebanon, Husseini said that religious texts must be historically contextualized rather than used to incite perpetual violence.

“Various religious texts calling for the use of violence and ruthlessness to achieve goals are extremely dangerous when used by groups we have warned against in the past,” he continued. “These texts religiously sanction acts of violence and murder. Obviously, these are texts that were implemented in specific, limited situations; they cannot necessarily be applied to our time, since every situation has its own unique circumstances.”

חכם הדת (אל-עַלַאמה) אל-חוסיני: אנו קוראים לרבנים ולכמרים ולקרדינלים ולחכמי הדת המוסלמים הסונים והשיעים להצניע את הפסוקי…

Posted by ‎السيّد محمّد عليّ الحسينيّ‎ on Sunday, 8 February 2015

This was not the first time that Husseini directly addressed an Israeli audience. On January 19, he posted a video on Facebook directed at “our cousins, the children of Isaac son of Abraham.”

“We believe that not all Jews are bad [just as] not all Muslims are terrorists. Let us cousins put our conflicts aside and stay away from evil and hatred. Let us unite in peace and love,” he said in broken Hebrew.

Following the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Muaz Kasasbeh last week by the Islamic State in Syria, Husseini wrote on Facebook, “We heard and saw yesterday how our brother in humanity was burned. Has the Holocaust returned once again?”

Breaking from the traditional Shiite loyalty to the Iranian leadership, Husseini has also spoken out publicly against what he dubbed the complete Iranian domination of Lebanon.

Hezbollah members stand near the coffins of four people, who were killed a day after two suicide bombings struck the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, during their funeral procession, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Bilal Hussein)
Hezbollah members stand near the coffins of four people, who were killed a day after two suicide bombings struck the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, during their funeral procession, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Bilal Hussein)

“It is not new for the Iranian regime to explicitly proclaim its security, economic, political and even religious control of Lebanon,” he told Emirates TV channel Al-Aan in May 2014. “We have warned of this and condemned it, and shall never accept it.”

Eddy Cohen, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University’s Communications Department who has helped Husseini translate his messages into Hebrew, told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday that he did not know how representative Husseini’s ideas are in Lebanon, but noted that the Shiite cleric seemed unconcerned about spreading his posts in Hebrew and boasted some 1,800 followers on Facebook.

“He is a moderate, and most Lebanese are sick of war and hostilities,” Cohen said.

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