Founder of Bader Center, Dr. al-Mahatwari to Yemen Times:”Unity and harmony between Yemeni sects needed” [Archives:2003/655/Reportage]
Dr. al-Murtatha Zaid Al-Mahatwary is one of the most respectful religious scholars with a long history in religious preaching and one of the pioneers in bringing different sects closer together. He is one of Zaidia modern preachers, born in Haja suburb in a religious family where his father was known for his wisdom and knowledge and was often working as a mediator in conflicts and disputes.
Dr. Al-Muhatwary left his home town to Sana'a in an early age seeking knowledge and religious education. And he continued studying until he attained doctorate in religious science. With the establishment of Bader Center for Islamic Studies Dr. Al-Muhatwary crowned his achievements and created a leading center, where many distinctive scholars have studied. In this interview, we aimed at getting closer to know how he works and more thorough information about his center.
Q: Why did you start this center and what are the subjects being taught here? Please tell us about the current situation of Islamic studies in Yemen?
A: In the old days, religious studies were limited to religious duties and legislation only. Also pre-revolution students had to travel to Sana'a, Dhamar, Shihara or Zabid and live in hostels in order to study religion, but today there are schools and universities where all subjects are being taught but little about religion was involved.
That was when I thought that some one must do something to preserve the religious teachings, else scholars will become an instinct feature in this country's culture. It is true that there are several centers here and there that have names such as “Quran teaching centers”, etc but I realized that most of them were merely places for political influence and the like. So I decided that it was my responsibility to start a center that preserves the teachings and does real studies in religion and share'a and hence, I created this center where knowledge seekers learn and benefit.
I made sure that this center would be a charitable one for those who want to learn and can not afford it so as to produce real scholars to this country and the world. Because today there are many who claim to be so and are actually just certificate holders with no real knowledge. I hope that through this center, youths will be well-educated and yield the results aspired.
It is true that I belong to Zaidia sect but you will find that our preaching is not limited to this sect and our students are of various sects. Yet, we involve all sects in our studies in order to produce the best and most balanced education level. We do not exclude any students and we accept all regardless of their orientation. We belong to Imam Zaid in the Jihad (Holy War) aspect only; that is why we always fight cruelty and defend against evil. We believe in the freedom fighters in Palestine and we look with pride and envy to them wishing to be in their shoes.
Unfortunately however, as Yemenis, we seem to be satisfied with chewing Qat and drinking Pepsi while condemning the offense that befalls us day and night.
The real essence of Zaidia is argument and convincing through dialogue and knowledge. This is our theme at Bader Center, which we implement even with our students from other sects. We teach those students their own beliefs and when they are strong and knowledgeable, we start arguing with them as equal opponents. In our teachings we don't follow just one person after the prophet Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) but we weigh and study all sayings and select the most convincing and closest to the Quran and ensured Suna. Although Zaidia followers in Yemen may be third of the population or even less, while that of Shafie'ya are around 50%, yet we seem to be fought and combated wherever and in whatever form we take even from authorities because we believe that there should be no obedience to authority unless authority abides by religious constitution. I personally believe that unity and harmony between Yemeni sects is needed badly today.
Q: What about the dangers of having various sects and beliefs?
A: The existence of different sects should not be an obstacle or resemble danger as long as everyone believed knowledgably in their sect and has room for tolerance and dialogue, because after all, we all have a common religion and common goal. Those who limit ruling to descendants of a certain family are wrong. And those who believe in their own sect and defame everything else are also wrong. We are with the majority of scholars and we do not approve of rebelling against rule and state authority. If authorities are wrong we advise them and point out their mistakes and pray so as they would act correctly. It would be of no use to change one's color according to the environment because faith becomes inapplicable here?
This is the reason why so much corruption is in the country and so many youths go astray. They do not have the adequate teaching or the right education. I have advised the presidency about this. I suggested to him to build schools and institutes and teach the youth, but I was not taken seriously. I think that is why we are where we are today. People are fanatic about their sect regardless of everything and the youth are lost. I do not deal except with those who open up with me and make me understand them. Any person who acts based on something that is contradicts his own sect is a danger to Islam whoever he is. I believe in honesty and respect transparency in this regard.
The difference observed between us in different sects are small things that should not make us hate or fight each other. Does the way you wash your face in Wodo' (body cleaning before prayer) make you a non-Muslim? Is that a worth cause for dispute?
Q: So what do you think about the so-called 'Jihad' in the form of assassinations and bombings? What about jihad in Afghanistan and Chechnya?
A: The years following the prophet's death displayed an endless struggle and continuous conflicts between Muslim leaders. During the Mua'wia rule when Muslims have split up into many extreme sects, wars that took place because of fanaticism. Since then and until date, Muslims have become very confused and chaos dominated the scene. Those Muslims who opt for Jihad in Afghanistan decades ago to fight the USSR occupation for example went through legal means and it was the state that authorized their departure and facilitated their visas, and now these very people are called terrorists and are put in jail. If you asking me about the legitimacy of fighting in Afghanistan, you should rather ask the authorities why the sent Arab Afghans to fight the Russians back then!
Jihad in Afghanistan is legitimate, but I don't agree with those who bomb ships and kill foreigners claiming that this is jihad. I believe that these actions are acts of terrorism. That is quite common sense. However, one needs to ask about the roots of the problem and the reasons behind those attacks. Don't ask me if it is right to attack a ship full of advanced weaponry while refueling in our land. But you should ask why it came here in the first place.
After all, it is Yemen who is badly affected by all of this mess. Those attacks led to severe hikes in prices and devastated the economy and also damaged our reputation and image in the world.
The real problem is to define what terrorism actually is. Today the definition is that Mr. Ariel Sharon is a peace maker and the Palestinian child who defends his land with stones is a terrorist and the American lady who came from San Francisco to Palestine only to die under a tank's wheels remains a fool. Of course all this is according to the views of the strongest power in the world, the USA, which is also supposed to be the country of democracy and freedom. I don't intend by this to encourage acts of terrorism against the USA like the one that occurred on Sept 11. However, these terrorist acts are the fruits gained from the seeds the USA policy has planted long ago. Why weren't similar incidents that happened in the Soviet Union called terrorism? After all, every coming day American weapons are ruining some part of the world, while USSR weapons never came close. Why was the demolishing of the twin towers in New York City such a tragic incident that can never be forgiven?
Freedom fighters in Chechnya have all the right to defend themselves and to fight for their freedom, and if our sons could help liberate their land then they will be considered heroes. Why should Muslims, wherever they are, be always subjected to humiliation?
Q: Do you think that what Imams in Mosque do when praying to Allah to destroy America and Britain is useful? What about your views on the USA and UK policies?
A: You will never find in my cassettes, books or speeches anything of this nature. This is nonsense! What we always should do is pray that Allah makes it that truth would prevail over false and good over evil. I ask God to give victory to the rightful ones whoever and wherever they are. Rulers only think about themselves and the eastern and Middle Eastern powers are just like the West. They are allies with who is on their side. That is just like how Saddam suddenly became enemy number 1 after being a friendly ally in the past. What irritates me the most is how one could be so stupid and let himself be abused so badly. History repeats itself and it is quite obvious the American policy is after self interests only. In a time plots and plans are being arranged against us, we are arguing and killing each other for reasons as silly as the way we wash our faces before prayer, etc.
What is happening now in Iran is only a repetition of what happened in Iraq. Now that it has welcomed al-Baradie's visit to investigate nuclear facilities in the country, it will only yield the same old story of the development of WMDs. Meanwhile, Israel, which has plenty of those weapons, is totally ignored. Why? Ask the USA.
Yemen did have problems with neighboring countries such as Eritrea. But we respected their views and through negotiation and dialogue we settled matters. On the other hand, the USA, which is supposed to be the freest and most democratic country in the world, uses brutal force. We here in Yemen, like others in the Arab world, are already occupied even if it is not declared. And all I can do is pray that peace and liberty would one day come back to all of us.
Q: What about dealing with Israel especially after being visited by some Arab leaders?
A: I can not tell you much about visits of Arab leaders to Israel. But as for normalization of relations with Israel, it is a true fact of life and happening every day. As a Muslim, I object and condemn dealing with that country. We do not object to Judaism as a religion nor do we object to Jews as people. What we are against is the occupation of the Palestinian land and the cruelty committed against our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
Q: Coming back to the local scene, what do you think of the new Yemeni parliament, and the government?
A: The new parliament's structure is a tribal one and a simulation of the political parties and nothing of the real essence of a parliament which is a representation of the people. Success of the parliament depends on the family and clan not on the personal achievements of the individuals. As for the government, what I wish is that President Ali Abdullah Saleh would follow-up the implementation of his decisions and promises to the very end. Success is impossible if there is no accountability and if there is no credibility in words.
Q: Any other comments you wish to convey?
A: I wish to invite your readers to visit the Bader Center to see for themselves the way things are working here. We are hoping to achieve our noble goals and God willing, we will.
– Zaidia preaching is not limited to this sect but it calls on all sects and studies in order to produce the best
– Some one must do something to preserve the religious teachings, else scholars will become an instinct feature in this country's culture
– The youth do not have the adequate teaching or the right education and that is why they have gone astray
– Rulers only think about themselves and the Eastern and Middle Eastern powers are just like the West
– We do not object to Judaism as a religion nor do we object to Jews as people what we are against is the occupation of the Palestinian land and the cruelty committed against Palestinians
– I wish that President Saleh would follow-up the implementation of his decisions and promises to the very end.