Zaidi Scholar Al-Mahatwari to Yemen Times:”We must enlighten the nation and strengthen our unity.” [Archives:2009/1224/Reportage]

January 12 2009

As Israeli attacks continue in Gaza, killing almost 900 people and wounding over 3,000 in what the International Committee of the Red Cross has described as a “full-blown” humanitarian crisis, preachers in the Arab world react to this ongoing offensive in many ways. Dr. Al-Mortada Bin Zaid Al-Mahatwary, founder and chairman of the Badr Centre for Islamic Studies, professor of law at Sana'a University and the preacher of the Badr Mosque, speaks to Ola Al-Shami of the Yemen Times on the recent assault on the Gaza Strip.

What are your roles as preachers with regard to this situation?

We have to urge the public to respond actively in facing this tyrannical attack. Strictly speaking, the most dangerous issues we are facing are the calls for separation and division between the Sunni and Shiite parties. Anyone who propagates this, especially during this critical time, is – in my opinion- an agent for Israel. There is no way to negotiate with Israel as they massacre the men, women and children of Gaza.

By deviating Arab attention from the crimes in Palestine, the agents of America and Israel play their game dividing us and spread propaganda in the name of Islam. They now blame the people of Gaza for the crimes committed against them. May Allah save Islam from those rumors. Our role is to enlighten the nation and strengthen our unity so that Israel's lies cannot divide the Muslims.

What is the public supposed to do?

They should take to the streets in organized strikes, and they should be careful of Israel's propaganda and rumors and strongly oppose them. Also, they should urge their rulers to oppose the crimes committed in Gaza. It is because of the public's carelessness that Arab rulers make no effort. Israel wouldn't dare to perpetuate its crimes if it faced strong and united opposition from the Arab rulers.

What – in your opinion- is the best thing to be done during this crucial period?

Right now Arabs must believe that fighting is the best way to defend freedom and humanity. If we can't, we must support our brothers financially, with weapons, protests and with prayer. The media plays a vital role in spreading our protest and objections to what is happening in Palestine.

These protests are severely curtailed in some Arab countries. Why?

Although, we should insist on raising our voice, these strikes should also be logical. That is don't break the cars or attack the buildings to show your anger. It's the wrong way to express your anger.

Islamic resistance movement Hamas is categorized by many governments as a terrorist organization. Do you agree?

Israeli agents want to enjoy their vacations on the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hamas and Hezbollah are an annoyance in this matter. In this context, they are terrorists because they scare these agents and they scare Israel. Moreover, these confronting attacks make America angry, and if America is angry it is a big problem for most of its agents. To seek the truth, can a person who fights the occupation who took his land and made him homeless accused as a terrorist? On the contrary, this person should be honored for his natural reaction. It's illogical to call the movement that resists occupation and fights for freedom a terrorist one.

Can Arab-Israeli negotiations play an active role in this issue?

No. These negotiations are like child's play. They have been negotiating since the first Israeli attack on Palestine with no outcomes. What have the negotiation achieved? There has been no progress since the beginning.

You called for people to support the people of Gaza and collect donations for them. To what extent were the people responsive?

It was amazing, even children chose to give what was on their pocket to support their brothers in Gaza. We will try to hand over this money or this support to honest people to deliver it to our brothers and families in Gaza.

What is the relationship between the party struggles in Arab countries and the recent situation in Gaza in your opinion?

Activating quarrels and conflicts among Muslims in the Arab world is an Israeli project since historical times. We must therefore be careful, and we should not stimulate any struggles at this critical time. This is the time to be united to fight those who kill our children and women.

To whom would you address a final word?

I demand that Israeli agents in Arab countries be aware of that the Arab nation will be united again and sooner or later Arab civilization will come back. Also, I pray against those who sow the seeds of conflict among the Arabs.

Dr. Al-Mortada Bin Zaid Al-Mahatwary is a renowned Yemeni reformist of the Zaydi sect. From a family of religious and language scholars, Al-Mahatwary studied jurisprudence and Arabic in Sana'a. He later received a masters and a Ph.D. degree with distinction from Cairo University. For his Ph.D., he conducted research on the subject of slander and defamation in Islam.

Al-Mahatwary's opinions and calls for reform are regarded by many as unorthodox and quite controversial, bringing upon him the wrath of both the establishment and other rival Islamic groups.

After founding Al-Badr Center, he opened its doors to all students who wish to study and reside in it. He aspires to establish an institution capable of creating great scholars and interpreters of Islamic Sharia, who are able to move on with the times and not overlook the rapid scientific and social developments in our society and the world at large.

Al-Badr Center, established in 1988, includes a computer center, a library, a small farm and a mosque with a capacity of 15,000 people. The center also has a special interest in women's issues. It is funded by Al-Mahatwary and other philanthropists and Al-Mahatwary insists that the center does not receive any assistance from any foreign sources.

Al-Badr center adheres to the Zaydi sect yet teaches the Sharia interpretations of Imam Al-Shafi'i more than those of Imam Zayd, the founder of the Shiite Zaydi sect.

The word “Shiite” is used to describe those who declared their allegiance to the Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed's son-in-law and 7th century martyr, in his conflict with Mo'awiya, then contender to the Caliphate.

According to Al-Mahatwary, some Shiite ideas are extremist and must be rejected. But the Shiite Muslims in Iran and other countries, for example, represent an added credit to the Islamic nation.