By Jemal Oumar
A prominent Mauritanian religious scholar recently set off controversy by publicly denouncing “street revolutions” as “an absurd chaos”.
“Those who trigger the revolution on the street are Kharijites who have nothing to do with Islam,” Mauritanian Association of Ulemas Secretary-General Hamden Ould Tah said at a February 2nd conference in Nouakchott. “They are clearly labelled and described in Islamic law.”
“Rising up against the ruler is the approach of the Kharijites,” he repeated. “Proponents of those ideas have nothing to do with people of the Sunna and the community of Muslims. Some strive to cheat the public with such strange ideas.”
Ould Tah, in his seventies, opined that “security is above anything else” and protestors endanger public order.
“Obedience to the commander of the military coup, if it is a success, is obligatory, because he becomes the ruler then,” he said. “However, pro-regime scholars throughout history proved to be the most influential, and more beneficial to Islam and Muslims, than critics of the authority.”
Some believe that the controversial remarks came in response to an earlier fatwa issued by young scholar Mohamed Hassan Ould Daw, head of the Scholar Training Centre. Ould Daw on January 18th described victims of revolutions as “martyrs”.
“Determination and sound faith are among the most important conditions of sacrifice for freedom and attainment of goals,” he said a Nouakchott seminar. “Those who sit at home waiting for the tent of freedom to be set up so they could enjoy the shade are weak-willed and do not appreciate the value of freedom.”
Ould Daw described those who question the possibility of bringing about a change through revolutions as listless as they try to destabilise the domestic front by propagating biased notions, in an attempt to maintain the status quo.
“The reason behind scholars’ differing opinions on the revolutions demanding change can be traced to the adaptation of fatwas to the current reality,” Sheikh Ould Zein Ould Imam, professor of jurisprudence at the University of Nouakchott, told Magharebia.
“Ould Tah prohibited revolutions, based on ‘Fiqh al-Sultan’ by Mawardi, who describes revolts against the ruler in a specific historical period as unlawful. On the other hand, young scholar Ould Daw relied on adapting fatwas to the current circumstances,” he explained.
Ould Imam argued that “demanding freedom and democracy is a legitimate right of every citizen” but warned against “the use of violence, sabotage and murder”.
“Prohibition of rising up against an unjust ruler is something that everyone sees as incompatible with what should be preached in our present times,” said, political analyst and columnist Mohamed Ould Younes.
Analyst Sheikh Mohamed Ould Harmah commented, “A religious scholar has the right to express his opinions on issues of concern to citizens these days. However, we must distinguish between a fatwa and a scholar’s political and personal position regarding a certain issue at hand.”
“After all, a religious scholar is not infallible,” he added. “His views are based on his own interests and relationships. Those positions are not binding to us and we may disagree with him. We must also realise that the interpretations of Muslim scholars differ depending on how they view reality.”
Ould Harmah, however, called on religious scholars to “stay away from political rows” and to preserve their “religious holiness”.