Al Assir: A Muslim Brother or a Salafist?

The media insist on describing the Shaykh of Masjid Bilal Bin Rabah Ahmad Al-Assir as a Salafist. Al Assir looks like a Salafist with his long beard and closely trimmed moustache. But al Assir himself has refused to self- identify as a Salafist. His background is involvement with the Al Jamaa al Islamiyya of Lebanon- the Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood. He said he left the Jamaa because he wanted to work independently- which he did, keeping a low profile for a number of years. In a number of interviews he gave to the Lebanese and international media Al Assir denied affiliation with any group-Islamist or secular. His field of work was Da'awa- the call on the non observant Muslims to return to being practicing Muslims. It was the Syrian Revolution, Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and Hezbollah’s practices in Lebanon that turned him to speaking out on political issues- according to him.His perception that there is a lack of balance in Lebanon- that there is hegemony of Hezbollah on Lebanese political life [a theme also echoed by the clean-shaven cool and modern 14th of March Lebanese political grouping- including Samir Geagea the head of the Lebanese Forces party] and that all sects are suffering from this hegemony but none as much as the Sunni sect of Lebanon. He gave numerous examples to back his evaluation of Lebanese politics and devoted one whole sermon to explaining the causes of increase in Sunni-Shia tension and another whole sermon on the topic of how he sees the Sunni sect is being persecuted by the "Iran Party". A more accurate description of Al Assir is he is a Tablighi Jamaa- the group that focuses on the Daawa and much less on politics. His pragmatism, acceptance of the Lebanese confessional political system, respect for and acknowledgement of differences as an accepted fact, make him, intellectually at least, Muslim Brotherhood than anything else. The media’s fixation on his looks makes it very hard to undo this myth that he is a Salafist.

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