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Religious fatwas used to explain poll participation

Four years ago Salafi leader Shaikh Adel Al Mouawda needed to explain the reasons for his Al Asala Society to contest the elections.

Gulf News

Manama: Four years ago Salafi leader Shaikh Adel Al Mouawda needed to explain the reasons for his Al Asala Society to contest the elections.

"Entering the parliament is not a religious act. But it becomes a must when there is a need to counter probable harm," he said.

Little did the agenda-setting shaikh know that he was creating a precedent that would be taken up this year by Shiite leaders to explain to their followers the reasons for their controversial decision to end their boycott of the polls and to fully endorse popular participation.

King Hamad's 2002 election call that ended three decades of blockade on popular participation in the decision-making process was hailed as a great breakthrough for Bahrain and for the Gulf region. Women were allowed to vote and run for the first time, more than seven decades after they cast ballots in municipal elections in Manama.

The public euphoria and the impressive fanfare which welcomed the king's call however contrasted with the scepticism displayed by religious leaders, from both sects.

Similar logic

Democracy Western style, a parliament that could enact laws and the active participation of women were elements that were against their interpretation of Islam and they would play no part in seeing them flourish in Bahrain.

But at the same time, abandoning the stage to 'miscreants' who would enact or pass laws incompatible with religious values would amount to a passive participation in propagating evil. So Al Mouawda, his supporters and other Sunni groups preferred to enter parliament.

Four years later, Shiite leader Shaikh Eisa Qasem and other prominent figures are using the same logic: We are not keen on participating, but by leaving the parliament to others, we will end up as the big losers as citizens and as Shiites.

While Shaikh Adel Al Mouawda in 2002 referred to Sunni religious authorities in Saudi Arabia to obtain the edict that allowed him and other Sunnis to vote and run in the elections, Shaikh Eisa Qasem found in Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani in Iraq the answer he was seeking. "Boycotting the elections would be a grave mistake," said the fatwa that the Shiite establishment quickly spread in Bahrain to convince eligible voters who were reluctant to go to the voting stations on November 25.

In the heat of the pro-elections drive, Shaikh Eisa Qasem admitted that his decision to run in the 1973 elections alongside other religious personalities in Bahrain was based on an edict from Najaf-based authorities Sayyed Mohammad Baqer Al Sadr and Shaikh Mohammad Ameen Zain Al Abidine.

The candid admission coupled with the participation calls by Al Sistani this year and Sunni religious leaders in 2002 highlight the increasing significance that religious statements from foreign-based scholars are playing in Bahrain's polls.

In fact, they have become so important that many parliament hopefuls did not have the slightest hesitation to invite religious figures to deliver lectures at their campaign tents.

Suddenly Bahrain has become a favourite destination for eminent scholars who delivered lectures that had nothing to do with the candidates' electoral platforms.

The candidates did not have to agree with the lecture content, but they needed to be seen smiling and chatting with the lecturers. Some call it 'religious hypocrisy', the candidates refer to see it as electoral mileage.

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