The upcoming visit of Egyptian Wahhabi preacher Mohamed Hassan to Tunisia has triggered debate and met with opposition from Sunni religious associations who aim to prevent the growing influence of Wahhabism in the country.
Hassan is expected to arrive tomorrow and was invited to the country by other religious associations, including the Reform and Preaching group, headed by Habib Ellouz, a member of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) affiliated with the Ennahdha ruling party.
The visit prompted 30 Sunni associations to form a front and launch a national campaign to protect Tunisia from Wahhabism.
“Tunisia is a country that is open to all beliefs,” Ellouz told radio Shems FM. “To invite thinkers and religious figures from Egypt is an honor to Tunisia. In addition, Mohamed Hassan does not have fatwas that contradict the Tunisian culture. He is a thinker who is open minded and he also calls for tolerance.”
He added that “this training session will not promote Wahhabi thought. It is the media that is promoting such ideas.”
Hassan will deliver speeches in different parts of Tunisia and will also give Friday sermons in Tunisian mosques. He is considered a controversial figure and is known for opposing the Egyptian revolution and for advocating female circumcision.
Farid Elbeji, president of the association Dar Al-Hadith Al-Zaytuna, expressed his disapproval of such visits in an interview with Shems FM and said they will promote Wahhabi thought in a country with a long Sunni tradition.
“We are not against the person but we are against Wahhabism,” he explained. “Wahhabism is known for being extremist, exclusionary and violent.”
A week ago, the Open Islamic Academy, known for being a Wahhabi organization sponsored by Saudi Arabia, announced it will hold a training session at Al-Zaytuna, which is known for being a Sunni institution, Elbeji said. Preachers at Al-Zaytuna and several Sunni organizations expressed their disapproval of the event.
“We launched a national campaign against Wahhabism and we will only opt for peaceful methods since we believe in the importance of peace and unity to this country during this period,” he added. “Yet we will keep a watchful eye over what they are presenting during this training.”
Mohamed Khlil, head of the Union of Sufi Orders, one of the associations aiming to protect Tunisia from Wahhabism, told Shems FM that the country is open to different opinions, but there are limits that must be respected.
“We cannot possibly accept any threats to our beliefs,” he said. “This preacher has a creed that rejects any different opinions. The Wahhabi thought rejects those who hold a different faith and we also have the right to reject those who are against our moderate Sunni beliefs.”