One of the Tunisia’s leading parties has called for the power of the country’s Grand Mufti to be curtailed after his latest pronouncement, calling on citizens to refrain from protest and strike, appeared to stray from the religious and into the political sphere.
The left-leaning, Courante Democrate-Attayer (Democratic Movement) issued a statement on their Facebook page yesterday slamming the Mufti, Othman Battikh’s call for an end to public demonstrations and strikes, issued on Tuesday (27th September) in order to “save” Tunisia’s struggling economy.
In the statement, the party called for the clear separation of state and religion and for preventing the Mufti having political influence, or even playing an advisory role in the formation of government policy. They also criticized the Mufti for his previous service under the rule of former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, referencing the Mufti’s call of 2011 when he asked muslims not to pray for Mohamed Bouazizi after the Sidi Bouzid fruit seller set himself on fire.
Speaking to Tunisia Live, Member of the Political Office of Courante Democrate-Attayer, Ridha Zaghmi said that the main thrust of the complaint was “against the institution, not the person”, but it has been noted that the current Mufti, Othman Battikh is a staunch patriot and had previously served under Ben Ali. “He has discredited the institution, (of his office) with his statements,” Zaghmi said, “we are in a civil state not a religious one, so we should separate religious from political institutions.”
The current Mufti previously served as Minister for Religious Affairs before taking office in 2008, acting as Grand Mufti during the last three years of Ben Ali’s rule. The role of Grand Mufti is the most senior religious position within Tunisia and typically covers such areas as deciding upon the dates of Ramandan and Eid, and issiuing fatwas, (religious rulings) on what is, and what isn’t permissible within Tunisian Islam.
Zaghmi commented that “When (the Mufti is) saying something that is haram, (forbidden) whether is a social or political matter, this could discredit the institution of the Fatwa and create a dangerous situation with serious consequences. This could further nourish the political tensions that already exist.”
Zaghmi said, “This institution (the office of the Mufti) should not interfere in political disputes or fights.” He also voiced concern for the integrity of the constitution, fearing that the influence of the Mufti could lend power to those who seek to undermine it.