A Syrian cleric raises controversy after a video recording with Ismail Haniyeh

The prominent Syrian cleric, Sheikh Osama Al-Rifai, sparked controversy among Syrians, on Tuesday, after a video recording of his meeting with the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, spread in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The recording, which was published by users on social media, showed Sheikh Al-Rifai and a number of clerics, along with Ismail Haniyeh, and his granddaughter, Saja Wissam Haniyeh, giving a speech to the people of Gaza, on the occasion of completing the memorization of the entire Holy Quran.

Al-Rifai is counted among the Syrian opposition, since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, and he had been elected “General Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic” nearly a year ago.

The controversy, sparked by his meeting with Haniyeh, was linked to the positions taken by “Hamas” on the Syrian issue, in addition to the position of the head of its political bureau, who in a previous speech described Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the “Quds Force” in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as “the martyr of Jerusalem.”

Iran is considered one of the most prominent allies of the Assad regime and its head is Bashar, while Syrian opponents see Soleimani as one of the most prominent figures involved in the killing of Syrians, on a sectarian and sectarian basis.

Reuters news agency reported, in late June, that the “Hamas” movement decided to restore relations with the Syrian regime, ten years after its leadership moved away from Damascus, due to its opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s campaign against the Syrian uprising.

A source from within the movement (who asked not to be named), according to what was reported by the agency, said that the two sides held several “high-level” meetings to reach this decision.

There has been no official comment on the part of “Hamas” and the Syrian regime regarding the steps to “restore the relationship” so far.

For his part, the “Syrian Islamic Council”, headed by Al-Rifai, published a video statement in which he explained the reason for the meeting that brought the latter together with Haniyeh Istanbul, after it resulted in a state of wide controversy, through social networking sites.

The statement stated that “the meeting of scholars, led by Sheikh Osama Al-Rifai, with the leadership of the Hamas movement was for one purpose, which is to alert the movement with the aim of dissuading it from the decision to restore its relationship with the criminal regime.”

He added: “During the meeting, a clear message was conveyed from the scholars of the Islamic world in general and the Syrian Islamic Council in particular, that if the movement did not respond to the scholars’ request, the Syrian Islamic Council would issue a detailed statement on this dangerous decision. The same applies to all other scholars who are still waiting for an answer.”

The spokesman for the “Islamic Council”, Muti’ Al-Batin, explained that the meeting lasted for long hours, and focused on the danger of “Hamas” decision to restore the relationship with the regime, noting that “the leaked image took place on the sidelines of the meeting without prior arrangement at its conclusion before the departure of the scholars.” A reference from him to the session on Saja and Wissam Haniyeh.

Hamas has not taken a clear position on the revolution in Syria since 2011. Observers described the behavior of its leaders as “blundering”, especially Haniyeh, who carried the flag of the Syrian revolution in the beginning, while he tended to describe Qassem Soleimani recently as the “martyr of Jerusalem.”

The Syrian journalist, Majed Abdel Nour, wrote on Twitter: “Sheikh Osama Al-Rifai attends the graduation ceremony of the daughter of the leader of the Iranian Hamas militia. Despite all the recent hostile positions of the movement, Sheikh Osama was driven by his ideology to trample the dignity of the Syrians.”

The Syrian researcher, Ahmed Abazid, quoted sources from the “Islamic Council” as saying that “the picture of Sheikh Osama al-Rifai with the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, was after a meeting attended by sheikhs from the International Union of Muslim Scholars to denounce the news of the movement’s restoration of its relations with the Assad regime, and they stated that Haniyeh He promised to try to reconsider the decision.”

For his part, journalist Samer Al-Ani added: “The Mufti of Syria Osama Al-Rifai provoked the revolution’s audience after his appearance alongside the returnee to Bashar al-Assad’s bosom, Ismail Haniyeh, on the occasion of his granddaughter completing the memorization of the entire Holy Qur’an.”

Al-Ani considered: “This ill-considered behavior, the Mufti loses his religious importance as well as his social status.”

But the journalist, Muhammad Safiya, had a different opinion, as he indicated on Facebook that “Al-Rifai is subjected to a campaign of criticism and defamation due to his presence with a group of the nation’s scholars in this meeting with the granddaughter of Ismail Haniyeh, in the presence of her grandfather, on the occasion of her memorization of the Holy Qur’an.”

He added, “Sheikh al-Rifai does not need someone to defend him, for his honorable stances and his assertion of the truth in the hands of the unjust sultan are greater than all smear campaigns. I hope that the sheikh and the attending scholars will contribute to dissuading the movement from the decision to normalize with the regime.”

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