Yemen directs imams to preach reconciliation

By Faisal Darem in Sanaa

Worshipers attend prayers at Al-Fath mosque in Sanaa during Ramadan. [Faisal Darem/Al-Shorfa]

Worshipers attend prayers at Al-Fath mosque in Sanaa during Ramadan. [Faisal Darem/Al-Shorfa]

Imams across Yemen have been directed to preach a message of reconciliation and tolerance this Ramadan and warn their congregations against the dangers of extremism, the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Guidance said.

In a letter of guidance issued June 5th, the ministry asked mosques throughout the country to promote national unity during the holy month and to raise awareness about the dangers of extremism and terrorism.

The ministry's instructions, designed to consolidate efforts to raise awareness, come at an important time, said ministry director general of preaching and guidance Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim.

The month holds a special place for Yemenis as a season for reconciliation and the renunciation of the extremist ideology that can lead to acts of terrorism, which is alien to the nature of Islam as a religion of peace, he told Al-Shorfa.

The ministry's instructions include a call for all mosques to adhere to a set time for the evening and dawn prayers in accordance with the Great Mosque in Sanaa to ensure a unified experience for all Yemen's Muslims.

They underscore "the importance of reconciliation and tolerance for the purpose of achieving security, stability and justice for all Yemenis", Ibrahim said, as well as urging people to assist internally displaced persons and those in need.

The guidance also calls for raising awareness regarding the dangers of terrorism and the importance of counter-terrorism measures, he said.

Extremist groups do not represent Islam

Ramadan is a season of repentance, returning to God and self-reflection, said Qais al-Tal, a preacher at al-Jalal Mosque in the Sanaa administrative district.

"The role of the preacher during Friday prayer sermons is to guide people and unify ranks and positions", he told Al-Shorfa.

Preachers can call people towards reconciliation and tolerance for the sake of the country’s stability, he added, as well as reinforcing national unity.

They can also call for the renunciation of extremist ideology, which can lead to violence that can be catastrophic for the country and its citizens, he said.

Extremist ideology has given rise to armed groups such as al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), he said.

"These groups and organisations do not represent Islam, and their crimes in the name of Islam represent them only and not the religion," al-Tal said.

Groups like this are alien to the culture of the Yemeni people, he stressed.

Mosque pulpits can promote national unity

The Friday prayers offer a critical platform that is capable of unifying Yemenis against extremism, especially in light of the ongoing war, political analyst Nayef Haidan told Al-Shorfa.

The ministry's directive is significant, he said, particularly in "calling on preachers to raise societal awareness about the dangers of terrorism and violence and prevention measures within the framework of the family and the mosque".

The religious and conservative nature of Yemeni society makes "worshipers more receptive to the mosque message", he added.

"The Yemeni people have suffered from terrorism and extremism as a result of terrorist operations that have hit civilians and worshipers in mosques across the country," Haidan said.

Among the worst of these was the wave of terror attacks in Sanaa that rocked the nation on the eve of Ramadan of last year, he said.

"For this reason, everyone, not only mosque preachers, has to do their part in fighting extremist ideology," he added.

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