Saudi issues fatwa defending prophet's wife

Saudi issues fatwa defending prophet's wife

The General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta, the official fatwa-issuing body of the government, attacked what it called "libellous, insulting and damning" statements against Aisha.

"Insulting the companions of the messenger of Allah, or impugning his family's honour via his wives, is committing a great crime, especially talking about (Aisha)," it said in a statement yesterday on the official SPA news agency.

The statement, which has the weight of an official fatwa, or authoritative religious opinion, appeared to be a reaction to the disparaging remarks against Aisha made in early September by exiled Kuwaiti Shiite activist Yasser al-Habeeb.

Habeeb made his remarks in a ceremony in his London office to mark Aisha's death, triggering new tensions between Kuwait's majority Sunni and minority Shiite communities that threatened to expand around the Gulf.

Aisha is held up as "The Mother of Believers" by Sunni Muslims. But many Shiites disdain her as having had a role in the events that split the two main Islamic communions.

After Habeeb's remarks Kuwait authorities banned protests to quell potential violence and then stripped him of his citizenship.

Habeeb has lived in in England since 2004 after fleeing Kuwait to escape a lengthy jail sentence for making abusive remarks about Islam's first two caliphs, who are rejected by Shiites.

Some critics linked Habeeb's incendiary comments on Aisha to predominantly Shiite Iran's alleged attempts to stir up conflict in the Gulf.

According to media reports, however, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself issued a fatwa on October 2 forbidding attacks on Aisha or other revered Sunni figures.

Inside Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite community comprises 10 per cent or more of the population, a Shiite community leader also quickly came out to condemn Habeeb's remarks.

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