09/15/2021, 13.55
LEBANON
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Sheikh Sami Abil-Muna is the new Druze spiritual leader

by Fady Noun

The 64-yer-old from Chanay is married with four children. He will succeed Sheikh Naim Hassan when the latter’s mandate expires on 5 November. For many he is a man of openness, peace and dialogue, in the spirit of fraternity espoused by Pope Francis. Sources close to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt denounce attempts to "impose" someone close to Syria.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Sami Abil-Muna has been elected as the new Sheikh Akl of the Druze community. The 64-year-old, who hails from Chanay (Aley), will replace Sheikh Naim Hassan at the end of the latter's mandate on 5 November.

A man of openness, peace and dialogue, he represents “an opportunity for his community and for Lebanon”. The office he will occupy is an official institution representing the interests of the Druze community vis-à-vis the Lebanese state. 

Yesterday President Michel Aoun was among the first to congratulate the new spiritual leader of the Druze community.

Sami Abil-Muna was the only name proposed to the Druze Community Council when the deadline for submitting candidates for the office of Sheikh Akl expired on 10 September, the day of the election. He will take office at the end of the term of his predecessor, elected in 2005.

Proposed by Walid Jumblatt, Sheikh Abil-Muna’s election caused a stir within the Druze community. Various sources note that the names of other candidates had been mentioned among circles close to lawmaker Arslane and former minister Wahhab.

At the head of a delegation of Druze religious figures, the two men were received on Sunday, 4 September, by Syrian President Bashir al-Assad in Damascus in order to tip the balance in favour of a pro-Syrian candidate.

“Politically and religiously, they wanted to impose on us someone close to Syria," said a source close to Walid Jumblatt who requested anonymity. “We decided to stop being blackmailed, and Sheikh Sami Abil-Muna’s candidacy found its way to the secretariat of the Community Council, while the other proposed candidates were not really up to the job, and could not get the number of votes required to be chosen.”

Candidates

Nizar Baradhi, secretary general of the Community Council, noted that Sheikh Sami Abil-Muna did not run for this position, but that his name was put forward by a 10-member committee of the Community Council, which included four ulema or sheikhs.

It is known that at the time of Sheikh Naim Hassan’s election, the faction close to Mr. Arslane and Mr. Wahhab had decided to name a rival, Nasreddine Gharib. The latter is still in office as the second Sheikh Akl, so to speak, but he does not enjoy any of the official prerogatives that come with the office: signatures, residence at Druze House, precedence at official ceremonies, etc.

Notwithstanding concerns about a repeat of the 2005 election, an authorised source close to the Community Council noted that the existence of two Akl sheikhs is contrary to the new law regulating the activities of the council itself and renders obsolete an ancient tradition under which the office of Sheikh Akl alternates between the Yazbaki and Jumblatti clans.

A man of peace and dialogue

Married, father of four, including a boy who died prematurely of cancer, Sheikh Sami Abil-Muna is the secretary general of the al-Ourfan Foundation, which has the largest network of Druze schools and social services. 

He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the Lebanese University (1980), and a PhD from the Faculty of Religious Sciences at Saint Joseph University with a thesis on "The Druze Vision of Islamic-Christian Dialogue in Lebanon" (2015).

He is present on all education-related platforms, and is regularly invited to international conferences centred on interfaith dialogue.

A poet, he is appreciated as a speaker and regularly invited to speak at conferences organised by the Druze community abroad.

"He is the international face of the community," said Fr Fadi Daou, founder of Adyan, an NGO working on the concepts of "inclusive citizenship and diversity" and "spiritual solidarity". 

"He is a brother to me," added the clergyman, "in the spirit of the fraternity which Pope Francis espouses in his encyclical, whereby we are all responsible for one other.

“He is also a man of peace, who does and will do everything to boost reconciliation on the Mountain, truly and genuinely committed to living together, while at the same time proud of belonging to his community. His election is an opportunity for his community and for Lebanon.”

Under the statutes of the Community Council, the office of Sheikh Akl entails either a 15-year term (renewable, health permitting) or one with an age limit of 75.

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