Umar bin Hafeed is one of the five leading scholars in Yemen, the ancestral home of Usama bin Ladin, helping a government drive to “re-educate” hardliners, mainly prisoners held for planning attacks on Western and Yemeni targets.
Hafeed, who teaches at the Dar al-Mustafa Centre for Islamic Research in the eastern Yemeni town of Tarim, said Islam had greatly suffered from acts such as the September 11 attacks.
“Islamic militancy has not only created a gap between the West and Islam, but has caused an even greater split within the Muslim community itself,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
“It has come to a point where Muslims are now afraid of each other,” he said.
Hafeed said the “re-education” campaign employed tapes and other media to persuade activists to abandon violence, as well as discussions about the interpretation of the Quran.
“They are violating scriptures. The Prophet opened his town and mosque to people of all religions. Even when he held power over other people, he tolerated them,” said Hafeed.
Hafeed said the gap between the West and Muslims could only be bridged through respect for each other’s differences.
“We need to work to spread the understanding of tolerance and respect for opinions,” he said.
“It has come to a point where Muslims are now afraid of each other”
Umar bin Hafeed
Al-Mustafa Centre has about 700 students in Tarim and other branches, including several from the US, Europe and South East Asia.
Yemen has been an active ground for Islamic activists sympathetic to bin Ladin, but the government has waged an aggressive campaign to root them out. While about 60 suspected activists are in jail, 20 others have been released after “re-education”, say government officials.
Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Committee have criticised the arrests, saying suspects were held on unclear charges or outside the legal framework.
Yemen accuses bin Ladin’s al-Qaida network of engineering the 2000 bombing of the US warship Cole and a French super tanker last year in Yemeni waters.