Agencies |  January 2014

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s statements that the Shiite holy city of Karbala must be the Qibla – the direction to which Muslims pray – has stirred controversy among Islamic scholars.

“Karbala must be the Qibla of the Islamic world because Imam Hussein [the Prophet Mohammad’s second grandson, and an important figure in Shia Islam] is buried there,” Maliki said this week, Iraqi media reported on Friday.

Saudi religious scholars described his statements as incitement to strife and a call to divide Muslims.

“This issue is already agreed upon by all Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite. They all agree that the Qibla is the Ka’bah [the shrine in Mecca towards which Muslims pray],” said Nasser al-Honeini, professor of religion and general supervisor at the Center of Contemporary Thought in Saudi Arabia.

Honeini added that Maliki’s statements distort Islam because the faith does not say that Muslims should pray in the direction of tombs.

Khaled al-Mosleh, professo of jJurisprudence at the University Qassim in Saudi Arabia, described Maliki’s statements as “nonsense” and incompatible with Islamic sharia law.

“The fact that such statements were made by someone as important as the Iraqi prime minister is a catastrophe considering he’s an educated person. If he made such statements, what should we expect from uneducated men?” Mosleh told Al Arabiya News.

Maliki, a Shiite Muslim with close ties to Iran, is often accused of promoting a sectarian agenda in Iraq.