Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood Leader Fights Proposed Law Banning Child Brides

Adbul-Majid al-Zindani

Associated Press is reporting that Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheik Adbul-Majid al-Zindani (aka Abd al-Majid al-Zindani) has vowed to gather a million signatures to protest a law banning child brides. According to the report:

Yemen’s most influential Islamic cleric vowed on Saturday to gather a “million” signatures to protest a draft law banning child brides, in an increasingly vocal showdown against the country’s weak government which needs the support of powerful religious leaders to hold onto power. The issue of child brides in Yemen has attracted broad international attention, most recently when a 13-year-old girl bled to death earlier this month after her 23-year-old husband allegedly tied her down and forced her to have sex with him. The cleric, Sheik Adbul-Majid al-Zindani, said a ban on child brides “threatens our culture and society and spreads immorality.” Al-Zindani is Yemen’s most powerful Islamic scholar and believed by the U.S. to be a spiritual mentor of Osama Bin Laden. Speaking at a conference at Iman University in the Yemeni capital San’a, al-Zindani called on the dozens of radical clerics and Islamic law students in the crowd to opposed the draft law. “You have to gather a million signatures … that supports the demands of clerics,” said al-Zindani. “If the issue calls on us to gather a million protesters, we’ll organize it,” al-Zindani said.Al-Zindani’s calls against the ban have become increasingly strident ahead of an expected vote by Yemeni lawmakers next month on raising the marriage age to 17. The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen, where a quarter of all females marry before they turn 15, according to a 2009 report by the country’s Ministry of Social Affairs. In the country’s deeply tribal society, families prefer young brides because they are seen as more obedient and are expected to have more children. It is also difficult for poor families in impoverished Yemen to ignore bride-prices of hundreds of dollars. A February 2009 law set the minimum age for marriage at 17, but it was repealed and sent back to parliament’s constitutional committee for review after pressure from some lawmakers and clerics, led by al-Zindani, who called it un-Islamic. In March, al-Zindani signed a religious decree that declared people who supported the ban on child brides to be apostates, a particularly severe charge in the deeply Muslim country. Pressure from al-Zindani and other religious leaders have made the government reluctant to tackle the issue because they rely on their support to stay in power. A parliamentary committee was expected to make a final decision on the legislation this month, but that has now been delayed until May. It is widely expected that the government will raise the marriage age to deflect international pressure, but will not enforce legislation. Impoverished Yemenis are widely expected to ignore the law.

A previous post reported on the role of the Islah Party, the local Muslim Brotherhood organization in Yemen, as part of what was described as a “cross-ideological inter-party coalition.” Zindani is one the most important leaders of Islah who has been the head of the the party’s Shura (advisory) council for at least three terms. The U.S. Treasury Department has designated Zindani as a terrorist and describes him as a “loyalist” and “spiritual advisor” to Osama Bin Laden. A 2007 Jamestown Foundation report further explains Zindani’s terrorist activities:

According to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department, al-Zindani’s involvement with al-Qaeda includes recruiting, purchasing weapons and acting as a spiritual leader for the movement, as well as acting as a contact for Kurdish Iraq’s Ansar al-Islam. The Yemen government has ignored appeals from Washington for the arrest of the sheikh and the seizure of his assets (Arab News, February 24, 2006). Al-Zindani was recently identified in a U.S. federal court as the coordinator of the October 2000 suicide attack in Aden harbor on the USS Cole. A two and a half year-old lawsuit filed in Virginia by the families of the 17 servicemen killed in the bombing has recently finished by finding the country of Sudan responsible for the attack, opening the way for compensation payments from the US$68 million in Sudanese assets frozen by the U.S. government. The suit also alleged that al-Zindani selected the two suicide bombers that carried out the strike, although the sheikh was never charged by Yemeni authorities with complicity in the attack (The Virginian-Pilot, March 12). Yemen’s minister of foreign affairs, Dr. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, welcomed the decision, ignoring the alleged role of al-Zindani, while declaring the verdict proof that Yemen was in no way involved in the attack on the U.S. destroyer.

Also, the Jeruslaem Post reported in April 2006 that Hamas leader Khaled Marshaal had met with Zindani at a fundraising event at the Hamas office in Yemen. The report stated that at the event, Zindani “praised Hamas suicide bombers and and called on his followers to donate money to assist the Palestinian people.”

In addition to his leadership of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, Zindani also has strong links to the global Muslim Brotherhood including serving on the board of global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi’s Union of Good Hamas fund-raising organization and his relationship to Muslim Brotherhood figure Zaghloul el-Naggar of Egypt. The connection with el-Naggar is based on both men’s position as leading exponents of the so-called “scientific basis of Islam.” As the Jamestown report explains:

Al-Zindani is also a leading exponent of the scientific basis for Islam, as outlined in various passages of the Quran that the sheikh interprets as descriptions of everything from black holes to photosynthesis. Last December, al-Zindani, a former pharmacist, claimed to have developed a cure for HIV/AIDS. Unlike other HIV/AIDS medicines, the sheikh’s discovery allegedly has no side effects while eliminating the disease in men, women and even fetuses. Al-Zindani asserts that he will reveal the herbal formula for “Eajaz-3” once a copyright has been obtained. Although the sheikh claims the inspiration of his creation “came from God,” no proof of the cure’s effectiveness has yet been presented (Yemen Observer, December 19, 2006). In the last few months, five Libyan children receiving treatment for HIV at al-Zindani’s al-Iman University have been deported in response to allegations of Libyan assistance to Shiite rebels in Yemen’s Sa’ada province (Yemen Observer, March 6; Terrorism Focus, February 20).

Although the Jamestown report says that Zindani “has lately made a slight retreat from the Islamist global arena”, his activities represent one of the challenges to the notion that there is some kind of “firewall” between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda/and or jihadist organizations.

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