Freemasons are having a quiet yet noticeable impact on Islam in much of the Middle East, reports the French quarterly on the Arab and Muslim world, Cahiers de l’Orient.
The journal devoted its latest issue to Freemasonry in Muslim countries and in an interview with the French newsweekly L’Express (May 29), Antoine Sfeir, editor of the journal, reports that there are some indications of a renewal of Freemasonry in this region of the world, where it has often been suppressed and consequently tends to remain very secretive. While the Western roots of Freemasonry associated it with colonization, it was also a channel for indigenous people eager to modernize their countries and to obtain independence.
Today, Freemasonry has strong roots in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and in Israel. It used to be very influential in Iran, but it lost much ground following the Islamic Revolution. Freemasonry is nearly non existent in the Arabic Peninsula, except among expatriates staying there.
Freemasons in the Muslim world tend not to make their affiliation known, due to well-grounded fears. There are about 10,000 Freemasons in Israel, and figures for Turkey and Iran are reported to be similar. It is more difficult to get statistical estimates for other countries in the Middle East. For the past five years, there has been a renaissance in Lebanon and Syria.
In Syria, Freemasons are primarily found among the Alawi minority, which is in control of the country: consequently, a number of high-ranking people in the current regime are reported to be Freemasons, and the late President, Hafez al-Assad, was rumored to belong.
Sfeir claims that there has been an influence by Freemasons on some contemporary developments in the Middle East: for instance, their role has apparently been prominent in promoting family planning in Egypt, due to Masonic brotherhoods of medical doctors. There have also been cases of discrete dialogues between Freemasons belonging to mutually hostile countries, often meeting with each other in lodges abroad.
Finally, according to Sfeir’s assessment, attempts at developing a reformist interpretation of Islam come from intellectuals sometimes belonging to or influenced by Freemasonry.
(Cahiers de l’Orient, 60, rue des Cévennes, 75015 Paris, France; L’Express: http://www.l’express.fr)
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)