Prince Faisal bin Farhan to UN: A culture of peace, justice and the rule of law at the heart of fighting terrorism


Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called on all member states to implement the UN goals stated in the Counter Terrorism strategy. (SPA)

  • Saudi Arabia has managed to “drastically degrade and defeat these terrorists,” FM told UN on Monday
  • UN chief said member states bear “the ultimate responsibility” to prevent technologies from falling into terrorists’ hands

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia condemns terrorism in all its forms, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told the UN on Monday.

At the second UN High Level Conference of Heads of Counter Terrorism Agencies of Member States, Bin Farhan called on all member states and international and regional organizations to come together and implement the UN Global Counter-Terrorism strategy in the face of this “persistent challenge to international peace and security.”

The UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT), of which Saudi Arabia is a founding nation, is celebrating its tenth anniversary and Bin Farhan told participants that the center remains a vital and supportive partner of the UN system in combating terrorism.

Saudi Arabia pays particular attention to the financing of terrorism, Bin Farhan said. For that, the Kingdom has ratified a number of bilateral, regional and international agreements and stepped up international legal cooperation in criminal matters related to terrorism and its financing.

This year’s conference theme, “Countering and Preventing Terrorism in the Age of Transformative Technologies,” highlights the fact that the threat of terrorism has evolved with technology, but also, as US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield put it, provides the opportunity to harness technology to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism from taking root in communities.

“Terrorists (have) adapted,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “They use communication technology to enhance their networks, recruit and inspire supporters, disseminate propaganda, and challenge our ability to prevent acts of terrorism. (Increasingly) they’re using advanced technology to actually perpetrate criminal acts.”

The American envoy called for a new strategy that keeps up with the evolving landscape of terrorism.

Bin Farhan said that his country’s counter-terrorism approach goes beyond conventional measures to include countering terrorist cybercrime through “legal and technological” means.

“The National Cybersecurity Authority and the Intellectual Warfare Center are examples of national institutions established to address the root causes of extremism and terrorism, as well as the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which counters extremist ideologies using new and innovative methods including by analyzing extremist narratives,” he said.

The Saudi foreign minister also highlighted the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in April 2021 between the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology and the UNCCT which “shows the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting the international community’s effort in fighting the scourge of terrorism.

“Under the MoU the two centers will launch joint projects focused on capacity building, countering the use of internet for terrorist purposes, raising awareness among youth, promoting tolerance and supporting the victims of terrorism,” he said.

Bin Farhan also underscored his country’s attachment to the promotion of a culture of peace and dialogue. A case in point is the recent signing of an MoU between King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural dialogue and the UN Alliance for Civilization.

Bin Farhan told the participants, which included the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, that although the Kingdom has suffered from terrorist attacks, it has managed to “drastically degrade and defeat these terrorists.

“We have taken numerous counter measures at the national, regional and international levels and upheld international law and relevant resolutions on prohibiting actions such as committing, financing, inciting and participating in terrorist acts.

“We have also complied with all resolutions and decisions of international counter terrorism agencies.”

He called on member states to couple their access to counter-terrorism instruments with a “genuine desire to combat and eliminate this phenomenon,” and to devote more effort to the first pillar of the strategy: “Most importantly to education, development, justice and the rule of law, given their contributions to eliminating the root causes of the problem.”

He also stressed that a distinction must be made between terrorism on one hand and the right of people to self-determination, sovereignty and resisting foreign occupation on the other.

“Condemning terrorism must go as far as condemning terrorism committed by states,” he said.

Thomas-Greenfield warned that as the world’s counter-terrorism approach evolves, “we cannot waver on human rights and free expression. Because ultimately, our steadfast commitment to those rights and freedoms are our most powerful counter-terrorism tool of all.”

Guterres said that some progress has been made in the fight against terrorism but such progress has been “slow and not comprehensive.

“Years of increasing polarization, governance failures, and a normalization of hate speech have benefitted terrorist groups,” Guterres said.

“The threat stemming from white supremacist, neo-Nazi and other ethnically or racially-motivated movements is increasingly transnational. 

“It is also clear that terrorist groups will exploit hardships and inequalities related to the coronavirus disease pandemic.”

Guterres urged the international community to establish and strengthen “strong, just, and accountable institutions” as a pre-requisite to deny terrorists the space to operate, bring them to justice, and provide safety for the population.

To break the cycle of violence, Guterres called for the rehabilitation and reintegration of terrorists after serving their sentences. The secretary-general also called for a “human-rights reset” for counter-terrorism to avoid the latter being used to “infringe upon the rights and freedoms of people, the result (of which) is more alienation within communities and stronger terrorist

He finally told member states that they bear “the ultimate responsibility to prevent technologies from falling into terrorist hands,” where social media is already being used to foster hate speech and violent ideologies, blockchain and ransomware to fund terrorists, commercial drones and 3-D printing to access weapons, and deep-fakes to stoke conspiracy theories peddled by terrorists.

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Saudi-based interfaith group KAICIID presents work at Global Horasis Meeting in Portugal

Time: 10 June 2021

AICIID Secretary-General Faisal bin Muammar at the Global Horasis Meeting in Portugal. (SPA)

RIYADH: The King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) took part in the activities of the 2021 Horasis Extraordinary Meeting in Portugal.

The meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, saw the participation of policymakers, business people and organizations concerned with dialogues and human values.

KAICIID was represented by its secretary-general, Faisal bin Muammar, who, in his speech, stressed the importance of committing to the promotion of the role of religious institutions and leaders to address the challenges facing the world, shedding light on the coronavirus pandemic, which was the focus of this meeting, its lengthy prevalence, long-term repercussions and the shape of the world after recovering from it.

He reviewed the efforts KAICIID had made over the past year to address the challenges of the pandemic and activate the role of religious values and dialogue in resolving the crisis, which has claimed many lives, doubled poverty rates and increased economic and social pressures, as a result of the preventive and quarantine measures that were taken to limit the spread of the pandemic.

Bin Muammar stressed the importance of “including religious institutions and improving their ability to support policymakers and face the global challenges that could be long-lasting.”

Held every year, the Global Horasis Meeting is attended by politicians, heads of state and business leaders worldwide to share insights on cooperation, impact, innovation and sustainable growth.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Attempt in Saudi Arabia to restore and reform Islamic law is welcome


There can be no doubt that these reforms signal a major theological shift, and if implemented successfully, will prove to be a watershed moment in the history of Sunni Islam.

The crown prince’s announcement is also a courageous attempt to break the state-ulema nexus that has been the cause of Muslim intellectual and economic backwardness for centuries.

It would appear from recent reports that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is making good on his 2017 promise that he would return the country to a moderate Islam and “eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts.” Last month, The Washington Post disclosed that the kingdom had started purging its textbooks of anti-Semitic and misogynistic content, and this month Reuters revealed that four new laws — the personal status law, the civil transactions law, the penal code of discretionary sanctions and the law of evidence — are being finalised with the ultimate aim of codifying the entire Muslim law in consonance with the principles of shariah and best international practices. Saudi women have welcomed the move, with lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif expressing the hope that it will empower both women and society in general.

There can be no doubt that these reforms signal a major theological shift, and if implemented successfully, will prove to be a watershed moment in the history of Sunni Islam. The crown prince’s announcement is also a courageous attempt to break the state-ulema nexus that has been the cause of Muslim intellectual and economic backwardness for centuries — a fact convincingly exposed by scholar Ahmet T Kuru in his new book Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment. It was this nexus that buttressed the post-Prophetic Muslim expansionism started by Muawiya in 661 CE with the launch of the Umayyad Caliphate. Questionable traditions (hadiths) were fabricated in the name of the Prophet to scripturally entrench the dynastic ambitions of the ruling family. These hadiths otherised rival tribes and communities, and marginalised women.

Quran’s original Arabic text is free of misogyny and does not encourage any kind of ethnically directed hostility. In fact, it speaks of salvific inclusivity and shows respect for non-Muslim places of worship (2:62, 5:69, 22:40), besides inviting “people of the book” (an inclusive term for followers of all religions) to coexist peacefully on the basis of commonalities in their value systems (3:64).

If Muslims find themselves estranged from this equalitarian message, it is thanks to the havoc wrought over the centuries by exegetical interpolations which relied on dubious hadiths to introduce sectarian ideas into Quranic translations. For instance, an eschatological hadith in the collection Sahih Muslim attributes an anti-Jewish comment to the Prophet. Yet another hadith in Sahih Bukhari states that the Prophet considered women to be intellectually deficient because “the evidence of two women is equal to the witness of one man.”

The anti-Jewish statements attributed to the Prophet go against the verses mentioned above, and the misogynist hadith is based on a complete misunderstanding of the verse 2:282 which instructed Muslims of that period to have their legal agreements witnessed by two men, and “if two men are not available, then a man and two women witnesses of your choice so that if one of them errs (an tazilla), the other can remind her (fatu zakkira).”

A careful reading of this verse would show that there is nothing in it that alludes to the inferiority or the intellectual inadequacy of women. Thanks to centuries of suppression, women of that period were not conversant with the intricacies of business transactions. Islam sought to change this. Men were asked to accord legal status to women by recognising their right to give evidence which was so far denied to them.

The prescription that there may be two female witnesses in case a male witness is not available, was, therefore, a convenience given to women. The verse makes it clear that the second woman will come into play only if the first one “errs” and if she does not, then the transaction will be concluded with a male and a female witness.

This is proved by the fact that in three other contexts (4:15, 24:4, & 65:2), the Quran speaks of witnesses in gender-neutral terms. Put differently, the evidentiary stipulation mentioned in 2:282 was specific to those times, and only for legal or financial transactions. It cannot be generalised and made applicable in perpetuity to lower the intellectual or legal status of women.

One hopes that the historic attempt by Saudi Arabia to theologically defenestrate anti-Semitic and misogynist content, and codify the Muslim law in line with the egalitarian principles of the Quran will go a long way in restoring the Prophetic originality of Islam and influence Muslim societies across the world to do the same.

This article first appeared in the print edition on February 17, 2021 under the title ‘A more equal faith’. The writer is an independent researcher and the secretary-general of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought

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Saudi Arabia’s success in eliminating extremism praised


JEDDAH: The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, confirmed that the speech of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, in which he thanked King Salman, according to his speech before the Shoura Council, was characterized by transparency in all local affairs, including achievements made by Saudi Arabia in a short period of time.
He praised the assurance of the crown prince that the Kingdom combated terrorism and extremism by eliminating the ideological project that was made for 40 years, as Saudi citizens showed their tolerance and reject extremist ideas. “The crown prince’s digression explained that Islam criminalized terrorist operations and prohibited bloodshed.”

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Germany’s Merkel discuss G20, tackling extremism

Time: 10 November 2020

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on April 30, 2017, shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) standing next to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud during a welcoming ceremony in Jeddah. – ?Merkel met Saudi King Salman as she began a visit focused on bilateral relations and preparations for the next G20 meeting. (Photo by BANDAR AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD” – NO MARKETING – NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / ìThe erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by BANDAR AL-JALOUD has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [in Jeddah] instead of [in Riyadh]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require.î

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold call to discuss terrorism and G20 summit. (File/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)
  • King affirms Kingdom’s condemnation of offensive cartoons of the prophet
  • King Salman stresses importance of freedom of expression

RYADH: Saudi Arabia and Germany on Monday agreed on the need to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism, Saudi Press Agency reported.
During a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Salman affirmed the Kingdom’s strong condemnation of the terrorist attacks that have been committed recently in France and Austria.
Three people were killed in a knife attack at a church in the southern French city of Nice on Oct 29. and, while in the Austrian capital Vienna, gunmen launched attacks fire in multiple locations across the city, including near a synagogue, killing at least four people.
King Salman also stressed the Kingdom’s position, which strongly condemns offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad , saying that “freedom of expression is an important moral value that promotes respect and coexistence among peoples, not a tool for spreading hatred and leading to a cultural and civilizational clash.”
The king also said it was important to promote rapprochement between followers of religions and civilizations, spread the values ​​of tolerance and moderation, and reject all forms of practices that generate hatred, violence and extremism.
During the call, the two sides also discussed bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in various fields, in addition to the efforts made to toward preparing for the upcoming annual G20 summit.
Saudi Arabia assumed the G20 presidency on Dec. 1, 2019 and is set to host the 15th G20 in the capital Riyadh on Nov. 21 and 22.

This article was first published in Arab News

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France’s push against ‘Islamist separatism’ should be supported


This grab taken from a video obtained by AFP shows French police detaining an alleged suspect after several people were injured near the former offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo following an attack by a man wielding a knife in Paris on September 25, 2020. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday unveiled a set of laws to fight what he described as the threat from radical Islamists and other extremists. The centrist president said he wanted to put the French republican values on the frontline in the battle against the divisions in society. Macron reiterated that he wanted Islam in France to be a positive part of society. “I’m not saying we need to create a French style of Islam, but that there can be a solid partnership with the French state,” he said. “The best way we can do that is by freeing it from foreign influence.”

The French president’s overhaul comes close on the heels of the bloody knife attack outside the former offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The attack has been described by French officials as a case of Islamist terrorism.

France has traditionally been a beacon for reformers. However, it is currently at a cultural and societal crossroads. Those who have been following French domestic politics will understand this at once. President Macron’s proposed neo-liberal “reform” of France’s retirement system which was established at the end of the Second World War and the yellow vest protests that only the corona pandemic managed to disperse are obvious examples. However, the traditional French values of liberty, equality, and fraternity must remain unchanged.

It is sad to see that among those who top the list of what needs to be reformed are Muslims — such as the ones who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Of course, it is important to stress that not all Muslims are terrorists, but sadly many terrorists in the past few years have been Muslim — or have claimed to be.

One only has to compare words to actions to realize that religious reform in the Kingdom is real

Faisal J. Abbas

This is not to say there are no glowing examples of French Muslims doing amazing things. There are many — doctors, politicians and football players, such as Zinedine Zidane, Hatem Ben Arfa, N’Golo Kante, Karim Mostafa Benzema, Wissam Ben Yedder and Houssem Aouar — who are perfectly integrated into French society. Another example is that of the singer Mennel Ibtissem, whom Arab News En Français interviewed recently. Despite the success she has enjoyed on shows such as “The Voice,” she was subjected to the worst kind of cyberbullying, simply because she is Muslim and later because she removed her turban. There is, of course, the danger that these cyberattacks might become actual physical ones.

Of course, many will take my words with a pinch of salt, saying that they come from the editor in chief of a Saudi Arabian newspaper based in Riyadh. Many will point a finger at the Kingdom, saying that it has often been the source of extremism. Of course, at the same time — for racist or other political agendas — they will unfairly refuse to accept the reforms made in the country by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is on the record as saying, “We want to take the Kingdom back to moderate Islam.”

Others will repeat religious extremist conspiracy theories suggesting that Saudi Arabia, along with other moderate Arab states, secretly support those who propagate Islamophobia to win publicity points.
However, one only has to compare words to actions to realize that religious reform in the Kingdom is real, brave and is for the benefit of the whole world.

Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, a former Saudi minister of justice who now heads the highly influential Muslim World League (MWL), told me in a 2018 interview with this newspaper: “I think no Muslim can call a Muslim woman an infidel or question her values because she has never worn a hijab. The Muslim woman, if she does not wear hijab … is not an infidel and does not depart from Islam.”

In Belgium in 2017, he said Muslims should respect the laws, culture and customs of the non-Muslim countries in which they live, even if they felt that to do so violated their faith. If they (Muslims) were unable to legally persuade the local authorities to respect their wishes, they should either obey local laws or leave, Al-Issa advised.

We, at Arab News, have also played our part and we acknowledged that in the beginning was the word. As such, we realized the influence of radical clerics’ words on the hearts and minds of followers of different religions worldwide. With this realization in mind, in 2019, we at Arab News launched a series called “Preachers of Hate” — a series that names and shames radical preachers, from all religions and nationalities, and we started with our own in Saudi Arabia.

To support President Macron’s drive, we are pleased to translate this series into French and launch it today. It will include profiles of all the extremist preachers that we exposed in the past, along with some additional French ones.

We at this newspaper will do our part, but the French authorities must do theirs as well. “I believe that the most important thing is to control those who convey hate speech from inside or outside the country — separatists, racists, anti-Semites. Such speech is contrary to the values of the French Republic,” French Sen. Nathalie Goulet told Arab News last July. She was commenting on a news report that French lawmakers had finally recommended a preaching ban on clerics affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group classified by most countries as a terrorist group.

Of course, if President Macron is serious about freeing French Muslims from the malign influence of outsiders, then French authorities must also seriously look into the devastating impact Qatar has had ideologically — despite its “soft power” acquisition of historic buildings and the purchase of Paris Saint-Germain.

Qatar is the Muslim Brotherhood’s main global financier and backer. To understand the impact of the evil ideas of this group, we recommend skimming through the horrific videos and fatwas our research team found on Yusuf Qaradawi, the Doha-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher.

A good start for French investigators might be a fascinating book entitled “Qatar Papers — How the State Finances Islam in France and Europe,” by French investigative reporters Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot. The book reveals how Qatar is pouring hundreds of millions into Muslim Brotherhood-controlled organizations across France.
Bonne chance!

Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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Perpetrators of ideology of hatred and racism must be confronted: Muslim World League chief


MWL Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa speaks at the second Media Forum of the Union of OIC News Agencies. (SPA)

RIYADH: The secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, has stressed the need for promoting coexistence among followers of different faiths and cultures.

Speaking at an online forum of the Union of OIC News Agencies (UNA-OIC), he called on everyone to confront perpetrators of the ideology of hatred and racism to achieve lasting global peace.

He said Islam promotes peace and harmony and respects diversity. In this regard, the MWL chief cited the “Covenant of Madinah” drawn up by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which embodied the principles of coexistence in Islam, celebrated civic values, and preserved the legitimate rights and freedoms of all members of society.

Al-Issa also referred to the Makkah Declaration signed last year and endorsed by 1,200 muftis and 4,500 Muslim scholars representing different schools of thought. He said the declaration reiterated the Islamic principles of equality, human rights, and coexistence.

Condemning all elements bent on driving a wedge between different cultures and religions, the MWL chief said peaceful coexistence is the only way forward and promotion of peace is a religious, moral, and humanitarian duty.

The UNA-OIC is keen on hosting international organizations and opening doors for discussion to promote peace and harmony to ensure global peace.

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Saudi Arabia and UN’s fight against terrorism lauded at launch of ‘virtual expo’


Abdallah Al-Mouallim is chairman of the advisory board to the UNCCT. (UN Photo)

  • The UNCCT was set up in 2011 to promote international counter-terrorism cooperation

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been a crucial partner alongside the United Nations in countering terrorism, the Kingdom’s UN ambassador said.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi made the comments as the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) launched on Tuesday a “virtual expo” into its work.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a crucial partner alongside the United Nations in countering terrorism and extremism,” Al-Mouallimi, who is chairman of the center’s advisory board, said.

“It is my intention to underscore the continued Saudi support for the UNCCT as the Centre of Excellence in countering terrorism,” he added.

The UNCCT was set up in 2011 to promote international counter-terrorism cooperation and support member states implement the global counter-terrorism strategy. Saudi Arabia funded the project with $110 million.

Al-Mouallimi hosted the launch of the virtual expo on Tuesday.

The expo “showcases the Centre as a global leader in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism through capacity‑building efforts around the world,” the UNCCT said.

The virtual expo will run for four weeks online.

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Tolerance for Judaism and Christianity at the heart of Islam, MWL chief says


Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL d)uring his visit to the Church of Notre Dame in Paris. (Supplied)
  • Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa, MWL secretary-general, discusses Islam’s relationship with other faiths
  • Al-Issa says Islam respects other religions and guarantees the rights of all people to religious choice

NEW YORK CITY: “The Qur’an instructed Muslims to be righteous and benevolent to non-Muslims as long as they are peaceful and do not attack you or fight you. Muslims treated well the Jews who refused to enter Islam, starting with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, until our time,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), a leading religious Muslim nongovernmental organization based in Makkah.

Sheikh Al-Issa has been leading by example since taking up that position in 2016, tirelessly traveling the world, forging relationships — with governments, religious institutions (including the Vatican) and NGOs (including the American Sephardi Federation and the American Jewish Committee) — and announcing historic initiatives to counter extremism, guarantee religious freedom and improve human welfare.

Most recently, Al-Issa called on members of different religions to unite against the COVID-19 pandemic, stating: “We want Muslims and all other citizens to be aiding one another in this time of common challenge, without discrimination for religion or race, for gender or ethnicity.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL). (AN Photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)

MWL today is drastically different than the organization it was even five years ago, when it was still an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite Al-Issa’s exemplary humanitarian, educational and outreach efforts all over the world, including with Jewish communities, some remain skeptical about MWL’s agenda and Islam’s doctrinal teachings concerning other religions.

They variously claim that the essence of the religion eschews equal treatment for non-converts and that any attempts to disassociate from controversial interpretations is merely whitewashing, and they have tried to tie MWL’s actions to regional politics. Such criticisms are sorely mistaken.

In an exclusive interview, Al-Issa addressed these issues and other controversial topics forthrightly.

The question of how a religion that proselytizes can be respectful of other religions and their members who do not convert is nothing new. Christian missionaries used to convert Jews under duress.

Today, non-violent groups such as “Jews for Jesus” use persuasion, not torture, but concerns linger about the targeting and manipulation of vulnerable individuals who lack Jewish education.

Does Islam have some unique issues that Christianity does not? Concerns are understandably compounded by the images of Islamist and terrorist organizations indoctrinating their followers and converts through deception or force.

Al-Issa responded that most religions except Judaism practice proselytization. That fact does not inherently signify a lack of respect, nor mean that practitioners of various religions should be locked in an illogical and endless struggle.

“We, as Muslims, respect, love, understand, cooperate, coexist and tolerate everyone. Our historically documented and verified actions demonstrate this, and in the Muslim World League we have played a major role in this aspect, pursuant to our Islamic values,” said Al-Issa.

Dr. Al-Issa during his European tour. (Supplied)

“With our Jewish brothers, we concluded agreements and mutual cooperation, and we love them and respect them greatly, far from the problems of politics, as our principle is not to interfere in politics.”

Al-Issa emphasized that it is permissible to engage in normal business and friendly relations with members of other faiths, including Jews, as was the case in the Prophet Muhammad’s time.

Political disagreements are separate from religious precepts. Moreover, he added, Islam considers Jews and Christians to be Peoples of the Book who are accorded privileges in jurisprudential proceedings.

At the same time, Islam respects other religions and guarantees the rights of all people to religious choice.

But what about the Qu’ranic quotes, as well as hadiths and alleged accounts, that point to a conflict between Islam’s prophet and the Jews of Arabia?

Most modern-day discussions feature claims of enmity, persecution and even a massacre resulting from the Jews’ refusal to convert to Islam.

Dr. Al-Issa among with numbers of students in Indonesia. (Supplied)

Nothing could be farther from the truth, according to Al-Issa.

The Qu’ranic references criticizing Jews that some have taken to mean a generalized attack on all Jews actually admonish specific followers of Judaism who went “off the derech” – strayed from the faithful commitment to the letter and spirit of their own Abrahamic tradition, he said.

To illustrate his point, he presented two seemingly paradoxical quotations: The Qur’an differentiates between the types of people, as the Almighty says: “They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer].”

The Almighty also said: “And among the People of the Scripture is he who, if you entrust him with a great amount [of wealth], he will return it to you. And among them is he who, if you entrust him with a [single] silver coin, he will not return it to you unless you are constantly standing over him [demanding it].”

God says: “Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.”

The Qur’an instructed Muslims to be righteous and benevolent to non-Muslims as long as they are peaceful and do not attack you or fight you.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL)

The Qu’ran speaks to different categories of people, but due to historical misinterpretations, mistranslations and, at times deliberate distortions, there is an appearance of a contradiction.

Those who focus on the allegedly anti-Jews passages ignore how Muslims engaged in wrongdoing are castigated in a similar vein. Additionally, even when critical of specific Jews, the Qu’ran speaks positively of the legacy of Jacob and calls on the Jewish community not to depart from their historic mission.

Al-Issa said: “The Qur’an admonished a group of Jews, not all Jews, and reminded them of the honor of affiliating with the Prophet Jacob, peace be upon him: ‘O Children of Israel! Remember My favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I favored you over all nations.’”

But what to make of the alleged massacres of the Jews that have become so closely associated with the extremist outcries of “Khybar, khybar ya yahood?”

They, too, should be viewed in their proper context. Al-Issa pointed out that there was no mass extermination of Jews qua Jews. On the contrary, the issues that led to tribal violence were purely political, not religious.

Indeed, he continued, affiliation with a religion does not preclude criticism for errors.

Contemporary audiences should look to the example of the prophet himself, Al-Issa said.

“The prophet, peace be upon him, stood out of respect to a passing Jewish funeral, lived next to a Jew, and married Safiya, the daughter of Hayy bin Akhtab from Bani Al-Nadir. He told her: ‘You are the daughter of a prophet, your uncle is a prophet, and you are the wife of a prophet.’” Muhammad was referring to the fact that his wife was descended from Aaron and  Moses, peace be upon them.

From this quote it follows that Muhammad not only respected Safiya’s Jewish heritage, but encouraged her to take pride and inspiration in her lineage.

Al-Issa also emphasized Muhammad’s signature achievement, the Madinah Charter, as an example of Islam’s position on religious existence put into practice: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, has signed the most important Islamic constitutional document, which is the Madinah Charter, which preserved religious and civil rights, as well as provided for Jews and others to live within Madinah in dignity as part of the ummah (community).”

What about the idea that Muhammad and his followers slaughtered the Jews who refused to convert?

Due to misinterpretations and politicized stories by later clergy, many now believe there is inherent enmity towards Jews who do not become Muslims, and all outreach efforts by Muslims is, therefore, “fake news.”

Dr. Al-Issa During his visit to Mauritania. (Supplied)

Al-Issa firmly rejected this criticism: “Islam gives freedom to everyone in accepting or rejecting Islam, and there is an explicit verse considered one of the most important constitutional texts in Islam that says: ‘There shall be no compulsion in religion.’ And the position of Islam on the Jews who refuse to enter Islam, according to the Qur’an, is respecting their choice while preserving their dignity and their religious and civil rights, and living with them in peace.”

The conflicts that followed in subsequent generations, he affirmed, were entirely political, even though both the contemporaneous parties and future scholars frequently attribute clashes and persecutions to religion.

Religion is an expedient cover for power grabs and there is also “often confusion in terms and translations, or by the misunderstanding of Islamic religious texts. When the Qur’an discusses a topic related to a specific situation or religious group, some people will mistakenly interpret that as an attack on everyone or as a position against the existence of that religion.”

Islam’s original intent concerning the relations between Muslims and Jews is clear from the treatment of non-converts.

As Al-Issa puts it: “Muslims treated the Jews who refused to enter Islam well, starting with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, until our time.

“The neighbor of the prophet was a Jew, whom he visited and accepted his hospitality, and considered all the food of the Jews permissible for Muslims, permitted marriage to them, and built a family from a Jewish mother, and the Jewish community lived with Muslims in Madinah in peace.

Surveying thousands of years of Jewish life in the lands of Islam, it is easy and nevertheless wrong to present a single narrative.

There were periods of incredible coexistence, when Muslims and Jews worked together to make great advances in trade, science, philosophy, and other fields.

At different times, there are instances of conflicts and persecutions. Al-Issa rejects any basis for bigotry in Islam, instead asserting that such instances were caused by motives divorced from religion.

Al-Issa went on to explain how Muslims have been prime targets of Islamist extremists throughout time. “What happened in the past is still being done by some extremists (that are present in all religions) who, by their misunderstanding of the teachings of Islam, do not represent the majority of Muslims or Islam at all. They only represent themselves, and with their extremist ideas they offend us as moderate Muslims and Islam more than they offend other religions.

“Muslims have suffered more violence and terror from extremists than non-Muslims have.”

Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord.

Dr. Al-Issa

The source of much falsehood is attributable to the Ottomans, who were behind mistranslations and misapplications of the Qu’ran.

Distribution of questionable hadiths by clerics of different backgrounds likewise led to confusion and divisive views.

Later, political movements, using theology as a cudgel, deliberately came to distribute inaccurate information. And, in non-Arab Muslim communities, understanding was severely skewed by the lack of access to original source material.

Poorly educated or ignorant self-proclaimed imams would use populist rhetoric and sensationalist sounding quotations out of context to fire up the public.

The Muslim Brotherhood came to rely on these combinations of factors to push an intolerant and violent interpretation of Islam that was mainstreamed with the help of media, governments, political organizations, and other allies and fellow travelers.

Al-Issa compared the Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in a recently launched Ramadan program on Saudi Arabia’s best-known channel, MBC.

Dr. Al-Issa supervises the work of a charity hospital of the Association in Africa. (Supplied)

The Muslim Brotherhood ideology, which incorporated the religious rhetoric of some Ottoman Sufi sects, and of Bolshevik, Nazi, Jacobin, and later extremist Salafi teachings, has managed to become a source of discord among Muslim communities.

The inflammatory pulpit imams and Brotherhood ideology are the gateway drug leading students to join Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, who hunt down and punish Muslims deemed insufficiently subservient.

Within the Brotherhood camp, there is remarkable flexibility in making alliances with seemingly divergent schools of thought, such as with the Iranian Khomeinists.

The Brotherhood conveniently claimed to no longer engage in violent direct action but, as the appreciation for Islamism is dying out in the Arab world, thanks in part to reforms instituted by Arab governments, it now appears to acknowledge direct involvement in terrorist activity.


READ MORE: Responsible leadership key to ‘justice, harmony’, Muslim World League chief tells conference at UN


So what effect, if any, has MWL’s activity had on the discourse in the Muslim world? To start with, Al-Issa practices what he preaches in Arabic and uses the substantial soft power of the MWL to advance his campaign to assert the true, inclusive and benevolent nature of Islam.

Anyone in doubt can refer to the Charter of Makkah, a historic statement drafted by Al-Issa, who then convened a meeting of 1,200 pre-eminent Islamic scholars near Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, to debate and sign the document.

The Charter of Makkah answers those, who deny or distort the truth, both within Islam and without.

In one episode of his MBC program, Al-Issa discusses how all religious places of worship should be protected — in other words, the attacks on Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and other places of worship by terrorists have no basis in religious teachings or practices, but are the result of politics and distortions.

In another episode, he discusses the empowerment of Muslim women throughout history, which is contrasted with the limited public role and the presumable marital subjugation accorded to them in various communities and contexts based on cultural, rather than religious, traditions or erroneous (perhaps deliberately so) readings of texts.

Al-Issa is working to undo decades of denial about women’s influence in Arab and Muslim societies.

Dr. Al-Issa in a visit to an orphanage of Haurishima. (Supplied)

There is no question that this shift in the intellectual discourse is having an effect as more Middle Eastern countries are opening their media to portraying positive roles for the Jewish communities that once lived in their countries.

One Saudi columnist, impressed by MWL’s position and Al-Issa’s visit to Auschwitz, calls for wider recognition of the “Jewish tragedy” (the Holocaust) in the process of bridge-building.

Another example is the MBC Ramadan drama “Um Haroun.” Based loosely on true stories of the Bahraini Jewish community, the series, which had a Kuwaiti director and star, aired in Saudi Arabia.

There is a desire to undo the damage of decades of politicization of Jewish life that led to attacks, expulsions and fear.

Egypt, too, in addition to its recent restoration of synagogues, has just as importantly opened up to a more sympathetic portrayal of Jews in a Ramadan series.

The acceptance of this portrayal by the public is just as much of a breakthrough and an example of “positive soft power” of religious institutions as the political determination that made such moves permissible to the media.

At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. Religions are a combination of doctrinal teachings and practices.

Al-Issa’s hard work is leading the way in showing that a combination of correct beliefs and righteous actions can withstand even centuries of obscurantism and political hijackings.

It is up to each generation to return to its roots and to use history and knowledge as an inspiration for the building of tolerant, humane, respectful, and intellectually open societies.


Irina Tsukerman is a New York-based human-rights lawyer and national security analyst  @irinatsukerman

This article was first published in Arab News

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MBC’s religious program discusses Islamic topics openly


Host of the program, Abdulwahab Al-Shehri, said that throughout its episodes during Ramadan, the program was talking to Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the MWL. (Screenshot from the program)
  • Al-Shehri said that Al-Issa was keen to talk about his personal experiences and the situations that he had experienced around the world
  • During Ramadan, the program will feature Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the MWL

MAKKAH: The MBC Channel’s “Billati Hiya Ahsan” is currently among the most watched religious programs on satellite channels in the Arab world, discussing a range of topics that are not usually talked about openly and transparently.
Host of the program, Abdulwahab Al-Shehri, said that throughout its episodes during Ramadan, the program was talking to Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League and president of the Association of Muslim Scholars.
Al-Shehri said that Al-Issa was keen to talk about his personal experiences and the situations that he had experienced around the world. The aim was to engage the Muslim community in discussion and create a more realistic debate that is closer to the daily life of Muslims, highlighting a true image of moderate Islam and revealing the beauty of Islamic civilization.
The program discussed a number of controversial topics in the Islamic world, and shed light on current phenomena, practices and events happening globally.
One of the most notable topics related to Islam in the program was the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Al-Issa said that it was a “struggle between extremists and sectarians from both sides, not a struggle between moderate Sunnis and Shiites who represent the majority.”
The moderate speech was broadly embraced by the Islamic world’s leadership from all doctrines and sects, and Shiite leaderships, in particular, praised it and said that the Islamic world was in need of such moderate voices to stand up to the abnormal voices of struggle.
The program also devoted an episode to uncovering the corrupt practices of political Islam and ethics of its groups, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, and said that those organizations gave up on their belief and Islamic behavior to achieve their agendas.
The program also discussed the prohibition on attacking places of worship, and said that Islam stressed the need to respect the presence of other places of worship, imposed on Muslims a need for their protection, and incriminated their attacks, regardless of the reasons.
Dedicating two episodes to women in Islam, the program corrected misconceptions around their perceived mistreatment.
During both episodes, Al-Issa was keen to promote the idea of women’s empowerment in Islamic law. This emphasized giving women their rights and allowing them to play their role and have influence as scientists, thinkers, experts and professionals in different tasks and national service.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home