Sahwa clerics must fix what they have broken

Time: May 08, 2019

The public apology aired on TV this week by the Saudi cleric Ayed Al-Qarni for offenses committed by the Sahwa, or “Awakening” movement, was both significant and welcome. However, it came nowhere close to undoing the harm caused by the extremist ideas so widely spread by Al-Qarni and his fellow Sahwa leaders.

In March, Arab News began a campaign exposing Preachers of Hate. Each week we have shed light on controversial clerics from all religions and explored their malign influence on those who follow them. What these hate-mongers have in common is that they have all used faith, be it Islam, Judaism or Christianity, to manipulate minds and incite violence.

It was no surprise that our first series, which concluded this week with a profile of the Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, included two prominent figures from the Sahwa movement —  Salman Al-Odah and Safar Al-Hawali.

Researching these two men was simultaneously both simple and complicated. Difficult because, for decades, these clerics misled millions into believing they were the protectors of Islam. Of course, the truth is that nothing has done more harm to our religion than the hate and extremism they spread. However, the task was also simple because of the superstar status these preachers very much enjoyed, particularly Al-Odah. Their love of fame meant that most of the incriminating fatwas, videos and sermons we collected and documented were readily available on their own verified social-media accounts and websites.

We also made sure to document the “reforms” and U-turns some of these clerics have executed, or appeared to; like chameleons, they altered their rhetoric to suit different times and political circumstances, particularly after the 9/11 attacks in the US and when terror hit home in Saudi Arabia.

At this important juncture in the history of Saudi Arabia, there is no room for half measures or half-hearted efforts to confront extremist ideas

Faisal J. Abbas

However, much of the extremism they propagated is still out there and the authenticity of their U-turns remains questionable. For instance, if Al-Odah had truly renounced his past, why did he retain his controversial fatwas on his official website?

At this important juncture in the history and development of Saudi Arabia, when the leadership has declared its commitment to bringing the nation back to moderate Islam, there is no room for half measures or half-hearted efforts to confront extremist ideas.

As the Kingdom empowers women, reconnects with other faiths and embraces art, music and entertainment, clerics who once mistakenly denounced all this must now take a firm and clear stand to interpret and present Islam in the tolerant form it was always intended to take.

This is important, not just for Saudi Arabia, but for the whole Muslim world, which will eternally seek guidance and direction from the land of the two holy mosques.

Conceding past errors, as Ayed Al-Qarni has done, may be viewed as courageous; but we must also be clear that this is not the end of a necessary course correction — merely the start.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

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Saudi cleric apologizes for ‘intolerant’ views of Sahwa movement

Time: May 08, 2019  

Ayed Al-Qarni appeared on a Ramadan TV show to apologize for the Saudi Sahwa movement. (Screengrab)
  • Ayed Al-Qarni regrets fatwas which contradicted moderate reality of Islam
  • Al-Qarni says Qatar plays a role in attracting radical clerics

RIYADH: A prominent figure in the Islamic Awakening (Sahwa) movement has apologized to Saudi Arabia for what he described as its offenses against Islam.

“I am today supportive of the moderate Islam, open to the world, which has been called for by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” the Saudi cleric, scholar and author Ayed Al-Qarni said.

“We invite the world to come over … our religion was sent as a mercy and safety to mankind,” he said during a Ramadan show on the Rotana Khalijia channel. “In the name of Al-Sahwa, I apologize to Saudi society for the mistakes that have contradicted the Qur’an and Sunnah, and contradicted the tolerance of Islam, a moderate religion.”

FASTFACT

Sahwa movement

The Sahwa movement was a faction of Saudi Qutbism – An Islamist ideologydeveloped by Sayyed Qutb, the figurehead of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Sahwa movement, which peaked in the 1990s, was a faction of Saudi Qutbism — an Islamist ideology developed by Sayyid Qutb, the figurehead of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It was led by a number of hate preachers including Safar Al-Hawali and Salman Al-Ouda. The movement’s origins stem from when Muslim Brotherhood members fled prosecution in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, and sought refuge in Saudi Arabia.

They demanded a bigger role for clergy in governing and a more conservative society as a defense against Western cultural influences. They also opposed the presence of US troops on “Muslim land.” In the same TV interview, Al-Qarni also spoke of Qatar’s role in luring Sahwa clerics.

“The further away you are from our country (Saudi Arabia), the more they (Qataris) like you… and give money, villas for those who oppose Saudi Arabia,” he said.

In an Arab News special series we focus on the “Preachers of Hate” who preach messages of

In a series that exposes the purveyors of hate, Arab News exposes the people, the movements and their ideologies. “Preachers of Hate” looks at movements such as the Sahwa movement, which was was a faction of Saudi Qutbism – an Islamist ideologydeveloped by Sayyed Qutb.

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Sighting of Ramadan crescent: When religion meets astronomy

06/05/19

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court calls on Muslims to look for the crescent moon signaling the start of Ramadan and, if they sight it, to inform the nearest court. (Supplied photo)

This article was first published in  Arab News

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Respect for other religions is vital for peaceful coexistence: MWL chief

06/05/19

  • Al-Issa noted that education is one of the main drivers of a sustainable, peaceful future, stressing that “preparing teachers is the main point of focus”

JEDDAH: The Responsible Leaders Summit at the UN in New York stressed the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia in maintaining global harmony and peace, as well as its global status as the spiritual leader of the Muslim world, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.
The Muslim World League (MWL) secretary-general, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, delivered the opening and closing remarks at the summit along with Bawa Jain, secretary-general of the World Council of Religious Leaders.
Al-Issa focused on the vital role that responsible leadership plays in facing the many challenges of the modern world.
“It is important for leaders to inspire others and provide them with positive energy,” he said. “No matter what the differences in our culture or religion may be, we all agree on the key humanitarian norms that constitute the framework of our natural law. Even 10 percent of this common ground is enough to bring about global harmony and peace.”
He went on to list several attributes central to responsible leadership, including strength and integrity; a knowledge of history and a willingness to learn from it; being proactive and constantly monitoring performance; and recognition that the “most important pillar of (one’s) own nation’s peace” is “world peace.”
Al-Issa noted that education is one of the main drivers of a sustainable, peaceful future, stressing that “preparing teachers is the main point of focus.”
Al-Issa also addressed the responsibilities of religious leaders. “These include countering hate speech and all theories of religious or ethnic extremism that lead to violence or terrorism, while strengthening the intellectual immunity of all — especially young people — through their spiritual influence,” he said. “Extreme religious and terrorist ideologies are not established by military force, but by religious people who choose to adopt radical ideologies.
“We say there is no such thing as a ‘radical religion,’ but there is also no religion that does not have some extremist followers,” he continued.
Respect for other religions and their followers, he said, is vital for peaceful coexistence. The efforts of certain isolated religious and sectarian groups to impose their ideals on others, and reject the rights of others to exist, have led to exclusion, hatred and hostility, he added.
“Such negative ideas have created extremism of all kinds, including the (rise of the) extreme right in some countries,” Al-Issa noted, adding that each and every case of extremism —  whether political, religious or intellectual —  is a threat to world peace.
“Evil grows with time, through its effects on unconscious emotions. All stable people are aware that extremist rhetoric has a painful end. They also realize that its quick gains are deceptive. (It is) a seed of evil that will backfire,” he said.
“Evil only expands in the absence of good, injustice in the absence of justice, ignorance in the absence of knowledge, and negative opportunism at the expense of public interests in the absence of values with effective laws,” he concluded. “The fence of our human harmony can only be breached when it is unguarded.”

This article was first published in  Arab News

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Read all about it: 13 centuries of Islamic heritage under one roof

Time: May 05, 2019  

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The library contains a rare copy of ‘Al-Mustatab’ which was printed in Al-Tibaea Al-Amira printing house in Constantinople in 1239 AH. ( Social media photo)
  • The library was established during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi in 160 AH (776 CE)

MAKKAH: The library of the Grand Mosque is one of the oldest in the Islamic world. It is a prominent landmark in the city, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), and contains more than 350,000 rare books and manuscripts.

The library was established during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi in 160 AH (776 CE) and is located in the neighborhood of Batha Quraish.

Dr. Abdulrahman bin Saad Al-Shehri, director of the library, told Arab News that it was about 13 centuries old, and was founded on the principle of enriching knowledge and providing sources of research and information, to spread the message of the Two Holy Mosques.

“Our goal is to create, and transfer, all kinds and forms of knowledge and develop them, enrich our ‘intellectual production’ in all disciplines, organize, control, document and introduce the latest technology to assist us and keep abreast of modern developments to facilitate research and access information,” he said.

Al-Shehri added that the library contributed to the local community by hosting training courses for human development, knowledge and information technology awareness. The building consists of 13 floors covering an area of more than 2,000 square meters, with five reading rooms for men, one reading room for women, a meeting and training room, a center for scientific research and revival of Islamic heritage, and a department for audio and visual production.

The library also has a large collection of rare manuscripts. There are 6,842 original manuscripts, 2,634 Arab and foreign copies of manuscripts, 200,000 volumes and 8,000 rare books. In addition, it includes 40 private waqf libraries, 4,443 newspaper volumes in the old newspapers’ section, as well as a section for the restoration of ancient manuscripts and decaying books.

Al-Shehri noted the existence of a “gifts and exchange section,” which aims to enrich the library through the exchange of information resources with individuals and scientific institutions. There is also a supplies area by the library’s main gate, to cater for those using the building and its resources but who may be short of reading and writing equipment. And on top of that, there is a special section for the digital reproduction of rare manuscripts and books, to save them from damage or loss and widen access to them by preserving them online.

The library also contains a rare copy of “Al-Mustatab” which was printed in Al-Tibaea Al-Amira printing house in Constantinople in 1239 AH, “Majmae Al-Anhur fi Sharah Multaqaa Al-Abhar,” which was printed in Al-Khalifa Al-Aliya printing house in 1258 AH, and “Al-Ashbah wal Nazayir,” which was printed in 1260 AH.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi King Salman calls for tolerance, moderation in Ramadan message

05/05/19

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on Sunday has called for a message of tolerance and moderation following the announcement on the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

“Our country took upon itself the service of Islam and Islamic issues, and all that contributes to spreading this religion of tolerance and moderation,” the King said in his message.

“After the world was afflicted by the ravages of extremism and terrorism, the Kingdom turned to them with all its might and determination, calling for dialogue, rejection of violence and uprooting the sources of terrorism,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court confirmed that Monday would be the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

This article was first published in  Al Arabiya English

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How Ramadan is celebrated around the world

05/05/19

Children decorate streets to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan in Al-Beracil village in Giza, Egypt, on May 13, 2018. (Getty Images)

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Muslim World League chief calls for global religious tolerance

Time: April 29, 2019  

MWL Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa stressed the importance of respecting rights of minority groups. (Photo/Supplied)

RIYADH: Nations needed to bring about an entente cordiale in relation to religious tolerance the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL) told a French delegation visiting Saudi Arabia.

Addressing ministers, academics, and legal experts from France, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa stressed the importance of countries respecting the religious rights of minority groups.

“Islam guarantees the values of freedom and human rights, but there is a difference between freedom on one hand and chaos, prejudice, violation of public order, abuse of national conscience, and infringement on public security,” the MWL’s secretary-general said during a lecture attended by the French delegates.

Al-Issa said it was vital for all nations to protect the religious rights of minority faith groups, and to channel them through legally set procedures.

He added that human rights were universal, but that there were differences of interpretation between countries or organizations.

Speaking about the unique nature of each Muslim country and their legal systems, Al-Issa noted that the International Islamic Unity Conference — held in Makkah last December and attended by more than 1,200 scholars representing 28 different Muslim sects — recommended not to export religious fatwas as each nation had its own conditions.

Al-Issa also pointed out that most problems originate from a lack of mutual understanding, an absence of dialogue, or the inability to understand God’s will expressed through the diversity of religions and sects.

He stressed the need to overcome these differences and not to allow the rise of psychological barriers that generated hatred and national conflict. Once this divine wisdom was understood and religious beliefs and constitutional laws were respected, then peace and harmony would prevail, said Al-Issa.

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True Muslims seek harmony with everyone, regardless of religion or nationality: Muslim World League chief

Time: April 13, 2019  

Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa delivers a Friday sermon at the Grand Mosque in Kazan. (SPA)
  • Vigilant Muslims can defeat extremist propaganda, Al-Issa says in a Friday sermon
  • The MWL chief delivered his sermon on April 13 at the Grand Mosque in Kazan, Tatarstan

JEDDAH: Extremist groups are active only in stagnant cultural and social environments, the head of the Muslim World League (MWL), Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, said.

In a Friday sermon, delivered at the Grand Mosque in Kazan, Tatarstan, Al-Issa said vigilant Muslims can defeat extremist propaganda.

Peace and harmony are the most important guarantors of stability and prosperity, he said.

Al-Issa said that true Muslims respect unity and the laws of the countries in which they live, seeking harmony with everyone, regardless of their religion or nationality.

The MWL chief, who has been on a visit to Russia, warned against recalling historical events and drawing analogies to a current situation. The responsibility of each historical era rests only with the people who lived in it, he said.

Al-Issa stressed the need to improve understanding for the benefit of all, saying that “extremism can only win with a lack of awareness.” He cautioned worshippers against conflict and division, pointing out that Islamic law called for learning from others and from the lessons of history.

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Muslims urged to address religious misconceptions

01/04/19

Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov arrive at the Grand Mosque in Grozny, Chechnya. (Photo/Supplied)

  • Monopolizing righteousness an intellectual danger, says Al-Issa
  • Russia was chosen as the site of the summit because it has been a model of religious and ethnic harmony in recent years

GROZNY: The Islamic nation has endured the negative and dangerous impact of classification and exclusion, including takfir, said Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), during the Friday sermon at the Grand Mosque in Grozny, Chechnya.
In a first in the history of Russia, the Muslim World League (MWL) launched an international conference in Moscow on religious peace and coexistence.
The MWL conference promoted values of coexistence and peace, and emphasized the importance of “working in the common humanitarian and national circle.”
The sermon delivered by the MWL chief was attended by the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, senior muftis and scholars, and a large gathering of worshipers.
Al-Issa highlighted that “there are young men who, in their diversion, got caught up in the illusion of their superficial knowledge, which is neither firm nor based on the teachings of scholars and, thus, had the nerve to declare other believers as non-believers (takfir), fueling great sedition.”
He added: “Every time one sedition dies, another rises, revealing its horns in the name of Islam. It believes no one is right except its prodigal followers. Not only that, but it took upon itself to fight all others after having declared all the people on Earth as non-believers.”
“And similar to those are the people who monopolized righteousness in place of discretion and claimed that people were denied access to the truth except through them.”
Al-Issa pointed out that monopolizing righteousness in the place of discretion is a systematic error and an intellectual danger that jeopardizes the harmony and unity of the (Islamic) nation.
“The problem is not limited to the narrative of this tragedy, which has damaged the reputation of the Islamic nation, but extends to every person who was privileged with extensive knowledge in Islamic sciences yet did not fulfill his duty in combating the wrongful ideology, especially in dismantling its structure,” he continued. “This ideology was not based on a military or political entity, as you know, but on misguided concepts that exploited the passion for religion in the youth that lack knowledge and wisdom.”
Al-Issa said: “We do not exaggerate when we say the amount of carelessness, sedition and misguidance is proportionate to the amount of the scholars’ failure, and part of this failure is a lack of addressing the misconceptions and fabricated concepts about Islam.”
Al-Issa stressed in his sermon that good behavior and common decency are instinctively well-received by all people, and that convenience and tolerance with positive open-mindedness are in the core of our Islamic concepts, highlighting that Shariah’s purpose is to establish mercy and tolerance, not difficulty and hardship.
“Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had delivered the message, fulfilled his mandate, advised the (Islamic) nation, strived for God as he ought to, invited (mankind) to the way of God with wisdom and fair preaching, did not assault anyone, and did not force anyone to follow his religion,” he said and quoted a verse from the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion.” [2:256]
Russia was chosen as the site of the summit because it has been a model of religious and ethnic harmony in recent years, according to the MWL.

This article was first published in  Arab News

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