Punish ignorant people who promote sectarianism

Time: July 20, 2018

It is said that once a Sunni Palestinian and a Shiite Iraqi were debating in London over Husayn ibn Ali and Muawiyah and who was better among the two. The heated debate escalated into a fight so the police intervened, arrested both and referred them to the judiciary.

The British judge obviously asked them who Husayn and Muawiyah are and where they live. He was shocked to know that the scuffle was over a historical dispute going back 14 centuries so he sent both to a psychiatric institution.

I am not sure how true this story is, but it exemplifies the effect of history on the mentality of most Muslims – a mentality which often produces bloodshed. I have no doubt that this conveys sheer ignorance and backwardness. There are also lecturers or who are recently dubbed as preachers who have made a lot of money by milking these issues, both among the Sunni and the Shiite.

They tend to insult whoever objects to these trivialities and superstitions. I definitely believe that inciting sectarian arguments is like a virus which if it attacks national unity, it leads to strife, unrest and destroys security and stability. We have a clear example of this happening in Iraq due to the sectarian conflict among its national components. However, this situation would never stabilize unless sectarian fanaticism is renounced.

If nostalgia and engaging in arguments about the past stir up sedition, then logically and out of Islamic perspective such issues should not be discussed. The evidence is in the Quran: “That is a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do.” Raking up sectarian issues despite Quranic prohibition is because some people benefit from it.

Preachers have made a lot of money by milking sectarian issues, both among the Sunni and the Shiite

Mohammed Al Shaikh

Stoking instability

In addition to preachers, there are foreign parties that try to stoke instability and crisis in the community. Without realizing, the members of this community become slaves of the foreign party and serve its interests.

Their stupidity is thus exploited to achieve foreign parties’ mean goals. On top are proponents of Vilayat-e Faqih republic. We never witnessed such disputes before Khomeini took power in Iran, though there were traces of these problems in some heritage books.

Once Khomeini’s revolution succeeded, he raised contentious doctrines and stoked rivalry, which ensued in widespread hatred. He hired agents to revive the disputes of the past.

Although the clerics of Iran claim that they support the unity of the Islamic nation, and that they transcend sectarian differences but their policies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain invalidate their claims especially that they have found the means to achieve their goals in these countries.

I do not hold the Persian clerics as being solely responsible for this problem. There are many Sunni and other preachers as well as some naive and ignorant people in the community who help them achieve their goals and promote sectarian divisions without knowing it.

Thus, I call for the enactment of strict and deterrent policies to stop these ignorant people and purify our nation and more importantly our educational curricula from everything that may break up the national bond.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Saudi scholar calls for female muftis to join top Muslim clerical body

Time: June 12, 2018

A senior Saudi cleric on Monday called for the appointment of female Islamic scholars or “muftis” within Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars.

Muftis are jurists qualified to give authoritative legal opinions known as fatwas (religious edicts), while interpreting Islamic law.

Sheikh Abduallah Al Mutlaq, a member of the council, said female muftis would offer fatwas particularly on women’s issues.

In a televised program, Sheikh Al-Mutlaq said: “I call on the Grand Mufti to employ our daughters who are in universities such as the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University and Umm Al-Qura University and others who specialize in Islamic law.”

He added: “As men we have many issues to address other than those related to menstruation and other female issues, so I ask the Mufti, to allow women to join as the Fatwa Committee sees fit.

He said that he has previously sought advice from female family members when advising women, as “I have seen an embarrassment among women who ask muftis for advice.

“Women specialized in Islamic law are no doubt more knowledgeable than us on female issues, such as menstruation and the like. Women will be able to seek advice in a more comfortable, free and private manner.”

Sheikh Al-Mutlaq has previously said that women should not be obliged to wear abayas as the purpose of the Sharia code is to cover the entire body with any long and loose-fitting garment, whether using a cloak or any form of modest clothing.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Call to merge Saudi religious commission with Islamic Affairs ministry

Time: June 03, 2018

Manama: A member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has reiterated her call to merge the Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs following the appointment of a new minister.

“Following the appointment of Abdul Lateef Al Shaikh as Minister of Islamic Affairs, the right man for the right position, I believe it is time to apply the recommendation that fellow Shura Member Ata Al Subaiti and I had submitted, through the merger of the Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs,” Lateefa Al Shaalan posted on her Twitter account.

On Saturday, Al Shaikh, the former head of the commission known for his pro-reform stances, was given the powerful portfolio as part of a limited cabinet reshuffle that focused on culture, labour, religion and natural reserves.

In the recommendation presented two years ago, Al Shaalan and Al Subaiti said the merger would avoid the duplicity of work since both the ministry and the commission were promoting virtue within society.

They also argued that the merger would serve streamline public work, especially that the commission employed around 8,000 people.

However, following heated debates, the recommendation was not passed by the Shura Council.

The appointment of Al Shaikh who headed the commission from 2012 and 2015 is today seen as a positive step towards strengthening the fight against extremist ideologies using religion as a façade.

Throughout his tenure at the commission, he had to deal with ultraconservative forces that stalled his attempts to reform the authority often known as the “religious police.”

In 2015, Al Shaikh admitted in a television interview that the Muslim Brotherhood had a powerful say within the commission and that several members were totally opposed to any type of reform, Saudi daily Okaz reported on Sunday.

Al Shaikh was behind the attempt to prevent members of the commission from chasing suspects in vehicles and which at times resulted in fatalities. He also banned “religious assistants” from engaging in any field work as they did not have an official capacity.

Assistants had often taken the liberty to ban any form of music in public, to abuse women verbally or to stand against cultural events they deemed offensive.

This article was first published in Gulf News

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Arabian Business Podcast: The unstoppable rise of social media in the MENA region

Time: May 23, 2018

Among the many revelations in the ASDAA Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey of 2018, the one that was perhaps most revealing was that, for the first time in the survey’s ten-year history, young people aged between 18 and 24 said they use social media for news and information more than television.

Indeed, some 49 percent get their daily news from Facebook.

This, of course, reflects the opportunities presented by the ongoing fracture of traditional media, particularly in a region like the Middle East where television channels and newspapers have been traditionally tightly controlled.

The democratisation of media has meant youth in the region have not only gained access to a new world news sources, pundits, bloggers, activists, critics and cultural curators – and a whole slew of unhelpful and hateful noise in between – that was off-limits a decade ago, but also the ability to participate in global conversations, whether as citizen journalists or, with the rise of the influencer, entrepreneurs, entertainers and thought leaders.

It’s a trend that will only continue; there are now more than 100 million social media users in the MENA region and around 320 million mobile phone subscriptions – a penetration figure of 127 percent.

As brands increasingly turn their gaze onto both the platforms and the personalities emerging on them, the rise of social media in the Arab World seems unstoppable.

On this week’s podcast, Arabian Business magazine editor Eddie Taylor talks to Benjamin Ampen, managing director of Twitter in the region,

Ramzi Halaby, co-founder of Dubai-based social media and digital consultancy The Online Project and Tamara Jamal, social media influencer and TV presenter about the ever-evolving landscape

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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Saudi Arabia strongly condemns attack on church in Russia’s Chechnya republic

May 21, 2018 

Saudi Arabia strongly condemns attack on church in Russia’s Chechnya republic

Saudi Arabia has strongly condemned the armed attack on a church in the Russian republic of Chechnya that resulted in the killing of a number of people, an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“The source also offered the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and to the Government and the people of the Russian Federation, stressing the Kingdom’s absolute rejection of all forms of violence, extremism and terrorism,” a statement on Saudi Press Agency read.

ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack but the extremist group offered no evidence in support of the claim.

Four people attacked the Orthodox church on Saturday, killing two policemen and a churchgoer, Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement. The attackers were killed.

“Islamic State fighters executed an attack on ‘Michael’ Church yesterday in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny,” Amaq said.

Russia, which hosts the soccer World Cup next month, has fought two wars with separatists in the mainly Muslim internal republic since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but such attacks have become relatively rare in Chechnya.

 

This article was first published in  Al Arabiya

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Oxford conference adopts MWL initiative on religious, cultural integration

May 20, 2018

  • Al-Issa laid out initiatives and programs aimed at strengthening national harmony in various societies by consolidating the concept of national unity.
  • Al-Issa called for the formation of councils and centers within national integration institutions, representing all societal sectors.

JEDDAH: The Conference on Peace in Revealed Religions, held at Oxford University in the UK, adopted a Muslim World League (MWL) initiative on positive national integration of religious and cultural minorities.

The conference — attended by a large number of religious, political and intellectual leaders — also adopted the MWL’s call to replace the term “minorities” with “religious and cultural special category.”

In his opening speech, MWL Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa said two problems arise when hatred, confrontation and material interests replace the principles of justice and peace: A moral setback regarding human harmony, and the attribution of this setback to religion.

Religion has nothing to do with errors, abuses or crimes committed in its name, and history shows that many crimes have been falsely committed in the name of religion, he added.

Al-Issa laid out initiatives and programs aimed at strengthening national harmony in various societies by consolidating the concept of national unity, which ensures respect for the constitution, law and culture of the state.

“It is necessary to converge views and raise awareness by involving all qualified national actors who have the ability and influence,” he said.

The act of disdaining followers of religions and cultures should be criminalized, and voices of hatred and incitement should be rejected, he added. All clash-of-civilization theories have failed, creating hope for understanding, awareness and harmony, he said.

Al-Issa called for the formation of councils and centers within national integration institutions, representing all societal sectors, with a view to organizing dialogue programs, promoting harmony and addressing all issues, including social and psychological ones.

His speech was followed by ones from Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, president of the Muslim Peace Forum; Vatican representative Archbishop Kevin McDonald; Rabbi Norman Solomon; Dr. Farhan Nizami, director of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies; and British diplomat Alan Monroe.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s interfaith dialogue a welcome move

May 18, 2018

Even a blind man would be able to see the revolution that is being accomplished in so little time in Saudi Arabia today. And this was boosted by the announcement late last month of an agreement between the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, and the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican and French Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Jean-Louis Tauran, to accomplish mutual goals.

A multicultural society is already a fact in the UAE and Bahrain, which has a very old Jewish community. It is now the turn of Saudi Arabia to open its borders to new challenges, including religious diversity. More than cinemas or entertainment plans, this sends a strong message to the world.

I talked about inviting the Pope to Saudi Arabia during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Paris in 2016. We might not be too far from that now.

The announcement with the Vatican affects the deepest exclusivity of religious traditionalism: That of Arabia and its king, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The taboo is now broken and only cynics could see it as a political maneuver.

Early signs had already foreseen this change, which nobody could have imagined would happen so quickly. The visit of Al-Issa to the Grand Synagogue of Paris last November was ignored as anecdotal, while MBS’s visit to the leaders of the Jewish community in New York was seen as a simple communication strategy, and only a few commented on the Pope’s most senior adviser’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

This openness to religious diversity is a giant leap toward modernity and will do much to silence the dissenting voices.

Nathalie Goulet

Today, and for more than two years, the signs of Saudi Arabia’s opening up to the world in its cultural and religious diversity have become stronger and increasingly compelling. Crown Prince Mohammed announced that he planned to do it and he is staying true to his word. It is always a surprise to see a politician do what he promised — it will take a while but we will get used to it.

This openness to religious diversity is a giant leap toward modernity and will do much to silence the dissenting voices. We must realize that such a policy may provoke some resistance and discomfort among Saudi society. There is no example in world history of such big changes happening easily, but these changes are not done against Saudi society or against the clerics. It may take time to explain this new policy, but where there is a will there is a way.

No doubt Vision 2030 will bring a lot more changes to Saudi society without hurting its most traditional part. Saudi Arabia is proud and is right to be proud of its Muslims roots and traditions, but Vision 2030 is about success with an alliance of tradition and modernity.

I have always said and written that we must support reforms and the Saudi Vision 2030. It is likely that we are at the beginning of a real Saudi cultural revolution, and more than ever we need to support all efforts made.

The agreement signed with the Vatican is not an open door to build churches, but it is the first step to a multi-faith society.

Saudi Arabia has shown a strong sign of tolerance to the world. We are all going to closely watch the Kingdom’s next steps as it opens up, but today it’s time to welcome this historic decision.

 

This article was first published in  Arab News

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FaceOf: Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, chief of KSA’s Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques

May 18, 2018

  • Al-Sudais said Islam has never been, and never will be, a religion of terror or violence because it preserves the individual’s human rights and dignity
  • He called on all Muslims to project the bright image of Islam and to associate this with the good representation of Islamic communities and to be ambassadors for the tolerant values and principles of Islam

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais has been chief of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques since May 8, 2012, and is also the imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Al-Sudais is a renowned reciter of the holy Qur’an, a member of the Arabic Language Academy in Makkah and was named ninth annual “Islamic Personality Of the Year” by the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Awards (DIHQA) Organizing Committee in 2005.

Al-Sudais attained a degree in Sharia from Riyadh University in 1983, a master’s degree in Islamic Fundamentals from Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University in 1987, and a Ph.D. in Islamic Sharia from Umm Al-Qura University in 1995 while working there as an assistant professor.

King Salman received princes, Islamic scholars, ministers and military commanders at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on Wednesday. Al-Sudais was one of the dignitaries who attended to greet King Salman on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan.

Earlier, Al-Sudais said Islam has never been, and never will be, a religion of terror or violence because it preserves the individual’s human rights and dignity.

“The message of Islam and Muslims is modesty, fairness, security, stability, sympathy, harmony and kindness,” said Al-Sudais.

He also said that Muslims need to understand the basics of the faith, as well as moderation and consideration for the contemporary application of its tenets. All these should contribute to the correct understanding of Islam.

He called on all Muslims to project the bright image of Islam and to associate this with the good representation of Islamic communities and to be ambassadors for the tolerant values and principles of Islam.

This article was first published in  Arab News

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Makkah imam warns against fanaticism

Time: May 11, 2018

MAKKAH — Sheikh Saleh Bin Humaid, imam and khateeb of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, warned some television channels and social networking sites against whipping up of fanaticism and sectarian sentiments in the society. In his Friday sermon at the Grand Mosque, Sheikh Bin Humaid underlined the need for fostering values of moderation and tolerance among the young generation through including these in the school and university curriculum. “It is unfortunate that some channels and some social media, deliberately or unintentionally, publicize slogans that trigger sectarian and regional differences, tribal fanaticism, partisan strife and so on,” he said.

Sheikh Bin Humaid, who is also former president of the Shoura Council, noted that the best way to address such undesirable tendencies is to promote tolerance and moderation in the curriculum so as to inculcate in the younger generation lofty values such as respecting and safeguarding the rights of other people. He also called for enacting regulations that prevent intolerance and fanaticism as well as to formulate clear policies to combat various forms of discrimination and injustice. “All the members of the media have to play a decisive role in this respect,” he said.

The imam described fanaticism as a deadly disease and a grave danger that destroys the meanings of humanity. “It is an illness that affects the individual, the nation, and the society as a whole. It is one of the sources of injustice and causes of hatred and means of corruption,” he said, adding that the manifestations of fanaticism include contempt for others, lack of recognition of their rights, and intolerance in speech and expressions.

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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