Saudi Arabia’s approach towards religious reform

Time: April 28, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statements and interviews enunciate Saudi Arabia’s current strategy to get the region out of its several crises and shortcomings which have pulled it down since the Iranian revolution started exporting its ideology and following the impact of the two Gulf Wars, the War on Iraq and the unrest that ensued in their wake.

Generation of extremists

These developments produced generations of extremists and a lot of enraged and disgruntled people who incited wars and rebellion. It’s well-known that the unrest in Iraq had a disastrous impact on the region as it revived the Zarqawi version of al-Qaeda, under which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi established ISIS. These were all the products of ideologies which were overlooked and not addressed. Some of these ideologies were criminalized and some of their symbols were held accountable. However, not addressing these issues properly and giving them a free rein was not a wise decision at all.

Saudi Arabia, as stated by the Crown Prince, deems the Brotherhood and its offshoot Sururism — and by extension “the Sahwa phenomenon” — as the basis for the revival of violence. A decisive and firm stance was thus essential for eliminating this terrorist phenomenon. Several approaches have been devised for achieving this aim. Foreign confrontation against terrorism began with participating in an international alliance against ISIS and then by launching a war against the Houthis who staged a coup in Yemen. This latter war became one of the foundations for fortifying the kingdom from violence and terrorist ideology. The alliance led by Saudi Arabia does not only fight the Houthis but also continuously targets al-Qaeda in Yemen.

There is no contradiction between fighting a war in Yemen, developing entertainment in Saudi Arabia, changing religious rhetoric and leading educational reform. This is how we fight and defeat major challenges.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Iran and Muslim Brotherhood

The kingdom then froze relations with Iran, considering it’s a sponsor of international terrorism and an incubator for al-Qaeda commanders. Sanctions then expanded to include Qatar, the biggest supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which hosts the media outlets that support al-Qaeda and airs videotapes of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and which supports all separatist activities in the region, from the Houthis to Hezbollah, and to al-Qaeda and Hamas and Taliban. This decision on Doha capped efforts for strengthening Saudi Arabia and moderate countries from terrorism.

In addition to combating extremism at the foreign level, the kingdom addressed the work of Dawah institutions inside the country to amend their role and change the pattern of their activities so that they harmonize with the new Saudi course as represented by Vision 2030. These approaches include using guidance and formulating curricula that promote tolerance and co-existence. This was carried out based on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directions that voice the importance of producing generations that co-exist with different religions, sects and cultures. This is the role of Dawah and its institutions as they manage more than 100,000 mosques which urge good practices, co-existence and understanding of sharia and pluralism in jurisprudential choices and intellectual orientations.

Educational reforms

The field of education is witnessing the most momentum these days as several amendments will be introduced to it. Saudi Minister of Education Ahmed Al-Issa has spoken about the Brotherhood’s domination over education during a certain phase and the role they played in writing curricula and their influence on the education system. On April 19, he made two significant statements. One of them voiced the importance of adding material that promotes dialogue and respects the other opinion to the education curricula. He also directed teachers to avoid intellectual conflicts and focus on teaching and on committing to the content of the curricula. His directions particularly addressed some teachers who stir trouble on social media networks and perform roles that have nothing to do with the tasks assigned to them.

This is all fine. However, the organized and comprehensive fight against the Brotherhood ideology and its Sururist and Sahwa versions is of extreme importance and requires forming committees the evaluate teachers’ power to influence students’ minds and review educational curricula. Observers from security, intellectual, educational and political institutions can be appointed to amend these curricula or change some of them in order to end the period of Muslim Brotherhood’s domination, which the minister highlighted.

We are thus confronting an existential threat. We must carry out this change on the domestic and foreign levels. This corrective project is balanced and whole. There is no contradiction between fighting a war in Yemen, developing entertainment in Saudi Arabia, changing religious rhetoric and leading educational reform. This is how we fight and defeat major challenges.

This article was first published Al Arabiya English

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Saudi scholar rejects mention of sect on IDs

Time:  April 28, 2018

Manama: A senior Saudi religious scholar has rejected a proposal to mention the sect, race or ideology of citizens and residents on their identity cards.

“Since the establishment of the Islamic state in the seventh century, all Muslim countries have had people from various religious, sectarian and ideological backgrounds,” Shaikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Mutlaq, member of the Senior Scholars Commission and Adviser at the Royal Court, said.

“In fact, there were Muslims, Jews and hypocrites who lived in Madinah during the time of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). There were also atheists who came to Madinah for trade. The Prophet (PBUH) never asked to label anyone or to force them to wear or put anything that indicated their tendencies,” he said.

Shaikh Abdullah was answering a query during a live radio talk when a listener said people needed to know the religious background of those with whom they were dealing. “Suppose someone came to you to rent a flat or to engage in a business deal or any form of transaction,” the listener was quoted by Saudi news site Al Marsad as saying. “I suggest it would be better to know his sect, ideology and inclinations. It is about time you recommend that the authorities mention whether he is Sunni, Shiite or has secular tendencies, so that his background is known.”

Several social media users applauded the scholar’s response and criticised the listener, accusing him of sowing divisions and inciting sectarianism in the country.

Some suggested that he be put on trial for attempting to erode national unity and undermine social peace.

This article was first published Gulf News

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Saudi Arabia and the Vatican preach message of peace and tolerance

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 23, 2018

There is no doubt the meeting between King Salman and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in Riyadh last week was historic. Although the late King Abdullah held a groundbreaking meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 — the first time a Saudi ruler had met with a pope in the Vatican — the official visit of Cardinal Tauran was the first to Saudi Arabia by a senior Catholic figure.

The meeting emphasized the importance of the role of followers of religions in renouncing violence and achieving stability, which was also the message stressed during the meeting between King Abdullah and Pope Benedict. The latter also discussed the importance of dialogue in promoting peace and tolerance.

In November last year, an official Saudi delegation headed by Dr. Abdullah bin Fahd Al-Luhaidan, adviser to the Minister of Islamic Affairs, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. It was significant because the delegation stressed that the visit was to express the Kingdom’s appreciation to the pope for his sincere positions and statements calling for peace and coexistence, his rejection of links between religions and terrorism, and his deep and sincere aspiration to promote a culture of dialogue and peaceful coexistence among followers of all religions and cultures.

All these meetings underpinned the importance of dialogue among religions and civilizations, and stressed that all nations share common values. This is a fixed policy adopted by Saudi Arabia and the Vatican, and was approved in a global conference for scholars from all over the Islamic world in Makkah in 2008.

The ongoing exchanges of visits and meetings between Saudi Arabia and the Vatican, which pre-date even the 2007 conference, signal that both have a religious and political weight that is the result of their moderate policies. These are needed to jointly confront the destructive forces of evil that try to sow the seeds of religious intolerance, bigotry and hate. The threat of these forces is shown by the increasing rate of acts of terrorism and Islamophobia and the rise of right-wing parties that propagate xenophobia and anti-immigration and anti-Islam policies in Europe and the US.

Thanks to Saudi efforts, the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) was established in Vienna in 2012 to promote dialogue among religions and civilizations, with Spain, Austria and the Vatican taking part.

In February, KAICIID organized an international conference that was attended by Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Secretary General of the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is considered the collective voice of the Muslim world, along with leading representatives of Christian, Jewish and other religious communities worldwide. They spoke with one voice in support of social cohesion, peaceful coexistence and respect for religious diversity.

Saudi Arabia sending strong signals of its commitment to achieving peaceful coexistence among religions worldwide is an important symbol of religions’ role in renouncing violence and achieving stability.

Maha Akeel

Over the two days of the conference, the gathered religious leaders, policymakers and experts participated in a series of discussions on topics such as the role of religious leaders and policymakers in promoting social cohesion and common citizenship, global partnerships for dialogue and promoting interreligious education and common citizenship values, and social media as a space for dialogue.

The Saudi support of peace efforts continued with the establishment of the King Salman Centre for International Peace in Malaysia and the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, known as Etidal (moderation), in Riyadh. In turn, the OIC — which recognizes that inter-civilizational dialogue based on mutual respect, understanding and equality is a prerequisite for international peace and security, tolerance and peaceful co-existence — also plays an active role in enriching intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

One of the most important steps taken by the OIC in this area was the establishment of the Sawt Al-Hikma (Voice of Wisdom): Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding. This aims to address the discourse of hatred by promoting self-revision, correcting misconceptions and extremism, and spreading the principles of coexistence and mutual understanding among different nations and civilizations.

As the number of hate crimes on the basis of religion increases, whether in the East or West, it is more necessary than ever to focus on promoting interfaith dialogue, understanding and tolerance. The heightened sense of insecurity and fear in different parts of the world due to terrorist acts committed by extremists in the name of religion, and the similar rise in feelings of fear by religious minorities due to acts of discrimination, bigotry and persecution perpetrated against them, have created an atmosphere of mutual distrust and intolerance.

This means that visits such as the one made by Cardinal Tauran and the message carried by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his recent tour of the US and Europe stressing moderation, tolerance and acceptance of others are a strong signal of the commitment of both sides to achieving peaceful coexistence on the basis of mutual respect and understanding.


Makkah workshop approves 27 initiatives to enhance religious moderation and tolerance

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 22, 2018

JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has inaugurated the “mithaq” initiative, the first of its kind to be held at the Holy Mosques, and received the book on “Following the Steps of the Role Model” from the General President of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais.

The initiative included three workshops: The first workshop, Creating Initiatives in Moderation and Tolerance, was managed and supervised by the Prince Faisal Center for Moderation. It attracted many scholars and academicians and approved 27 initiatives to enhance moderation and tolerance.

The second workshop was on using technology in crowd control — engineering solutions for better crowd flow and for enhancing security control.

The third workshop was about the media and the global mission of the Holy Mosques. It was attended by many media personalities and university professors, and was characterized by serious discussion before agreement on quality initiatives with tangible results.

During the Makkah cultural days, Prince Khaled inaugurated the pact of the role model, which represents a holistic commitment to quality service from leaders, employees, security personnel and everyone serving at the Holy Mosques. This pact is an interpretation of the directives of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Prince Khaled toured the exhibition and praised the efforts of each department in the service of the pilgrims and visitors of the Holy Mosques.

Al-Sudais held a conference about the impact of the Holy Mosques in enhancing the role model, presided over by Sheikh Saleh Al-Taleb, imam of the Holy Mosque. It was attended by Sheikh Saad Al-Shathri, adviser at the royal court, and Sheikh Hassan bin Abdul Hameed Bukhari.


Islam forbids incitement: Makkah Grand Mosque imam

April 21, 2018

  • He said that incitement was a satanic feature which led to corruption
  • He said that Islam forbids incitement and makes it equal to treason

MAKKAH: The imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Sheikh Saud bin Ibrahim Al-Shouraim, has asked Muslims to cooperate because Allah encourages and blesses unity, stressing the importance of working together to develop human societies.

Al-Shouraim said in a Friday sermon that no matter how much people and societies developed scientifically and materially, they would not achieve any goals without ethics. “When incitement afflicts any society, it will certainly divide its people, and when it enters any family, it will destroy it and turn friendship into hostility.”

He said that incitement was a satanic feature which led to corruption, and that an agitator is an evil person who envies others and seeks to corrupt good values.

He also said that Islam forbids incitement and makes it equal to treason, adding that Islam encourages collaboration and cooperation and forbids all types of incitement, including the incitement between husband and wife, different individuals and different groups in society.

He said that listeners should not trust everything they hear before they corroborate its validity, stressing that there is no safety for the individual and the group unless they stay away from incitement and prevent it before it causes real damage.

In Madinah, the imam of the Prophet’s Mosque, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Buaijan, said the virtues of fasting some days of the month of Shaban, which is considered a good season for worship. He also noted that the month of Shaban helped Muslims to prepare for the month of Ramadan, adding that fasting is one of the best kinds of worship.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Top Vatican cardinal visits Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology

SOURCE:Al Arabiya

Apr 19, 2018

The Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology “Etidal” received Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Roman Curia, as part of his historic visit to Saudi Arabia.

Etidal Secretary General, Dr. Nasser Albuqami, welcomed the Cardinal and his delegation and discussed the Center’s efforts to combat extremist ideology – specifically, Etidal’s use of media and technology to disrupt extremist group recruitment and to promote tolerance and coexistence amongst different religions and cultures.

Secretary General Albuqami provided the Cardinal with a detailed briefing, “Etidal has designed machine learning systems and algorithms to detect violent and extremist on-line content. We analyze this content and then anticipate how extremist groups use this content to recruit vulnerable audiences. To counter these efforts, we devise strategic programs and projects that encourage tolerance and moderation.”

Etidal is an effort by the international community to expose, combat and refute extremist ideology. The Center – known as “Etidal,” Arabic for “moderation” – was established in 2017 and located in Riyadh, the cooperative effort of more than 55 countries. The Center operates mainly around three pivots – ideology, technology and media.

Following the visit, Cardinal Tauran commented, “It’s important to see that Etidal has a mission and a vision. The Center is very wise to analyze the causes of extremism. Most of the time, extremism is provoked by injustice.”

The Cardinal continued, “I think we have two enemies: extremism and ignorance. I don’t believe in the clash of civilization but rather in the clash of ignorance. Most of the time people react because they don’t know who you are or who they are.”

Etidal Secretary General Al-biqami added, “His Eminence Cardinal Tauran’s visit represents the importance of partnership and cooperation in the fight against extremist ideologies.”

Catholic cardinal meets Saudi king in historic visit to Riyadh

Time: April 18, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has met French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran during the first visit to the kingdom by such a senior Catholic authority, according to Saudi state-run media.

It followed a flurry of similar gatherings between senior Saudi figures and representatives of other Christian traditions in recent months.

The kingdom hosts Islam‘s holiest sites but bans the practice of other faiths.

The meeting in Riyadh between the king and Tauran, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is the first between the current Saudi ruler and a Catholic official.

Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai visited Saudi Arabia in November. The Maronite church, which has a presence in LebanonSyria and Cyprusand follows an Eastern rite of the Roman Catholic church.

During a meeting with the head of the Anglican church in Britain’s capital, London, last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reforms.

The crown prince has loosened some social restrictions recently, scaling back the role of religious police and permitting public concerts.

The government also announced plans to allow women to drive this year.

King Abdullah, Salman’s predecessor and brother, met Pope Benedict in the Vatican in 2007.

This article was first published in ALJAZEERA

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5 facts about religion in Saudi Arabia

SOURCE:Pew Research

APRIL 12, 2018

Since his father became Saudi Arabia’s king in 2015, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken dramatic steps to change his country’s political and economic life. But the 32-year-old heir to the throne also has begun to soften the kingdom’s strict religious rules with a promise to return to “moderate Islam.” Among the changes he’s spearheaded: granting women the right to drivereintroducing cinemas and curbing the sweeping powers of the religious police.

Here are five facts about religion in Saudi Arabia — a country that is the birthplace of Islam and, as such, holds special importance for Muslims worldwide.  

1Saudi Arabia has a young and rapidly growing Muslim population.The kingdom has more than 30 millioninhabitants, and roughly 93% of them are Muslim, according to Pew Research Center data. The country is officially a Muslim nation and most Saudi Muslims are Sunni. However, a Shia minority accounts for an estimated 10% to 15% of the population. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is a young country: In 2015, about 56% of the kingdom’s Muslims were under the age of 30. The number of Muslims in Saudi Arabia is projected to increase 51% between 2015 and 2050, though their share of the global Muslim population is expected to remain small at about 2%.

2Saudi Arabia is home to two of Islam’s holiest cities: Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad was born, and Medina, where he is buried. Every year, during the hajj, millions of Muslims from around the world travel to Mecca to complete the six-day pilgrimage to the Kaaba shrine. While the hajj is required once in the lifetime of every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford it, adherents of the faith also travel to Mecca during other times of the year to complete the shorter, voluntary umrah pilgrimage.

3The Saudi Arabian government follows an ultraconservative Wahhabi interpretation of the QuranWahhabism began as a social and religious reform movement in the 18th century and is closely associated with the founding and consolidation of the Saudi kingdom.  Wahhabism calls for the literal interpretation of the Quran and includes strict enforcement of religious codes and practices. For decades, the Wahhabi doctrine has been upheld by clerics who run the judiciary and by religious police. But, recently, Crown Prince Mohammed has been pushing back against the clerical establishment and has even stripped the religious police of the power to make arrests.

4Government restrictions on religion are “very high” in Saudi Arabia, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center report that looked at religious restrictions as of 2015. The kingdom is one of 23 countries out of 198 included in the study to earn this distinction, along with countries like China, Egypt and Iran. The desert kingdom falls in this top category of restrictions because it meets many of the Center’s criteria; for example, the constitution doesn’t allow for religious freedom, the government interferes with worship practices, and religious symbols – such as dress – are regulated by law. Saudi Arabia also has a “high” rating on our Social Hostilities Index, which measures aggression by private individuals, organizations or groups in society, such as religion-related harassment and terrorism.

5Young Saudi women are among the most educated in the Muslim world.Despite laws that require women to have a male guardian – a restriction that generally hampers their social mobility and access to jobs – young Saudi women are more educated than their male counterparts. As of 2010, about a third (35%) of Saudi women ages 25 to 34 held at least postsecondary degrees, compared with 28% of men, according to a Pew Research Center report. That’s a big change from previous generations. For example, only 3% of Saudi women ages 55 to 74 had gained higher education, versus 16% of men in that age group. While this recent educational progress hasn’t brought Saudi women up to the level of the U.S., for example, where 48% of women ages 25 to 34 had a postsecondary degree, Saudi Arabia is nevertheless ahead of other power brokers in the region such as Egypt (19%) and Iran (16%).

Saudi cleric endorses Valentine’s Day as ‘positive event not linked to religion’


April 14,2018


A prominent Saudi cleric on Wednesday endorsed Valentine’s Day, long forbidden in the kingdom, calling it a “positive social event” that was not linked to religion.

The comment from Ahmed Qassim al Ghamdi, former chief of the religious police in the holy city of Makkah, comes as 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues a far-reaching liberalisation drive that has upended years of conservative tradition.

“It is a positive social event and congratulating people for it is not against sharia (law),” Ghamdi told Saudi-owned al Arabiya television.

“It is an act of kindness to share greetings on Western national and social holidays, including Valentine’s Day, exchange red roses with others, as long as it is towards peaceful people who do not share animosity or are being at war with Muslims.”

Such comments from the Saudi clerical establishment would be inconceivable around two years ago, when the religious police wielded unbridled powers and were notorious for enforcing sex segregation.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia launched a series of reforms, including gradually diminishing the their powers to arrest.

Prince Mohammed, who has vowed to return the country to “moderate Islam”, has further cut back the political role of hardline clerics in a historic reordering of the Saudi state.

Abayas not necessary attire for Saudi women

Florists openly sold red roses and Valentine’s Day memorabilia in cities such as Jeddah on Wednesday without any trouble from the religious police, previously notorious for disrupting celebrations.

The declining presence of the religious police has been met with relief from many of the country’s young, but it has also sparked concern over a possible backlash from arch-conservatives.

But opposition to the prince’s reforms has been muted – at least publicly – after his crackdown on dissent, including arrests of prominent clerics with millions of followers on social media.


What did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman say about Shiites in Saudi Arabia?

SOURCE: Al Arabiya

Time: April 03, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaking to the Atlantic, said that both Sunni and Shiite Muslims lived in Saudi Arabia and that Shiite citizens are integral part of the kingdom’s society.

The crown prince’s statements on religious sects in Saudi Arabia came during his interview with The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg published on Monday.

“We believe we have, in Saudi Arabia, Sunni and Shiite. We believe we have within Sunni Islam four schools of thought, and we have the ulema [the religious authorities] and the Board of Fatwas [which issues religious rulings],” the Saudi crown prince said when asked by Goldberg about Wahhabism, a term Prince Mohammed bin Salman said no one could define as it didn’t exist in Saudi Arabia.

“Yes, in Saudi Arabia it’s clear that our laws are coming from Islam and the Quran, but we have the four schools—Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki—and they argue about interpretation. And you will find a Shiite in the cabinet, you will find Shiites in government, the most important university in Saudi Arabia is headed by a Shiite. So we believe that we are a mix of Muslim schools and sects,” he said.

Goldberg later asked the crown prince whether Saudi Arabia’s problem with Iran was religious which the latter then replied: “As I told you, the Shiites are living normally in Saudi Arabia. We have no problem with the Shiites. We have a problem with the ideology of the Iranian regime. Our problem is, we don’t think they have the right to interfere with our affairs”.