Religion in Saudi Arabia


Mar 10, 2018 


Religion of kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  Others (.7%)

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its law requires that all citizens should be Muslims.[1] Public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam is forbidden.[2][3] Any non-Muslim attempting to acquire Saudi Arabian nationality must convert to Islam.[4] Saudi Arabia has been criticized for its implementation of Islamic law and its poor human rights record.[5][6]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocracy. Religious minorities do not have the right to practice their religion. Non-Muslim propagation is banned, and conversion from Islam to another religion ispunishable by death as apostasy.[7] Proselytizing by non-Muslims, including the distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bibles, is illegal. In late 2014 a law was promulgated calling for the death penalty for anyone bringing into the country “publications that have a prejudice to any other religious beliefs other than Islam” (thought to include non-Muslim religious books).[8][9][10]

Religious groups[edit]


The official form of Islam is Sunni of the Hanbali school, in its Salafi version.[citation needed] According to official statistics, 85–95% of Saudi Arabian citizens are Sunni Muslims, 10–15% are Shia.[13] (More than 30% of the population is made up of foreign workers[13] who are predominantly but not entirely Muslim.) It is unknown how many Ahmadi Muslims there are in the country.[14] The two holiest cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, are in Saudi Arabia. For many reasons, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the holy cities although some Western non-Muslims have been able to enter, disguised as Muslims.[15][16]


The large number of foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia (8 million expatriates out of a total population of 27 million[17]) includes non-Muslims.

For non-Sunni Muslims, non-Muslims, and non-religious, “freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law” and Saudi “government policies continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom”, according to the 2013 International Religious Freedom Report of the US State Department.[18]

According to Human Rights Watch, the Shia Muslim minority face systematic discrimination from the Saudi Arabian government in education, the justice system and especially religious freedom.[19] Shias also face discrimination in employment and restrictions are imposed on the public celebration of Shia festivals such as Ashura and on the Shia taking part in communal public worship.[20][21]

As no faith other than Islam is permitted to be practiced, no churches, temples, or other non-Muslim houses of worship are permitted in the country although there are nearly a million Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists—nearly all foreign workers—in Saudi Arabia.[22][23] Private prayer services are suppressed and the Saudi Arabian religious police reportedly regularly search the homes of Christians.[22] Foreign workers are not allowed to celebrate Christmas or Easter.[22] In 2007, Human Rights Watch requested that King Abdullah stop a campaign to round up and deport foreign followers of the Ahmadiyya faith.[24]

Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal,[23] and conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) carries the death penalty, (although there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years).[23] Religious inequality extends to compensation awards in court cases. Once fault is determined, a Muslim receives all of the amount of compensation determined, a Jew or Christian half, and all others a sixteenth.[22] Saudi Arabia has officially identified atheists as terrorists.[25] Saudi Arabians or foreign residents who call “into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based” may be subject to as much as 20 years in prison.[26]

Policy of exclusion[edit]

According to scholar Bernard Lewis, the Saudi Arabian policy of excluding non-Muslim from permanent residence in the Arabian peninsula is a continuation of an old and widely accepted Muslim policy.

The classical Arabic historians tell us that in the year 20 after the hijra (Muhammad’s move from Mecca to Medina), corresponding to 641 of the Christian calendar, the Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from Arabia to fulfill an injunction Muhammad uttered on his deathbed: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” The people in question were the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar in the north and the Christians of Najran in the south.

[The hadith] was generally accepted as authentic, and Umar put it into effect. … Compared with European expulsions, Umar’s decree was both limited and compassionate. It did not include southern and southeastern Arabia, which were not seen as part of Islam’s holy land. … the Jews and Christians of Arabia were resettled on lands assigned to them – the Jews in Syria, the Christians in Iraq. The process was also gradual rather than sudden, and there are reports of Jews and Christians remaining in Khaybar and Najran for some time after Umar’s edict.

But the decree was final and irreversible, and from then until now the holy land of the Hijaz has been forbidden territory for non-Muslims. According to the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence, accepted by both the Saudi Arabians and the declaration’s signatories, for a non-Muslim even to set foot on the sacred soil is a major offense. In the rest of the kingdom, non-Muslims, while admitted as temporary visitors, were not permitted to establish residence or practice their religion.[27]

While Saudi Arabia does allow non-Muslims to live in Saudi Arabia to work, they may not practice religion publicly. According to the government of the United Kingdom:

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. However, the Saudi Arabian authorities accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you can bring a Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.[28]


According to one estimate there are about 1,000,000 Christians in Saudi Arabia, almost all foreign workers.[29] Christians have complained of religious persecution by authorities. In one case in December 2012, 35 Ethiopian Christians working in Jeddah (six men and 29 women who held a weekly evangelical prayer meeting) were arrested and detained by the kingdom’s religious police for holding a private prayer gathering. While the official charge was “mixing with the opposite sex” — a crime for unrelated people in Saudi Arabia — the offenders complained they were arrested for praying as Christians.[30] A 2006 report in Asia News states that there are “at least one million” Roman Catholics in the kingdom. It states that they are being “denied pastoral care … Catechism for their children – nearly 100,000 – is banned.” It reports the arrest of a Catholic priest for saying mass in 2006. “Fr. George [Joshua] had just celebrated mass in a private house when seven religious policemen (muttawa) broke into the house together with two ordinary policemen. The police arrested the priest and another person.”[31]

According to the Middle East editor of The Economist magazine, Nicolas Pelham, the kingdom contains “perhaps the largest and fastest-growing Christian community in the Middle East” and strict religious laws — such as banning Christians from Mecca and Medina — are not always enforced.[32]

Though Christians are forbidden from worshiping publicly, congregations at weekly prayer meetings on foreign compounds can be several hundred strong.[32]


As of 2001, there were an estimated 1,500,000 Indian nationals in Saudi Arabia,[33] most of them Muslims, but some Hindus. Like other non-Muslim religions, Hindus are not permitted to worship publicly in Saudi Arabia. There have also been some complaints of destruction of Hindu religious items by Saudi Arabian authorities.[34][35]


Disbelief in God is a capital offense in the kingdom.[36] Traditionally, influential conservative clerics have used the label ‘atheist’ to apply not to those who profess to believe that God does not exist, but to “those who question their strict interpretations of Islamic scriptures or express doubts about” Wahhabism.[36] Examples of those so condemned (but not executed) are

  • Hamza Kashgari, who was jailed for 20 months after tweeting some unconventional thoughts about Muhammad, “none of which indicated he did not believe in God”.[36]
  • Raif Badawi (editor of the Free Saudi Liberals website), who was sentenced to 1000 lashes, ten years in prison and fined 1 million riyal (equal to about $267,000) in 2014 after he was convicted of insulting Islam on his website and on television. The original 2013 sentence was seven years and 600 lashes, but was changed on appeal.[37][38]

In February/March 2014, a series of new anti-terrorism laws were decreed. Article 1 of the law also conflated atheism and religious dissent, outlawing “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.[39][40]

According to “anecdotal, but persistent” evidence, since sometime around 2010, the number of atheists in the kingdom has been growing.[36] According to some estimates, Saudi Arabia is claimed to have the highest rate of atheists in the Arab World and is the first Muslim-majority country to have its atheist population exceed five per cent.[41][42] News agencies such as Alhurra,[43] Saurress[44] and the American performance-management consulting company Gallup[45] have reported that 5–9% of the Saudi Arabian citizenry are atheists. If the 5% figure is taken into account, the numerical amount would imply that there are ‘almost a million’ Saudi atheists or 935,378 to be exact.[46] According to some, the growth of atheism and irreligion in the kingdom, may explain why the Saudi government issued an edict equating atheism to terrorism and subjecting atheists to punishments set for terrorism, including execution.[47][48][49]

A commission set up by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in 2014 to tackle ‘cyber criminals’ operating in the kingdom received reports of 2,734 cases of sites based in Saudi Arabia promulgating atheist sentiment.[50] A government official announced in that same year that 850 websites and social media pages espousing views deemed to be ‘atheistic’ in nature have been blocked in the country over a span of 16 months.[51]

Moderate Islam in King Salman’s era

SOURCE:Al Arabiya

4 March 2018

Mohammed Al Shaikh

Saudi King Salman is well aware of the machinations of Brotherhood, which exploits our honorable religion to gain political power even if it undermines the kingdom’s security and stability. After becoming King, one of his first decisions was to decisively curb their activities. King Salman had closely dealt with them when he was governor of Riyadh. We knew for a fact that these Brotherhood affiliates were few in number. However, they had a loud voice because they were organized, or to be more accurate, because they received directions from their foreign patrons even if it was at the expense of the kingdom’s independence and sovereignty.


Small minority of extremists

The Brotherhood’s unity, particularly in the media, sought to make people think they were many in number and that they had a wide following among a large cross-section of people across the kingdom. The truth is that the vast majority of Saudi people are moderate Muslims, and they do not create nuisance. This was evident when they welcomed the state’s decisions to modernize and catch up with the world. A large number of citizens have attended various events organized by the entertainment authorities. This proves, beyond the shadow of doubt, about what we always believed about the influence of Islamists and how “they are the most vocal but very few in number.”


Extremists in the country received directions from their foreign patrons even if it was at the expense of the kingdom’s independence and sovereignty.


Mohammed Al Shaikh

Man by nature hates isolation which the Prophet (peace be upon him) warned against as is evident from his own life. However, there are people who find in extremism what they cannot find in tolerance and openness and choose to isolate themselves and ignore the famous saying: “Live for your worldly life as if you are living forever, and work for your Hereafter as if you are dying tomorrow.” This happens everywhere and at all times and it’s not exclusive to one religion. It is most probably due to psychological reasons or narrow-mindedness. Moderate Muslims must balance between the requirements of life and religion. They must contribute to everything that enhances security, welfare and stability without having religion overshadow the worldly.


King Salman’s reign of transformation

We are witnessing a clear manifestation of this balance, which the religion of Islam has urged and which early Muslims practiced during the prosperous phase of the Islamic civilization. This balance has in fact been the most important factor that helped Islam reach all the corners of the world.


Observers around the world have wondered why extremist preachers, who promote isolation, have gone silent. I think the most important reason is because extremism is simply not the basis of Islam, but the opposite is true. Extremists and Islamists are the ones who distort Islam and have projected it as an intolerant religion when instead Islam calls for “for arguing in a way that is best” and not by resorting to violence, like extremists who promote political Islam do.


This blessed era of King Salman’s rule marks a real transformation in our country to resolutely return to moderate Islam in all fields of life. I have no doubt that history will talk a lot about this impressive transformation.

Council of Senior Scholars (Saudi Arabia)


Mar 1, 2018

The Council of Senior Scholars (Majlis Hay’at Kibar al-‘Ulama – مجلس هيئة كبار العلماء, also known as the Senior Council of Ulema) is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia‘s highest religious body, and advises the king on religious matters.[1][2] [3]The council is appointed by the king, with salaries paid by the government. As of 2009, the council was made up of 21 members.[2] Saudi King Fahd has continued the precedent set by earlier kings of meeting weekly with Council members who resided in the capital, Riyadh.[4] As of 2010, Saudi King Abdullah decreed that only members of the Council and a few other clerics could issue fatwa in Saudi Arabia.[2] (List of members of the council as of June 2013)


Prior to 1971, the council met informally, headed by the Grand Mufti.[1] (As of 2009, the Grand Mufti—Sheikh Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al Shaykh—is still the head of the council.) On 29 August 1972 King Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz issued a royal decree establishing the Council.[5]

Until 2009, the body was restricted to members of the Hanbali madhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence). On 14 February of that year King Abdullah expanded the Committee to include scholars from the other three Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Shafi’i, Hanafi and Maliki).[2] Despite the newfound diversity, observers note that the scholars continue to hold very similar positions in regard to ʿAqīdah (creed).[2]


The Senior Council assists in reviewing requests for fatwas prepared by the four (or five) member Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas whose membership is drawn from the Senior Council. The members of the Senior Council are appointed to four year terms.[6] In 2010, Saudi King Abdullah decreed that only officially approved religious scholars would be allowed to issue fatwas in Saudi Arabia, primarily the members the Council of Senior Scholars.[2] At least one Islamic fatwa website Islam-QA run by Saudi Islamic scholar Muhammad Al-Munajid was banned in Saudi Arabia as a result.[2][7]

The Senior Council and the Permanent Committee issue fatwas, the imams communicate them, and the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice enforces their rulings.[1]


While the ulema of Saudi Arabia and the Council are sometimes used interchangeably (for example here), in fact, of the estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people that make up the ulama and their families, only thirty to forty of the most senior scholars “exercised substantive political influence”.[4]


According to Simon Henderson, the council must give a fatwa of approval before a new king is crowned.[8] According to the Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism, the council serves in theory to guide the Saudi king and to verify his “fidelity” to the Islamic principle of “absolute obedience” to Islamic law upon which “the absolute authority of the sovereign” over the Saudi population rests.[9] However, in practice the council “virtually never expresses opposition to any proposal from the royal family.”.[9]

Support for monarchy[edit]

The Council is often used to provide religious support for government edicts. For example, in 2011 it issued a fatwa ruling against protest demonstrations calling them “deviant intellectual and partisan connections”. Demonstrations “and anything that leads to disunity and fragmentation of the nation” were not allowed under Sharia (Islamic law). Reform could only come from giving advice and counsel, “and not by issuing and collecting signatures on intimidating and incendiary statements that violate what God the most High has commanded” (sura 4, aya 83, of the Koran were cited in support).[10]

It is rarely in opposition to government policy, and when it does disagree, the Council generally expresses it by silence.[2] Observers differ as to how much influence the Council has. Many believe the government generally consults the Council prior to issuing legislation, while other believe that “more often than not”, the government does “as it likes and then seeks approval after the fact”.[2] According to Christopher Boucek,[11] the influence of the Council and ulema in general varies according to how “secure” the royal family feels. Great levels of royal confidence lead to less disregard shown to, and greater control over the religious establishment.[2] Unlike other ulema, Saudi scholars do not have income-generating lands or endowments to fund them and are dependent on government salaries.[1]

In 1992 King Fahd pressured seven members of the Senior Ulema into retirement after they failed to sign a letter condemning conservative attacks on the al-Saud family.[1] In 2009, another member—Sheikh Saad bin Nasser al-Shithri—was pressured to resign after he opposed gender mixing at the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the first co-ed university in the Kingdom.[12]

Saudi cleric says women need not wear abaya robe in public

SOURCE: The Guardian

Time: 11 February, 2018


Saudi women should not have to wear the loose-fitting abaya robe to shroud their bodies in public, a senior cleric said, in the latest sign of a far-reaching liberalisation drive.

“More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas,” said Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the council of senior scholars – the kingdom’s highest religious body.

“So we should not force people to wear abayas,” he told a television programme broadcast on Friday.

Saudi Arabia, which has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, requires them to wear the garment by law.

The government has not said whether it will change the law, but this is the first such comment from a senior religious figure.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recently introduced a series of reforms in favour of women as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.

Saudi Arabia last month allowed women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a game.

The move came four months after the kingdom announced an end to a long-standing ban on women driving – a major change to the country’s ultra-conservative social order.

But women still face a number of restrictions.

Under Saudi Arabia’s existing guardianship system, a male family member – normally the father, husband or brother – must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and a host of other activities.

Sheikh Mutlaq’s comment sparked a host of reactions on social media, including from other clerics who backed his statement.

One Saudi Twitter user commented: “Chastity and morality should not be tied to a piece of cloth.”


Saudi religious police’s decline under spotlight

SOURCE:Straits Times

FEB 10, 2018,

Street dance video highlights rift between conservatives and youth

RIYADH • A veiled Saudi woman and an unrelated man jig and twirl on a busy street, stirring a furious debate about the waning influence of the once-feared religious police, notorious for enforcing sex segregation.

For decades the “mutawa”, as the religious police are known, wielded unbridled powers as arbiters of morality, patrolling the streets and malls to snare women wearing bright nail polish and chastise men seeking contact with the opposite sex.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has launched a series of reforms, including gradually diminishing the mutawa’s powers to arrest. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also further cut back the political role of hardline clerics in a historic reordering of the Saudi state.

The video of the street dance – no minor infraction in a society steeped in conservatism – has roiled public opinion as it surfaced this week, prompting calls for the couple to be arrested. The authorities pledged swift action amid raging commentary on social media, which laid bare the resentment in conservative quarters over the mutawa’s diminishing presence and the uncertainty over their future role.

The mutawa, who fall under a government agency known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Their declining presence has also been met with relief from many of the country’s young. Tearing down partitions dividing the genders, many restaurants in Riyadh are now seen humming with music and mixed-gender crowds, a scene unimaginable until two years ago.

In recent weeks, columnists in Saudi newspapers such as the prominent pro-government Okaz have even openly called for the mutawa to be abolished, arguing that they are an unnecessary financial burden.

Their decline comes as 32-year-old Prince Mohammed – himself a millennial in a country where half the population is under 25 – pursues a liberalisation drive that has upended years of conservative tradition. He has lifted bans on women driving and cinemas, as well as introduced an array of entertainment and sporting options, sidelining the kingdom’s arch-conservatives, once the traditional backers of the royal family. 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.

“The influence of conservative clerics has always been exaggerated,” said Saudi researcher Hesham Alghannam of Britain’s University of Exeter. “Girls’ sports, cinemas, concerts or even the disbanding of religious police are not things they can prevent from happening. The kingdom is able to push through such reforms without expecting a backlash.”

Still, there is a delicate balance between social liberalisation and alienating conservatives, and the authorities appear careful not to antagonise religious sensitivities.

“There is a difference between moderate Islam and no Islam at all,” said a Riyadh-based businessman, requesting anonymity as he did not want to be seen as criticising the Prince. “Aside from upholding public morals, the mutawa also went after drug dealers and criminals harassing the public.”

Saudi cleric banned for saying women’s brains ‘a quarter the size’ of men’s

SOURCE: The Guardian

Time: 23 September 2017

A Saudi cleric who said women should not drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping has been banned from preaching.

Saad al-Hijri, head of fatwas (legal opinions) in Saudi Arabia’s Assir governorate, was suspended from all religious activity after advising against allowing women to drive in a speech that contained comments “diminishing human value”, a spokesman for the governor of Asir province said.

Women remain banned from driving in Saudi Arabia despite ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce.

The ultra-conservative kingdom has some of the world’s tightest restrictions for women. They are also bound by law to wear long robes and a headscarf and require the consent of a male guardian for most legal actions, including study, travel and other activities.

In a video this week, Hijri asked what the traffic department would do it if it discovered a man with only half a brain. “Would it give him a licence or not? It would not. So how can it give it to a woman when she has only half?” he said.

“If she goes to the market she loses another half. What is left? A quarter … We demand the traffic department check because she is not suitable to drive and she has only a quarter.”

The comments sparked outrage on social media, which is hugely popular in the kingdom.

Twitter users shared the video, many criticising it and making jokes about his remarks, under the Arabic hashtag “Al-Hijri-women-quarter-brain”.

The hashtag was used 119,000 times in just 24 hours.

Some users posted pictures of Saudi female scientists and academics in response and questioned Hijri’s own intellectual capacities.

But there were many others who supported the cleric, and the hashtag “Al-Hijri is with the woman, not against her” was used on 20,000 tweets in the same time period.

Hijri’s suspension, ordered by the provincial governor, was aimed at preventing the spread of views that spark controversy and do not serve the national interest, the provincial spokesman said.

The Saudi government’s modernising reforms, backed by Saudi Arabia’s business class, have sparked tensions with influential clerics upon whose support the ruling family relies.

Some clerics have millions of followers on social media.


Proposal to dilute Saudi religious police powers put to Shura

SOURCE:Gulf News

September 20, 2017

Shura member says there is much overlap in the tasks of the religious police and the Islamic Affairs Ministry

Manama: Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council will next week debate a proposal to integrate the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

“We successfully convinced the competent side within the Shura Council to take up the proposal and submit it for a general debate after the concerned Shura committee turned it down,” Shura member Atta Al Sabiti said.

“We believe that the best option is to place the commission under the ministry because its tasks are very close and similar to what departments within the ministry are doing,” he said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday.

The move would become official after the Shura Council approves it and King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz endorses it, he added.

Al Sabiti said the proposal, in case it is approved, would also be beneficial for the state budget since it would avoid double work and consequently reduce expenses.

The Commission, often described as the morals police, used to be among the most powerful institutions in Saudi Arabia and enjoyed immense power.

However, reports that the commission failed to deal with some situations professionally repeatedly prompted harsh criticism on social media. In April, the Saudi cabinet clipped its powers and limited its prerogatives, including the right to arrest people or to chase them in vehicles.

The Shura Council is made up of 150 members, including 30 women, who advice on the policy to be taken by Saudi Arabia.


New Saudi policy will ensure clerics fall in line


Time: September 13, 2017

On Sunday, Saudi authorities arrested an unspecified number of religious figures in a move that may very well signal a policy turn. While no reasons were publicly given as to why they were arrested, the authorities announced two separate operations on the same day. One case involved an ISIL plot, while the other, presumably related to the arrests of the clerics, involved individuals with “foreign intelligence” links. At least three notable clerics were apprehended, although unconfirmed reports suggest the number could be as high as 20.

The arrests, made by the recently established state security directorate, appear to be sending a message to vocal clerics that their time is up. It is a signal that authorities may be drawing new lines and changing their rules of engagement when it comes to dealing with certain types of Islamist-leaning figures.


As pro-government Saudis see it, those figures have learned how to tiptoe over red lines to express adversarial religious and political positions without the risk of punishment. Authorities want to put an end to the situation.

Both supporters and critics of the three clerics have apparently received the supposed message. For example, Abdul Latif Al ASheikh, the former chief of the Saudi religious police, commented on Twitter that the time was now ripe for a clampdown; Saad Al Faqih, a Saudi dissident in London, said the “margin of freedom” previously enjoyed by these religious figures was now closed.

Who are these figures? The clerics – who include Salman Al Odah, Awad Al Qarni and Ali Al Omari, as well as other unconfirmed individuals – are associated with a religious current that dates back to the 1970s, when a broad process of hybridisation between revolutionary Islamist ideas and Salafi teachings led to the birth of a new breed of clericswho portray themselves as reformists. Although products of the trend varied, they tended to be revolutionary. Many of the figures influenced by the trend went on to become jihadis or to directly influence jihadis, while others continued to adhere to peaceful activism.

Some of the most hardline clerics, violent and non-violent, were jailed in the early 2000s in Saudi Arabia for jihadi links. Others, peaceful but politically vocal, continued to enjoy a level of freedom to voice their views. In the wake of the Arab uprisings in 2011, they became social media stars with followers in the millions. They occasionally mobilised supporters against domestic and foreign policies, issuing fatwas and opinions on geopolitics and conflicts in the region.

A clampdown on these clerics was expected and will likely develop into a systematic effort to reverse their influence. Indeed, the role of such clerics is at the heart of the continuing diplomatic and political dispute with Qatar. Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of supporting religious and political elements within their societies. When Riyadh took the unprecedented measures against Doha, it expected such figures to fall in line. It made it clear that criticism of the measures against Qatar was a red line, punishable by imprisonment. While most clerics expressed unequivocal support for their country’s grievance with Qatar, these clerics remained silent.


The polarisation in the Qatar row plays against individuals with pro-Islamist sympathies. In addition, pressure on these clerics and activists came at a time when their credibility was already waning inside and outside the country. Their fatwas permitting jihad in several Arab countries, hate speech and other toxic views led to a pushback in recent years. Their one-time dominance online started to become increasingly challenged by young voices fed up by civil wars, sectarianism and “untouchable” celebrity clerics.

As the Qatar crisis erupted in June, Gulf officials privately indicated that a major focus for the countries opposed to Qatari policies would be activist clerics such as the ones arrested over the weekend.

Demand for compliance and solidarity with one’s country had more to do with ensuring uniformity rather than to undermine Qatar.

Even as the diplomatic stalemate with Qatar persists, the four countries see progress on the home front to be a key gain in and of itself.

At the end of the day, their anti-Qatar campaign is primarily a housekeeping effort to shield their countries from what they perceive to be a destabilising ideology with nerve centres in Qatar.

Regardless of how Saudi authorities deal with the arrested clerics, the move almost certainly marks a significant policy change. This new policy will likely continue in different forms to force clerics with previously unfettered religious and political views to fall in line.

Six years ago, these clerics could issue fatwas with no regard for consequences. Saudis repeatedly blamed them online and in mainstream media for youth moving to Syria and joining jihadi groups, but the clerics found themselves under no pressure to change their discourse. Evidently, this seems to be changing.


No return to previous powers of Saudi religious police

SOURCE: Arab News

May 14, 2017

JEDDAH: There will be no return to the previous powers of the religious police, which were regulated last year by a Cabinet decree, an expert with in-depth knowledge of Saudi governmental affairs told Arab News.
The source was speaking in response to an inquiry relating to an active hashtag created by some social media users propagating inaccurate news that the religious police’s powers would be restored in full.
“The story is related to a statement attributed to the religious police official spokesperson, Turki Al-Shalil, which said there’s a soon-to-be announced project to improve and enhance the force’s field operation,” the expert said.
“We always knew the religious police field operations required improvement and enhancement. There’s nothing new there as the guidelines that were announced last year were targeted to end the violations and curb the powers of this body so they revert to their original brief of guiding and assisting people, not arresting or interrogating them, which isn’t their responsibility,” he added.
“More importantly, the religious police reform and governing guidelines were announced last year by a Cabinet decree, and anyone who knows anything about how governments work will tell you that a Cabinet decree can only be undone by another Cabinet decree, and there have been no such new decrees announced.”
In April last year, the government barred the religious police from pursuing suspects or making arrests.
“Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or the religious police, will not be allowed to pursue, question, request identification from, or arrest, suspects,” said a Cabinet statement in April last year.
“Members must instead report suspected crimes to the police or drug authorities, who will carry out law enforcement actions. Members are now also required to show identity cards while carrying out official duties,” the statement said.