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memri
September 22, 2005 No.
242

In the Arab Press: Criticism of Rejoicing at Hurricane Katrina

Recently, the Arab press has published articles harshly critical of the instances of gloating and rejoicing over the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Various columnists, intellectuals, and sheikhs called for helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and said that this rejoicing ran counter to the values of tolerance in Islam, and indeed, to all humanist sentiment. Some even suggested that what was needed in light of such reactions of rejoicing was "long-term reform" or "reprogramming" of the modern Arab mind.

One instance of rejoicing and gloating that was especially criticized was the August 31, 2005 op-ed, in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, by senior Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments official Muhammad Yousuf Al-Mlaifi. In it, Al- Mlaifi stated that " Katrina is a wind of torment and evil from Allah sent to this American empire" see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 977, Senior Kuwaiti Official: ‘Katrina is a Wind of Torment and Evil from Allah Sent to This American Empire’.

This report will review the criticism in the Arab press of Al-Mlaifi's article, along with criticism of other instances of rejoicing and gloating at the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Reactions to Al-Mlaifi

U.S. Ambassador Responds in Al-Siyassa: "How Abhorrent This Is!"

In response to Al-Mlaifi's article, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Richard LeBaron sent an article to Al-Siyassa titled "When the View Is Abhorrent."The paper printed his article on the front page, in the name of "the democracy and dialogue in which we all believe."

LeBaron wrote: "They told me that sometimes there is no need to respond to every aggressive or silly opinion in the paper, and I realize the wisdom of this counsel. But sometimes the view is so abhorrent that humanity demands a declared stance regarding it. This is the situation with regard to the column that appeared in your paper on August 31 [2005], by Muhammad Al-Mlaifi, an official in the [Kuwaiti] Ministry of Religious Endowments. Mr. Al-Mlaifi pointed out that Hurricane Katrina was sent by Allah to punish America. [He did this] as a commentator exploiting the human suffering of an innocent people, and in order to raise a high-flownpolitical claim and, by means of this, to intensify the hostility... How abhorrent this is! It saddens me that your paper has lent a hand to the spreading of this kind of abhorrent hostility towards the souls lost in this natural disaster...

"We have received from the Kuwaitis many heartfelt condolences, and also general proposals for aid, and we express our deep thanks in light of the [Kuwaitis'] shows of friendship and support. I hope that Al-Siyassa's readers will join in prayer for those whose loss was greater than we had expected. Similarly, we are certain that your readers will object to the justifications for this hatred raised by those who enjoy the suffering of others, and by doing so violate the fundamental principle of the religion and of all humanism." [1]

Al-Mlaifi: My Article Represents Neither the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments nor the Newspaper

On September 7, also in Al-Siyassa, Al-Mlaifi published a rebuttal to U.S. Ambassador LeBaron: "I will not respond to the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait. Rather, I will touch on one point, and that is that the American ambassador has involved the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs in the matter, while he knows full well that there is no connection between what I write and my government post... This puzzling urge to involve the name of the ministry was not by chance – rather, it was aimed at signaling to the ministry about the need to 'intimidate' this official, and so that this matter would cross the line of responding to and refuting your view, and reach [the point of] war on your livelihood – just because you refused to show love and loyalty to the U.S....

"I stress – as the Ministry of Religious Endowments [also] declared – that everything I have written in the past, write in the present, and will write in the future is unconnected to the Ministry of Religious Endowments... Even the Al-Siyassa newspaper has no connection to my personal perception. The best proof of this is that when I called the [paper's] editor-in-chief Ahmad Al-Jarallah, he told me, 'If you think that this hurricane was sent by Allah to America because they are infidels, do you also think that the tsunami that struck Muslim Indonesia happened because they are infidels?'

"The Al-Siyassa paper published this opinion, which aroused the ire of the U.S., because of its [the paper's] belief in freedom of opinion, while others are slaughtering [this freedom] in the guillotine of the phony American kindness..." [2]

Kuwaiti Columnist to U.S. Ambassador: I Join Your Call to Oppose Anything that Fans the Hatred

Al-Siyassa published additional articles referring to Al-Mlaifi's article and its aftermath. In an article titled "A Letter from a Friend to the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait,"Kuwaiti columnist Dr. Khaled Al-Janfawi wrote: "All the Kuwaitis are hurting in light of what happened as a result of the saddening Katrina disaster. We all, as Kuwaiti citizens, identify with the victims of this destructive hurricane...

"I, as a writer, personally express my condolences to all the families of the innocent victims in the disaster-struck U.S. and hope and pray that God will give them relief, will help aid them in their trials, and will lessen their suffering... As a writer for the Al-Siyassa paper, as one of its faithful readers, as a Kuwaiti intellectual, and as an ordinary Kuwaiti citizen, I join you and the overwhelming majority of Kuwaiti citizens in opposing anything that fans the hatred among individuals or among human societies in general." [3]

Kuwaiti Intellectual: Where Is the Loyalty to the U.S., Who Stood Alongside Us During Iraq 's Invasion of Kuwait ?

In another article, Dr. Shamlan Al-'Issa, political science lecturer at Kuwait University, stated that the spreading of hatred against the U.S. by the circles of political Islam stems from fear of the spread of democracy and ideas of freedom: "While the Emir, the Crown Prince, and the Prime Minister [of Kuwait] sends to the American president George Bush telegrams of solidarity in the name of the Kuwaiti people, and expresses sorrow for the destructive hurricanes... one of the writers belonging to political Islam (the Muslim Brotherhood) writes in the Al-Siyassa paper... an article titled ' Katrina – One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda. ' In his article, the author Muhammad Yousuf Al-Mlaifi tried to say that the hurricane that struck the U.S. was nothing but divine rage... He tried to base this on some verses and Hadiths of the Prophet to prove his words, but [at the same time] ignored the dozens of verses and Hadiths of the Prophet that call to aid people in times of crisis, and to preach love, peace, and kindness towards all people.

"How do the writers of the Muslim Brotherhood benefit from spreading hostility and hatred against the American people that is our friend, with whose government we maintain security and strategic ties? Where is the loyalty to the American government and people, that stood beside us during the Iraqi invasion [of Kuwait] and played a pioneering role in liberating our country? Why are the political Islam groups deliberately arousing resentment and hatred towards the American people and government, while our interests and security depend on the U.S. ?

"The reason for the hatred of the U.S. goes back to the American campaign against terrorism in the world. These groups fear the spread of democracy [and of] the ideas of freedom and human rights in the Arab homeland and the Gulf.

"Every writer belonging to political Islam... has the right to criticize American foreign policy, and the position of the American administration regarding the Palestinian problem, Afghanistan, or Iraq. But it is prohibited [for any writer] to attack our friend the American people, and to treat disasters, destruction, death, and human suffering and displacement as divine wrath... I have found no better, more respectable people, and no people that is kinder to others, than the American people. This good people is worthy of all our good and all our blessings, and of the speedy disappearance of the remnants of the great devastation of this destructive hurricane.

"What are these words about the winds of torment and the evil wind brought down by Allah? Such irresponsible words cannot leave the mouth of a Muslim who loves to spread good for all humanity. What is harmful and saddening is that the liberal writers [in Kuwait] are persecuted, summoned to the prosecutor-general, and put on trial merely because they express protest, and write about the mistaken activities of the political Islam groups... I personally was also put on trial, because I wrote an article critical of the curricula of the [Kuwaiti] Ministry of Education. Why this double standard in legal proceedings? Why are [the representatives of the political Islam groups] entitled to write whatever they want and to criticize not only the [Kuwaiti] government and society but also the countries and peoples that are its friends? Is this the wasatiyya [middle path] that the [Kuwaiti] reform government claims it is adopting?" [4]

More Rejoicing over Katrina in the Arab Media

Besides Al-Mlaifi's article, there were other calls for rejoicing in the Arab and Muslim world at Hurricane Katrina:

Al-Zarqawi in a Communique: Katrina Is the Beginning of the Collapse of the U.S.

On September 4, the Information Department of Al-Qaeda in Iraq posted on the Islamist message forums a communiqué by Commander Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi. It read: "[Allah] the Supreme says in [the Koran,] Surat Al-R'ad ['The Thunder', Chapter 13], Verse 31: ' The disaster will keep striking the unbelievers for what they have done, or it will strike areas close to their territory, until the promise of Allah comes to pass, for, verily, Allah will not fail in His promise.'

"Congratulations to the nation of Islam, to our Jihad-fighting sheikh Osama Abu Abdallah [i.e. Osama bin Laden], to our Emir of Religion Muhammad 'Omar [i.e. Mullah 'Omar], and to Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Congratulations to the men of Al-Falluja, Qaim, Haditha, and Al-Karabila. Congratulations to our men in Palestine, congratulations to the nation of Islam on the devastation of the head of unbelief – America. Behold, the buds of the collapse [of America] are beginning. Every day, the disaster strikes them, or areas close to their territory. ' Their dwellings are empty and in ruins because they did wrong. Here is indeed a portent for people who have knowledge [Koran 27:52]'... Yesterday, America attacked whomever it wanted, killed whomever it wanted, and starved whomever it wanted; today, it is asking for petroleum and food. Today, Allah's attack on America took place, and the call of the oppressed was answered." [5]

Fatwa by Saudi Sheikh: We Must Rejoice Over Katrina Disaster

Saudi Sheikh Nasser Al-'Omar posted an essay titled "Your Sovereign Lies in Wait For You... a View on America's Disaster," on his website at www.almoslim.net. In it, he ruled that Muslims must rejoice over Hurricane Katrina: "One of the brothers called me during the time of [giving] a fatwa and asked me: Is it permitted to rejoice at the hurricanes that struck America, and at the destruction and ruin caused as a result of this in several of its states? I asked him: Why do you ask? And he said: There are those who say that it is forbidden to rejoice at this – rather, regret and sadness should be expressed over [the disaster] that struck them, as a sign of solidarity with humanity, as Allah has said, 'We have honored the sons of Adam [Koran 17:70].' I said to him: Oh my brother, presenting this proof [from the Koran] is incorrect. These verses are inappropriate [for explaining this]. What is the connection between respecting man and refraining from rejoicing over harm to infidels, oppressors, and aggressors? Furthermore, we must rejoice over what struck these oppressors, tyrants, and arrogant ones...

" America is the leader of oppression, tyranny, and arrogance in this era... The history of America is a black history, on all levels and across the world, and particularly in all things regarding the Islamic nation. America is an infidel, oppressing nation that rebels against Allah and His Messenger and fights against the Muslims. It has polluted and plundered the book of Allah [the Koran]. It is close to all evil and distant from all good. It is the patron of terrorism in the world... Don't we have the right to rejoice over Allah's response to the calls of the weak and the oppressed in the world? Why shouldn't we rejoice? What struck them [i.e. the Americans] is a punishment from Allah for their crimes. ' The disaster will keep striking the unbelievers for what they have done, or it will strike areas close to their territory, until the promise of Allah comes to pass, for, verily, Allah will not fail in His promise [Koran 13:31].' [6]

Islamist Columnists: Allah Will Continue His War Against the U.S.

Dr. Khaled Al-Khaledi, head of the Department of History and Archeology at the Islamic University in Gaza, wrote in the Hamas weekly Al-Risala, and also in the London paper Al-Haqaeq: "The only reason for this disaster is that Allah is angry at them, and wants to punish them and torment them with torments that he promised for every arrogant oppressor... [He punished them] because they declared war on His religion, and on its virtuous believers. They ordered their slaves who rule our lands to close the madrassas [Koran seminaries] and to change the curricula, that are based on the Koran and the Sunna; they have demanded the arrest or the killing of the virtuous sons of the nation who call for judging according to the Shari'a of Allah in their land, and oppose foreign rule in their land...

"[They were also punished] because they attacked the Muslims in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and killed their women and children and elderly... and because they hate Islam and its Prophet and look at the Muslims as inferior...

"Allah will continue His war against America, its allies, and its helpers, and against all the arrogant ones who treat His believers with aggression..." [7]

Dr. Muhammad Al-Sama'i wrote in a similar vein, in an article posted on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's website www.ikhwanonline.com: "It is saddening that all the media did not point at the truth – which is that this hurricane is a sign of the signs of Allah, and a response to the calls of the oppressed, the wounded, and the believers for Allah to destroy the oppressors and frighten them as they frightened the believers' children and wives. Is this hurricane not a soldier from the soldiers of Allah, to Whom we call to send it to America ? Is this not a response to the calls of those who were killed by the American bombs that every day completely destroy the homes of peaceful people in Haditha, Tal'afar, Qaim, and Falluja?" [8]

Columnists in the Arab Media Criticize the Rejoicing over Hurricane Katrina

"…Islam's Tolerance Must be Proven Through Solidarity and Aid Following the Katrina Disaster…"

The rejoicing over Hurricane Katrina and statements that it was a punishment from Allah because of U.S. policy were met with scathing criticism in the Arab media. Saudi columnist Hussein Shubakshi wrote in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "I ask myself, what will the Arabs in general, and the Saudis in particular, do with what is happening in America? There is a group that praises and dances with joy, and treats Katrina as a soldier in the brigades of death, and as a fighter who has successfully carried out her role. But it is clear that there are groups that believe in the integration of civilizations, in the tolerant message of Islam, and in extending aid. If this religion announces that someone who helps a cat or a dog goes to Paradise, then all the more so regarding someone who helps a human being.

"Will the aid and rescue planes be filled with equipment and sent to Louisiana and Mississippi ? Will there be television programs to collect donations? Perhaps now is the appropriate time to implement the theory of wasatiyya [the middle path], openness towards the other, [and the statement] that there are 'no problems with the Americans, but with their foreign policy.' Today, many of the statements will be put to the test...

"The lesson is not [connected] to America and the Americans. The important lesson is to revive, once again, the morality, spirit, and tolerance of the [Muslim] religion, after the religion has been plundered by a group that does not recognize these concepts." [9]

[Rejoicing] Reflects a Sick Situation That Requires Long-Term Treatment

Qeinan Al-Ghamdi, former editor of the Saudi daily Al-Watan, called on the Muslim nation to oppose the phenomenon by means of its institutions and media: "Those who find the catastrophes to be opportunities for vengeance harm not only themselves but also our great religion of Islam, that came [to bring] compassion to the world. Since the [August 31, 2005] Imams Bridge disaster in Baghdad, and the Hurricane Katrina disaster in America, the Internet has become full of those sick in 'mind and soul,' who sigh with satisfaction at the [Imams Bridge] disaster caused to the Shiites – our brothers in religion, language, and fate – 1,000 of whom were killed, and also at the disaster caused to our brothers in humanity in America [of whom] an estimated 10,000 and more were killed...

"The Arab and Muslim leaders send their condolences to the American president, and some of them have begun also to send economic aid, while those sick in 'mind and soul' on the Internet breathe a sigh of satisfaction and wish for additional disasters. What mind is this, and what soul is this?! What kind of religion is the religion in whose name they pretend to speak, as they wish for the devastation, destruction, and killing of humanity? Isn't the true Muslim the one appointed by Allah on Earth so that he will build it, not so that he will destroy it?...

"There will be those who say that the writers [on the Internet] are using pseudonyms, and represent no one but themselves. This is true to some extent. But the stance itself reflects a sick situation that requires ideological treatment and long-term reform. The entire [Muslim] nation must oppose it, by means of its various institutions and from its media platforms." [10]

Saudi columnist Khaled Al-Ghanami wrote in the same paper: "There are people who maintained that the human stance that we need to take [following Hurricane Katrina] is complete rejoicing, with the argument that America is occupying Iraq and supporting Israel. If you browse the Islamic forums, you find congratulations, words of acclaim and praise, and also open rejoicing over this event. Obviously, [these people] are not missing the opportunity to exploit the event in order to frighten the Muslims of a similar fate if they don't remove the satellite channels from their homes...

"In contrast, others think that malicious joy is a negative, base sentiment, even towards enemies... and that the paragon of all the Muslims, [the Prophet] Muhammad bin Abdallah, was not a man who expressed malicious joy, nor was he vengeful; rather, he overlooked injury [to himself] until he triumphed, and when he triumphed, he pardoned and forgave, and said [to his enemies]: 'Go, you are freed.'

"In my opinion, the reason for this strange and shameful stance [of malicious joy] is the confusion that people have in Arab society. We, the Arabs, cannot look at a person apart from his tribe; we must judge everyone we see according to what we accuse his tribe of. So Zayd kills 'Omar because 'Omar's cousin killed Zayd's brother... The Arab position with regard to the Katrina disaster proves what was already known – and this is that the modern moral Arab mind needs reprogramming, in order to be more moral and more human..." [11]

In an article in Al-Siyassa titled "Hurricane Katrina and Ideological Terrorism," Saudi columnist Yousuf Al-Swidan wrote: "The criminal terrorist Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi was intoxicated, and danced with joy, following the tragedy of the American citizens in Louisiana. He extended his congratulations and good wishes to his partner in crime, Osama bin Laden, who, like him, is wanted, and to their partners who announce, with their sick souls, that this hurricane is the beginning of the collapse of the U.S.

"At the same time, Muslim writers see nothing wrong with linking this hurricane – which is a natural phenomenon that is known and recognized, and recurs across the globe, and experts in meteorological and research centers follow its movements and research it – with U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to spread the ideology of takfir [accusing other Muslims of heresy], vengefulness, hatred, and rejoicing at others' misfortune. This is in contradiction to healthy logic, and to solidarity and the human conscience... that crosses political, religious, racial, and ideological disputes... We express our profound human solidarity and our condolences to our friend the American people, to all those who were harmed, and to the families of the victims of Hurricane Katrina." [12]

Attributing Every Disaster to Punishment by Allah Interferes With Man's Capability for Thought and Inquiry

In an article titled "Katrina – Between Legend and the Koran," 'Ali Al-Dhaidi, head of the cultural committee of the Union of Kuwaiti Teachers, wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas:

"We believe that Allah punished ancient nations such as the [old Arab tribe] 'Aad, the makers of the pit, [13] and others, following their crimes. [Similarly, we believe] that perhaps Allah punished one nation for a reason that some will consider petty. [In the Koranic tale of the Prophet Saleh] we saw how Allah destroyed a large nation because of a she-camel worth not even a few dirham. [That is,] everything in the universe goes according to the planning of Allah, and Allah's punishment of the rebellious nations is a certain way [of the world].

"But if we attribute everything to punishment from Allah, instead of thinking of the earthly reasons for these events, this is likely to interfere with man's capability for thought, and paralyze his ability to think about the world of Allah.

"Instead of analyzing the scientific reasons that cause the formation of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters, and instead of conducting scientific studies that will interpret these phenomena for us, there are those who prefer to take a shortcut, and to attribute all these events to the wrath and grievance of Allah. It seems that this is because this is the easiest solution – instead of wasting time, money, and effort on researching geography and the universe, by means of which it will be possible to know the reasons for the formation of these phenomena, and how to prepare for them and deal with their results." [14]

Saudi Sheikh: We Must Not Rejoice at the Disasters of Others

On September 2, 2005, on MBC-TV, Saudi sheikh Dr. Saleh Al-Sidlan said, in answer to a caller's question, that Islam did not permit rejoicing at disasters of the kind that struck Shiites and Americans:

" We are forbidden to rejoice and to pray to Allah to cause more such tragedies and disasters, for two reasons: First, we have no religious evidence that this is permitted. Those who claim it is permitted should provide evidence. General evidence, such as saying they are infidels and oppressive, and that we should therefore gloat over their [misfortune] –this is wrong and does not count as sufficient evidence…

"Second, these disasters afflict everyone in the vicinity. Most of these people have no interest in the issue of Muslims and infidels. They don't support either. They are just people who want to live.

"Third, Allah did not forbid us to act with kindness towards infidels who do us no harm…

"As for being happy at these disasters... People are unaware of some sensitive issues. Let's assume there was a disaster or a war in a certain country - doesn't this cause economic instability? The economy, the dollar, the riyal – they all go down following disasters anywhere in the world." [15]

Muslim Clerics Call to Help the Hurricane Victims

Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi said in his September 9, 2005 Friday sermon on Qatari TV: "Brothers, I use this opportunity to convey my condolences to those harmed by Hurricane Katrina in America, to the victims of this hurricane, to their families, and to the American people. Some people might be surprised that I send my condolences following a disaster that befell America, even though America is hostile to Islam and the Muslims, and fights them everywhere.

"Brothers, I say that we are not hostile to the American people. We are not hostile towards the American people itself. The American people are mostly good. We are hostile to the policy of the American administration. We do not gloat over someone else's disaster. A Muslim should not gloat over other people's disasters, whoever they may be." [16]

Similarly, Lebanese Shiite cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadhlallah said: "We are in an era in which we are declaring solidarity with those struck by the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. We call on Muslims, in the U.S. and outside it, to continue to aid them any way they can." He also said, "Our victims in the region, like the victims of Hurricane Katrina, are in effect the victims of the way of thought of the American administration." [17]

Y. Yehoshua is Director of Research at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), September 5, 2005.

[2] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), September 7, 2005.

[3] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), September 7, 2005.

[4] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), September 4, 2005.

[5] www.alhesbah.org/v/showthread.php?t=31600

[6] www.almoslim.net/print.cfm?artid=973

[7] Al-Risala (Palestinian Authority), September 8, 2005; Al-Haqaeq (London), September 8, 2005.

[8] www.ikhwanonline.com, September 7, 2005.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 3, 2005.

[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 5, 2005.

[11] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 5, 2005.

[12] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), September 6, 2005.

[13] The "makers of the pit" are mentioned in Koran 85:4, which states "Death to the makers of the pit." According to the Koran commentators, the reference is to evil individuals who dug a pit, threw believers into it, and set it afire. The commentators are, however, in disagreement over the identity of the perpetrators.

[14] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), September 6, 2005.

[15] http://memritv.org/clip/en/840.htm

[16] http://memritv.org/clip/en/849.htm

[17] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 15, 2005.