January 10, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5129

Fatwa By Saudi Sheikh: Soccer Players Are Infidels

January 10, 2013
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5129

On December 5, 2012, Saudi sheikh Suleiman Al-'Alwan, a popular Salafi-jihadi cleric, was released after being imprisoned without a trial for nine years.[1] Al-'Alwan's trial began only recently; he is accused of having ties to Al-Qaeda and issuing fatwas permitting terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and targeting Western interests in the world and in the Saudi kingdom.[2]

Since his release, Al-'Alwan has received many visitors, including sheikhs and former students, and has been asked to give his opinion on religious questions. On December 23, 2012, in response to a question posed by a Saudi youth, Al-'Alwan said that soccer was a form of heresy: "Soccer is a Masonic game meant to distance Muslims from their religion and faith, and most of the public that follows [soccer games] is loyal to the infidels." Al-'Alwan called soccer players criminals and infidels: "[When] a man watches a [soccer] game, God forbid, he is watching deviant criminals and sinful infidels, even if they are Muslims." He added: "There is a serious problem with [soccer] games, which is the refereeing, which follows manmade laws, not Allah's laws."[3]

It should be mentioned that shortly after his release, Al-'Alwan also accused Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi of heresy for failing to implement shari'a law in Egypt, and condemned Egypt's new constitution because it guarantees religious freedom and treats Christians as equal to Muslims. In addition, he held Mursi responsible for causing the deaths of Salafis in Sinai.[4]

Al-'Alwan's fatwa was harshly criticized by Saudi columnist Muhammad bin 'Abd Al-Latif Aal Al-Sheikh, who wrote in the Saudi government daily Al-Jazirah that Al-'Alwan reminds him of Taliban sheikhs. The following is the translation of his column:

Sheikh Suleiman Al-'Alwan[5]

"Al-'Alwan Is Reminiscent Of Taliban Sheikhs Who Forbade Polio [Vaccines] Because Some Scoundrel Told Them That The [Real] Purpose Of The Vaccine Was To Sterilize Muslim Children"

"...Al-'Alwan made allegations [regarding a game] with which he is surely unfamiliar... without thoroughly checking his facts first. Al-'Alwan is reminiscent of Taliban sheikhs who forbade polio [vaccines] because some scoundrel told them that the [real] purpose of the vaccine was to sterilize Muslim children in a 'colonialist' attempt to prevent Muslims from having children and [thus] limit their numbers... Hundreds of thousands of ignoramuses heeded their fatwa, thus undermining all efforts by the World Health Organization to prevent polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan...

"Al-'Alwan's views are not far from those of these sheikhs, since, like them, he hears rumors and then issues mandatory rulings on their basis... without first verifying if they are true."

"The Funny Thing Is That When Al-'Alwan Was Arrested... His Lawyer Defended Him Based On The Arab Charter For Human Rights – Which Is A Manmade Law"

"The funny thing is that when Al-'Alwan was arrested... his lawyer defended him based on the Arab Charter for Human Rights, which is a manmade law, not a religious one. How do you [Sheikh Al-'Alwan], let your lawyer cite [this charter]... when you consider even soccer to be forbidden because its rules are manmade? Isn't this a clear contradiction, reflecting [your] double standards? When manmade laws and regulations serve you, you use them in your defense. However, when they do not serve you, you condemn them and incite the public to condemn them..."

"These Fabricated, Hasty And False Fatwas, Rife With Religious Zealotry, [May] Have Been Suitable For A Former Age, But Today The Situation Has Changed"

"Where does Al-'Alwan get this mistaken information, on which he based his fatwa that soccer is a Masonic [game]? These fabricated, hasty and false fatwas, rife with religious zealotry, [may] have been suitable for a former age, but today the situation has changed. People no longer accept everything a cleric says or rules, as though they were his disciples, without examining it further, as they did in the past, when no one argued with [the clerics]. Al-'Alwan and others of his ilk, who rush to publish capricious fatwas based on unfounded rumors, must understand that we are in the age of critical [thinking] and careful examination... If they publish fatwas based on false information, the public will reject them as [religious] rulings, because anything based on nonsense is nonsense itself, regardless of who says it."[6]


[1] Azd (Saudi Arabia), December 5, 2012.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), January 2, 2013.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), December 31, 2012. Al-'Alwan's comments on soccer were uploaded to YouTube on December 23, 2012:, December 23, 2012. For previous fatwas by Saudi clerics banning soccer, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 245, Anti-Soccer Fatwas Led Saudi Soccer Players to Join the Jihad in Iraq, October 7, 2005, and MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3085, Al-Hayat Editorial Board Director: Fatwas Banning Soccer Reflect Crisis in Islamic World, July 8, 2010.

[4] Al-'Alwan also criticized Mursi's treatment of Copts, who, he said, "corrupt the world," and advised him to impose the jizya tax on them and humiliate them. He made the comments at a religious conference on the topic of democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood. See MEMRI JTTM report Saudi Cleric Accuses Mursi Of Heresy For Failing To Implement Shari'a In Egypt, December 31, 2012;, December 29, 2012.

[6] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), December 30, 2012.

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