March 1, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11156

Kuwaiti Salafi Scholar Othman Al-Khamis Labels Shi'ites Unbelievers, Sharply Dividing Sunnis And Shi'ites On Social Media

March 1, 2024
Kuwait | Special Dispatch No. 11156

In an interview on the Kuwaiti podcast "Bidon Waraq [Without Papers]," published on YouTube on September 28, 2023, Kuwaiti Salafi scholar Othman Al-Khamis made a controversial statement in which he declared that Shi'ites who believe in certain writings authored by Shi'ite scholars should be considered unbelievers. This statement has ignited a fierce and heated debate on various Arabic language social media platforms, both within Kuwait and internationally. On one side, Sunni Muslim supporters vigorously defend Al-Khamis's statement, arguing that it aligns with Sunni doctrine. On the other side, Shi'ite critics accuse him of excommunicating the entire Shi'ite sect and call for legal action against him, alleging that his remarks threaten national unity in Kuwait, a nation with a significant Shi'ite population among its three million inhabitants.

This report will review the details of Al-Khamis's statement and the intense discussions it sparked among its proponents and opponents.

Al-Khamis's Statement

In his response to a question about his position on the Shi'ites, Al-Khamis began by stating that he has no issue with the name Shi'ite; instead, his concern lies with the actions of Shi'ites. To clarify his stance, he said: "What matters to me are beliefs, ideologies, and actions. Therefore, in my view, the Shi'ites as a sect and the books associated with their sect, such as Al-Kafi, Bihar Al-Anwar, Al-Anwar Al-Nu'maniyya, and others including Al-Safi and Man La Yahduruhu Al-Faqih, Al-Istibsar, Tahdhib Al-Ahkam, Wasail Al-Shi'a, and Mustadrak Al-Wasail, if Shi'ites adhere to the beliefs outlined in these books, particularly in Usul Al-Kafi, then they are considered unbelievers.”

Expanding on his position, he stated: "Indeed, those who believe in the content of these books, which involve excommunicating the Companions, accusing Aisha of adultery, claiming that the Quran is distorted, and asserting that they have knowledge of the unseen, the ability to give life and death, and control over the universe, there is no doubt that such individuals are considered unbelievers. However, those who do not hold these beliefs are regarded as Muslims as long as they bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and do not supplicate to anyone other than Allah. For example, if someone suggests that when facing difficulties, you should not invoke Allah's name but should instead make supplications in the name of Ali or the Mahdi, then such a person would be considered an unbeliever."[1]

Condemnation Of Al-Khamis's Statement

Al-Khamis's statement has faced widespread condemnation from Shi'ite scholars, intellectuals, and political figures in Kuwait and beyond, who perceive it as incitement to hatred against Shi'ites. Some have even called on the authorities to prosecute him for endangering the national unity of Kuwait, while others expressed concern that if the government does not react to such statements, it could fuel sectarian violence similar to what has taken place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

On September 30, 2023, Abdulhamid Dashti, a Shi'ite former member of parliament who has lived in exile in Geneva since 2016 published a tweet describing Al-Khamis' statement as "impermissible and disgraceful” and arguing that to Allah, his statement is as offensive as the action of someone who burns copies of the Quran.

In a post on his X account that has received over 580,000  views, Dashti wrote: "What Othman Al-Khamis uttered is impermissible and disgraceful! The blame lies not only with him but also with those who heard him and had the power and authority to restrain him but did not. It is sinful in the eyes of God similar to the act of burning the Quran and in the eyes of those who support humanity and believe in heavenly religions and constitutional freedom of belief. Our traditions forgive us from responding to him, and we are unable to silence him out of respect for reason and in adherence to the law! So, be just, oh fair-minded people! Enough is enough."[2]

On September 30, 2023, another former Kuwaiti MP, Saleh Ashoor, published a post on his X account urging the authorities in Kuwait to take actions against Al-Khamis and arguing that such a statement could lead to sectarian violence similar to the events that took place in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In his post, Ashoor wrote: "Where has the belief of the Shia, who are an Islamic group, been from the early days of Islam until today and until the Day of Judgment? It is not permissible for anyone to excommunicate them, and this does not change the reality. Therefore, what Othman Al-Khamis said about Shi'ites does not align with the tolerance of Islam, the saying of the Prophet that a Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand Muslims are safe, and the saying of Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him, that whoever accuses a Muslim of disbelief, then they themselves are unbelievers. And his saying that whoever bears witness to the two testimonies, his brotherhood is established, his secrets are sacred, and therefore, the government, through the public prosecution, must immediately apply the National Unity Law against him. Otherwise, it bears the consequences of such fatwas, may it never happen, which could be similar to what happened in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the incident of the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait. The government's silence would make it politically and socially responsible, and it would share the consequences of such fatwas."[3]

On October 2, 2023, a group of Shiite clerics issued a statement without explicitly naming Al-Khamis, but instead referred to him as "an individual known for his history of excommunicating Shi'ites, promoting sectarian strife, and disrupting Kuwaiti social cohesion. He has had multiple previous legal cases against him."

The statement then called on the "official authorities to fully assume their responsibilities in preventing discord, punishing wrongdoers, and applying the law of national unity. The lack of necessary deterrence is what tempts those who incite strife to return to their offenses, including excommunicating Kuwait and tarnishing its reputation abroad. This excommunication targeted all Shi'ites worldwide and entailed the fanning of terrorist motives through the pretext of excommunication, leading to the killing of Muslims."[4]

Support For Al-Khamis's Statement

Meanwhile, hundreds of Sunni Muslims from Kuwait and beyond have swiftly come forward to support Al-Khamis' stance, emphasizing its alignment with the Sunni interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah. They argue that it does not warrant the level of overreaction expressed by the Shi'ites.

Defending Al-Khamis' position and responding to the statement issued by the Shi'ite scholars, Kuwaiti Sunni cleric Dr. Khalid Al-Mirdas published a post on October 2, 2023, stating: "I believe that the statement contains an exaggeration, and its intended purpose is to question Sheikh Dr. Othman Al-Khamis. Has God not commanded in the Quran to uphold monotheism, prohibit polytheism, and forbid seeking intercession from the deceased? Has he not also forbidden tampering with the Quran, whether by addition, omission, or insulting the Companions and the Mothers of the Believers? Should we abandon teaching the people of the Sunni tradition and the general public, as well as anyone who asks?"[5]

A Kuwaiti lawyer named Abdallah Al-Mehri announced his willingness to volunteer and defend Al-Khamis in a post published on his X account on September 30, 2023, stating: "Out of a sense of duty, responsibility, and a sincere commitment to my mission, and in line with my oath to defend the truth through my profession, away from personal interests, I hereby declare my voluntary support for Dr. Sheikh #Othman_Al-Khamis without seeking compensation."[6]

Many supporters of Al-Khamis argue that his statement was clear and limited to those whose beliefs contain violations of monotheism and contradictions to the Quran. For example, X user Fahad Al-Zuhairi published a post on October 1, 2023, stating: "Sheikh #Othman_AlKhamis did not excommunicate the Shi'ites. He explicitly stated, 'I treat any Shi'ite as a Muslim, and this is the fundamental principle.' His mention of excommunication pertained to those who believe that our mother Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, committed adultery, or those who believe that the Companions have apostatized and distorted the Quran, or those who believe that some humans possess divine attributes. If you do not hold such blasphemous beliefs, there is no need to get upset, accuse the Sheikh falsely, or distort his words."[7]

Some have gone to extremes by labeling all the Shi'ites in the world as unbelievers. Abdullah Al-Hasani, a social media influencer who operates under the account name "Mujtahid Al-Iraq," stated in a post published on October 1, 2023, "#Othman_Al-Khamis says that those who believe in what is present in the Shi'ite books they rely on and consider authoritative are unbelievers, and I agree with him on that. Furthermore, I assert that the Shi'ites of today are non-Muslims and follow a different faith unrelated to Islam. Anyone who witnesses their current actions, beliefs, and rituals that they propagate through audio and visual means, not just in their books, and still does not believe in their disbelief is in a state of ignorance. Gulf scholars, it is time to muster the courage and inform the present Shi'ites that they are not Muslims, before a catastrophe similar to what happened in Iraq and Syria befalls them and their communities."[8]

Syrian radical cleric Muhammad Bin Shams Al-Din used the derogatory term "Rafidhite [rejectionist, a pejorative term for Shi'ite used for centuries and more recently used by ISIS terrorists]" referring to the Shi'ites, in a post published on his X account on October 2, 2023. He prayed to Allah to protect Al-Khamis from them and stated that "as soon as he told them that they are not Muslims, they started to incite the authorities against him."[9]

Accusing the Shi'ites of overreacting to Al-Khamis' statement while remaining silent about Shi'ite clerics who excommunicate Sunni Muslims, Saleh Al-Hamawi, a former member of Jabhat Al-Nusra who writes under the X account Uss Al-Sira' Fi Al-Sham ("The Root Of The Conflict In Syria"), argued that Shi'ite individuals and scholars are allowed to excommunicate Sunnis. However, when Sunnis do the same, they face legal persecution for endangering national unity.

Al-Hamawi further emphasized that "excommunication is a religious ruling, and not everyone who is excommunicated deserves to have their blood spilled. Throughout our long history, scholars have not disagreed on excommunicating Jews, Christians, and certain deviant sects. However, they have lived among Muslims as citizens of the Islamic state to this day."[10]

Along the line with Al-Hamawi's point, X user Abd Al-Rahman Al-Shammari shared a video featuring a Shi'ite cleric named Kamal Al-Haydari saying that all the scholars of the Twelver Shi'ites have deemed non-Shi'ites as unbelievers. In his comment on the cleric's video which he published on October 1, 2023, he stated: "It means that Twelver Shiite scholars excommunicate two billion Sunnis! So, who is the real excommunicator? Any Shi'ite who accuses the Sunnis of excommunication, I say to him, listen to the words of this religious authority."[11]

On YouTube, Moroccan YouTuber Khalid Hadfi mocked those who called for the arrest of Al-Khamis for excommunicating the Shi'ites, saying that they use the same argument that Christians use against Muslims. He further emphasized that excommunication doesn't necessarily give permission to kill. Elaborating on his argument, Hadfi stated in a video published on October 3, 2023: "They think that excommunication means being rude to them or that excommunication implies killing them, and this is ignorance and foolishness. Do you know that if a Shi'ite Rafidi told me, 'You are a believer,' I would be saddened by it, but I would be even happier if a Shi'ite excommunicated me, and I would be happy if a Christian excommunicated me. I disbelieve in the Shi'ite religion, and I disbelieve in the Christian religion, for disbelief means denial and rejection. If you ask any Shi'ite if they believe in the beliefs of the Sunnis, they will tell you no."[12]

Addressing the concerns expressed by many of his viewers regarding the unconfirmed reports of the arrest of Al-Khamis, Libyan Salafi cleric and YouTuber Zain Kairalah assured his audience that Al-Khamis has not been arrested but only briefly questioned. In a video published on his YouTube channel on October 2, 2023, Kairalah said: "I have received many messages from brothers asking me about the validity of the news of the arrest of Sheikh Othman Al-Khamis and requesting that I comment on this issue. First of all, my brothers, to clarify for you, Sheikh Othman has not been arrested; rather, he has been referred for questioning by the public prosecutor's office, but he has not been arrested."[13]


[1], September 28, 2023.

[2], September 30, 2023.

[3], September 30, 2023.

[4], October 2, 2023.

[5], October 2, 2023.

[6], September 30, 2023.

[7], October 1, 2023.

[8], October 1, 2023.

[9], October 2, 2023.

[10], October 2, 2023.

[11], October 1, 2023.

[12], October 3, 2023.

[13], October 2, 2023.

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