April 21, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 896

Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq

April 21, 2005
Iraq, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 896

Several Saudi terrorists, recently captured by Iraqi forces upon entering the country, stated they were inspired by the communiqué of twenty-six Saudi clerics (published in November 2004) sanctioning Jihad against the U.S. in Iraq. In a March 2005 TV interview on Al-Jazeera, one of the signatories, the Islamist Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh, on whose website the communiqué was first posted, explained that the twenty-six religious figures had issued the communiqué to fill a void since the Saudi religious establishment had not issued such a call for Jihad.

Despite Al-'Odeh's claim that the communiqué calls upon Iraqis only to resist the occupation in Iraq, it was widely regarded as a call upon all Muslims – Iraqis and non-Iraqis alike – to support Jihad on U.S. forces in Iraq.

The communiqué aroused opposition in Saudi Arabia. Some senior officials in the Saudi religious establishment, as well as columnists in the Saudi media, criticized the communiqué and its signatories. A legal battle erupted between the Saudi daily Al- Watan and Sheikh Al-'Odeh after the former reported that 'Al-Odeh had enlisted the government's intervention to prevent his own son from going to wage Jihad in Iraq.

In Iraq, senior government and political officials and columnists criticized the communiqué as blatant Saudi intervention in Iraq's internal affairs, encouraging bloodshed instead of helping to restore the country's security.

This report reviews the debate over the communiqué and related developments in Saudi Arabia. (To view some of the signatories discussing this and the testimonies of the captured terrorists, visit

The Communiqué

The communiqué, issued on November 5, 2004, was signed by twenty-six Saudi clerics, most of whom hold positions as lecturers of Islamic studies at the various government supported universities and colleges in Saudi Arabia. [1] Due to the high religious status of the signatories, the communiqué was widely understood to be a fatwa (religious ruling). The communiqué was posted on, a website supervised by one of the signatories, Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh.

The signatories claimed in the communiqué that the resistance against the coalition forces in Iraq is an Islamic duty: "There is no doubt that the Jihad against the occupiers is an obligation incumbent upon any able person. This is a type of Jihad whose aim is to repel the aggressor, and it is not bound by the conditions that hold for an intentional Jihad; thus, there is no need for a supreme leadership [i.e., a Caliph who would declare Jihad ], but rather the matter is undertaken according to [each Muslim's] ability… these occupiers are undoubtedly military aggressors, and there is a legal consensus concerning [the obligation] to fight them so that they will leave in humiliation, Allah willing. In addition, worldly law also recognizes a people's right to resistance…

"Resistance is a legitimate right according to the Shari'a. What is more, it is a Shari'a obligation that requires the Iraqi people to defend itself, its honor, its land, its oil, its present and its future against the imperialist coalition, just as it resisted British colonialism in the past. It is forbidden for any Muslim to injure anyone from among the resistance or to divulge [information about him,] and it is likewise forbidden to injure [the resistance fighters'] families or children. Moreover, it is an obligation to help and protect them. It is forbidden for any Muslim to offer any help whatsoever to the occupying soldiers' military operations, since this is aiding crime and aggression…"

The communiqué distinguished between the coalition fighters and their collaborators and between other foreigners, who should not be harmed: "It is clearly in the interest of Islam and of the Muslims in Iraq and in the [entire] world that the weak, who are not a party to the conflict and whose countries are not participating in the military attack against Iraq – such as those who work in humanitarian or journalistic occupations or in the normal day-to-day operations and who have nothing to do with the war effort – should not be targeted…"

In addition, the communiqué called to avoid civil strife between the various sects, claiming that this would serve the interests of the coalition and of the Jews: "Protecting Iraq's unity is vital and necessary. There are hidden hands attempting to ignite the fire of fitna [civil strife], to tear Iraq apart into a number of sects and to encourage internal battles between Shiites and Sunnis or between Kurds and Arabs. Such internal fighting does clear damage and provides a free service to the Jews who are infiltrating Iraq, and to the coalition forces who exploit these conflicts in order to establish their sovereignty and to set one party against the other by killing their leaders and divulging their secrets. The outcome is that each group says: the Americans are preferable to us than those. Therefore it is an obligation incumbent upon all Iraqis to agree upon their right to live in peace – under the flag of Islam – side by side…"

Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh: "Is Resistance to the Occupier in Palestine, Iraq, or Any Other Country Considered Terrorism?"

In a March 2, 2005 TV interview, Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh claimed that similar communiqués had been issued in the past. To view excerpts from the interview, visit MEMRITV. [2] The following are excerpts from the interview:

"[the communiqué] deals with the Iraqi people's right to resist the occupiers. Such things have [already] been published on behalf of the Council of Senior Ulama in Saudi Arabia. [Moreover,] the same fatwa was issued by Sheikh Al-Azhar [as well], even after [the publication of] our communiqué. [Another] fatwa was issued by the International Association of Muslim Scholars [headed by Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi] was also issued, when [the council] convened in Beirut about a month after our fatwa [was issued]... What is new in [our] communiqué? Doesn't America itself say that it is an occupier and [doesn't it] recognize that this is a situation of occupation?..."

Al-'Odeh explained: "It saddens me that [people] are trying to distort the communiqué and are treating it, for example, as a call to the Arab and Muslim peoples to go to Iraq, while our stand on this matter was very clear. We think that this is not in the interests of Iraq or of the peoples of the Islamic world. In addition, many have ignored the numerous other positive meanings of the communiqué, such as the call upon all Iraqis to unite and not to bring about a civil war in Iraq... [as well as the call] not to attack innocent [people] and civilians... but to target only the invader... Is resistance to the occupier in Palestine, Iraq, or any other country considered terrorism? According to international law, it is not terrorism but legitimate resistance, national resistance."

In response to a question whether this is a revolution against the religious establishment, which remains silent and carries out government instructions, Al-'Odeh said: "When there is a vacuum one must fill it one way or another.... It was therefore necessary for everyone to understand that this position, at times presented in the media, is not the prevalent, most highly regarded view, and that there is a different view, which does not accept [this] principle and which believes that it is the right of the Iraqi or Palestinian people or any other occupied people to resist and to defend its liberty and independence." [3]

Senior Saudi Religious Officials: "It is Forbidden to Encourage Youth to Go to Iraq on the Pretext of Jihad"

In response to the communiqué, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abd Al-Aziz bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, said in an interview with the Saudi government daily Okaz: "We consider the presence of Americans in Iraq to be an occupation. Even the [U.N.] Security Council called [them] occupation forces and [so did] the Arab League and other international organizations... As for the fighting and its consequences, I leave this to the Iraqi Ulama. In my opinion, [the Ulama who signed the communiqué] do not understand what is happening there on the ground." He further stated that: "It is forbidden to encourage youth to go to Iraq on the pretext of Jihad, since this constitutes a violation of [the principle of] obedience to the ruler and to one's parents. This is a deviation from the community of the believers and is [an instance of] non-reliance on those who are knowledgeable in this matter." [4]

Saudi Sheikh Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Abikan said to the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "What is happening in Falluja is the result of such fatwa s and communiqués … There is no evidence in the Shari'a [to permit] this resistance… [even] if the evidence was true, it does not hold true for the present situation, since [the resistance] is bringing about tragedy and destruction for Iraq, Falluja, and their residents." [5]

The Saudi Ambassadors to the U.S. and Britain Issue Condemnations Only in English

The only senior Saudi officials to condemn the communiqué were the Saudi ambassadors to the U.S. and to Britain, in statements that appeared only in English.

The statement released by the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, read: "With regard to the open letter to the Iraqi people by a number of individuals calling for support of armed resistance in Iraq, I would like to state that these individuals do not represent the Saudi government nor the Council of Senior Ulama, both of whom have repeatedly condemned terrorism in Iraq and throughout the world. The Saudi people pray for the end of bloodshed in Iraq, and the restoration of peace, security and stability in Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqi people and the region." [6]

The Saudi Ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, also published a statement in which he said that the 26 clerics do not represent the majority of the Saudi people, government, or Council of Senior Ulama, who have expressed opposition to the terror attacks in Iraq in particular and in the world in general, and who have condemned them on many occasions. In addition, he said: "What passes for ' Jihad ' in Iraq is illegitimate [from the point of view of religious law]. True Jihad means helping the Iraqi people rebuild a country of stability and peace." [7]

Saudi Daily: Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh Asked the Authorities to Stop His Son from Going to Iraq to Wage Jihad

The Saudi daily Al-Watan reported that Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh had asked for the intervention of the Saudi authorities to prevent his son Mu'az from going to fight Jihad in Iraq. [8] Al-'Odeh denied the report and filed a lawsuit against Al-Watan, demanding an apology for its "grave error" and financial compensation for the "severe harm" caused to him. The petition, filed by Al-'Odeh's lawyer, Ahmad Al-Tuwaijiri, was posted on the daily's website, [9]

The daily quoted a "reliable source" saying that the sheikh was surprised to find a letter left by his son, which read: "Our mission is Paradise, Allah willing. I am going to Iraq to [fight a war of] Jihad ". Consequently, Al-'Odeh asked the Saudi authorities to find his son and bring him back. The newspaper reported that Saudi security forces arrested the son in Jubbah, approximately 100 km. from Ha'il, in northern Saudi Arabia, on his way to Iraq.

The daily also reported that Al-'Odeh's son told the investigators that he had not even thought about going to fight a war of Jihad in Iraq, but merely "wanted to joke with his father on the occasion of the holiday [Id Al-Fitr, the feast of breaking the Ramadan fast]." [10]

Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh himself denied the Al-Watan report and sent a response to a number of newspapers: "It's a lie.... [My son] and two of his friends wanted to spend the holiday in the Jubbah desert... Before entering the area he sent his wife an SMS which said 'Give me your permission [to leave] and you will bear no liability,' and the youngsters entered an area without [phone] reception… [We began to worry] that these youngsters would be thirsty in the desert with no [medical] aid...

"We informed the 'Civil Defense,' which sent a plane by order of Prince Muhammad bin Naif to scour the region, but it found nothing. At the same time, Mu'az and his friends contacted [us] and their enjoyable trip ended without them feeling that anything was amiss. When they reached an area with reception, I told them what had happened, and asked them to go to the nearest center in order to enable the removal of the state [of alert] relating to them, and so they did...

"I don't encourage the youth to Jihad in Iraq. My position on this is tediously clear. I issued a fatwa on this matter on 17.1.1424 [March 20, 2003], and I reiterated my views on the Al-Arabiya channel a few times, [as well as on the] Al-Jazeera and Al-Majd channels and on the website." [11]

Reports of Non-Iraqis Waging Jihad in Iraq Following the Communiqué

Despite Sheikh Al-'Odeh's claim that the communiqué was aimed at Iraqis, there are reports of young Muslim men who construed it as a call to wage Jihad in Iraq and who traveled to Iraq for that purpose.

On March 31, 2005, the Iraqi TV channel Al-Iraqiya aired the interrogation of a terrorist captured in Iraq, 'Abd Al-Rahim bin Muhammad bin 'Abdallah Al-Muteiri, from Al-Ahsaa in Saudi Arabia. Al-Muteiri said: "I hadn't thought of coming to Iraq, but I had fatwa s (calling for Jihad )… I read the communiqué of the 26 clerics..." [12]

Majed Shabib Al-'Uteibi, whose son Muqrin was killed in Iraq, accused the 26 signatories of the communiqué for his son's death. He said he would oppose anyone who tries to corrupt the minds of youth and to incite them to do anything not ordered by the ruler – whom one must obey after Allah. Moreover, anonymous legal sources noted that the father has the right to sue whoever he thinks brainwashed his son with informal fatwa s, not issued by the [authorized] Shari'a bodies [in Saudi Arabia]. [13]

Al-'Odeh said that this issue "is a joke" and that according to a TV reporter Al-'Uteibi's son "went [to Iraq] about three months before the publication of the communiqué." [14]

Saudi Columnists: Promoting Jihad in Other Countries Harms Saudi Arabia and Islam

The Saudi press published a number of articles criticizing the clerics' communiqué. Columnist Muhammad Abd Al-Latif Aal Al-Sheikh wrote in the Saudi government daily Al-Jazirah: "...The propagation of [Islamic] words of wisdom and the good preaching have turned into propaganda for murder, abductions, and car bombs. They have even turned suicide from something absolutely forbidden [by Islam] into something which, according to their religious law, is a means of becoming closer to Allah." [15]

Columnist Khaled Hamed Al-Suleiman wrote in the Saudi government daily Okaz: "...Instead of adding fuel to the fire in Iraq, these 26 clerics should have made clear the Shari'a 's stand concerning a Jihad of beheadings, the kidnapping of innocent [people], and blowing up booby-trapped cars and roadside bombs against pedestrians – children, women, and the elderly … what is going on today in Iraq is madness that feeds every day on the lives of innocent Iraqis and quenches its thirst with the forbidden blood that flows mercilessly through the streets of Iraq. This madness requires the intervention of the wise in order to halt it and not in order to unleash it." [16]

Columnist Ahmad Al-'Isa wrote in an article in the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh: "...We must not let our solidarity with the resistance blind us from seeing the difference between true Jihad – which is the pinnacle of Islam and is based on a system of values and principles from the Shari'a..." [17]

Columnist Ahmad Al-Rub'i wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "The fatwa... constitutes incitement of the youth and their deception in order to drive them to the path of suicide. This fatwa is proof that a number of its signatories – whom we thought had returned to the path of truth and had abandoned the concept of violence – have returned to their old ways, inciting people to die in the name of Jihad

"...Who should be held [responsible] for the blood of Muslims, monotheists who fast [during Ramadan, the month in which the communiqué was issued]?…" [18]

In the Saudi daily Al-Watan, columnist Laila Ahmad Al-Ahdab wrote: "Who is Responsible for the Disastrous Jihad Fatwa s ?"... "How does Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh explain his signing this communiqué despite the criticism directed against him concerning the contradictions between his calm fatwa to the Saudis during the war in Iraq in 2003 and his agitated fatwa to the Iraqis?… Why did Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali… take part in drafting the communiqué, when he knows that the terrorists in the kingdom have ties to Al-Qa'ida and to its right wing in Iraq, represented by Al-Zarqawi's Monotheism and Jihad Organization? [19]

Iraqi Senior Officials and Columnists: 26 Saudi Ulama = 26 Terrorists

Iraq's ambassador to the U.N. Samir Al-Sumeidi said that the Saudi clerics' communiqué constitutes incitement to violence and that they should not intervene in Iraq's affairs. [20]

Secretary-General of the Union of Shiite Ulama, Muhammad Baqir Al-Mahri, said, in a Friday sermon on November 12, 2004, that one cannot ignore the terrorist fatwa s issued recently, which permit fighting in Iraq under the claim that it is an act of Jihad. The moderate Ulama must … issue fatwa s prohibiting the fighting in Iraq because this is not Jihad, but open terror and flagrant intervention in Iraq's internal affairs. [21]

In an article titled "26 Saudi Ulama = 26 Terrorists," H afal Zakhawi, editor of the Iraqi daily Al-Ahali, asked: "Why don't you wage a war of Jihad in your [own] country, where an eternal family rules, or perhaps you have the caliphates in Dar Al-Iman, [while] Iraq is Dar Al-Kufr? [22] Have you forgotten that your country is an American protectorate country, well known as a popular market for selling American arms, cars, and planes? Who drives a Caprice, a Ford, a Pontiac, a Lincoln, a Buick – you or the Iraqis? Or perhaps these cars are not American-made, and you are the ones who manufactured them by means of your deadly, terrorist communiqués...?

"...The Iraqi clerics must respond to those supporting terror in our country. All the real clerics – with the exception of [Sheikh Yousuf] Al-Qaradhawi, of course – must denounce and reject the blood-soaked communiqué of that scrap heap of Ulama." [23]

[1] The communiqué was posted on The 26 signatories are: Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Khudhairi, a lecturer on jurisprudence at Al-Imam Muhammad bin Saud University; Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Abd Al-Latif, a lecturer on theology at Umm Al-Qura University; Sheikh Dr. Hamed bin Ya'qub Al-Farih, a lecturer on (Quranic) commentary at a teachers' college in Dammam; Sheikh Dr. Al-Sharif Hatem Al-'Awni, lecturer on Hadith at Umm Al-Qura University; Sheikh Dr. Khaled Al-Qasem, lecturer on Islamic studies at King Saud University; Sheikh Dr. Saud Al-Fanisan, lecturer on commentary and Quranic studies at Al-Imam University; Sheikh Dr. Sa'id bin Naser Al-Ghamdi, lecturer on theology at the Shari'a college in Abha; Sheikh Dr. Safar bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-Hawali, former lecturer on theology at Umm Al-Qura University; Sheikh Dr. Salman bin Fahd Al-'Odah, supervisor of the Islam Today [website]; Sheikh Suleiman Al-Rashudi, lawyer; Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Muhammad Al-Sultan, lecturer on jurisprudence at Al-Qasim University; Sheikh Dr. Abd Al-Rahman bin 'Alush Madkhali, lecturer on Hadith at the Teachers' College; Sheikh Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Al-Ghamdi, lecturer on jurisprudence at King Khaled University in Abha; Sheikh Dr. Abd Allah bin Ibrahim Al-Tariqi, lecturer on Islamic culture at Al-Imam University; Sheikh Dr. Abd Allah bin Abd Al-Aziz Al-Zayadi, lecturer on Islamic culture at Al-Imam University; Sheikh Dr. Abd Allah Wakil Al-Sheikh, lecturer on Hadith at Al-Imam University; Sheikh Dr. Abd Al-Wahab bin Naser Al-Tariri, vice-supervisor of the Islam Today [website]; Sheikh Dr. Ali bin Hassan 'Asiri, lecturer on theology at the Shari'a College in Abha; Sheikh Dr. Ali Badahdah, lecturer on Hadith and Quranic studies at King Abd Al-Aziz University; Sheikh Dr. 'Awdh bin Muhammad Al-Qarni, former lecturer on jurisprudence at Al-Imam University; Sheikh Dr. Qasem bin Ahmad Al-Qatradi, lecturer on commentary at the Shari'a College in Abha; Sheikh Dr. Muhammad bin Hassan Al-Sharif, lecturer on Quran and Quranic studies at King Abd Al-Aziz University; Sheikh Dr. Muhammad bin Sa'id Al-Qahtani, former lecturer of theology at Umm Al-Qura University; Sheikh Dr. Musaffar Al-Qahtani, lecturer on jurisprudence at King Fahd University for Oil and Natural Resources; Sheikh Dr. Mahdi Muhammad Rashad Al-Hakami, lecturer on Hadith at the Teachers' College at Jazan; and Sheikh Dr. Nasser Al-'Omar, superviser of Al-Moslim [web] site.

[2] See MEMRITV Clip No. 587, " Saudi Cleric Sleiman Al-Odeh Explains Why He Supports Jihad in Iraq,"

[3] The interview was aired on Al-Jazeera TV's "Without Borders" program.

[4] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 11, 2004.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 11, 2004.

[6], November 7, 2004.

[7], November 8, 2004; Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 10, 2004.

[8] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 19, 2004.

[9], November 29, 2004.

[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 19, 2004.

[11] Al-Jazerah (Saudi Arabia), November 20, 2004. A day later, t he Al-Watan daily insisted that "the information it provided – that when Sheikh Salman Al-'Odah had called the senior officials he had told them that he was afraid his son had gone to Iraq – was true, accurate, and reliable..." Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 21, 2004. A few months later, on March 2, 2005, Al-'Odah told Al-Jazeera TV's "Without Borders" program that if his son had told him he wanted to go wage Jihad in Iraq, he would not have given his permission.

[12] Al-Iraqiya TV (Iraq), March 31, 2005. See

[13] Al- Madina (Saudi Arabia), November 20, 2004.

[14] Al-Jazeera TV 's "Without Borders" program, aired on March 2, 2005:

[15] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), November 14, 2004.

[16] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 10, 2004.

[17] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), November 11, 2004.

[18] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 8, 2004.

[19] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 13, 2004.

[20] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), November 21, 2004.

[21] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), November 13, 2004.

[22] According to tradition, the world is divided into two: Dar Al-Iman [the realm of Islamic faith], inhabited by Muslims, and Dar Al-Kufr [the realm of heresy], which must be liberated from the hands of the infidels and Muslim rule imposed there.

[23] Al-Ahali (Iraq), November 11, 2004.

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