February 21, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1073

Saudi Campaign Against Young Saudis Joining The Jihad In Syria

February 21, 2014 | By Y. Admon*
Saudi Arabia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1073


Saudi Arabia has recently been facing harsh accusations that it is involved in terrorism in Syria. The kingdom is accused of dispatching young Saudis to join the jihad in Syria, and of funding and arming them, among other accusations. These allegations are frequently repeated in the media of rival countries such as Syria, Iran and Iraq.[1] However, to Saudi Arabia's surprise, they have also been heard recently in the U.S. media, especially against the backdrop of increasing tension between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.[2] following Saudi criticism of U.S. policy regarding the Syrian crisis and Iranian nuclear issue.[3]

The claims that Saudi Arabia encourages terrorism, and reports that young Saudis have joined the jihad in Syria, have brought the issues of jihad and ideological extremism to the forefront of Saudi public discourse. In a bid to improve its global image and show that it denounces extremism and terrorism, Saudi Arabia has launched a campaign against these phenomena.

The Saudi campaign against the jihad in Syria was apparent first of all in the government press, which in the last three months has published dozens of articles condemning terrorism and jihad, especially in light of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the large number of Saudis who have joined it. Many articles claimed that the jihadis serve the interests of Assad and Iran. Criticism was also leveled at clerics who issue fatwas encouraging jihad or who do not do enough to discourage young men from joining it. Some articles also blamed the Saudi mentality for turning young people to jihad. One exception to this was an article by senior Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who claimed that the jihad in Syria was legitimate, albeit in need of guidance. The campaign was also apparent on Saudi television. For example, on his show on the MBC channel, Saudi journalist Daoud Al-Shiryan accused Saudi clerics of sending young Saudis to jihad and even named names, which sparked protest from the clerics he mentioned.

The authorities and the Saudi religious establishment also came out strongly against jihad and terrorism. King 'Abdallah issued a decree against participating in fighting outside the country and joining extremist ideological groups, while senior clerics, including Grand Mufti Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh and the head of the religious police, spoke against suicide bombings and embarking on jihad without an explicit order from the ruler.

This document will review the campaign waged by Saudi Arabia in the past few months against terror and extremist ideologies and against the phenomenon of young Saudis joining the jihad in Syria, as expressed in statements from the authorities and the religious establishment, and in the Saudi media.

1. The Authorities And Religious Establishment Against Extremism And Terror; A Royal Decree Against Fighting Outside The Kingdom

Due to the growing tide of Saudi youths joining the jihad in Syria, the Saudi authorities began taking action to curtail the phenomenon. On February 3, 2014 Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz issued a decree imposing a prison sentence of 3-20 years for fighting outside Saudi Arabia; joining extremist religious or ideological groups or designated terrorist organizations, espousing their ideology or supporting them; or inciting others, verbally or in writing, to do any of the above. The decree imposes an even harsher punishment – 5-30 years imprisonment – on members of the armed forces convicted of these offenses. The King also ordered to form an inter-ministerial committee to list the extremist organizations that may not be joined or supported. Analysts assess that the list will be headed by Al-Qaeda, movements affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Surouriyya and Al-Tablir organizations.[4]

An editorial in the government daily Al-Madina stated that the decree was a firm response to the claims of various elements, headed by the Assad regime, that incite against Saudi Arabia by trying to distort its image and show that it supports terrorism.[5]

On February 5, 2014, only two days after the issuing of the royal decree, the London daily Al-Hayat reported that senior Saudi officials had ordered to ease the return of Saudi citizens who had joined the jihad in Syria, and this by employing the Saudi embassy in Ankara.[6]

It should be mentioned that in December 2013 the Saudi government approved a draft bill dealing with terrorism and its funding, which criminalizes any act, individual or collective, direct or indirect, that aims to disrupt public order or undermine the security of society or stability of the state, violate the regime's basic laws or any of their clauses, harm the state's reputation or status or jeopardize its national unity, harm its facilities or natural resources, or threaten or incite to perpetrate any of the above.[7]

As for the Saudi religious establishment's campaign against jihad in Syria and against joining terrorist organizations, the mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, recently said on several occasions that those who blow themselves up with explosive belts and other devices commit a great sin, namely the sin of suicide, and kill not only themselves but also innocent bystanders and cause damage to property. [8] In response to the royal decree, the mufti said that it was a courageous decision intended to protect Saudi society. Sheikh Fahd bin Sa'd Al-Majed, secretary-general of the Senior Clerics' Council – Saudi Arabia's supreme religious body – also welcomed the decree, saying that it will help protect the security, stability and unity of the state, and that it is compatible with the shari'a.[9]

Religious police head Dr. 'Abd Al-Latif Aal Al-Sheikh said that jihad is permissible only if ordered by a ruler to whom the Muslims have legally pledged allegiance, and that whoever calls for jihad unauthorized by the ruler is calling for sin. He added that the young people who die do not perform istishhad [self-sacrifice for the sake of Islam] but are simply lost in conflicts in the neighboring countries. He warned against extremists who are trying to drag Saudi Arabia into crime, and admitted that his organization (the religious police) includes those who preach conflict, but "we will dismiss anyone sparking conflicts in this country."[10]

Likewise, it has been reported recently that the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Religious Endowments are monitoring the activity of radical sheiks. The Interior Ministry’s “General Administration of Ideological Security” has stepped up its online activity against radical sheiks who use the Internet to encourage young Saudis to join the fighting in Syria,[11] and the Saudi Ministry of Religious Endowments announced that it was monitoring the activity of preachers and their propagandists on social media.[12]

Saudi Arabia's struggle against extremism and terrorism (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, February 6, 2014)

2. Saudi Government Press Against Extremism, Jihad in Syria

As mentioned, in the recent weeks the Saudi government press published dozens of articles against the phenomenon of young Saudis going to fight in Syria and against the Saudi sheikhs who encourage this. The articles argued that the phenomenon serves the interests of Iran and the Assad regime and poses a danger to Saudi Arabia, and that there is need to fight it and the extremist and terrorist ideologies that motivate it. The following are excerpts from some of the articles:

Jihadists Serve Assad And Iran In Their Actions

In an article in the official Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, columnist Muhammad bin 'Abd Al-Latif Aal Al-Sheikh claimed that young people who are misled by the call to jihad in Syria do not know that they are, in fact, serving Assad and Iran in their actions, and criticized clerics for remaining silent in the face of youth being incited to jihad. He wrote: "All the so-called mujahideen who undertake to travel to Syria, who unfortunately include Saudis, do not know that they are just pawns in a grand intelligence chess game that is run and controlled by the Iranian and Syrian intelligence apparatuses. The purpose [of recruiting them], facilitating their entrance into Syria, and even funding their jihad... is to reshuffle the cards and give the world the impression that post-Assad Syria will be a new Afghanistan – a nest of terrorism and terrorists. According to this logic, the result of toppling the Bashar [Al-Assad] regime is a victory for the terrorists, and the entire world – especially the West – will pay the price of his fall with its safety and security...

"The recent schism between foreign jihadi factions and the Free [Syrian] Army indicates that the events in Syria are, in fact, intelligence operations, with jihad being a mere slogan meant to attract foreign mujahideen to Syria... Several days ago, Saudi jihadis on Twitter celebrated what they called 'the mobilization for jihad' of three youths in Syria. Their names were published, along with pictures of them smiling and happy. [The three] claim that one of them is 'the youngest mujahid from Hayil [a Saudi town]' – or so says the hashtag started by those who applauded his trip. The other two are from the city of Buraidah, and none of the three is older than 17.

"The question is: Do the families of these youths know they are sending their sons to their doom, and that [their sons] are carrying out jihad in Assad's service and cementing his rule? Do they know that, in their unparalleled naivety, they are throwing their sons into a 'trash bin' in the prime of their lives? We must acknowledge that there is a powerful, influential and deceptive voice that uses all means – social networking, hints in weekly sermons, teachers in schools, and possibly even Koran lessons – to reach those who are [easily] led astray and recruit them...

"Those who recruit the simple youths have managed to fool not just these potential victims, but their families as well. Otherwise, how could a level-headed, aware and sane mother send her young son to die in order to serve Bashar Al-Assad? This is ignorance, naivety, backwardness, and life [detached from the real] time and place..."[13]

Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh (image: Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, September 10, 2013)

This Terrorism Is Iran-Made

An editorial in the government daily Al-Sharq accused the Iranian regime of supporting and encouraging terror: "The Iranian regime's history of supporting terrorism and violent organizations is well known and full of facts that the Iranian leaders cannot deny, the last of which is the assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel Al-Jubair... In Syria, Iran supports terrorism against the Syrians, sending military experts and sectarian warriors to that country in order to save the regime that has not managed to kill its people. Iran [also] supports the presence of Hizbullah's occupying forces [in Syria] and the sectarian militias that arrive in Syria from Iraq.

"Any statement by Iranian officials that their country is facing terrorism is a dubious one. Remember that, before the current Iranian regime came to power, the term 'terrorism' was not frequently heard in the region. It began spreading as a result of [Iran's] policy, which has proved to be unsuccessful. It seems that the warning voiced by Iranian Foreign Minister Jawwad Zarif... that Syria will become a hotbed of extremism, is directed at the wrong party, since the terror is manufactured by Iran [itself]. Were it not for Iran's unfailing support for Assad and his sectarian forces, and were it not for its support of Al-Qaeda, which has recently been proved, the tension and violence [in the region] would not have reached such heights."[14]

The Iranian serpent of terrorism says "No to terrorism!" (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, January 17, 2014)

Extremism Could Have Disastrous Consequences For Saudi Arabia

Columnist Badr Al-Amar called to increase awareness regarding the dangers of youths being recruited for jihad, before the widespread terrorism comes back to hurt Saudi Arabia extensively. In an article in the government Saudi daily Al-Watan, he wrote: "A video leaked [online] documents a phone conversation between a Saudi youth and a Saudi judge who presided over trials relating to violence and terrorism. The caller was sending a message to the judge, and threatened that 'his head would be cut off,' just as the heads of Bashar Al-Assad's agents are being cut off today. The judge responded with silence and restraint, and the more restrained he was, the more the caller's threats to kill and cut off heads grew shrill. This shameful phone call demonstrates the severity of takfiri ideology, which is like a buried virus. When pressing political matters occur, it reawakens and finds a proper environment in which to regroup and reposition itself...

"This young man [who made the phone call] is like hundreds of others who went to these hotbeds of [terror]. They did not go to help the Syrian people fight oppression and violence. They went there armed with ideological and takfiri ideas and political agendas... Unfortunately, there are propagandists who still incite [them] to embark [on jihad], and even defend them, justify them, and spur them to jihad... The big mistake is that we deal with takfiri thinking in a 'tactical' rather than a 'strategic' manner. We are eager to confront [the problem] when events occur, and later when they subside, we ignore it. We aren't aware that [youths] continue to be tempted and recruited for jihad in secret, and we don't see how the social media, [satellite] channels and the like eat away at the minds of our youths and drag them to the nests of extremism and extremist ideas...

"The situation in Syria is the perfect scenario for Al-Qaeda to rearrange its ranks and rebuild its cells in order to attack [Saudi Arabia] again in a series of violent actions. This requires [us to take] a serious stance regarding the unfolding events, and for our officials, parents, pundits, and security personnel to pay maximum attention to this issue. [We must] hurry and address the destructive practical and ideological implications that could arise, otherwise we will find ourselves facing one of the fiercest waves of extremism, takfir and bombings..."[15]

"Youths in the hands of extremist propagandists" (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, November 28, 2013)

We Have Raised Wretched Young Men Who Join The Jihad Out Of Blind Obedience

In an article titled "300 Saudi Suicide Bombings – We Are Complicit in the Killing", in the government daily Al-Sharq, Saudi columnist Fahid Al-'Adim wrote that Saudi education, which is based on rote learning and blind obedience, is to blame for the tendency of young Saudis to turn to jihad. He wrote: "Data posted by Iraqi Special Operations Force Commander Gen. Fadhel Al-Barwari on his personal [Facebook] page, based on figures published by the [Iraqi] Interior Ministry on those who blew themselves up in suicide operations in Iraq since 2003, the year the Americans invaded Iraq,… [indicates that among the bombers were] 300 Saudis… This number is frightening and even terrifying, because 300 [bombers] in the space of a mere decade is a steep number. I did not find any data on the [general] number of [fighters] who went to wage jihad in Iraq during this period so I could calculate the percentage [of Saudis] among those persuaded to kill themselves as 'suicide [bombers]'. However the most important question remains: Why is it especially easy to persuade the young Saudis to kill themselves?

"This seemingly indecent question can be subdivided into dozens of questions, for the young Saudi is far removed from the rifts between [various] groups and factions, and he goes forth to wage jihad, i.e. to fight the infidels and defend Muslims [against them]. But when he reaches the so-called lands of jihad he is captured by [extreme] ideologies that transform him into [nothing more than a load of] TNT for killing the other, usually not the infidel that he planned to kill.

"What is strange is that these young [Saudis] received more religious education at school than any other young people worldwide. Furthermore, the opinion of their country's religious scholars on so-called 'martyrdom operations' [sacrificing one's life for Islam] is clear. This therefore poses an even more painful question: Is the young Saudi so naïve that he can be easily persuaded to kill himself? And is it the doses of rote learning he received in school that transformed him into a disturbed personality deprived of [free] will?…

"We must concede: we all created this unfortunate youth by our imbecilic custodianship that says that the child must obey his elders without argument or suasion. We are those who deprived the child of the greatest thing that Allah bestowed upon him – intelligence – so he grew up adopting the opinion of the father who views a child's arguments as a form of insubordination. The same thing also [exists] in school or in the classroom, where only thoughtless repetition is required of him. [Later in life,] if he rebels or takes to the street, it is only at the behest of the 'group leader.' And then we are astonished that he unhesitatingly follows the demand of the sheikh of the mujahideen!

"Another important question: What motivates a simple young person who receives this type of education to think of jihad? [The answer], put simply, is that the Friday sermons, the media and the social networks flood [us] with daily reports about Muslims who are murdered and tortured throughout the world, in which the reporter cries without saying what you are required to do as a Muslim. One of the many questions that I have asked regarding these sermons is what am I required to do as a Muslim, and are these [reports a form of] covert incitement?… Many vexing questions [on the issue] exist, and they mandate a response by sociologists, religious scholars and educators, so we will not be complicit in the killing."[16]

Fahid Al-'Adim (image: Al-Sharq, Saudi Arabia, November 5, 2013)

Youths Sell Their Lives And Become Kindling

In an article in the official Saudi daily 'Okaz, columnist Turki Al-Dakhil expressed concern in light of the large number of Saudi recruits for jihad in Syria: "We constantly hear reports on recruitment [to jihad] in the warzones. I already wrote in the past of a young boy, not yet a man, who was recruited to fight, to his mother's satisfaction. A recent episode of the program 'The Industry of Death' [on Al-Arabiya TV] featured Fares bin Hazzam, [a Saudi journalist and Al-Qaeda expert]. He spoke of this problem and commented in amazement that these [very young recruits] are not useful to the fighters in Syria or elsewhere, because they only become a burden in military camps, as happened in Afghanistan... If a [young] recruit is determined and eager, he is assigned an easy task that does not require training – booby-trapping. They booby-trap his body after his mind has already been booby-trapped. We all know the stories of those who became kindling in Iraq, driving trucks towards buildings with devotion to death, having sold their lives for next to nothing. Ibn Hazzam studied and followed the issue of 'recruitment [to jihad]’, and society was shocked when even a woman joined the fighting...[17]

"This [woman] is the second case published [in the media] of recruitment to jihad after that boy. The data reveals a significant number of Saudis on the frontlines in Syria, who are victims of extortion, humiliation, and exploitation [by terrorists] that have turned them into their kindling. Reports are contradictory due to misinformation by the Syrian [regime], but the average numbers mentioned are about 300 Saudis incarcerated in Syrian prisons, and between 3,000-4,000 recruited [for jihad] from the Gulf, mostly from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"These reports are not amusing. The numbers indicate that instead of 'mobilization' for life, there is mobilization for death. Despite the expansion of foreign study scholarships and the easing [of conditions to receive them], some extremists insist on abandoning schooling, education, and a life lived for the sake of Allah and a united homeland. They do this in pursuit of a pure and easy death, abandoning life in a truck bomb and entering the wars of others. Let us open our eyes: Since the 1980s, our youths are being exploited in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, the African hot spots, and now in Syria as well. But who is learning the lesson?!"[18]

We Must Prepare To Absorb Our Young Men Returning From Syria, To Detach Them From Al Qaeda's Terror

Liberal Saudi columnist 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Wabili wrote the following in the official Saudi daily Al-Watan: "Every country in the world that has young people fighting in Syria for one armed group or another is getting ready to receive them upon their return. The E.U. interior ministers have already held consultations and discussed the condition of their young people in Syria, in preparation for their return. They intend to take preliminary measures to prevent their young people from returning and forming [local] Al Qaeda centers and cells. I do not know what preliminary measures they have decided on in order to protect themselves from the negative phenomena these young people can bring with them from Syria. This is unimportant. The important question is what preliminary measures we have prepared to receive our young people upon their return from Syria? Is it possible that they will establish terror cells within our society, and we will be burned by their hellfire, just as we were burnt by bombings perpetrated by those who returned from Afghanistan in the 1980s?...

"We must urgently set up a committee of experts in psychology, social studies, education, culture, religion, crime and of course military and security affairs, and I hope that this is indeed happening in the offices of the Ministry of the Interior, because it is the one most immediately concerned [with this matter, and I hope is it doing], what the European Union Ministers of Interior have done. Clearly, not every young person returning from the Syrian battlefields will necessarily set up or participate in the establishment of a terrorist organization or cell. The vast majority of them will not do so, judging by what happened with young men who returned from Afghanistan. Many of them resumed their daily life and lived normally. However, if just 5% of them [the men returning from Syria] undertake to form nests or cells for Al-Qaeda and [organizations] like it they will embroil the country in a dangerous, bloody struggle…

"No one denies that the Arab Spring, which many thought would be a death blow to Al Qaeda even more than to the dictatorships, has in fact become a flourishing springtime for Al Qaeda, nor did it eliminate the dictatorships, as was expected. In other words, the Arab Spring has [only] prepared bases and control centers for Al Qaeda in every country it touched. [Now] the organization is waiting to storm the other countries, which have not yet been invaded by the Al-Qaeda spring. Al-Qaeda has established official bases in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Mali and Somalia. We were burnt by Al-Qaeda's flames when it was limited to the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now the organization is blossoming securely and peacefully in our Arab plains.

"Unless there is a pan-Arab plan [for combating Al-Qaeda], including on the Arab League level, no Arab country operating alone will be able to avoid its dangers, even if it spends billions for this purpose…

"As we conduct studies and outline plans for restraining our young people coming from Syria, we must set ourselves a goal to avoid viewing them as criminals or crime planners. From beginning to end, they are the victims of a determined and enormous ideological and religious propaganda [campaign] in the media and the preachers' pulpits, the like of which we have not witnessed in the history of the conflicts in the Arab world or between the Arab states and Israel. We are the ones who kindled [this propaganda], and most of [these] young people were influenced by it. They embraced it because they are more faithful than others in transforming their beliefs into a living reality. In other words, they say and do what they think. These [young people] emerged from within us, from our societies, and more precisely, from our very homes. They studied in our schools, prayed in our mosques, and listened to our media. They have turned our statements into actual deeds. True, there was someone who incited them or someone who exploited them and led them astray. All this is true, but we are the ones who prepared them and impelled them to fall victim to the traps of those who lie in wait for us and for them. [We are more to blame] than whoever led them astray and exploited them..."[19]

Saudi Journalist Exposes Sheikhs Recruiting Youth For Jihad

The MBC channel's weekly show hosted by Saudi journalist Daoud Al-Shiryan devoted its January 19, 2014 broadcast to the topic of sheikhs who encourage young Saudis to go on jihad and the difficulties experienced by their families. Al-Shiryan identified four senior Saudi clerics, including Salman Al-'Odeh and Muhammad Al-'Arifi, whom he charged with responsibility for deceiving the young and dispatching them to war in the name of Islam. Aired on the program was a telephone conversation with a Saudi mother who bewailed a son who had gone off to jihad in Syria and implored King 'Abdallah Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz and Crown Prince Salman Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz to bring him back. She claimed her son, not yet 18 years old, had been "kidnapped" to Syria. Her story moved the other guests on the show to tears and even the host Al-Shiryan wept.

Daoud Al-Shiryan (left, image: and Salman Al-'Odeh (image:

The program sparked an uproar in Saudi Arabia – especially due to Al-Shiryan's explicit accusations against specific sheikhs, who responded to his statements with fury[20] – and caused the government Saudi press to resume its discussion of jihad and the sheikhs who encourage it. Some of the articles praised Al-Shiryan for daring to identify these clerics by name. For example, Hassan Mashhour, a columnist in the official Saudi daily Al-Sharq, praised Al-Shiryan for daring to deal with a sensitive topic in Saudi society, and wrote: "…Journalist Daoud Al-Shiryan is facing a cruel attack from every direction by supporters and agents of the four sheiks that he mentioned in his famous program… and whom he accused of duping our sons and prodding them in the name of Islam to join various wars and battles of extermination that we as Saudis have no interest in.

"The courageous Al-Shiryan is the only one… [who dared to] directly point out the role played by this group [of clerics] and their deceptive jihadist fatwas in ruining the future of many sons of this homeland, [causing] the loss of many of this nation's young people, and exposing the homeland to multiple dangers for decades. We were all aware of the negative and despicable impact of these fatwas on our young children's thinking and of the social disasters they cause.

"We have written and pointed this out before, but… Daoud Al-Shiryan was the bravest. This is a turning point in the Saudi media that stands to his credit, and he merits sincere thanks for it… The four sheiks [he mentioned] and other sheiks who share their view and are called preachers, who reiterate these deceptive fatwas about jihad and spout the same nonsense, must understand that the era of bogus sanctity they surrounded themselves with over the years, while duping their gullible supporters and disciples, has passed, and the time has come for them to be held to account for their actions...

"The sheikhs must understand that the world has changed and that Saudi society is part of an aware and enlightened global system. Our young generation is more educated and aware, and its thinking is mostly anchored in scholarly and critical methodology. So even if [our generation] kept silent for its own reasons, they will under no circumstances remain silent in the face of those who attempt to hijack their homeland through sinful and destructive ideology and by embroiling their compatriots in sectarian wars in the name of Islam. [All this] in order to promote dubious agendas that the sheiks cram their minds [of the young people] with and are apparent to everyone.[21]

Hassan Mashhour (image:

Already As Young Students We Were Indoctrinated To Jihad

Liberal Saudi columnist Halima Muzaffar also penned a critical article for the government Saudi daily Al-Watan that recounted how she, as part of jihadi discourse, had been educated as a child to aspire to be the mother of a martyr or mujahid: "I remember how an elementary school teacher showed us segments from a video on the jihad in Afghanistan, and concluded with an impassioned speech about the ideal of jihad, although we were only little girls. This discourse did not change even when I studied in junior high, where the school administration brought in radical lecturers and corpse washers in order to teach us little girls how to wash dead bodies and draw a lesson from the torments of the grave…[22] would cause us, in impassioned language, to regret that we were girls and we could not wage jihad in Afghanistan and the infidel countries just like the young boys in order to seek the scent of Paradise by martyrdom. Nevertheless they inspired us to perform jihad in another way… [by urging us] to be like Al-Khansaa,[23] mothers of martyrs and mujahideen, and to encourage our children to jihad for the sake of Allah!

"Whoever belongs to my generation is quite familiar with this discourse, and hidden traces of it may still be found in the educational environment to this day. I remember that many were excited by the idea of being mothers of martyrs, and I openly say that I shared this enthusiasm back then, and save for the mercies of Allah, may He be exalted, I [too] could have been an adherent of the radical way… These teachers followed the sheiks of the Al-Sahwa [Al-Islamiyya movement][24]that flourished at that time, whose tapes were handed out in the markets and their sermons in the mosques. These sermons corrupted much of our life, drove us crazy, submerged us in radicalism and transformed us into a society that went backwards rather than forward!…" [25]

Halima Muzaffar (image:

The Jihad In Syria Is Legitimate But Requires Guidance

Unlike the many writers who condemned the jihad in Syria and called to fight this phenomenon, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, manager of Al-Arab TV and former editor of the official Saudi daily Al-Watan, claimed that jihad, especially against Assad in Syria, is a fundamentally legitimate and proper notion, but that people require guidance regarding it, because it has lost its true path and has been twisted by Salafi-jihadi movements like Al-Qaeda, as evident today in Syria. Khashoggi suggested that jihadis who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s but remained moderate and level-headed should hold a dialogue with the more moderate jihadis in Al-Qaeda, like the fighters of Jabhat Al-Nusra, in order to reform them and dismantle the organization's ideological framework. He wrote:

"The solution [to the problem of Saudi youths turning to jihad] may be to create another address, since the notion of jihad and aid to the Syrian people is not a fundamentally wrong. It is Al-Qaeda's presence [in Syria] that has caused governments that identify with the Syrian people to ban their citizens not only from joining in the fighting [against Assad] but even from volunteering for aid activity, which could attract many enthusiastic youths. The experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s was successful, despite the attempts by some people to twist it today. I say this out of knowledge and experience. [This experiment] did not deviate from its path until the appearance of takfiri and jihadi streams that did an injustice to Salafi ideology by associating themselves with it.

"Most of those who took part in that stage returned to their homelands calm and moderate and gained a positive reputation. They are [certainly] jihad fighters, but, as befitting jihad fighters, they eschewed exaggeration and violations, [and] they respected their governments and public order. They matured into moderate and serious middle aged men, and they can take part in a project for containing these youths and protecting them from deviation and from falling into Al-Qaeda's trap. Moreover, with support from clerics, they may even succeed in starting a dialogue with the moderate forces in Al-Qaeda, such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, who has also realized the exaggerated extremism of the actions of ISIS,[26] and restore them to the middle path that can contain us all. This will be another round of the war against terror via an ideological struggle that will help dismantle the ideological framework of Al-Qaeda.

"This program does not need to be [officially] declared and it does not require funding, since it can fund itself. It is enough to supervise it from a distance and divert attention away from it, and later supervise it like we did in Afghanistan. No one can tell us that this is an Afghanization of Syria, since Afghanization has already occurred in Syria. It is true that this is a crazy idea, but isn't everything that is happening in Syria crazy?"[27]

Jamal Khashoggi (image:, June 20, 2009)

*Y. Admon is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Senior officials of the Iranian regime have recently accused Saudi Arabia of heading the terrorist front in the region, including Khamenei's advisor Rahim Safavi (Mehr, Iran, January 10, 2014) and Iranian Deputy Chief-of-Staff Masoud Jazayeri (Fars, Iran, January 16, 2014). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki also accused Saudi Arabia recently of supporting terrorism, and said it refused to admit its mistake because it was a sectarian country (, January 26, 2014).

[2] See for example Fareed Zakaria, "The Saudis Are Mad? Tough!”,, November 11, 2013; Emile Nakhleh, "Saudi Anger Masks Concern at Loss of Influence",, November 18, 2013.
[3] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1032, Saudis Infuriated, Insulted By U.S. Efforts At Rapprochement With Iran, November 1, 2013.
[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 4, 2014. "Al-Surouriyya" is a religious-political movement, named after its founder Muhammad Surour Zayn Al-'Abidin, that spread out from Saudi Arabia and combines the thought of Sayyed Qutb with Saudi-style Wahhabism; Al-Tablir is an Islamic movement that started in India and spread to Arab countries. Its style of preaching relies on emotional intimidation.
[5] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), February 5, 2014.
[6] Al-Hayat (London), February 5, 2014.
[7] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 16, 2013.
[8] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), November 29, 2013. In a sermon on December 20, 2013, the mufti condemned the December 5, 2013 attack on the Yemeni defense department and warned preachers and clerics not to issue fatwas that cause the youth to become involved in matters of which they are ignorant and in dangerous ideologies that lead them to extremism. He also harshly condemned the December 24, 2013 attack on the police headquarters in Al-Mansoura, Egypt, saying that suicide bombings are a woe that the youth have become embroiled in and deceived by. Al-Wafd (Egypt), December 29, 2013.
[9] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 5, 2014.
[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 4, 2014.
[11], February 16, 2014.
[12], February 11, 2014.
[13] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), October 27, 2013.
[14] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), January 15, 2014.
[15] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 4, 2013.
[16] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), November 5, 2013.
[17] Likely referring to Nada Al-Qahtani, a young Saudi woman who announced her recruitment for jihad in Syria and her intention to join ISIS and carry out a suicide attack in early December 2013.
[18] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 5, 2013.
[19] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 27, 2013.
[20] Al-Shiryan's statements provoked an aggressive response from the clerics he identified by name as well as from other clerics. For example, Sheikh Salman Al-'Odeh denied that he had encouraged young Saudis to go to Syria for jihad and threatened to sue Al-Shirian unless he apologized., January 23, 2014.
[21] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), January 27, 2014.
[23] Al-Khansaa Bint 'Amr was a pre-Islamic period poetess who converted to Islam at the time of the prophet Muhammad. She is considered the "mother of martyrs", because after her four children died in the battle of Qadisiyya in 637 she do not mourn for them but thanked Allah for honoring her by their death.
[24] The Saudi Al-Sahwa Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Awakening) movement was founded in the 1980s by a group of Saudi religious scholars including Salman Al-'Odeh in the city of Al-Buraidah, 'Aidh Al-Qarni in Abha, Safar Al-Hawali in Jeddah, and Nasir Al-'Umar and Sa'd Al-Buraik in Riyadh. Its ideology combines Wahhabi Salafi Islam with the socio-political doctrine of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The movement was also influenced by thinkers such as Muhammad Qutb (brother of Sayyid Qutb) and Muhammad Al-Rashid. As long as it did not oppose the Saudi regime, the movement enjoyed vast influence within Saudi society and particularly in schools and universities. In the early 1990s it shook up the political system by promoting protest actions and demonstrations calling for reform and in particular the establishment of a Shura Council. The movement's activity was halted in 1995. Its many successors include Al-Qaeda.
[25] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 27, 2014.
[26] ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – an organization established in April 2013 when the head of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, announced that his organization was expanding its activity to Syria. The organization champions extremist Salafi ideology and global jihad. It has established itself as one of the most powerful and influential forces in Syria thanks to thousands of foreign fighters who have joined its ranks. It sees itself as the nucleus of the future caliphate and insists that all fighters and organizations in Syria come together under the leadership of Al-Baghdadi, whom they consider the legitimate leader of the entire Muslim nation.
[27] Al-Hayat (London), November 23, 2013. For further excerpts from this article, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5575, Saudi Journalist: The Notion Of Jihad In Syria Is Not Wrong, But Has Been Twisted By Al-Qaeda December 24, 2013.

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