September 18, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2525

Saudi Cleric Sheikh Salman Al-Odah Supports Cultural Coexistence with Non-Muslims

September 18, 2009
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2525

In an article titled "Cultural Coexistence," published August 14, 2009 in the Bahraini daily Al-Wasat, Salman Al-Odah argues that Muslims should not shun the concept of coexistence. Salman Al-Odah is a popular Saudi preacher who is currently supervisor of the website and of the Al-Dalil satellite channel. Al-Odah was one of the leaders of the radical Saudi Sahwa movement, and spent 1994-1999 in prison due to his opposition to Saudi government policy during the Gulf War (1990-1991). In recent years, Al-Odah has moderated his views and has publicly rebuked Osama bin Laden, [1] though he continued to support attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.

The following is the translation of his article.

Islam Teaches Us the Positive Meaning of Coexistence

"The contemporary concept of 'coexistence' has been the cause of much argument and furor. Some Muslims concerned with [this issue] feel that the word has been charged with a negative significance that violates shari'a. There is a concern that behind this idea [of coexistence] lurks the weakening of the foundations of Islam.

"This claim does justice neither to the positive aspect of coexistence, nor to Islam. Furthermore, its connection to Western thought has created legitimate concerns that the West promotes this idea in order to wipe out Islamic values and to assimilate the East into the West and to dissolve the East's identity.

"I appreciate this concern; however, the fact that this term [coexistence] is found in various [non-Islamic] publications does not at all negate its recognized basis in Islamic scriptures.

"There should be no objection to using this or that term on the grounds that it is charged [with negative connotations]; this is because one shouldn't argue about the term. Rather, it should be dealt with quietly and objectively; if it's mistaken it should be rejected and if it's acceptable it should be adopted. This is what Islam calls on us to do.

"Coexistence in the negative sense - that is, giving up the [Islamic] faith or presenting an abridged faith - must be rejected. However, the positive meaning of coexistence, namely reaching ethical levels of dialogue and agreement on the foundations of living together and conciliation… and recognizing pluralism, has all been taught by Islamic law. It should be noted that the Holy Koran includes terms which are perhaps wider and more comprehensive then the term 'coexistence.' In the Holy Koran [49:13], Allah says: "O mankind! We created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other."

"The expression 'to know each other' is not restricted to knowing the name and the tribe; rather, it is a message to mankind: It signifies the exchange of knowledge, of sciences, and of virtues… Cooperation for a good purpose is a clear legal Islamic concept which is commonly agreed upon. It must be practiced both with those who agree with you and with those who disagree with you.

"This meaning of cooperation and 'knowing each other' is the very purpose of the message to humanity. It brings forth the best values, which lift up mankind and bring it closer to Allah's guidance through His great religion, Islam.

"It is well known that all the conditions and events of mankind in all its variations are determined by Allah the Creator.

"'If Allah had willed, they would not have taken false gods [Koran 6:107].' [It is also in accordance with Allah's plan that] 'they are constantly in disagreement, except for those on whom your Lord had mercy. It is for this purpose that He created them [Koran 11:118-119]."

Coexistence Does Not Mean Agreeing to Bad Practices

"This acceptance of variation and pluralism implies the recognition of the existence of evil and error that are opposed to the values of virtue and piety. Coexistence does not mean agreeing to, or justifying, bad practices; nor does it abolish the rule of resistance [to evil] and the obligation to command that which is good and forbid that which is evil. These are firm Islamic legal principles… The meaning of coexistence is to accept conciliation in secular affairs and to live together in agreement on human ethics which allow dialogue and persuasion.

"The Muslim is a reformer: He orders that which is good and forbids that which is evil. He strives as much as possible to oppose falsehood with truth and ignorance with knowledge. He knows where he stands; he is moderate and well balanced in his view of reform, because the ideal vision which some of us try to propagate is [impractical].

"It is an offense to the aims of Islamic law and to the message of Islam for a certain group to choose itself [as the best] and to arrogate to itself truth and correct vision, considering anyone who does not accept their authority as misguided - and, sometimes, as deserving if being killed. [Such groups] declare that allegiance to them is obligatory and that it is they who decide what is right and wrong among the people. This manner of behavior is in itself an ordeal for Islam….

"Islamic law has, throughout history, protected the lives of those who do not believe in Islam - Jews, Christians and others - on the basis of contractual agreement. The great model of coexistence is Medina, the capital of Islam, its stronghold and the basis from which the message of the last of all prophets came forth.… At the time when the Prophet [Muhammad] was established there, Allah willed that Medina should belong not only to the Prophet's companions and the early Muslims, but that Jews and idolaters and hypocrites and people of weak faith would also participate in it, side by side with the Muslims. Furthermore, it was Allah's will that the Prophet should die while his coat of mail was mortgaged to a Jew, as recorded in the two authoritative collections of hadith, which indicates clearly that this concept is clear and firm and can neither be abrogated nor infringed upon."

Coexistence Is a Kind of Opening for the Propagation of Islam

"Coexistence is a kind of cooperation and mutual recognition concerning cultural and human common interests and exchange of experience, which help mankind to develop the world and spread those values that are universally recognized as good. All of this is a kind of opening for the propagation of Islam. Coexistence does not mean propagation of the views of the other, or the acceptance of its legitimacy in a religious way - but rather the acceptance of coexistence in a secular way for the purpose of opening up dialogue on both religious and secular matters.

"The Prophet's companions understood that they had a religion that was essentially different from the other religions and that the difference was deep and fundamental, in dogma, scripture and ritual - yet there was also a common idea and a secular interest which was sometimes unifying or common. [We find in the Koran]: 'O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you, that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are Muslims [3:64].'

"The prophets are the greatest believers of all mankind, and yet they lived together with their people despite the fact that their people were infidels. Noah lived 950 years with his people. He said: 'O my Lord! I have called to my people night and day: But all my calling only increased their repugnance [to it]. And whenever I have called them so that Thou may forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, covered themselves with their garments, persisted [in their refusal to repent], and acted arrogantly. Then I called them openly and also called them secretly and I said, 'Ask forgiveness from your Lord; He is surely forgiving [Koran 71:5-10].'

"He is, then, calling them and reasoning with them in a quiet objective dialogue through which the truth can reach people of sound mind. This is an aspect of coexistence.

"Coexistence does not mean abandoning your particular personal view, let alone your creed and religion. Personal opinion is part of one's personality, and no one has the right to require others to change their views.

"However, a personal view remains ultimately no more than a personal view, and what is required is to abandon extreme fanaticism… and replace it with rational arguments.

"Coexistence is then giving up being fanatical for one's own views and forcing them on others; it does not, however, mean giving up one's views. There is a big difference between these two things."


[1] See MEMRI TV Clip No. 587, "Saudi Cleric Salman Al-Odeh Explains Why He Supports Jihad in Iraq," March 2, 2005,

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