November 8, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 1020

Saudi Columnist: Imams Exploit Pulpits to Spread Extremist Ideas - and the Islamic Affairs Ministry Doesn't Do Enough to Prevent It

November 8, 2005
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 1020

In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan titled "Who Will Protect the Worshippers from Some of the Imams in the Mosques?" Saudi columnist 'Abdallah Al-Mutayri criticized the Saudi government's leniency towards extremist imams. [1]

The following are excerpts from the article:

The Worshippers are a Tool Used by Imams

"The 'invocation of submission' following prayers during the nights of Ramadan is used by some imams in the mosques to force their ideological and political perceptions on worshipers, in the name of Allah [2] – as if the pulpit that this imam was given were a place for expressing his personal opinions and perceptions on political, social, and other issues, and as if the worshippers were a tool for the imam to be used in order to achieve his personal goals and desires.

"I remember how, when I was young, I pondered a great deal over some names for which the imam invoked a blessing after prayers during the nights of Ramadan. These names were alien to me, and I didn't understand my father's anger at the imam's involving the worshipers in matters that did not concern them. Afterwards, I learned that these were the names of Afghan leaders, and that the imam supported a [particular] Afghan side against the other, in a war that was entirely between Muslims, and exploited the worshippers to support his personal inclinations and opinions.

"Following the increase in clashes between the security forces and the terrorists in Saudi Arabia, the [Saudi] Islamic Affairs Ministry issued a directive [to imams] to invoke a curse explicitly upon the terrorists. The directive was clear, and there was no need for interpretation [because it called for] 'invoking a curse upon the terrorists, by name.'

"We attended an invocation in order to express solidarity with the security forces personnel, and we were in the hands of the imam. The invocation began and ended without a single word being uttered about the terrorists. All we heard were curses invoked against the enemies of the religion: that Allah would down their airplanes and destroy their warships and their aircraft carriers.

"I asked the imam: 'Do the terrorists have airplanes and missiles, or was this invocation against America ?' He answered me that the invocation was [directed against] all. I said: 'Wasn't the directive [of the Islamic Affairs Ministry] clear?... Why do you direct the invocation expressly against the Communists and their supporters and refuse to direct it expressly against the terrorists?"

"Is There No One… to Preserve Citizens' Fundamental Rights?"

"I felt bitterness [when I saw] how [the imam] was playing with the emotions of the worshippers who came [to the mosque] to express solidarity with their sons and brothers, the courageous security forces personnel. How does he engage them in issues that are of no concern to them? By what right and what authority [does he do so]? And to whom must we turn to complain [about this]?

"In many cases, this exploitation of the pulpits is becoming acute, to the point where it harms the citizens themselves – when curses are invoked for the ruin and illness [of particular citizens], and for their blood to freeze in their veins. The question arises: Who will defend the citizen from this aggression?... Has the exploitation of the religion reached such a level where even worship becomes a tool in the hands of the imam, who has appointed himself as both judge and executioner, and who judges and sets out laws all by himself? Is there no one to help the citizen, whose blood and honor are being violated by this invocation, and to preserve [his] fundamental rights?..."

"A Media Campaign is Needed to Increase Citizens' Awareness"

"The Islamic Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for the mosques, must stop the damage that is being caused to people by those who violate [the ministry's directive], and must stop this contempt for religion and for worship in order to [achieve] goals and urges that exist in the minds of these imams. Of course, the imam of a mosque has the right, like any other citizen, to express his views and inclinations... but he must know that the mosque is not the place for this...

"The directives [issued by] the [Islamic Affairs] Ministry – which no one implements and no one knows about – are not enough. I propose launching, via the media, a campaign to heighten citizens' awareness, and to clarify to them their right to oppose [such] exploitation, and [also to instruct them on] how to submit a complaint in the event of violations of this kind. Similarly, strict measures must be taken against those who violate [the ministry's directives].

"It is not fitting to be lenient in these matters – or will we learn only after blood has been shed? What is preventing one of the worshippers from killing a citizen upon whom a curse was invoked as if he were Satan? Isn't it an obligation to purge the earth of this man, who was depicted by the imam as an infidel who weaves plot after plot to destroy Islam and the Muslims? Is it [reasonable] for us to give him [i.e. this worshipper] all the justifications to murder and blow up [someone upon whom a curse was invoked] and then demand that he not carry it out?...

"Along with the responsibility of the official circles, the [Saudi] National Society for Human Rights must [also] fulfill its duty to protect the fundamental rights of citizens – whether those upon whom a curse is invoked and who are condemned in the mosques, or those who are exploited by these imams [i.e. the worshippers]...

"None of our brothers are protected from this danger. The truth is that it is not unreasonable that my own name will echo in some of the mosques following this column...

"The problem is not with [certain imams], but with extremist ideology... The proof of the barbarity of this ideology is that we almost never hear an invocation calling for opponents to choose to follow the right path and to succeed at it. All we hear is an invocation [to curse them with] death, illness, and ruin, and for their blood to freeze in their veins. This indicates a barbaric ideology lacking in fundamental humane principles and principles of humane dialogue..."

[1] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 26, 2005.

[2] The invocation of submission (in Arabic, Du'aa Al-Qunut) is an invocation that follows prayers and includes praise for Allah, blessings for the believers, and requests for ill fortune for their enemies.

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