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memri
July 9, 2003 No.
535

Saudi Editor-In-Chief Fired Following Criticism of Ibn Taymiyya, Spiritual Father of Wahhabism

On May 27, 2003 , approximately two weeks after the suicide bombings in Riyadh , the editor-in-chief of the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Jamal Khashoggi, was fired by order of the Saudi Information Ministry. At the time, no official reason was given for his dismissal.

Al-Watan was founded in 2000, in the city of Abha in the southern Saudi district of Asir, a district which is a major basis of support for Saudi Islamists. The cornerstone of the paper's building was laid by Crown Prince Abdallah, and its board of directors is headed by Prince Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal. The paper takes an independent line and demonstrates a stance considered liberal by Saudi standards. The newspaper's op-ed page reflects pluralism, and features articles expressing diverse opinions. The following offers a brief background of Khashoggi as well as excerpts from an op-ed published in Al-Watan which likely led to his dismissal:

Editor-In-Chief Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi served as the paper's editor-in-chief for only a few weeks; his previous position was as editor of the Saudi English-language weekly Arab News. Despite his brief tenure, he managed to arouse the ire of Saudi Islamist elements, both establishment and opposition, because of a series of articles condemning the Saudi government's Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (i.e. the religious police). Following the publication of these articles, attacks were launched against Al-Watan by several Islamist websites which support bin Laden and oppose the Saudi regime. These websites also support the Saudi religious police, even though it is a government body. The websites featured a parody of the Al-Watan ("The Homeland") logo, that read instead Al-Wathan – "The Pagan Idol."

The newspaper angered Islamists for other reasons as well. For example, it discussed women's issues such as identity cards and the right of women to drive cars. The result was a frequent turnover of editors-in-chief – Khashoggi was the third, though the paper has been in existence for less than three years. He was replaced by Tarek Ibrahim.

It recently became known that the last straw that led to Khashoggi's termination was an op-ed on the Riyadh bombings that appeared in the May 22 edition; the op-ed criticized Ibn Taymiya (1268-1328), the spiritual father of Wahhabism, which is the Saudi kingdom's official stream of Islam. [1]

'The Words of Ibn Taymiya are the Real Problem'

The following are excerpts from the article, titled "The Individual and the Homeland Are More Important than Ibn Taymiya," by Khaled Al-Ghanami: "It is superfluous to note that understanding how the bloody murderers who perpetrated the accursed crime of May 12 think is the quickest way to infiltrate and uproot their modus operandi – or, at the very least, to restrict it. It will never suffice to use demagoguery and the usual superficial preaching. The problem will not be solved unless we put our finger on the wound and try to heal it."

"Why did they wave the banner of Jihad…? The answer is this: Ibn Taymiya... said… that if the ruler does not observe the commandment of promoting virtue and preventing vice, this obligation is incumbent upon the clerics… It is these words [of Ibn Taymiya] that are the real problem. We must stop cajoling and say: These words are a mistake, and a true disaster, that lead to anarchy, and to a threat to national unity, and the return of the Jahaliya, [2] because anyone who thinks himself a cleric will try to remove everything he considers vice. Anyone who thinks music is forbidden will blow up stores that sell tapes; anyone who thinks smoking a N arghile is forbidden will blow up shops offering them for sale, and so on. This is no exaggeration; the day is not far off when they open fire on satellite dishes."

'They Attribute No Value to Human Life if It is Not Muslim'

"How did they permit the blood of the non-Muslims?"

"The answer is: Because they attribute no value to human life if it is not Muslim, and because they ignore the words of Allah: 'There is no coercion in Islam.' Another reason is that they think that non-Muslims' presence in the Arabian Peninsula is sufficient reason to kill them. They forget that the Jews were in the Arabian Peninsula during the life of the Prophet and also after his death. Proof of this is that his shield was left in the hands of a Jew from whom he bought food. They ignored the words of Jabber bin Abdallah: '...None must come near the Al-Haram mosque unless he be a slave or of the Dhimmis [i.e. Jew or Christian].' Examine this tradition and you will see that it permitted those with whom there was a protection agreement to enter even the Al-Haram mosque."

"In the collection of traditions of Al-Bukhari it is written that Abd Al-Rahman bin 'Auf threw himself upon Umayya bin Khalef to protect him from the swords of the Muslims at the battle of Badr, and that Abd Al-Rahman was wounded in the leg because of this. [3] The child-murderers must look at how this man, to whom Paradise was promised, did not renounce his humanity or his love for his 'infidel' friend.

"What is the reason for [their] hatred of humanity?"

"The reason is that they misunderstand the rule of 'loyalty and renunciation.' [4] This rule is a fundamental Islamic rule, but the meaning of 'renunciation' is to renounce the attacking, fighting infidels, and to refrain from helping them [act] against the Islamic state. Their claim that you must hate anyone who is a non-Muslim cannot be true. The Prophet loved Abu Taleb, who died while still clinging to idol worship… Proof that Islam came to spread love among people is that Islam permitted a Muslim to marry a Jewish or Christian woman…"

"How did these murderers permit the blood of Muslims and children?"

"They did this based on a Fatwa of Ibn Taymiya in his book 'The Jihad, 'that says that if the infidels take shelter behind Muslims, that is, if these Muslims become a shield for the infidels, it is permitted to kill the Muslims in order to reach the infidels. Ibn Taymiya did not base this Fatwa on an actual text from the words of Allah or from the words of His Prophet. I do not think that this Fatwa leads to realization of the supreme intentions of Islamic religious law; on the contrary, it is a mistaken Fatwa that contradicts the way of the Prophet Muhammad, who is proven to have recommended to the Jihad warriors: 'Do not kill a woman, a child or an old man.'"

'The Homeland is a Million Times More Precious to Us Than Ibn Taymiya'

"Let us say this honestly: Our problem today is with Ibn Taymiya himself."

"Some of our clerics have turned [the words] of Ibn Taymiya the Hanbali [imam] from Haran, into a border that must never be crossed. In our time, and in our country, they have elevated him to a status he never had in his own land and own time. Some, unwittingly, even relate equally to Ibn Taymiya's writings and the basic writings of Muslim religious law. They tell you that Ibn Taymiya is not immune to mistakes, yet most never disagree with his words and are unwilling to permit you to disagree with his words. Why do we complain to our Shi'ite brethren for claiming that their imams are immune to mistakes, while in practical terms we are no different?"

"Ibn Taymiya was wonderful, brilliant, and amazing. People are captivated by him because of his unequivocal, decisive, and confident approach, and because he sees those who think otherwise as simpletons. Ibn Taymiya is a maximalist, and one-dimensional, and he does not permit other opinions. He is not like the clerics who hand down different opinions without deciding amongst them, or who decide [in favor of one] but with reservations and relativism. Therefore, we find no one else with Ibn Taymiya's presence in the thought of Islamist thinkers today."

"But at the same time, despite his great knowledge and although he was well read, [Ibn Taymiya] was emotional and inclined to sentimentality. His Fatwas were sometimes issued as an unbalanced response…"

"I think that we, the intellectuals who know with certainty where the problem lies, must raise our voices and declare: The individual, Muslim or non-Muslim, is more important to us than criticizing a cleric. The homeland, which we fear may become a second Algeria, is a million times more precious and important to us than Ibn Taymiya."[5]


[1] Al-Qaheera (Egypt), June 10, 2003, and other Arab media sources.

[2] The pre-Islamic period.

[3] Abd Al-Rahman bin 'Auf was one of the companions of the Prophet, and at the battle of Badr he tried to defend his friend Umayya bin Khalef, who was not a Muslim and who was fighting for the other side.

[4] In the Arabic, Al-Walaa wa-al Baraa. This is the principle which, according to fundamentalist sources, means universal loyalty among Muslims and Muslims' absolute renunciation of all non-Muslims or anyone who deviates from the principles of the religion.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 22, 2003.