November 29, 2001 Special Dispatch No. 304

Saudi Government Efforts to Curtail Incitement in Mosques and Press

November 29, 2001
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 304

On November 14, 2001, Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah ibn Abd Al-'Aziz called for a meeting of the kingdom'sleading clerics to brief them on talks he had in recent months with U.S. President George W. Bush. Attending themeeting were Prince Sultan ibn Abd Al-'Aziz, who serves as second deputy prime minister, defense and flightminister, and inspector-general; the Saudi mufti Sheikh Abd Al-'Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, Supreme JudicialCouncil Chairman Saleh ibn Muhammad Al-Lheidan, Justice Minister Dr. Abdallah ibn Muhammad AalAl-Sheikh, Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Saleh ibn Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, and high-ranking religious andjudicial officials. During the meeting, the Crown Prince instructed the clerics to make efforts to curtail inflammatorypreaching and sermons in the mosques. The following are the main points raised by the Crown Prince, the mufti, andothers, as reported by the Saudi government daily Al-Watan:

Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abd Al-'Aziz: "My brothers, you know that we are in the midst of difficult days… [Therefore] you must act with moderation and examine every word you say, as you are responsible to Allah and to the Islamic nation. I wish you success, and Allah will inspire you."

We are now in a situation that demands that we [act] with wisdom and awareness, as you, in this country [i.e. the location of the holiest sites in Islam], are an example to your Muslim brethren. First and foremost, I counsel you to fear Allah, serve your religion and your homeland, and seek words of logic in order to serve Islam. [I counsel you not to allow] emotion to take over you, and allow no one to provoke you, because each of you is responsible before Allah and before his people, his homeland, his family, his children, and his honor."

"We are today in the midst of a time that obligates us to examine with restraint every word that leaves our mouths. I hope that you will bear this responsibility before Allah, before your people, and before the authorities so that [we] are not pushed into the corner, as these [religious] matters must be considered in peace and quiet, and also because Allah has said, in the Koran: 'We have made you a moderate nation.'"

The Saudi crown prince reiterated that Islam maintains that "there [should be] no extremism in religion" and that it is not a matter of "give and take [with the U.S.]… but of [acting] with reason and deliberation, as you know what the situation in the world is."

The crown prince expressed his hope that "Allah will spare us the evil of Muslims who pretend to believe in Islam but in fact are not on the path of righteousness. May Allah spare us from their evil, lead us in the path of righteousness, and lead them back to the true Islam."[1]

The Saudi mufti, Sheikh Al-'Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, concurred with the prince that "handling problems with deliberation and moderation is good for us all." His words reflected the moderate position he has held for some time, even before the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. In an interview published in the Saudi government paper Al-Riyadh,[2] Sheikh Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh warned against calls to kill non-Muslims in Islamic countries, telling his followers to "beware of listening to calls that give rise to civil strife and riots, which accomplish nothing." Months earlier, in an April 2001 interview with the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily,[3] the mufti had issued a controversial religious ruling against suicide bombings and airplane hijackings. In that interview, he had said, "I am not aware of any aspect of religious law concerning killing oneself in the heart of the [ranks of] the enemy, or what is known as suicide. This is not part of Jihad, and I fear that it is killing oneself [and nothing more]. Indeed, the Koran requires killing the enemy, even demands it, but this should be done in ways that do not violate Shari'a."[4]

The following are excerpts from the Al-Riyadh interview:

Q: "What is your position on calls to kill non-Muslims with whom Islam has signed a pact as well as those who have sought refuge in Islamic countries?"

Sheikh Aal Al-Sheikh: "Our monotheistic [Muslim] religion preaches honoring obligations, and it warns against their violation and betrayal [meaning – turning against non-Muslims who are protected by a truce or a pact]…"

"It is our duty to fear Allah, to consider issues and not to punish anyone for the sin of others, as our religion is based on justice… It is our duty to act with deliberation, to think and not to act in haste, as such behavior harms Islam and Muslims in this world and in the world to come…"

Q: "Isn't this [i.e. the call to kill non-Muslims] considered incitement to internal strife and as undermining security?"

Sheikh Aal Al-Sheikh: "I said that such behavior has very damaging ramifications..."

Q: "What must the clerics and religious scholars do in this matter?"

Sheikh Aal Al-Sheikh: "…Anyone with religious qualifications and knowledge [in religious law] must explain the truth and enlighten the people with regard to their obligation to turn to the rulers and clerics during internal strife… Similarly, it is an obligation for those engaged in religious studies not to hasten to discuss such serious matters that concern the entire [Muslim] nation, and to leave [them] for those [with] greater [knowledge] than they. With regard to the common folk, they must fear Allah and refrain from engaging in these matters, which are beyond their comprehension."

Q: "What ramifications do the events taking place today have on Islamic proselytizing [Da'wa, aimed at] disseminating Islam in the world? And what effect do [they] have on charity and aid?"

Sheikh Aal Al-Sheikh: "We all know that the events are decreed by Allah and that Allah decreed [what is going to happen] in tremendous wisdom, which his servants may and may not understand…"

"…With regard to disseminating the religion of Allah in the world, this is undoubtedly an obligation for Muslims. But all must know that Allah ensures not only the preservation of this religion, but also [ensures that] it will vanquish [all other religions]… The Muslims' obligation is to act diligently in proselytizing, and to [ensure] that the events that take place do not dissuade us from this important goal…"

Q: "How can the domestic arena be strengthened against calls [to kill non-Muslims], and how can the individuals in society, particularly the young people, be protected from them?"

Sheikh Aal Al-Sheikh: "…The matter is returning to the rulers and clerics because they are best at [gaining] a thorough view of the situation, and they are well-versed in the scriptures… and know best what the interests [of the Muslim nation] are, and what is morally bad, and know how to actualize the most important interests and how to avoid harm. Therefore, it is the obligation of the individuals in society to unite around the clerics and their rulers…"

Other participants in meeting, held on November 14, joined the crown prince, issuing similar instructions: Supreme Judicial Council Chairman Sheikh Saleh ibn Muhammad Al-Lheidan stated, "We must… do better at watching our mouths, [and say] only what will benefit our country and our Islamic homeland." Clerics Authority member Dr. Abdallah ibn Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Turki stressed that "no one should make unfounded statements," and that "everyone should stick to their own areas of expertise."

"Just as it is inappropriate," he said, "for someone who had not studied economics to discuss economic matters, it is also inappropriate for someone with no experience in politics or international affairs to answer questions about such matters. In the same vein, anyone who has not studied religion should not deal with religious questions."[5]

A few days later, on November 18, Crown Prince Abd Al-'Aziz called another meeting, this time with top officials in the Defense and Intelligence Ministry.

At the meeting, the Crown Prince briefed them about his recent talks and correspondence with the American administration "in the service of the Palestinian and Islamic cause." The details of the meeting were picked up by the Saudi news agency.

The Crown Prince said: "I wish to remind you of the unjust attack being waged these days by the foreign media against the Saudi kingdom. I mean foreign papers, and you know who is behind them…"

"These papers, behind which stands 'you-know-who,' criticize your religion, criticize the things most precious to you, your faith and your holy scriptures… There is no choice for them but to understand that you are strong in your faith in Allah the exalted, and in your devotion to your faith, your belief, and your loyalty."

"There are two important things on which we will not compromise: our faith and our homeland. There will be no bargaining over them, and this should be known to those far and near."

"There is spite against our country because of our enforcement of Islamic religious law, and I am confident that no other country in the world does this… Let this be a source of pride and glory for you. Allah willing, we will all live and die by this faith and by its enforcement."

The Crown Prince stated that the Western media's attack on Saudi Arabia after September 11 "included curses on Islam, and on all Arabs and Muslims, but on you [Saudis] in particular." "However, there is a proverb that says, 'Let the snake die of its own venom.'"

"They will find from you and from Islam nothing but love, peace, and friendship between peoples of the world. Islam is goodness, blessing, glory, and honor. Islam will be victorious, come what may."[6]

[1] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 15, 2001.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), October 24, 2001.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 21, 2001.

[4] See: MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 53, May 2, 2001.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 15, 2001.

[6] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), November 27, 2001.

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