April 19, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2915

Senior Saudi Cleric Calls for Moderation, Criticizes Al-Qaeda and the Terrorism Perpetrated in Islam's Name

April 19, 2010
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2915

Senior Saudi cleric Sheikh Salman Al-Odeh, who is general supervisor of, recently reiterated his firm opposition to Al-Qaeda and to terrorism in general. He also called for Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri to reconsider his organization's radical ideology.

Al-Odeh was a leader of the extremist Saudi Sahwa movement,[1] and spent 1994-1999 in prison because of his opposition to Saudi government policy during the first Gulf War (1990-1991). In November 2004, Al-Odeh was one of 26 clerics who signed a fatwa supporting jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq.[2]

In recent years, Al-Odeh has tempered his views, and has publicly criticized Osama bin Laden, though he continued to support resistance against coalition forces in Iraq.[3] On the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in September 2007, Al-Odeh warned bin Laden that if he did not relinquish the path of terror he would find himself responsible for the deaths of millions, for which he would ultimately have to answer to Allah.[4]

A senior Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operative issued a communiqué censuring Al-Odeh's most recent statements, contending that only those who were themselves engaged in jihad in the field were entitled to issue fatwas to other jihad fighters.

The following article presents the main points of Al-Odeh's recent statements as well as Al-Qaeda's response to them:

Most Victims of Islamic Terror Are Muslims; The Muslim Nation is the Only One Whose Sons Kill Each Other

On a program aired by the Saudi MBC channel in September 2009 marking the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Salman Al-Odeh urged Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri to follow in the footsteps of numerous other Islamic organizations and reconsider his organization's ideology, to prevent the killing of Muslims. He noted that Al-Qaeda had killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, and that the Muslim world was "being roasted on the flames of Al-Qaeda" and exposed to violent events and bombings. He added that because of the West's recent success in protecting itself, it would appear that Al-Qaeda had despaired of attacks in the West and set its sights on Islamic countries where security was mostly lax. Al-Odeh further claimed that people who had accepted Al-Qaeda's ideology of takfir and bombings, in countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Somalia, rejected dialogue even with their fellow Muslims, and that many of them were motivated neither by religious nor by rational conviction, but by emotional distress, frustration, and an inner sense of discrimination.[5]

Also on the program, Al-Odeh said, on a different occasion, "Muslims are the only nation whose sons kill each other; there is no other nation in the world – not the Jews, not the Christians, not the Buddhists, not the pagans – whose sons do this... We shouldn't throw stones at others' houses... ultimately, this will harm us, as it is said: 'People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at others.' We say this to Iran and to every other Arab or Islamic country, because it can be said about our houses that they are made of glass more than it can be said about all [other houses]... Part of overall Islamic suffering [stems from internecine] fighting, from the Arabic and Islamic mentality, and from the desire to... [stir up] more trouble in this Arab and Islamic [region]...

"How long will people cling to weapons as if they were the only means of achieving their goals?"[6]

Clerics Must Condemn Terror Perpetrated in Name of Islam Explicitly and Unequivocally

In an October 10, 2009 article posted on, which he supervises, Al-Odeh called on clerics to refrain from engaging in extremist religious discourse. He urged them to unequivocally condemn the murderous terrorism being perpetrated in the name of Islam, in order to save the "credulous youth" drawn to terrorist organizations. The following are excerpts from the article:

"I have called on, and will continue to call on our loyal clerics and preachers to call things by their true name, and to remove the divine and holy epithet 'jihad' from the operations carried out by murderous organizations that kill innocent people and undermine security in Islamic countries, or other countries with which we have agreements...

"It is important to explicitly condemn the evil crimes perpetrated worldwide in the name of Islam or of jihad, and to remove the disguise that their names provide for them – whether that name is 'Al-Qaeda,' or 'jihad organizations,' or 'military or combat organizations,' or 'the Islamic state.' Mumbled words, unclear statements, or general declarations [on this matter] are not sufficient [to condemn this] – [though my statements] do not apply to resisting the occupier or defending the homeland, such as in the case of the Palestinians, about which all agree... I command myself, and my fellow preachers, and the speakers and the writers, to condemn in the clearest possible terms this perversion, which includes bloodshed, destruction of society, corruption of the image of Islam, hindrance of growth, [dissemination] of and contempt for the essential foundations of Islamic law and of humanism, wickedness worldwide, and aggression against human life,

"[When condemning violence,] we must not confuse this [condemnation] with the discussion of other reprehensible matters, or link them to each other, in a way that will mislead the ignorant into thinking that we are making excuses or looking for alibis. [For example,] we must not hint at takfir [i.e. accusing another Muslim of heresy] or tafjir [i.e. "explosion", i.e. suicide bombings] when discussing a deviance that is social, political, or media-related, saying [for instance]: This is the reason for takfir, or for tafjir... This is not a good approach, and it is likely to insinuate to some of these [ignorant people] that if they don't like something they are justified in using violence. We must keep matters separate, and be careful in our words and deeds, lest we convey a negative message to such people...

"It doesn't matter if so and so accuses me of working for one side or another, or of being a 'government [agent]' [just] because I say something he doesn’t want to hear. For, as Allah is my witness, this condemnation [by me] is the result of [my own] profound religious feeling and rational conviction... Since the violent operations began, the [need] to again talk with [the perpetrators] and entreat them [to desist] has become an religious, cultural, moral and da'wa necessity, for all those who care about the future of this religion, this homeland, the coming generations, and the preservation of what remains of stability in the Muslim countries..

"What is happening in Somalia and other places is a lamentable tragedy. In the name of Islam, destruction is being sowed [there]; people are being crushed and killed in empty alleyways and ruined houses; and lives are being taken even in the month of Ramadan. I [re]iterate sincerely and loudly: Allah will not lend success to the deeds of the corrupt and the traitors... nor to those who kill Muslims in the name of Islam or in the name of implementing shari'a. They will never succeed; Allah's punishment will overtake them and they will become an object of mockery for their fellows unless they repent.

"After September 2001, Al-Qaeda did not remain as it had been; it became a global phenomenon for which many wrote love songs... Their strategy changed, and the evil was unleashed and splintered into [many] fragments in various places [worldwide]... as if [the name 'Al-Qaeda'] was a brand available to anyone who wanted to act in its name, whether or not they comprise a structured organization with a leadership closely tied to Al-Qaeda.

"I call to those who still persist in not [discussing this matter] in their speeches to consider the moment when they will stand before Allah... Out of compassion for these credulous young people, and for those who will join them, we must say to them: This is a path that leads nowhere, does not guard against evil, and neither brings you closer to Paradise nor distances you from Hell. Anyone who wants to succeed in this world and to be saved in the world to come, and to [gain] Allah's satisfaction and Paradise, must cling to the foundations of Islam."[7]

Terrorism Corrupts Image of Islam and Muslims; Fort Hood Shooting Unjustifiable

Al-Odeh warned that even the most minor attacks in the West were being exploited in order to step up racial incitement against Islam and the Muslims.[8] He called the Fort Hood shootings, in which Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded 29, unjustifiable, and said that there was a likelihood of negative ramifications for Muslims in the U.S. and Europe, who could be considered a fifth column. He added that such an incident gladdens the Zionists, who will take advantage of it to warn the world against Muslims and to thwart any attempt to treat Muslims with moderation.[9]

Young People Who Come from Abroad to Join the Jihad Do Damage to Iraq

In an article on, Al-Odeh stated that young people from outside Iraq who come to Iraq to join the jihad were actually harming the country, and were now part of the Iraqi problem. This, he said, was because some of them were too young, some were not sufficiently learned, and most were not knowledgeable in shari'a and the Sunna. He said that this was why they sometimes killed young Iraqis, encouraged fitna, and, in some cases, even killed everyone who disagreed with them – including preachers and their own fellow jihadists.

Al-Odeh added that all fatwas regarding the resistance in Iraq are addressed only to the Iraqi people, and that as far as he knew, none of the religious authorities who issued them had said that Iraq, Palestine, or any other country should be open to anyone who wished to come there to carry out resistance.

In this context, the website noted that Al-Odeh had been among the first to warn young people against going to Iraq to join the jihad. Several years ago, it noted, he had told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai in an interview: "I think that no one should go to Iraq under any circumstances, regardless of the situation there. I am against any non-Iraqi going there, and I maintain that Iraq should be left to its own citizens... [Likewise,] I was against young people going to Afghanistan, because someone working or operating in a country not his own, especially in combat, is likely to be distanced from the sentiment and nature of that country's citizens, and to be a stranger among them. How can he fight in their stead when he is not fully familiar with their concerns? How can he take upon himself the holiest and most important mission [of fighting for the homeland] in their stead?"[10] The site also noted that in 2003 Al-Odeh had issued a fatwa against going to wage jihad in Iraq.[11]

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Reacts: "Fatwas on Jihad Are Acceptable Only from Jihadists Operating in the Jihad Arena"

On October 12, 2009, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) senior operative Sheikh Ibrahim bin Suleiman Al-Rubaish[12] published a document titled "Dr. Salman Al-Odeh Over [the Last] 20 Years." The document took issue with Al-Odeh, claiming that since his arrest by the Saudi authorities, he had changed from an enthusiastic supporter of jihad and opponent of the Saudi regime to a supporter of the establishment, opposing the path of jihad and renouncing the mujahideen.

Al-Rubaish then rejected Al-Odeh's claim that the mujahideen are driven by emotional distress, not shari'a, saying that this was, however, true for those who suddenly and radically change their views, as Al-Odeh had. Al-Rubaish stated that "fatwas regarding jihad are acceptable only from jihadists operating in the jihad arena," and called on Al-Odeh to either join the jihad and only then offer advice to mujahideen, or submit a legal program for jihad to the Muslim ummah if he thought that the mujahideen were acting unlawfully.

Al-Rubaish wrote: "Salman called for [Osama] bin Laden and [Ayman] Al-Zawahiri to stop the killing – as if killing exists only because of these two, and would disappear [from the world] if they would only end it. Everyone knows that the rulers of unbelief continue to kill many Muslims, while under their regimes the mujahideen killed [only] the enemy...

"Salman claimed that many young [mujahideen] are motivated not by their conviction in shari'a, but by emotional distress. This might better be said of those who were imprisoned and released shortly thereafter, and who then came to us with a notion of moderation and compromise or enlightenment, divorcing themselves from their [old] ways, changing the tone and style of their speech [clearly hinting at Al-Odeh]. As for the mujahideen, in case Salman doesn't know, they have shari'a principles that they will not give up at any price. For the sake [of these principles,] they sometimes go to prison, and they will not back down from them without proof [grounded in] shari'a. The more they are tortured and beaten, the stronger they become; if the blood of one flows he [merely] wipes it away and says, 'Allah, take as much of my blood from me as you wish.' Can it be this steadfastness, even unto death, is only to meet emotional needs?...

"These calls [by Al-Odeh] do not harm the mujahideen, and do not affect their path, because they, and their supporters, know that fatwas regarding jihad are acceptable only from jihadists operating in the jihad arena... My brother Salman, if you want your advice to be accepted, hasten to join [the jihad], join the mujahideen, live with them in hunger and fear – and then advise them, and you will find an ear attentive to any [counsel you may give] that is in line with the truth...

"If you consider the jihad of the mujahideen to be unlawful [according to shari'a]... you must submit a legal program for jihad to the [Muslim] ummah that will win back its honor and eliminate its shameful state – provided that the [advice] is not limited to [demands to invest efforts] solely in education, culture, and da'wa. For there is no avoiding war, and you yourself are aware of 'the necessity to confront [enemies of the faith].'[13] If you do not believe that the ummah is ready for confrontation, give us a preliminary plan to prepare the ummah for it, and don't forget to include military preparation in it...

"[And] lest you say, as you have said in the past, that the alternative is to conduct da'wa wisely, with good words, in a civilized manner and with forbearance... does combat contradict conducting da'wa wisely and with good words? As for being civilized, this is just as valuable as jihad...; and as for forbearance, is there any greater forbearance than the 60 years during which Palestine has been lost – and we are still expected to forbear?"[14]


[1] A Wahhabi movement founded in the 1970s which views true Islamic government as based on an equal partnership between the religious establishment and the state, and Islamic law as derived solely from the Koran and Sunna.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.896, "Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq," April 21, 2005, Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq.

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

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1717, "Saudi Cleric Salman Al-Odeh Slams 'Brother' Osama bin Laden, Warns Him He'll Be Responsible for Deaths of Millions, Reminds Him He Must Face Allah," , Saudi Cleric Salman Al-Odeh Slams "Brother" Osama bin Laden, Warns Him He'll Be Responsible for Deaths of Millions, Reminds Him He Must Face Allah.

[12] Al-Rubaish was formerly imprisoned at Guantanamo; in December 2006, he was extradited to the Saudi authorities to participate in a program for rehabilitating jihadists. At some point – apparently in April 2009 – he fled to Yemen, and since then has been on the Saudi Interior Ministry's list of 85 wanted men. In Yemen, Al-Rubaish joined Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), where he now serves in a senior jurisprudential role, possibly as mufti of AQAP.

[13] An allusion to a November 9, 1992 speech by Al-Odeh with the same title.

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