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It’s all sorted now: Saudi denounces all terrorism 14, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Saudi Arabia.
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The Council of Supreme Scholars, the highest religious body in Saudi Arabia, has issued a fatwa denouncing any and all acts of terrorism including its financing. Those giving money towards such causes will now be considered to be “partners” in the crime.

Whilst this decree is a positive step in the right direction, there are three reasons to hold back with the balloons and party-poppers.

Firstly, it is important to note the precise wording of the fatwa. Terrorism is defined as acts

targeting public resources, hijacking planes or blowing up buildings.

I would suggest, therefore, that this fatwa has been demanded by Saudi’s political establishment to stop those planning to attack Saudi’s oil infrastructure. To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t mention the killing of innocent people, ergo, it’s a joke.

Secondly, does anyone really think that a terrorist in, for example, Saudi will desist from attacking some “public resource” because Saudi’s clerics have said it’s illegal and haram? Surely 99% of such people ipso facto hate Saudi’s clerics and don’t listen to a word they say. They see them (correctly) as a tool* of the ruling family and surely wouldn’t pay any attention to such a fatwa.

Thirdly, many fatwas are utterly ridiculous. Any religious authority can issue one. Granted, a fatwa from Saudi’s religious authority will carry more weight than most (probably) but still they are, it seems to me, wholly flimsy. Here are a few of the best fatwas that I’ve come across: (Hat tip)

[Incidentally, none of these are from crazy, no-name Imams…]

  • The Fatwa: Grand Mufti Sheikh Ibn Baaz  The Sun Revolves Around the Earth

    In a 2000 Fatwa titled “The Transmitted and Sensory Proofs of the Rotation of the Sun and Stillness of the Earth”, Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti Sheikh Ibn Baaz asserted that the earth was flat and disk-like and that the sun revolved around it. He had insisted that satellite images to the contrary were nothing but a Western conspiracy against the Islamic world.

  • The Fatwa: Ezzat Attiya: Adult Breastfeeding in the Workplace

    In May 2007, Ezzat Attiya wondered how unrelated men and women could work together in the same office, when Islam forbids men and women who aren’t married or related to be alone together. His answer: let her suckle him FIVE TIMES. Yes, that’s right, an adult female breastfeeding an adult male coworker will defuse all sexual tension in the office. See, the female worker will now be the male worker’s foster mother, and they can be alone together anytime. Attiya’s ruling was intergalactically mocked, and quickly condemned on the homefront as well. He was later suspended from his job, pilloried in Arab newspapers, and issued a hasty retraction saying it was a “bad interpretation of a particular case.”

  • Muhammad Al-Munajid: Bring Me the Head of Mickey Mouse

    That’s right, somebody put on hit on Mickey Mouse. Calling Mickey “one of Satan’s soldiers,” Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid decreed that household mice and their cartoon cousins must be “killed in all cases”, according to the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph.

    And get this—the guy’s not your average nutjob, either—Munajid used to be a former diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. He made the remarks on Arab television network al-Majd TV after he was asked to give Islam’s teaching on mice.

    But don’t worry, Mickey won’t be alone. Munajid also put a hit on Jerry from “Tom and Jerry”. Maybe they could rent a flat with Salman Rushdie (above).

  • The Fatwa: Rashad Hassan Khalil: No Nudity for Sex

    In 2007, the former dean of Islamic law at al-Azhar University in Cairo issued a fatwa that nudity during sexual intercourse invalidates a marriage between husband and wife. Debate was immediate. Suad Saleh, head of the women’s department of Al-Azhar’s Islamic studies, pleaded for “anything that can bring spouses closer to each other” and Islamic scholar Abdel Muti concurred, saying “Nothing is prohibited during marital sex, except of course sodomy.”
    For his part, Al-Azhar’s fatwa committee chairman Abdullah Megawar backpedaled and said that married couples could see each other naked but should really cover up with a blanket during sex.

*I do not mean this in a flippant way. The nexus between the ruling Al Sauds and the clerical authorities is a fascinating and symbiotic relationship. Each needs the other to maintain their power. Each wants to gain more power than the other. Their relative powers have waxed and waned for hundreds of years now. In a time when the Al Sauds need the Wahabbi clerics to sanction something (such as the stationing of US troops on US soil) they need, the Clerics charge a price according to how ‘much an ask’ that is. In this example, one noted author described this as the descent of Saudi society into “bottomless Islamisation” as the Al Sauds were demanding a staggering broad ranging and unpopular fatwa. Therefore, the Wahabbis seized this opportunity to take control of education and other social services and to bolster their vice and virtue police while they were in the ascendancy. So, in short, I firmly believe that Saudi religious authorities would say absolutely anything if the price was right.

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The Spread of Wahhabism 12, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia, Yemen.
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Here’s a link to a fascinating post by US Professor Brian Ulrich on his excellent blog Brian’s Coffeehouse. He quotes from a book on tribal order in Yemen on the odd reasons that lie behind the spread of Wahhabism in what one might assume to be areas where it would not penetrate.

One of the remarkable features of the Sunni-Wahhabi movement was that it flourished in the birthplace and heartlands of Zaydi-Shi’ism. This was largely because it tapped a hitherto dormant resentment of key tenets of Zaydi doctrine still manifest there – especially the sayyid claim to religious authority and social superiority on the grounds of religious descent, which Wahhabis felt contravened Islamic ideals by promoting inequality.

..
The most public and active converts to Wahhabism in Razih were shibab (young men -ed.) from some qabili and most ‘butcher’ families (lower states -ed.). These young men, who were struggling to find work and marriage payments, and were traditionally subordinate to their elders and ‘betters,’ were attracted to Islah (which they equated with Wahhabism) by its welfare program, and to Wahhabism by its egalitarianism. They credited their education for their conversion. In contrast to their mostly illiterate fathers, who had depended on religious specialists for guidance, they had attended the first secondary schools (which opened in Razih in the 1980s), and had studied the Sunni texts then flooding Yemen and formed their own opinions…

Are the Saudis at it again? 19, October 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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It is entirely possible to look at the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a long struggle with religious forces. The very existence of the country is premised on a Faustian bargain of sorts between Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Wahhab and Muhammad Ibn Saud where each one was (and their descendants still are) utterly reliant on the other. The Al Saud’s provide the base for the Wahhabis to practice and proselyte their religious doctrine and the Wahhabis in turn provide the Al Sauds with the necessary religious sanctification as well as a proven ability to whip the masses into a religious fervor when needed.

As the powers of the Al Sauds and Wahhabis waxed and waned relative to each other, so did their relative influence over each other. For example, the Wahhabis found themselves in a strong position just before Operation Desert Shield when the Saudi government desperately needed the religious blessing of the Wahhabi clergy to sanctify their decision to allow large numbers of US troops onto Saudi soil. The Wahhabis duly provided a declaration supporting the government but demanded a high price for their official approval: yet stricter controls over many aspects of Saudi society. Kepel, the noted French Arabist characterises this deal as completing the Kingdom’s fall into “bottomless Islamization.”

Perhaps the clearest example of the Al Saud’s dependency on Wahhabi legitimacy occurred in 1979 when the Grand Mosque at Mecca was overrun by fundamentalists seeking to usher in the next eschaton.  This was a stark and brazen attack at the very core of Al Saud’s legitimacy: that of their safe custodianship of the holiest place in Islam. After the debacle was finally ended (with the help of French Special Forces) the Al Sauds pumped massive amounts of money into the Wahhabi clergy to proselyte the faithful yet further and prove their religious credentials, rather than engage in any attempt to understand, ask questions or resolve why this group took the fantastic step of attacking the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

However, the Saudis were fortunate. At the time of the Mosque debacle, the Soviets were invading Afghanistan. This, therefore, gave the Saudis another way to repair their image, bolster their legitimacy and get rid of the most dedicated and hard-line fundamentalists who could have threatened their regime: along with America they supplied men, arms, equipment and money to the Afghan resistance.

Eventually, of course, the Mujahedeen returned home and the Saudis were in an even worse situation. Not only were the proselytized, fervent and passionate men returning home, but they were now combat veterans with a range of guerrilla warfare skills. To make things worse, not long after their return, Iraq invaded Kuwait and implicitly threatened Saudi’s biggest oil fields in the east of the country, next to Kuwait. The Al Sauds, however, did not turn to their veteran Mujahedeen, but to the Americans and their grand coalition. This was an epic slap in the face for Bin Laden and the rest of the Mujahedeen. It is these remnants of the Afghan War that were overwhelmingly responsible  for  the wave of terrorism that spread across the world in the nineties and early twenty-first century, from Dhahran to Bali and from to Madrid to New York.

Peculiarly enough, in the aftermath of the September the 11th attacks it was the Al Sauds who were in the ascendancy relative to the Wahhabis. They were under enormous pressure to act in some tangible way, shape or form to reign-in the extreme anti-American Wahhabi tendencies within their society. Numerous reforms were enacted none of which were that far reaching, but the Wahhabi position was nevertheless weakened to some degree. It took the Saudis two years to begin to make any meaningful changes and only then because of the devastating attacks in the Kingdom itself, which finally drove home the point to the Al Sauds. Yet this chastening experience – that of sponsoring religious fanatics only to receive severe blow-back some time later – does not appear to have altered Saudi strategic thinking, for there is growing evidence that they are doing precisely the same thing again, only in Lebanon and not Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia along with Jordan and other Sunni countries have been concerned for some time about a so-called Shia crescent descending on the Middle East. Stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, Saudi for one has been taking steps to seek to mitigate the strengthening of Shia power where possible. According to Seymour Hersh, Saudi has joined up with their erstwhile Afghan partner, the US,  in sponsoring Fatah Al Islam to act as a Sunni counterweight to Shia Syrian forces in Lebanon. Saudi is believed to have provided not only funds but around 15-20% of the fighters, for example, at the Nahr Al Bared refugee camp conflict in 2007. One further factor no doubt adding to Saudi’s anxiety in Lebanon was the rout of Hariri’s offices in West Beirut by Shia Hezbollah on the 7th May this year.

One corollary of all this is perceptibly worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria. Following on from the banning of Saudi daily newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat back in summer 2006 over their coverage of the war in Lebanon, another pan-Arab Saudi paper has been banned. On the 29th September this year, Al Hayat was banned because of its coverage of the bombings in Damascus.  Yet it is these attacks which are, potentially, the true harbinger of worse things to come. The most recent of these attacks killed 17 Syrians and injured around 14 near a significant Shia shrine in Damascus. This act of terrorism was condemned around the world but significantly not in Riyadh where the government refused to comment. So was this an example of a Saudi trained and funded Jihadi from a Sunni camp in Lebanon coming across the border and seeking to attack Syria? That is certainly what Bashar Al Assad’s regime is telling the world; hence their deployment of Special Forces and troops along parts of the Lebanese border to ostensibly stop foreign Jihadis entering the country. There are, therefore, persuasive arguments suggesting that the Saudis have reverted to their failed policies of the past and whilst it may sound ridiculous to repeat old mistakes, if it is true, they are not the first and certainly will not be the last to do so.

Al Wahhab’s Jewish origins – according to Saddam 10, April 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East, Saudi Arabia.
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It is well known that Saudi Arabia was born out of an agreement between the Muhammed ibn Abd Al Wahhab and Muhammed Ibn Saud in the 18th century. Ibn Saud would provide the means and protection for Al Wahhab to spread his word, and he would in turn provide religious sanctification of Saud’s rule. This particular deal is still intact today. Because of the central nature of Wahhabism to Saudi Arabia and of the central nature of Saudi Arabia to modern politics (because of its masses oil and its provision of the majority of the 9-11 hijackers if nothing else) Wahhabism has been well documented. However, some new infHormation has been found on this suggesting that the grandfather of Muhammad ibn Abd Al Wahhab was, in fact, from Jewish origin in Turkey.

Perhaps at this stage, before anyone gets angry about this, I ought to say that this new information comes from a recently translated and declassified Iraqi intelligent report from the Saddam era. Indeed, there are ‘questions’ as to the veracity of this report and, I would suggest, one need only think of Comical Ali, the former Iraqi spokesperson to get an idea of just how much truth and fiction intermingled under Saddam.

Bernard Haykel over at MESH where I found this story makes two interesting points. Firstly, that just such a spurious story would perfectly dovetail with the Iraqi’s desperate desire to vilify and denounce Wahhabis. Indeed, he goes on to suggest that this is yet more evidence that strongly supports the notion that Al Qaeda (quasi-Wahhabi in origin) had nothing whatsoever to do with the Iraqi regime, being as Saddam patently hated such groups: hence the report. Secondly, he says that this document “echoes a well-known Turkish conspiracy theory—probably fabricated by one Ayyub Sabri Pasha—which claims that the British sought to weaken the Ottoman empire by creating the Wahhabi movement.”

N.B – There are some interesting (apparantly) true conspiracy theories over at the Times.