Many religious scholars still adopt a rigid stance against renewed readings of Islamic texts. They remain in confrontation with modernity. However, in recent years some moderate Muslim scholars have gained popularity among many young Muslims who became disappointed at the hardline position of ulemas (scholars) failing to provide guidance to the troubled Muslim world.
Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi, a leading Saudi scholar, has been speaking out against rigid interpretations of Islam. In 2014, senior scholars attacked his liberal views that encourage women to show their faces and appear before the public with confidence and dignity. He created an uproar when his wife joined him in a television interview with her face uncovered. Unfortunately, hard-liners accuse him of violating Shariah teachings for rejecting religious edicts of the country’s senior scholars. He is totally shunned for allowing music and the mixing of unrelated men and women. He remains a very controversial figure in Saudi Arabia. Hopefully the Vision 2030 can support his moderate, more tolerant understanding of Islam.
Alhabib Ali Zain Al-Abidin Al-Jifri is another Islamic scholar and spiritual educator from Hadhramaut, Yemen. He continues to criticize the distortion of Islam by extremists in the Arab world. The spiritual leader is gaining popularity for his tolerant and spiritual speeches that bring out the best in every Muslim. He has one million followers on Twitter and almost four million likes on his Arabic Facebook page; he invites people on social media to recognize the love and merciful dimension of Islam. Al-Jifri also tackles atheism on social media, and addresses the unfortunate phenomenon that is spreading among the younger generation of Muslims who are turning away from religion. Al-Jifri is also the founder of Tabah Foundation, a research institute based in the UAE. He was listed 37th in the world’s 500 most influential Muslims by The Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the Royal Islamic St rategic Studies Centre of Jordan.
Academic institutions are required today to produce a caliber of scholars combining sound religious learning and practical knowledgeSamar Fatany
There are also young Muslim inspirational speakers like Ahmed Alshuqairi, a Saudi activist and media figure. His program Khawater, aired from 2005 to 2015, was a great success within Saudi Arabia and abroad. He has 13 million followers, ranked in the world top 100 as well as #1 in Saudi Arabia in 2015 on Twitter. Twenty Youth magazine (Magalet Shabab 20) in theEmirates placed him the first in its list as the most influential in the Arab world. He also won the best youth media personality in the third youth media forum in Jordan, and was placed 143 in a list of 500 of the most influential Arab figures in the Arab world according to a survey published by Arabian Business magazine.
Amr Khaled, a Muslim preacher, hosts a motivational program on the Saudi religious channel Iqra TV, ranks among the Muslim world’s most popular figures and is known for promoting peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West. He is an inspirational figure and encourages personal responsibility. He has topped the most influential people lists in Time magazine and foreign policy magazine. Khaled often lectures about understanding Muslim youth’s problems and the challenges of our times. He highlights the problems facing youth and offers solutions from an Islamic point of view.
There are others gaining popularity on YouTube who preach spirituality and piety as a way of life, promoting the love of God, the merciful rather than focusing on the wrath of God and the punishment in Hell.
The vast popularity of these figures is an indication of how young Arabs today are looking for moderate religious leaders to help them become better Muslims in a troubled Arab world.
Meanwhile, there are also prominent religious scholars who are advocating a moderate interpretation of the Islamic texts.
Moez Masoud is an example of a moderate Muslim scholar who has gained popularity and respect among many young Muslims in the West. He is an Egyptian scholar who focuses on the fields of existential questions, challenges to global co-existence and spirituality in the modern world. The religious activist is also a television and radio presenter, emphasizes inter-faith dialogue, de-radicalization and Islam in the modern world. His first TV show in English, “Parables in the Quran” encourages Muslims to live a fruitful and successful contemporary life, while embodying their religion’s core spiritual teachings.
Masoud, together with other Muslim scholars, was one of the initial 100 signatories of the Letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh (ISIS)) the terrorist organization. The letter was a theological refutation of the ideology and practices of Daesh, according to traditional Islamic scholars and texts. It was covered by international media, and has since been signed by hundreds of Muslim scholars and community leaders and still continues to be endorsed.
Academic institutions are required today to produce a caliber of scholars combining sound religious learning, practical knowledge of the contemporary world and high linguistic proficiency that will enable them to communicate effectively the teachings of Islam.
It remains imperative to contribute toward enhancing the quality of our Islamic education to produce more Muslim scholars and leaders who can be effective in fighting extremists and the distorted ideology of Daesh and other terrorist organizations who use religion to gain power and control.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Sept. 12, 2016.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”