Fatwa prohibiting traveling abroad causes controversy in Saudi Arabia

Sheikh Abdullah al-Suwailem warned that if a person dies in an ‘infidel land,’ that person could go to hell

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A Saudi preacher’s religious edict, or fatwa, that prohibits traveling abroad has caused controversy in the kingdom, with one Saudi columnist denouncing it as “extremist bacteria.”

Sheikh Abdullah al-Suwailem, who is part of the Saudi Arabian Munasaha program that aims to rehabilitate al-Qaeda members held in prison, expressed “fear that whoever dies in the land of infidelity could go to hell,” in statements to the London-based al-Hayat newspaper last week.

“Travelling abroad is forbidden in Sharia except in cases of necessity and with conditions,” he said.

الشيخ عبدالله السويلم
الشيخ عبدالله السويلم

The first of these conditions, he said, is that a person has to be “a strong believer” and has to have religious “immunity” so as not to fall for “desires.”

“Whoever fears for himself falling for what is forbidden, such as drinking alcohol, should not travel except in the case of necessity,” he added.

Sheikh al-Suwailem told the newspaper that “God does not love” it when Muslims live among “the infidels,” noting that traveling to other Muslim countries is “less undesirable.”

He told the newspaper that even going to non-Muslim lands for the purpose of education or for business should be avoided.
“Travelling to the land of infidelity for the sake of doing business or studies is forbidden except in extreme necessity.”

But Sheikh Ahmed Bin Qassim al-Ghamdi, the former head of Makkah’s religious police, told the paper that “travel has many benefits and advantages for all, including for the imams and the religious scholars.

“Travel broadens one’s mind,” he said, quoting a verse in the Quran that encourages people to travel and discover the earth.

‘Extremist bacteria’

Saudi columnist Badria al-Bishr likened the sheikh’s statements to “extremist bacteria.”

In an op-ed published by al-Hayat, Bishr wrote that Sheikh al-Suwailem’s comments were part of a “systematic attack on the King Abdullah’s scholarship program” that sends thousands of students every year to complete their higher education in the West.

She noted that the scholarship program is upsetting some hardliners in the kingdom who would rather see Saudis educated under their control.

In addition, she said, there are millions of Saudis, including officials and religious figures, who travel every year to destinations including London, Spain and Australia.

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