I am personally not against forgiveness, for God has called upon us to forgive and the Prophet set a perfect example for forgiveness and actually wished well those who did him wrong. That is why I am not against pardoning Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi for his mistake and I consider his apology sufficient to take back the offence. Even relevant bodies were content with sending him books that show him where he went wrong as far as his statements about al-Qaeda are concerned and with denying his claims on al-Jazeera Channel about being a member of the advisory committees affiliated to the Ministry of Interior.
Arifi attributed his mistake to lack of knowledge when he said that al-Qaeda does not shed blood or hurl apostasy accusations easily. He said he referred to books and was alerted by his colleagues that al-Qaeda does, in fact, engage in such actions. The question is: What did he need to know to realize that he is not a member of the advisory committees?
The fact that a preacher and a teacher like Arifi would make a statement of this kind about al-Qaeda is unfortunately dangerous because it did not stop at him and another sheikh echoed Arifi’s views. “Arifi talks about the late Sheikh Osama and al-Qaeda in a just and wise manner. You are brave, sheikh,” wrote the other sheikh on Twitter. Arifi needed five days of reconsideration to apologize with direct, unmistakable sentences. May God forgive him. But I believe he did not even need one day to understand what we, the citizens, had been through together when the 2003, 2004, and 2005 bombings took place in residential compounds in Riyadh, Khobar, Damman, and the headquarters of General Security and the Ministry of Interior and in which Saudis, both civilians and security forces, were killed by al-Qaeda based on a fatwa that sanctions the killing of Muslims who cooperate with “infidels.” At the time, Arifi condemned terrorism, but years later he forgot about that like he forgot he is not a member of the advisory committees.
Repetitive tongue slips?
This could be considered a slip of the tongue and he has had many lately, for one time he lashed out at a religious cleric from a Muslim sect and another time said that a father could be instigated into harassing his daughter if she is dressed indecently since “he is a man after all.” He also said that the prophet used to sell alcohol then he retracted. He said that the emir of Kuwait does not meet the requirements of a ruler then apologized. Finally he said al-Qaeda neither sheds blood nor accuses people of apostasy easily and added that this was “a fair testimony” from him then he apologized.
It is good that the sheikh apologized and it is good that this apology was met with forgiveness. May God grant us with the ability to be more patient and more forgiving. But amongst those who forgive the sheikh’s grave mistakes are ones that have their own little slips of the tongue. An example of this is a young man who wrote inappropriate tweets about the prophet then apologized in front of everyone and we all bore witness to that. Yet, it was Arifi who doubted the young man’s sincerity and accused him of lying. The man paid the price and has now been in jail for a year. Another example is a writer and an academic who called for following the prophet’s teachings in their pure and merciful form but was faced with a wave of indignation that eventually led to his detention even though his mistake does not go beyond choice of words and is not out of bad intentions. If forgiveness is a principle we promote then let’s be fair in using it. If you had forgiven him then forgive them.
(Dr. Badreya al-Bishr is a multi-award winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut and an aluminus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program, her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University, Department of Social Studies.)