Arab sectarianism and tribal racism

Samar Fatany

Published: Updated:

The conflicts in the Arab world have taken a sectarian form. This is alarming and adds to the already existing divisions created by years of political strife. What is more alarming is that this phenomenon is spreading, fueled by an irresponsible media and extremist clerics despite several initiatives to stop its spread.

In Saudi Arabia, government campaigns to counter radicalization are achieving an 80-90 percent success rate according to government officials. The Internet-based counter radicalization campaign has enabled Islamic scholars to interact online with people looking for direction or religious advice. It has succeeded in steering many of our young people away from extremist recruiting sources and has been instrumental in eliminating the threat of terrorism in the country.

Rehabilitating terrorism

One of the Kingdom's most successful programs has focused on the rehabilitation of known militants. The program has been instrumental in decreasing al-Qaeda activism within Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. Official statistics indicate success rates as high as 90 percent with more than 300 terrorist prisoners rehabilitated. The program has succeeded in correcting the deviant religious ideology of prisoners and has educated them about the tolerant and moderate principles of Islam in order to make them better individuals who will pose no danger to their families and communities.

King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has urged Islamic scholars to shoulder their responsibility by effectively countering sedition, which is a grave challenge facing the Muslim world. He said, “The most dangerous challenges are the sedition of Takfeer (labeling others infidels) and sectarianism. He cautioned against these challenges during the 11th session of the Islamic Fiqh Academy at the headquarters of the Muslim World League (MWL) in Makkah in December, 2012.

Reformers in the Muslim world need to take a more active role in combating extremism and tribal racism, and political and sectarian conflicts which continue to threaten the social fabric.

Samar Fatany

King Abdullah stated that sectarianism and sedition are extremely dangerous trends because they divide Muslims and lead to clashes and conflicts. He urged eminent scholars to always keep pace with the changes of our times and offer the best solutions in compliance with the Islamic Shariah by taking advantage of the flexibility of our religion which is based on moderation, warning that not doing so would lead to bloody fighting among Muslims.

Reformers have now taken a more active role in combating the racism and extremism that have crept into Saudi society. The media and social activists are working hard to reverse this negative image that is alien to Muslim nature. Moderates are striving to regain their pride and respect in Islam. There are many voices in society calling for the need both to separate tribal heritage from religious precepts and to reject the former and embrace the latter in order to lead the faith to a position reconcilable with modernity and a world containing many different values and beliefs.

Reformers in the Muslim world need to take a more active role in combating extremism and tribal racism, and political and sectarian conflicts which continue to threaten the social fabric.

The half-hearted attempts to rein in the hardliners who see themselves as arbiters of correctness and thought are slowing the pace of progress in the Muslim world. The attitude of extremists is always hostile toward anyone who does not conform to their views. These ultra conservatives are the ones who are depriving citizens of their basic right to choose a lifestyle that does not go against the moderate Islamic school of thought. They are standing in the way of social and political reforms.

The support and tolerance of the extremist philosophy could create dangerous sectarian or religious conflicts which may threaten the harmony and stability of Arab and Muslim society.

What is needed are genuine efforts to study the root causes of spiraling extremism, hatred, intolerance and bigotry in the Muslim world and to freely discuss them in an open dialogue with all parties concerned in order to put a final stop to it.

Efforts from Muslims

This requires the efforts of different Muslim organizations to educate not only people of different cultures and religions about Islam, but also to educate Muslims in order to eliminate the mistrust and ignorance that threatens global stability.

Muslims worldwide continue to suffer from racial discrimination and incitement to hatred and intolerance. Respect for cultural and religious diversity and peaceful coexistence is the need of the hour. The Human Rights Council in 2011 adopted by consensus its historic Resolution 16/18 on “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief".

For the Arab and Muslim world, principles of empowerment, participation and inclusion are of central importance.

Increasing the role of civil society institutions to influence policies and change a threatening hostile mindset can have an impact on decisions that directly affect people's lives.

There is an urgent need to help communities understand the root causes of suffering and identify their own solutions to overcome them. In this context Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) should play a more effective role in social, economic and political spheres. This is the only path to a better future.

This article was first published in The Saudi Gazette on May 18, 2013.


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.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.