How did the scholars disappoint King Abdullah?

Such narrow-minded and fanatic movements carry the weapons of their own destruction within them

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi
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Had the fanatic “brothers” defeated the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, in the battle of Sabilla in 1929, the likes of ISIS would have emerged sooner. However, they would not have advanced and prospered as the current Saudi Kingdom did. Such narrow-minded and fanatic movements carry the weapons of their own destruction within them.

I recalled this story when I was contemplating King Abdullah’s angry face last Friday evening. He was addressing the religious scholars in an unprecedented tone. He harshly blamed them because they kept mum and did not defend the religion that was abused by ISIS and others hardliners.

About 80 years ago, his father resorted to patience, scholars, and then to war in order to face the “Brothers” (not the same despicable Muslim Brotherhood we have today). He only resorted to the use of force to confront and resolve the conflict after organizing more than one conference, gathering members of the “Brotherhood” and the religious scholars in an open dialogue where the leaders of the “Brotherhood” expressed their reservations on Najad’s senior scholars. The king, who had just returned from Hijaz, was listening to them as if he was in a judicial council. He talked to them stressing his commitment to Sharia law but he did not argue with the “Brothers”; he left it to the scholars.

They were pretty much like ISIS today: they were against any modernization, against modern inventions, against updating regulations, tariffs and international relations without which no country would be able to settle.

The scholars responded and addressed some of the objections of the “Brothers,” agreed with them on some issues that the king accepted, but most of all, they established an important rule for the relationship between the sultan and the scholars that lasts until today: the rule stipulates that the imam is wiser than others and can see what is best for the others, by virtue of his political jurisdiction, even if it conflicts with the opinion of the scholars. He must be obeyed on all controversial issues as “there is no manifest disbelief” in it. It was reflected in their judgment concerning the “excise” (tariffs) when they said that “the imam considered the excise as a taboo. If he accepts it, it will be a duty, but if he rejects it, it is forbidden to sow dissension among Muslims and disobey him.” This is what senior scholars issued as a fatwa during that august forum. This rule established the practical relationship between a state that wants to make its way toward modernization and a strict closed-minded culture based on the jurisprudence of Ahl al-Hadith and not the jurisprudence of Ahl al-Ra’y that facilitated the task of other Muslim countries.

What it this old issue, which can be summarized as the need to open a door for diligence and another for tolerance and the acceptance of pluralism, that stirred the anger of King Abdullah?

The king addressed the issue of terrorism with the scholars and the fear of religious extremism. When Al-Qaeda exposed its rampant evil in Saudi Arabia, scholars did not fail to reject it and describe it as an outsiders’ movement – Al-Qaeda and the Salafist jihadists hate this description and refute it in their letters and an expert researcher would find that there is a big difference between them, especially in matters of faith and jurisdiction; they are closer to the “basic Salafism” that was experienced and understood by the “Brothers” before the Sabilla. It is the Salafism that King Abdulaziz tackled through an advisory opinion, the scholars’ diligence and the Sultan’s firmness.

Today’s scholars have denied more than once that the Ghulat (extremists) disobeyed the guardian and shed blood. So what does the Saudi king want them to achieve and how does he want them to respond?

Such narrow-minded and fanatic movements carry the weapons of their own destruction within them

Jamal Khashoggi

Maybe we need to draw a map for ISIS’ jurisprudence and ideological vision. This is what needs to be scrutinized and dismantled. They are fighting against us based on this belief. Therefore, I suggest three messages that reflect the three stages in the formation of the contemporary “Jihadist Salafism.”

The first is to “resolve the confusion about the religion of whom God chose as the imam of the people,” and it is how Prophet Ibrahim described Juhayman bin Mohammed al-Otaybi, whom we only know through the takeover of the Grand Mosque in 1980. It is time to know more about him and link his life and “vocation” that lasted for 15 years before the incident. He sowed a satanic seed that is still fertile.

Its revival was attributed to Assem Barqawi, better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who as a young man lived in Medina with Juhayman. He wrote a book called “Millat Ibrahim” (The Denomination and Creed of Ibrahim), which has become a reference for Salafist hardliners. He can be associated to Juhayman’s book “Lifting the Confusion.” As for the last message, it is the “bounds of the victorious religion in Mesopotamia” that was written by Abu al-Fadl al-Iraqi; even if this message came before the emergence of ISIS, it explains its policy of accusing others of apostasy as well as killing and shedding the blood of Shiites, secular and liberal people, those who believe in democracy and those who accept and abide by normative provisions. It also makes the accusation of apostasy against nationalist, Baathist and socialist parties as well as all Islamic groups that accept elections. It believes that Jihad will be performed until Judgment Day with all devoted or wicked disbelievers, with an imam or without him. It accuses the ruler of apostasy and believes that it is their duty to fight him. It accuses those who cooperate with polytheists of apostasy.

The list of strict provisions is endless but their results are what we see in parts of Iraq and Syria as well as in young Muslim youth who are confused between a world that hesitates to delve into these issues and an honest advocate addressing him with expressions like: God said, the Prophet said, the sayings of the predecessor, successor scholars ... and even sayings of silent scholars.

This article was first published in Al-Hayat newspaper on Aug. 9, 2014.


Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

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