Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh recently advised a group of preachers he met at the ministry of Islamic affairs to keep away from politics and dedicate their time to religious preaching. It is perhaps one of the few times in which a prominent religious figure frankly tells active youths that he is against the approach of politicizing religion.
What is common today is that modern Islamists are the ones who are politically active. However if politics is as clear as those preachers and zealots think, perhaps political sciences should have been a branch of religious sciences. However this is not the case.
Those who are the most enthusiastic to change the world around them and to engage in major events actually view events via their sentiments. Salman al-Omari, a researcher in Islamic affairs said that good intentions are no substitute to the science of sharia law. The same applies to politics, as sentiment cannot act as a guide when it comes to international relations.
The kingdom’s mufti, who is also the head of the council of senior scholars, is known for being humble, highly educated, and for his tendency to keep away from political controversy. He represents the old generation of Salafist scholars, the purest ones before some tried to politically exploit Salafism and “renew” it with their own ideas and plans. Although most criticism and blame today is directed towards traditional Salafism, the truth is actually otherwise - this branch of Islamic thought has reigned over the modern Islamic school.
The high rate of crimes being committed in the name of Islam in different parts of the world - and which have no precedent - has put us through the worst eras of degradation in Muslim historyAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Much like the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Salafism was born during the era of secret activities – similar to communism – and it later became led by political aspirations, like Qutbism and Suroorism. What we see today is nothing more than a premature newborn of a confused society in which there’s social Salafist extremism and political Brotherhood extremism. Both are being exploited by political regimes in the region.
The high rate of crimes being committed in the name of Islam in different parts of the world - and which have no precedent - has put us through the worst eras of degradation in Muslim history.
With this chaos, the worry of entire societies being hijacked has its justifications and even if its slogans and intentions are innocent, the trend is sweeping. It’s normal to wonder when a women’s forum in the Saudi city of Khobar says it “seeks to attract 200,000 girls.”
The number is of course exaggerated, but the idea itself of these circumstances is worrying. Who is to be blamed tomorrow when some of those attendants become out of control? The program of this forum is very normal, with topics such as humanitarian and social affairs on the table, but the idea of changing the concept of school and neighborhoods to operate within the concept of camps and collective intellect is worrisome.
In Pakistan and India, the religious movement Tablighi Jamaat, which says it is dedicated to asceticism, is an active group whom many - including Saudi scholars - criticized and warned of. Although it does not call on youths to fight, it does intellectually prepare them to, and it thus makes them an easy target to be recruited by extremist groups.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 19, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.