In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Adbulrahman Al-Rashed comments on the recent flurry surrounding Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi’s appearance on TV with his unveiled wife and declaration that Islam does not require women to be veiled in order to protect their modesty. In addition to receiving a negative reaction — and threats — from some, the Grand Mufti also jumped in to state that he was in error.
Al-Rashed points out that by going on TV in this way, the sheikh has opened new ground for discourse in Saudi Arabia. Instead of private conversations undertaken in homes, issues of modernization and reform are now finding public fora, including social media. This, he says, can only be for the good.
Why did Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Ghamidi succeed?
The enormity of stock market losses, the drop in oil prices for the first time in years, ISIS massacres, terrorists’ attacks in Riyadh and its suburbs and the football fever have all faded in Saudi Arabia this week in the shadow of one single story. Sheikh Ahmad Qassem al-Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife on television. According to Saudi local standards, this is tantamount to a nuclear bomb and the story soon developed into a controversy that hasn’t settled yet on all platforms and levels.
This may seem like a silly issue in any other Muslim country but in Saudi Arabia it has shocked and angered many and become an amazing surprise to those in support of Ghamidi’s move. The event thus confirms a severe division within Saudi society which consists of movements that express its diversity. Some threatened to sue Al-Ghamidi, though I don’t know over what! While other considered him a modernizing pioneer whom history will immortalize. The certain truth is that Sheikh Ghamidi has shocked Saudi public opinion and reshuffled views once again – although many before him have made such a move, he’s actually the first cleric to do so. Ghamidi has assumed influential religious posts and has accepted to be challenged by his rivals who accused him of hypocrisy and advising others of what he cannot do. It’s on colleague Badria al-Bishr’s show on MBC television that Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife in defiance of others, and Saudi media arenas became gripped in this controversy ever since.
Arab News reports that a number of Saudis are planning to sue Sheikh al-Ghamdi. As al-Rashed notes in his piece, however, what grounds they might find for suing is a pretty big question.
A couple of days ago, the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca said that there’s no religious obligation for Muslim women to cover their faces. Today, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti says that’s mistaken. He points to two verses from the Quran which he says do require covering.
Retract remarks and repent, Grand Mufti advises Al-Ghamdi
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH – Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh has asked Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, former Makkah chief of Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia), to repent for his recent comments on niqab (face veil) which have created a lot of controversy in the country.
During a local program presented by Dr. Badriya Al-Bishr, a prominent Saudi media personality, Al-Ghamdi said women were not required to wear niqab (face veil). Al-Ghamdi was accompanied by his wife without a niqab.
Grand Mufti said there are Quranic verses that say hijab (head cover) is obligatory for each and every Muslim woman and that women should cover their faces, MBC.net reported. Alsheikh cited the following Quranic verses:
Al Arabiya TV carries a story from Agence France Presse reporting that the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are agreed that the plan to link their power grids will start next year. Even though both countries use considerable amounts of energy — with Saudi Arabia being among the world’s top consumers — the grid makes sense prospectively. Saudi Arabia is planning massive increases in power production over the coming generations with the advent of both solar and nuclear power. The Kingdom is positioning itself as the main energy source for the region in the mid-term future as it also moves forward on plans for a GCC-wide grid.
A project to link the electricity grids of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will start next year at a cost of at least $1.5 billion, officials said on Monday.
“The project will be awarded mid-2015, and take three years to complete,” Saleh al-Awaji, an undersecretary in the kingdom’s Ministry of Water and Electricity, said at an energy technology conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The link would allow the two countries, separated by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to share power during peak periods.
It will cost $1.5-2.0 billion, Awaji told reporters during the 4th Saudi Arabia Smart Grid and Green Energy conference.
Saudi Gazette reports that while the Saudi program to rehabilitate those involved in terrorist activities has been largely successful over the past 10 years, it might be time to do a reappraisal to see if it might not be improved. That, at least, is the opinion of a member of the Shoura Council. I think the program has been incrementally tweaked over that time period, though, with changes made as they were seen to be beneficial. It certainly couldn’t hurt to re-examine it, something that I think all government programs — and all governments — should do with some regularity.
The Munasaha rehabilitation program claims a 12% recidivism rate.
<Shoura member: Need to revise terrorist rehabilitation program
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The terrorist rehabilitation programs run by Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Center for Advice and Care needs to be revised and reevaluated now that it has been in place for ten years, according to Latifah Al-Shalan, member of the Shoura Council, Al-Watan daily reported.
Only 10 percent of rehabilitated inmates return to terrorist activities after their release from the center, according to reports.
“These reports do not change the fact that the center has produced very positive results since its inception in 2004,” Al-Shalan said during the Council’s session on the great achievements accomplished by the Ministry of Interior in fighting terrorism.
She said the Council’s committees and some of its members are capable of contributing to a comprehensive plan to further develop the program.
The Jeddah Municipality has been cracking down on restaurants that do not meet health requirements. In addition to shutting down offending restaurants and fining them, the Municipality is also naming them. That, argue affected restaurant owners, is too much.
“See you in court,” is the Municipalities reply. Naming the restaurants is the only way that people can learn what is dangerous and what is not. The Ministry is refusing to back down in the face of restaurateurs’ complaints.
A number of restaurant owners whose businesses have been shut down recently by Jeddah’s municipality, have defied the decision by opening their doors again. Several owners also tried to attack inspectors, requiring the intervention of police to help close down their businesses.
Muhammed Al-Buqami, Jeddah municipality’s spokesman, confirmed the events, noting that the decision to shut down the restaurants is only temporary. He said some of the establishments that opened without approval from the municipality, have been shut down again, and received a fine for violating the municipality’s ruling.
Al-Buqami also addressed the recent complaints made by these restaurant owners to the Makkah governorate, calling the municipality’s decree, an injustice.
Al Arabiya TV carries a piece from Associated Press noting that Google — who owns YouTube — will have another day in court today to argue that an earlier decision that forced it to take down the notorious video of “Innocence of Muslims” was erroneous. The earlier decision was based on the copyright claim of an actress who appeared in the film (for all of five seconds). Google is arguing that she did not have a valid copyright claim, but that the producer/director of the film did.
The court argument has nothing to do with the substance of the film, but is entirely based on copyright law, which is a mess in itself.
Associated Press – Los Angeles: A federal appeals court will reconsider a decision to order YouTube to take down an anti-Muslim film clip that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to the actors from those who considered it blasphemous to the Prophet Muhammad.
An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena will hear arguments Monday by Google, which owns YouTube, disputing the court’s decision to remove “Innocence of Muslims” from the popular video sharing service.
A divided three-judge panel ruled in February that actress Cindy Lee Garcia had a copyright claim to the 2012 video because she believed she was acting in a much different production than the one that appeared.
Al Arabiya TV reports on the storm of social media following the appearance of a Saudi cleric — formerly head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca — in which he stated that the wearing of the veil is not obligatory for Muslim women. While Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi received abuse and threats from some, he also received support from others on Twitter.
Al-Ghamdi has raised the ire of conservatives in Saudi Arabia on earlier occasions, as when he stated that music was not forbidden by Islam and that men and women working together was entirely fine in principle.
A Saudi cleric caused massive controversy this week when he said on a prominent television program that contrary to what some Muslims believe, women are NOT required to wear the niqab (face veil) and are allowed to use make-up and other beauty products.
To further strengthen his argument, Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi brought his wife UNVEILED to last Saturday’s “Badria,” a talk show hosted by the renowned Saudi media personality Badria al-Bishr on Al Arabiya’s sister channel, MBC. (Episode can be watched here).
Ghamdi, who is a former head of the Holy City of Makkah’s branch of the Saudi Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (commonly known as the Religious Police), was discussing a fatwa (religious edict) which he had issued previously, permitting women to show their faces and wear make-up.
With oil prices down 45% since June, the economies of several oil-producing countries are struggling. Saudi Arabia is not one of those.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government is content with current prices and that those prices serve Saudi strategic interests. Not only do low prices penalize countries like Iran and Russia, with whom Saudi Arabia has very real political differences, but it also serves to put a brake on alternative oil production, such as the shale oils that had pushed the US to first place in global oil production.
With close to a trillion dollars in sovereign funds and foreign reserves, the Kingdom can afford to play the long game.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is playing a strategic game by refusing to back a cut in OPEC oil production, lowering international oil prices, according to Gulf-based economists.
The price of oil continued to fall this week after the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast weaker demand in 2015. Brent crude fell to below 63 US dollars per barrel on Friday, its lowest price since July 2009.
Suhail Al-Darraj, a Saudi-based economist, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he expects Brent crude oil to maintain price levels of no less than 60 US dollars per barrel. “We may see prices dip below this level, but not for long. Oil prices have become a major source of concern for many countries and international companies,” he said.
Darraj said that the oil price drop is most affecting countries like Venezuela, Iran and Russia, but is actually serving Saudi Arabia’s interests. “The declining oil prices are serving the strategic interests of the Kingdom, and in my view Saudi Arabia’s oil policy is characterized by a great deal of wisdom,” Darraj said in reference to the ongoing competition between shale and crude oil.
OPEC took the decision not to reduce oil production despite an oversupply in world markets at its annual meeting in late November. Oil prices have fallen sharply since June this year as increasing North American production of shale oil has flooded the market at a time of sluggish economic growth.
Darraj confirmed that many oil companies have stopped, or slowed, oil production due to falling prices. He added that billions of dollars are being lost due to the high cost of shale oil exploration, adding that it will be increasingly difficult for shale oil producers to continue a high level of output due to the accelerating slide in oil prices.
Asharq Alawsat reports on a conference at Al-Azhar in Cairo at which leading Sunni scholars are dancing around how to denounce ISIS without using ISIS’ tactics. One of the hallmarks of ISIS philosophy — along with sheer brutality — is the way it is quick to declare certain Muslims to not be Muslims, takfirism.
So, instead of declaring ISIS to be a group of apostates, the organization has decided that “very bad Muslims” will have to do.
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the country’s leading Sunni religious institute, has issued a statement formally rejecting the labeling of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as apostates.
Takfirism, the practice of one Muslim declaring another to be an apostate, is controversial within Islam. While this is something that is actively practiced by Islamist groups like ISIS, it is generally rejected by adherents of mainstream interpretations of Islam.
“Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins,” Al-Azhar said in a statement in response to comments made by the Mufti of Nigeria during last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Cairo.
During the conference, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb called for joint Islamic efforts to combat ISIS. “Division, strife and polarization are the main tactics extremists are using to divide the Islamic nation,” Tayeb said. He stressed that ISIS militants are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam.”
The Mufti of Nigeria Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hussaini later issued similar comments during the counter-terrorism conference, saying ISIS are promoting a “false” Islam.
Saudi Arabia’s climate and geography simply do not support the widespread growth of grains. As a result, the Saudi government has been backing away from subsidizing an industry that will never reach the break-even point and will instead rely on imports. The government announces, according to this report from Saudi Gazette, that it will end the purchase of domestically-produced wheat in two years’ time.
JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia will stop buying domestically-grown wheat in two years’ time and rely completely on imports of the grain, the new agriculture minister said on Wednesday. “The Kingdom has decreased domestic wheat production since 2008 by 12.5 percent annually,” Waleed Al-Khuraiji told the International Grains Council, which met in Jeddah for a twice-yearly forum. “The state will cease to purchase locally-produced wheat by 2016 and depend entirely on wheat imported from abroad,” the minister said in his first major address since being appointed in a Cabinet shuffle on Monday. “This initiative is based on mutual benefit, which helps to provide food supplies to the Kingdom while at the same time developing and modernizing agriculture in the investor countries, especially local communities,” Al-Khuraiji said.
Saudi Gazette reports on a student-operated radio station, out of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, that brings Saudi Arabia a bit closer to the US. The station, run by three Saudis, combines music and talk, in English and Arabic. The station can be accessed online — according to the article — and receives calls-in from Saudi Arabia as well as the Gulf.
Three students in Pittsburg launch first Saudi-run radio station in US
Nicolla Hewitt | Saudi Gazette
THERE are estimated to be over 15,000 radio stations in the United States, but there’s only one that’s got people in Saudi Arabia listening – Gahwa Al Sareea – also known as “Evening Coffee.”
The radio show is being broadcast by students from the Kingdom who are currently studying at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. It was the idea of Fahad Al-Fifi, who said, “I came up with this idea for a radio show about two months ago. I saw there were so many Arabic people in the Pittsburg area but nobody really understood how things worked here. So I went to our media department and asked if we could broadcast a show in English and in Arabic, so both communities could benefit. We really wanted to build a friendly bridge for both of us, and the university loved the idea.”
As of this semester there are over 7,000 students enrolled at Robert Morris University, nearly 400 of them are from Saudi Arabia. Located just outside of Pittsburgh, the university is named after Robert Morris, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the GCC is considering forming a unified list of terrorists and terrorist organizations, to be based on the list already drawn up by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This should prove interesting as not all countries are agreed on just who should be on the list.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Gulf states are considering adopting the terror lists issued by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait’s Interior Minister Sheikh Mohamed Al-Khalid Al-Sabah said on Wednesday.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kuwait’s Interior Minister said that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are coordinating with one another to investigate the Saudi and Emirati terror lists with a view to adopting them, confirming that the adoption of a joint terror list was discussed at the recent Doha summit.
Al-Sabah warned against “complacency” in dealing with Gulf security, stressing that combating terrorism is something that no single Gulf country can do alone, but something that all GCC states must work together on.
He hailed GCC efforts to promote regional security and stability, despite the regional and international challenges facing the Gulf, stressing that the GCC states must remain steadfast in the face of attempts to divide them.
The UAE announced a list of illegal terrorist organizations in November, formally designating 80 groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemen’s Houthis, as “terrorist groups.” Riyadh had earlier issued its own formal terror list, designating the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, and Yemen’s Houthis as terrorist groups, in March. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, have also been formally designated as terrorist groups by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.