The International Islamic Fiqh Academy‘s conference in Sharjah has started and it appears to be tackling tough issues. Arab News reports that one of those issues is apostasy. Just what is to be done with people who choose to leave Islam? As is to be expected, opinions vary, with advocates for instant execution squared off against those who think that matters of religious conscience are left to the individual. It will be interesting—to say the least—to see how this turns out. I think that the matter will not be resolved, that the group will kick the can down the road for some future decision.
Scholars hotly debate treatment of apostates
Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News
SHARJAH: In a session here on religious freedom, Muslim scholars from around the world yesterday debated how apostates should be treated according to Islamic law.
More than 200 delegates representing 60 countries are discussing diverse issues in the light of Shariah at the ongoing International Islamic Fiqh Conference hosted by Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi.
The event at the Zahra Hall Auditorium at the University of Sharjah has been organized by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA), an offshoot of the Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference.
While several scholars demanded a review of the punishment for apostates in the light of the changing modern values, others refuted their argument saying the original Islamic texts call for harsh punishments.
“Religious freedom is a right that should be guaranteed to every human being. We have come here to present and discuss different viewpoints and we should do it in order to reach the right solution,” said Mahmoud Zaqzouq, Egypt’s minister of endowments.
Some participants doubted the validity of texts quoted in support of the beheading of apostates. On the other hand, several others were adamant in their refusal to the demand for a lighter approach toward apostates in the name of freedom of religion.
BTW: I commend Arab News for sending a female reporter to the Emirates to cover this story. Oops. I’m informed by an anonymous commenter that Badea is actually a man! Apologies all around…
Saudi Gazette has a very interesting story that combines ancient tribal politics and the Internet. It reports on an online clash between a woman who fears that tribal-oriented web groups divides Saudi society. The website at which she was commenting ended up banning her. Do read the whole, well-written piece
Saudi tribal website raises the question of ‘dialogue’
JEDDAH – Despite Saudi Arabia’s attempts to spread the culture of dialogue, there are still those who reject what others say and believe, thus leading to a widening of the gap between people of the same culture.
Recently, a heated discussion over camel beauty contests threatened to split Saudi society into those for and against. That issue was resolved after senior scholars commented that such contests are permissible unless they can be shown to do irreparable damage to society.
A greater dilemma, however, is the claim of some people that Internet websites dedicated to different Saudi tribes will weaken the ties among members of Saudi society. This topic was recently discussed on one of the most frequently visited websites, when a female member spoke out against such online tribal sites.
The administration of the site immediately ended the woman’s membership raising a big question mark over the true meaning of ‘dialogue.’
In her post, Amirat Zahran (Princess of Zahran) criticized the idea of having tribal websites, which was the reason that she was eliminated from the discussion.
“Since King Abdul Aziz founded this great country, the royal family has made all possible efforts to improve and educate the people of this country,” Amirat Zahran posted in her contribution as a member of Zahran Internet Forum. (www.zahran.org)
The marriage of an eight-year-old Saudi girl to a 50-year-old man has finally ended in a divorce. The case, which drew outraged attention from international human rights groups and many Saudis, was heard by a new judge who worked with the parties to reach a (assumedly financial) settlement. The judge who first heard the case and then again on remand, refusing the divorce both times, did not take part in the settlement.
This case, of course, does not have precedential value—no Saudi cases have value as precedent, unfortunately, as each judge is permitted to use his own best judgment to reach a verdict. We are likely to see similar cases until Saudi legal reform results in a uniform code of law, applicable across the Kingdom.
Child marriage case in Onaiza ends in divorce
ONAIZA – The arranged marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 50-year-old man, who has two other wives, has been annulled in an out-of-court settlement, court sources said Wednesday.
The settlement, mediated by a new judge at the court, was not without lengthy negotiations between the girl’s lawyer and the husband who clung on to the legality of the marriage until the end of the working day, when he finally agreed to divorce the child wife.
The parties involved were tight-lipped about the settlement. The lawyer, who was hired by the girl’s mother, was not allowed to talk about the settlement to the media until an official announcement of the divorce.
The Saudi government is taking measured—perhaps too slow—steps to get ahead of the swine flu currently raising global concern. This Arab News piece reports that passenger monitoring will start up within the next couple of days. Today is the first day of the Saudi weekend, though. That will complicate general efforts as Saudis tend to take their weekends seriously. Global media, including the Internet, will not be shutting down, however. Saudis will be exposed to stories as crafted by the media. Given how media thrill over disaster stories, this story could get ahead of government response.
Swine flu surveillance to start in 48 hours: Official
Mohammed Rasooldeen | Arab News
RIYADH: Thermal cameras are to be installed at all entry points to the Kingdom to monitor passengers and these digital surveillance machines will be operational within the next 48 hours, the Ministry of Health announced yesterday.
Arab News visited the airports in Riyadh and Jeddah to see if thermal screening was in place but found that the process had not yet been implemented. The ministry, in its response, said that within the next 48 hours the digital surveillance would be operational.
Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mirghalani told Arab News yesterday that the Kingdom was gearing up to counter the spread of the swine flu and until the thermal screening becomes operational quarantine officials at airports and seaports have been instructed to be on alert to check passengers who come from infected countries for fever.
Beginning next week, the ministry would launch a Kingdomwide awareness campaign, he added.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the government is also taking several steps that might be more immediately effective, including the halting of flights originating in countries reporting the presence of the flu. The article notes that the Kingdom has no swine livestock, not surprisingly, while reporting that Egypt, which does, has ordered the slaughter of all pigs.
KSA stops flights from countries hit by swine flu
DAMMAM – Flights to the Kingdom from countries affected by the swine flu have been halted, a senior airport official said Wednesday as the World Health Organization raised the global flu alert level to 5, the second highest phase that indicates “a pandemic is imminent.”
Khaled Al-Medhel, Director General of King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh, said the incoming flights have been halted as a precautionary measure.
He said flights to King Fahd Airport in Dammam have also been stopped, noting that strenuous efforts are under way for preventive measures to minimize the risk of the deadly virus that has killed 159 people in Mexico and, on Wednesday, a 23-month-old baby in the United States.
On Tuesday, the Airlines Operators Committee (AOC), of which 30 international airlines are members, appealed for medical screening of passengers arriving at Saudi airports
Nine countries are known to be affected since the outbreak of the A/H1N1 swine flu was first revealed last week in Mexico. In addition to Mexico and the US, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Britain, Israel, Austria and Germany have reported infections. Cuba has banned flights to and from Mexico, Argentina has suspended flights from Mexico and the US, European Union and other countries have discouraged nonessential travel there.
Prince Talal bin Abdelaziz has a history of pushing the Saudi political envelope in the direction of reform. Since 1958, when he first called for a Saudi constitution, he has provoked the establishment, sometimes to the point of losing his passport and going into political exile. Financial Times reports on his latest calls for rapid reform. Unless substantial changes are made soon, the Prince says, the country will not be able to face the changes happening in the world around it. Do read the whole article.
Senior Saudi calls for political reforms
Abeer Allam and Andrew England in Riyadh
A senior member of the Saudi royal family has called for political and economic reforms in the world’s largest oil producer, warning that the kingdom is not prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Prince Talal bin Abdelaziz, who has no role in decision-making and is known for his outspoken views, said there needed to be increased dialogue within the ruling family and called for greater powers for the Shura Council, an unelected consultative body, to pave the way for eventual elections.
“This region is roiling with turmoil and radicalism and the aspirations of a young population, and I am afraid we are not prepared for that. We cannot use the same tools we have been using to rule the country a century ago,” Prince Talal, who is a half-brother of King Abdullah, told the Financial Times.
His remarks appeared to be triggered by King Abdullah’s decision last month to appoint Prince Naif, another brother, as second prime minister, causing many to believe the powerful interior minister has been chosen as third in line. The appointment eased concerns about the succession amid mounting speculation over the health of Crown Prince Sultan, the first deputy prime minister who recently underwent surgery in New York.
However, Prince Naif is considered a conservative and Saudi activists seeking reform fear he may quash any hopes of political change in a nation that is ruled by an absolute monarchy.
Caryle Murphy, writing for Christian Science Monitor, files this report from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. She looks at the situation of the indigenous Shi’a population and finds that while things have improved, continuing discrimination is sowing the seeds for future trouble. Change is happening—five Shi’ites were named to the Shoura Council, for example—but it’s not happening fast enough, particularly for the young. She point to various kinds of discrimination the Shi’ite population feels—lack of promotion, few government jobs, Sunni teachers who deprecate Shi’a religious beliefs—and notes that patience is running out, at least for some. Definitely worth reading.
With Shiites rising across the region, Saudi Arabia’s grow impatient
Older leaders among the minority aim to peacefully address discrimination
but warn that younger Shiites are pushing for militancy
Awwamiya, Saudi Arabia – Despite the vast oil fields underfoot, this rural village of struggling farmers and narrow streets is a long way from the gleaming riches and wide boulevards of Riyadh.
It is also far from the strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam favored by the Saudi government, since most Awwamiya residents are Shiite Muslims.
These religious and economic realities help explain the graffiti on view here: “Death to Wahhabi,” “Down with the government,” and “We will not forget our prisoners.”
Somewhere here, too, Sheikh Nimer Al-Nimer, a firebrand Shiite cleric in his late 40s, is hiding from police. He is wanted for questioning, officials say, about an angry sermon threatening secession and his possible behind-the-scenes role in Sunni-Shiite clashes in the holy city of Medina earlier this year.
“We’ve been patient a long time hoping to get our rights,” says one Awwamiya resident. “But it’s useless.”
Here’s a nice, brief article from Saudi Gazette/Okaz on a reasonable project to create jobs for Saudi women. It’d be great to see more of these, as well as more integration of the workplace in general.
SR3m bakery run by women planned in Yanbu
YANBU – A 26-year-old businesswoman is all set to open the first women-only operated bakery. More than 150 Saudi women will work in the bakery worth SR3 million. It is expected to open in a year and will supply bread to schools. Alwiya Al-Munqil, the bakery owner, said that she developed the idea of the bakery after she successfully invested in 12 school cafeterias. She made it clear that the bakery project will be 100 percent operated by Saudi women. – Okaz/SG
Arab News reports on the opening of the world’s largest desalination plant in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. The plant, according to the report, will produce 800,000 cubic meters of water and 2,750 megawatts of electricity daily. The total cost of the plant is estimated at US$4.26 billion.
World’s largest desalt plant opened
Siraj Wahab | Arab News
JUBAIL: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah yesterday launched massive development projects worth SR54 billion in the Eastern Province’s newest industrial zone called Jubail-II. The new city is situated about 3 km to the west of the existing industrial city.
At a grand ceremony attended by top Cabinet members, bureaucrats and businessmen, the king pushed a series of buttons to mark the formal opening of the projects that included the world’s largest desalination and power generation plant.
Saudi Arabia is getting worried about swine flu and is taking steps to protect the population. The government has already offered information that it has sufficient supplies of vaccines, but Arab News reports that it is taking pro-active measures by installing thermal cameras at the major points of entry to identify those arriving with fevers. Cameras will also be set up at health centers around the country.
Thermal cameras at entry points to monitor swine flu
Mohammed Rasooldeen | Arab News
RIYADH: With the swine flu epidemic spreading and new cases being reported in the Middle East, plans are under way to install thermal cameras at all entry points to the Kingdom to monitor passengers who might be carrying the influenza virus, the Health Ministry said yesterday.
The digital surveillance cameras will monitor people coming from infected areas by land, sea and air, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mirghalani said.
He said a scientific committee that was formed to prevent any possible outbreak of the flu was currently studying the recommendations made by the World Health Organization (WHO) to install thermal cameras.
‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast,’ wrote Alexander Pope. I guess that’s true.
The Washington Independent, a website ‘for independent media’, runs this story about Charles Johnson, founder and operator of the Little Green Footballs website. That site is notorious for its Muslim- and Saudi-bashing. Johnson, however, seems to have had a bit of a conversion and is fighting against many of the people he influenced in the post-9/11 days, but who now see him as ‘getting soft’. A little bit of ‘takfiri’ ideology appears to run through the Islamophobe world!
I do applaud Johnson for his willingness to take on the clowns who have, for years, tried to create a clash of civilizations based on religion. It is one thing to acknowledge that there are bad Muslims. It’s an entirely different matter to conclude that all Muslims are bad. A late conversion is better than no conversion.
Civil War Raging in Right-Wing Blogosphere
Terrorism-Watching Conservative Blogs Split
Over Accusations of Bigotry and Treason
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, jazz musician and Web designer Charles Johnson has devoted his blog, Little Green Footballs, to exposing Muslim extremism in and outside the United States. His targets have included the Council on American-Islamic Relations, filmmaker Michael Moore, Reuters, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dan Rather, and the late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie — who some LGF commenters (not Johnson) call “St. Pancake,” a tribute to the Israeli steamroller that killed her. LGF helped write the lexicon of the self-styled “anti-Jihadist” blogosphere — from “moonbat” (”an unthinking or insane leftist”) to “anti-idiotarian” (”anyone who grasps the significance of and does his or her best to combat the post-9/11 political alliance between the ‘Old Left’ and militant Islam”).
But in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, LGF has become better known for the various fights it picks with many on the right — including conservative bloggers, critics of Islamic extremism, and critics of Islam in general who used to be Johnson’s fellow travelers.
Johnson has blasted Fox News host Glenn Beck, promoting a video from a Beck-inspired party that shows conservatives ranting about evolution and arguing that “this turn toward the extreme right on the part of Fox News is troubling, and will achieve nothing in the long run except further marginalization of the GOP.” In response to the news that the Department of Homeland Security was watching for increased right-wing extremism — something that most of the conservative blogosphere, like most Republicans, responded to with angry ridicule — Johnson pointed to the recent arrests of right-wing terrorists and criticized bloggers for buying into “distorted claims” about the DHS report. When Obama genuflected before King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Johnson found archival video of President Bush bowing to take a medal from the King and urged conservatives to turn down their “hyperventilating nonsense.”
Saudi writer Turki al-Hamad takes a look at terrorism in the Saudi context and find there are still many things that need to be done.
Terrorism: A Cultural Phenomenon
An Al Qaeda cell was recently arrested in Saudi Arabia, prior to this a huge number of suspects were detained last year; all in all 500 Al Qaeda members were arrested in one big swoop [in June 2008]. Since early last year a total of 700 people have been arrested on charges of belonging to the Al Qaeda organization. They planned to wreak havoc across the globe by targeting the international economy by way of attacking Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and assassinating [Saudi] security and civilian figures. This came at a time when we believed that the Al Qaeda organization in Saudi Arabia was almost finished, leaving only remnants behind. Then the news [of these arrests] reached us and we had no choice but to look at the issue again.
Three conclusions can be drawn from these reports, some which are positive, but the majority of which have are negative.
He finds that 1) Saudi efforts to combat terrorism are largely successful, at least on the tactical level, and that 2) Al-Qaeda remains a dangerous organization, no matter how it may have changed. His third conclusion is that the Saudis have failed to change the circumstances which permit the growth of extremist thinking. He likens Saudi Arabia to fertile soil in which a noxious weed has taken root. While security forces have cut the tops off these weeds, the roots remain and will continue to sprout anew.
…The security success in the fight against terrorism and the forces of destruction has not been accompanied by successes in the fight against the ideology behind this destructive behavior. What other explanation is there for the hundreds of Al Qaeda recruits, a figure which represents only the tip of the iceberg, not to mention the silent followers and sympathizers. There is a defect – there can be no doubt about that – and this is in the damage that has been caused by the educational institutes [in Saudi Arabia] since we diverted from the correct path, socially and culturally, and we took up the labyrinthine ideology of the Sahwa [Islamic re-awakening] in the late 1970s [following the Mecca siege]. Educational institutes, without exception, began to reflect this ideology. This is an ideology that is in essence a culture of blood and death that calls for the eliminating of the unbelievers – i.e. anyone who does not fully agree with this ideology – both within Saudi Arabia and abroad. All educational institutions then formed along this basis, in the light of the ideological struggle against the Iranian revolution that was attempting to export a different concept of Islam, as well as the political struggle against a superpower that was attempting to occupy Afghanistan in order to access the waters of the Gulf. These factors resulted in the state turning a blind eye to what was going on inside these educational institutes, and even in some cases encouraging what was gong on there for political purposes, and so today we are reaping what we sowed.
… Without uprooting the intellectual and cultural roots behind extremism and violence, we will continue to be plagued by these [ideological] weeds, pulling them out but leaving the roots to remain and sprout once more. Until the situation changes, Al Qaeda and its supporters will continue to exist and appear in this same way.
Just to remind, the New America Foundation’s conference on US-Saudi Relations in a World without Equilibrium is now in progress. You can watch streaming video at this link.
UPDATE: Despite my best intentions, I did not get a lot out of this conference for largely technical reasons. The streaming kept stopping for me, whether because of my internet connections or difficulties at the transmitting end. As a result, I got only fragments of various remarks, not enough to string together into a coherent whole. I hope that New American Foundation makes transcripts available.