Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Yousef Al-Dayni analyzes the dreams of developing a new Caliphate that will rescue the Islamic world from the troubles it faces. Whether it is a terrorist group like ISIS or something more vague as hoped for by ‘moderates’, the dream is an expression of the lack of self-confidence, he says. It is also self-defeating as there is simply no place for a caliphate in the modern world, where people of different religions do and must interact constantly and peacefully, practicing real tolerance for differences.
Waiting for a ‘savior’ to ride in to rescue Islam — like the Lone Ranger, or perhaps King Arthur redux — is simply a dream. It allows one to avoid dealing with the real world, but does absolutely nothing to address the issues that need to be resolved. Violence and extremism in the name of a caliphate are not going to resolve them, either.
I was recently speaking with a well-known “moderate” Islamist figure about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and how this terrorist group has managed to defame the true image of Sunni Islam within just a few short months—more than Al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups ever have. While this well-known preacher agreed with me about ISIS and its false brand of Sunni Islamism, he said this does not eliminate the dream of the return of the caliphate—the aspiration of every Muslim who wants to see Islam rise up and advance, as Islam cannot do so without its state.
This rejection of ISIS and terrorism while still wanting to see the return of the caliphate represents a major problem in Islamic discourse today. This is the result of a state of low self-esteem in the Islamic world that has existed since the fall of the last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, and represents a response to the arrival of new Islamic discourse that not only frowned at the idea of caliphate, but viewed this as being inherently flawed.
The reality of the Muslim Ummah today is one of the absence of effective and influential religious leaders, with the return of popular Islamist discourse justifying violence. We have seen the rise of many groups and organizations based on this discourse, including ISIS, Ajnad Al-Sham, the Ahfad Al-Rasul Brigade, Fatah Al-Islam, Al-Qaeda and many others. It is just that ISIS has gone the furthest by announcing an Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria and paying allegiance to a caliph.
However, ultimately, the emergence of such groups has only contributed to further harming Islamic self-confidence and self-esteem. Who could believe that barbaric and brutal organizations such as these, whose fighters are proud to pose with the severed heads of defeated enemies, could turn into an alternative to true Islam? Those who follow and support these groups are doing so solely out of spite towards the ruling regimes in our region—not in support of Islam, which is suffering today more out of the ignorance of its supposed followers than the hatred of its enemies.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Ifta Council in Saudi Arabia has banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops across the Kingdom. Shops found selling them will have their stock confiscated.
While clearly the ban is being undertaken for religious reasons, the article doesn’t note what those reasons are. The ban does not seem to affect the sale of birds or fish — both popular with Saudis — nor does it mention reptiles and insects.
Municipal authorities have banned the sale of cats and dogs in shops in Saudi Arabia.
The ban came in response to a religious edict by the Ifta Council. The municipality instructed its supervisors to ask pet stores for a written commitment to stop selling cats and dogs.
In addition, the municipality has instructed its supervisors to confiscate cats and dogs that are found for sale in stores, which led some stores to continue their activities in a discreet manner.
The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.
Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.
The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.
ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.
The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.
It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.
Dang nab modern technology! A popular Saudi preacher is finding it difficult to convince people he didn’t say what he said when he said it on video. Videos that have been broadcast by international satellite channels and on YouTube at that.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Sheikh al-Arifi is being ridiculed for his attempts to rewrite his history of making fatuous fatwas. I’m sure the Sheikh is concerned that his behavior is quite contrary to Saudi law and could see him jailed and/or fined. Even if Europe thinks (equally fatuously) that the Internet can be scrubbed of historic embarrassments, that’s now how the world works. The Sheikh will have to see how merciful the government is toward him.
A popular Saudi preacher who previously called for jihad in Syria has recently appeared on television bluntly denying his famous statement, drawing scorn from fans and followers on social media.
During an interview with Rotana Khalijia, Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi denied his famous statement to Al-Jazeera in which he called for jihad in Syria and supported al-Qaeda.
Sheikh Arifi threw a bombshell in February 2013 when he told the Qatar-based channel that al-Qaeda “does not tolerate bloodshed.”
He said some people attribute to al-Qaeda many opinions and thoughts which the group does not hold.
Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia is wasting a massive amount of food daily and that the wastage increases during Ramadan.
According to its story, Saudis waste 4,500 tons of food daily. The amount goes up during Ramadan as people prepare daily feasts with far more food than families and guests can eat. By one estimate, 30% of the food prepared for the meals following the daily fast ends up being thrown away.
Massive wastage ‘unacceptable’
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED
The problem of food wastage in Ramadan has again surfaced with Makkah municipality having to gather 5,000 tons in the first three days of Ramadan.
According to one report, Saudis spend SR20 billion on Ramadan shopping, compared to SR6 billion they spend in other months.
Osama Al-Zaituny of the municipality told Arab News on Thursday that this was in addition to the collection of 28,000 sheep carcasses in two days.
He said the municipality has installed 45 waste compressors in central Makkah close to the Grand Mosque, and deployed 8,000 cleaners for the month.
The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project has taken a recent look at how the Islamic world view religious extremism. They see it increasingly dimly and are increasingly worried about it.
Attitudes in the countries surveyed have shown a decline in support for extremism on the whole, though the report points out that support for suicide bombings still holds strong minority support in several countries.
The polling was done before ISIS declared itself a caliphate. I suspect that the negative numbers would decline even more sharply were to polls to be held today.
Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in Middle East
Negative Opinions of al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah Widespread
As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. And in the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago.
Meanwhile, publics hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
In Nigeria, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians alike, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that recently kidnapped hundreds of girls in the restive north of the country. And a majority of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the Taliban.
Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies. And support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade. Still, in some countries a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.
These are the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 14,244 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations from April 10 to May 25, 2014. The survey was conducted prior to the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The poll is reported in Arab News among other Saudi media, though Saudi Arabia was not among those countries polled.
Al Arabiya TV carries a report from Agence France Presse stating that the Saudi government is threatening to deport expats who offend local custom and law during Ramadan. The month-long fast requires that one abstain from food, drink, and cigarettes (as well as sex) during daylight hours. As Ramadan this year falls in the longest days of the year, tempers run a bit foul, at least during the daytime. By seeking to ensure that non-Muslims do not irritate the country’s citizens by breaking the fast in front of them, the government is seeking calm.
Expats are not expected to fast during Ramadan. If Islam isn’t their religion, they don’t need to follow its religious rites. They have to keep their daylight fast-breaking to inside private establishments, however, whether their homes or at businesses that permit it.
Riyadh, AFP: Saudi authorities threatened Thursday to expel non-Muslim foreigners who eat, drink or smoke in public during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.
The interior ministry urged non-Muslims to “respect the feelings of Muslims by refraining from eating, drinking or smoking in public places, streets and at work.”
“They are not excused for being non-Muslim,” said the statement carried by SPA state news agency, adding that “labour contracts stipulate respect for Muslim rites.”
“Those who violate (that)… will face the necessary measures, including terminating work contracts and being deported,” the statement added.
Saudis are debating the proper place for women in — of all things — the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Some see women’s presence in the field operations of the religious police as a necessary thing. Others think that desk jobs might be more appropriate. Yet others are concerned that unrelated men and women, working together even on a religious mission, might be a temptation too far. At least the issue is being discussed, as Saudi Gazette reports…
THE Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) plays a major role in protecting Saudi society’s moral fabric through its awareness campaigns and regulatory mission. However, despite the long history of the commission, it remains divided on whether women should join their male counterparts and work as field officers.
The topic is not new and has been discussed before, but with Saudi women joining the country’s labor force in large numbers women working for the Haia is not impossible. Supporters of the idea say now is the time to employ women in the Haia while others believe the idea should be extensively studied before a decision is made, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.
Sami Omar Al-Sibah, faculty member at the College of Dawa and Usul-ud-Din at Umm Al-Qura University, said women working for the Haia, particularly in field missions, is a step in the right direction but said the issue needs to be studied thoroughly.
“This topic addresses mainly the role of women in society and the sort of job opportunities available to them. Other issues such as guardianship, protection and segregation will be brought up if we allow women to participate in field missions. It is important to move forward but care must be taken in order for us to avoid future calamities,” he said.
Writing at al-Monitor, Fahad Nazer, a Saudi analyst, takes a look at what’s at stake for Saudi Arabia following the onslaught by ISIS militias in Iraq. The Saudis don’t like it; it scares them. They’re particularly concerned about the number of young Saudis who have gone off to fight in Syria in the name of jihad. The last time young Saudis went off to fight in foreign wars, then ended up returning to the Kingdom, frustrated, angry, and willing to take up arms against their own government. No repeat performance is wanted.
Saudi Arabia threatened by ISIS advance in Iraq
Contrary to an emerging consensus in the West and the Middle East, the turmoil in Iraq does not benefit Saudi Arabia, nor is it a “dream” for Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. While relations between the Saudi royals and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are among the most strained in the region, it is one thing for the Saudis to view Maliki as a divisive figure beholden to Iran, and something patently different for them to be actively supporting the armed Sunni rebellion, which al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is spearheading.
The prospect of a failed state torn apart by a sectarian civil war along its border, another one in Syria and an al-Qaeda “state” rising up from the ashes of these two civil wars must be a disconcerting one for Saudi Arabia. While both Iraq and Syria have publicly blamed the carnage in their countries on the Saudis for what they maintain is Saudi support of “terrorists,” including ISIS, the al-Qaeda affiliate itself has vowed to “conquer” Saudi Arabia after it has “vanquished” the regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. More than any of its neighbors, Saudi Arabia has the most to lose from the conflict in Iraq spiraling out of control. There are several reasons.
Saudi Arabia values stability more than anything. Its penchant for reactionary politics is most apparent in its unconditional support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s new government in Egypt, which has reinstituted many of the policies of former President Hosni Mubarak, arguably the Saudis’ most stalwart ally for over 30 years. And while the Saudis have supported the rebels’ bid in Syria to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, this willingness to change the status quo is a function of the role Iran is playing in the conflict and because Saudi Arabia views itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and therefore has a moral obligation to help the beleaguered Sunni majority.
But even in Syria, there are reports indicating that the Saudis are re-evaluating their policy. The exodus of hundreds of young Saudis to join the “jihad” there has rung alarm bells and brought back memories of the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, when Saudis joined the “Afghan Arab” fighters and either returned home, bringing their military experience with them, or joined other militant Islamist groups elsewhere. Osama bin Laden himself was such an example. Saudis who turned themselves in to authorities after fighting in Syria confirmed that not only are many Saudis — possibly hundreds — gravitating toward the most extreme armed groups in Syria, including ISIS, but that many have become known for their ferociousness and willingness to conduct suicide attacks.
When American bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he’s reported to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”
This seems to be the operating principle of thieves who operate within the sacred precincts of the Grand Mosque at Mecca, too. Saudi Gazette reports that 2,000 undercover policemen will be working the area of the Grand Mosque to deter and catch pickpockets and other thieves who descend on the area during Ramadan and Haj. At this time, pilgrims — often carrying their entire net worth on their person — are taken up with the religious fervor of the occasion, distracted from ordinary life. They become vulnerable to those with more nefarious intent.
That this is taking place at Islam’s holiest site is doubly scandalous. Not only is theft going on — the lack of common theft is something Saudi pride themselves on — but the location makes it even more despicable.
Over 2,000 private eyes in Haram to nab thieves
Saudi Gazette report
MAKKAH — More than 2,000 cameras have been planted in various parts of the Grand Mosque and its plazas to watch for and apprehend thieves and pickpockets, a senior security official has said.
“There will also be undercover policemen in the Haram 24/7 to prevent theft and all other crimes,” commander of the Umrah security police, Maj.Gen. Abdulaziz Al-Souli, was quoted by Makkah daily as saying.
Al-Souli was addressing a press conference on Monday, which was also attended by high ranking officers from the Makkah police.
Al-Souli said all security sectors will participate in maintaining the safety and security of pilgrims and visitors during the holy month of Ramadan.
I find the fact that Arab News is covering this story at least as interesting as the story itself. Apostasy is not something Saudis tend to feel neutral about, so a factual article, devoid of moralizing is noteworthy.
Of course, the story could just be “link bait,” a story that sure to draw attention from online commentators, as well as foaming comments on the newspaper’s own page.
KHARTOUM: A Sudanese Christian who gave birth in prison after being sentenced to hang for apostasy was freed on Monday, one of her lawyers said.
The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.
“Meriam was released just about an hour ago,” Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on Monday afternoon.
“She’s now out of prison,” he said, but authorities will not issue the reasons for her release until Tuesday.
Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under laws that have been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaw conversions.