Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that should — if at all possible — be undertaken at least once in a Muslim’s life, has taken on mystic attributes. Arab News reports that the Saudi government is growing concerned over the number of people coming to Mecca in very poor health and under the impression that to die during Haj is to assure one’s arrival in Heaven. This is a myth the government says.

It’s also a problem. Not only can the diseased transmit diseases, but they greatly tax an already burdened health system. They don’t make things better for other pilgrims, either. The government is urging Islamic scholars around the world to emphasize that only the physically fit should undertake Haj.

Sick pilgrims coming with wish to die in KSA criticized
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED

Saudi Arabia has expressed concern over the increasing number of pilgrims arriving with chronic or serious health problems. Such pilgrims are posing a health hazard for others and also putting pressure on the health facilities in the holy cities.

“Haj is mandatory for Muslims if they are physically and financially able,” said Abdallah Al-Asiri, the deputy minister for preventive health. “However, many pilgrims are ignoring the stipulation, which is a matter of concern.”

Speaking to Arab News, he said many Muslims in different parts of the world strongly believe that death during Haj or in holy cities would give them a place in heaven. This belief is making them hide their health problems as they arrive with determination to undertake the pilgrimage.

“Unfortunately, many pilgrims believe that their sickness could result in their death during the pilgrimage, which can give them a place in heaven,” he said.


September:20:2014 - 09:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs a brief piece noting that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said they’ve identified 100 problematic imams (out of a total of 15,000 in the Kingdom) who exhibit extremist tendencies. These imams are being given a chance to get with the program of condemning extremism or find themselves out of work.

‘100 imams with extremist thoughts’

RIYADH — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has identified about 100 mosque imams out of 15,000 with extremist tendencies. He said the imams are currently being rehabilitated but will be dismissed if they do not repent, the ministry’s undersecretary for mosque affairs Tawfiq Al-Sudairy announced. He said the ministry is closely monitoring the performance of all imams and their Friday sermons. The undersecretary said following the terrorist attack against a police checkpoint in Sharoorah in Ramadan, the ministry asked all mosque imams to denounce the incident and to criticize any anti-Islamic ideologies. “The response of the imams was excellent. Those who did not implement the ministry’s instructions were given another opportunity to do so,” he said. Al-Sudairy warned that any imam who conveys any extremist ideas in his sermon would be sacked.


September:19:2014 - 08:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The idea of cinemas in Saudi Arabia is a fraught one. While they used to exist, up to the 1960s at least, in some parts of the Kingdom, they have all be shuttered in the name of keeping the sexes separate and avoiding the dispersal of “bad” ideas. They remain unpopular with a large part of the Saudi population for those reasons, but others see not only a desire for cinema, but an economic need.

Saudi Gazette reports that the Ministry of Labor is at least open to the idea of re-opening cinemas. It sees it, tentatively, as a new area in which Saudis can be employed. This would go along with the fact that Saudis are becoming more adept at making films, even if they have to cross borders to do so. Saudis certainly cross borders to view films, as Bahraini theaters are pleased to record in their balance sheets.

The arguments about content seem to now be obviated by the fact of satellite TV and the Internet. Content that was once considered anathema is now common, though filtering and blocking things like obscenity and objectionable religious and political content continue (to decreasing effect). Separating the sexes ought not be a difficult task for a country that has been separating them for a few generations now.

Many see the reintroduction of cinemas in Saudi Arabia as inevitable. At present, though, it’s a matter of “Soon, just not now.”

Cinema is now an economic activity
Saudi Gazette report

THE Ministry of Labor in the Kingdom has included cinema in the economic activities that people can work in. The ministry has included various cinema and other entertainment activities, film production as well as distribution and display of movies among economic activities, a statement of the ministry put on its website said.

In an exclusive report this June, Maaal Arabic newspaper revealed that an investor has officially submitted an application to the Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media for a license to set up a movie theater in Saudi Arabia.

Through its website, the ministry did not give more details on these specializations and the possibility of working in them nor did it specify conditions and regulations for someone willing to engage in such activities, according to Al Arabiya website.

Earlier, the audiovisual commission did not object to the idea in principle. It asked the investor to give a full explanation on the project including a future strategy.

If the commission thinks the investment is feasible, it could ask higher authorities to clear the way for movie theaters nationwide, sources reportedly said.


September:19:2014 - 08:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman offers a critique of Pres. Obama’s announced policies concerning ISIS. As Cordesman says, while there’s much in accord with what he has suggested in the past, it is not risk-free. Those risks must be understood.

The “Best Game in Town” – Five Key Risks of the President’s Strategy
Anthony Cordesman

It may seem unusual to criticize a strategy you have both suggested and endorse, and it is important to stress from the outset that President Obama has almost certainly chosen a strategy that is the “best game in town” — if he fully implements it, gives it the necessary resources, and sustains it over time. The President has had to choose a strategy based on the “rules of the game” in the United States, in Iraq, in Syria, and allied states. They are rules that place major constraints on what the United States can do.

The Limited Choices That Shape the “Best Game” in Town

The United States had no choice other than to depend on regional allies for ground forces, training, bases, improvements in unity and governance, efforts to limit the Islamic State’s funding and its volunteers, and efforts to highlight its lack of religious legitimacy and horrifying departures from Islam.


September:12:2014 - 09:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

Syrian writer Ghassan Al Imam has an interesting opinion piece in Asharq Alawsat. He’s right, but for the wrong reasons.

Al Imam rattles on about the pipe dream of “Arab unity.” There has not been Arab unity since the first century Hijra, when the Battle of Karbala defined the first major split among Arabs and Muslims. The idea has its philosophical charms, but has been disproved in reality for over a millennium. Dreams have a value of their own, of course, but they rarely convert into useful plans of action.

What is not a dream is that by declaring itself the new Caliphate, ISIS has led to a sort of unification among the Arab states, if not precisely among Arabs. Arabs, after all, are engaged on all sides of a multifaceted conflict.

Al Imam is correct in noting that Arab audiences are ill-prepared to deal with ISIS propaganda. This is the fault of those Arab states. Each, for its own reasons, spent the bulk of the 20th C. in trying to create one “truth” for its citizens. Controlling media; controlling what could and could not be taught in schools; forcing particularized interpretations of history in the service of the state have all led to ignorance and confusion among Arabs. Intolerance of religious differences and political differences has led to people’s now finding conflict between what they’d been assured was true and what the actual world shows them to be true.

It’s not too late for the states of the region to break with the past and start promoting the value of tolerance to different views. Arab unity cannot be forced upon the citizens of 20-odd countries. But a common core of values — especially the adoption of toleration of differences — can arise, if and only if the governments permit it. These states, including Saudi Arabia, need to squelch the promotion of sectarian differences that they themselves promote.

Opinion: ISIS and Arab Unity
Ghassan Al Imam

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claims to have achieved in a few months what other projects seeking Arab unity have failed to do since Mustafa Kamal Atatürk abolished the Ottoman Islamic caliphate in 1924. In a blink of an eye, ISIS has called on 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide to move to the new “land of Islam” after they have “purged” it from Shi’ites, Christians and Yazidis, and beheaded journalists and slaughtered “crusaders.”

ISIS has called for divine governance and has taken it upon itself to ensure it is applied. It has imposed the burdens of allegiance, obedience and absolute loyalty on people in territory under its control. Without dialogue, institutions, or political parties, silence has descended on the “Islamic State.” The “caliphate” denies the need for politics, culture, or freedom.

It has modified school curricula and banned the teaching of the humanities, physical education and music. It has shut down girls’ schools and banned women from working or traveling, lest it distracts them from their domestic chores. It urges believers to receive the afterlife with satisfaction and joy, following the gloom of their temporary abode in this world.

ISIS has abolished the colonial borders between Arab countries, and declared “jihad.” It has killed more Muslim civilians than Westerners and slaughtered captured soldiers. It has arrested people from all religions and creeds. Its actions have provoked the world against it, with religious and sectarian wars breaking out on our lands.

This view of ISIS which I have just given is not mine. It is a summary of the propaganda the group itself broadcasts extensively via electronic media to reach broad segments of Arab society, given that the Arab media is reeling under ever-stricter censorship.


September:10:2014 - 08:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports on the meeting to be held tomorrow in Jeddah that will bring together regional representatives (along with US Secretary of State Kerry) to discuss how to deal with groups like ISIS.

There have been a lot of meetings of late discussing this issue. The Arab League recently conducted its own. Saudi King Abdullah has enlisted the entirety of his government in condemning and, in some cases, jailing supporters of extremist groups. But much is left to be done.

The problem lies in definitions. What one country or government may see as extremist, another may see as simply “the opposition.” Getting everyone in the region on the same page, working from the same definitions, ought to help. But if “extremist” is going to be used to round up any and everyone who has political views not in accord with those of his government, more problems will ensue, including the loss of support by others who need to be working together.

Saudi Arabia to host regional counter-terror conference

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is set to host a special regional meeting in Jeddah to discuss the issue of terrorism on Thursday, the state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA) has announced.

The meeting will be attended by representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as officials from the US. The meeting will discuss the issue of terrorism in the region, extremist organizations and their ideology, and ways of combating them.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu is currently on a tour of Gulf states and will attend the regional meeting in Jeddah, along with other regional foreign ministers. US Security of State John Kerry is traveling to Saudi Arabia and neighboring Jordan this week to discuss the latest regional developments, including the new Iraqi government and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and is also expected to attend the Jeddah meeting.

The announcement comes one day after Riyadh backed an Arab League resolution emphasizing the need to take quick measures to crush ISIS and other regional terrorist organizations.

…The [Saudi] cabinet called for Arab states to “take the necessary measures to maintain Arab security, [and] confront all terrorist and extremist organization … at all political, security, defense, judicial, media and intellectual levels,” according to the SPA.


September:10:2014 - 07:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Arab News reports that Saudi courts have set prison sentences for four Saudis who had left the country to fight in Syria alongside ISIS and Al Nusra Front. They received jail terms of up to six years and travel bans following their release. The cases cited involved the use of false documents to travel.

Four imprisoned for fighting in Syria

A court has sentenced four Saudis to prison for up to six years and prevented them from traveling for participating in fighting in Syria with ISIS and the Nusra Front. The convicts impersonated other people and left Saudi Arabia with fake passports through land ports. One of them participated in guarding a terrorist camp.

Another was imprisoned and banned from traveling for five years. He was accused of traveling with others to take part in the fight in Syria by stealing the passport of his brother and leaving the Kingdom through the Al-Rigi land port to Kuwait, and from there to Turkey. Smugglers later helped him slip into Syria.

Some months ago, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah issued a royal decree criminalizing fighting abroad or belonging to extremist or religious groups.
Anyone found guilty could be jailed for up to 20 years. Punishments apply to organizations that are classified as terrorist either locally, regionally or internationally. People who offer any form of material or moral support to such terrorist groups or organizations or promote their thoughts are liable to the same punishment.


September:06:2014 - 09:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is making its negative stance toward IS and other extremist groups clear. In Arab News, there’s a report about the sentencing of a cleric who preached support as well as provided monetary support for jihadists. He received a five-year jail sentence and travel ban.

Preacher imprisoned for praising IS

Riyadh’s special criminal court has sentenced a Saudi preacher to five years in prison for praising and supporting terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), during an Eid sermon at a local mosque in Riyadh in August 2013.

The defendant was also slapped with a five-year travel ban. The defendant was convicted of using Friday sermons to provoke and encourage dissidence, while glorifying terrorist groups and extremist ideas propagated by Al-Qaeda terrorists.

He was also convicted of financially supporting terrorism with more than SR1 million and harboring wanted terrorists. The defendant had previously received a letter from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs ordering him to stop delivering sermons at the mosque.

Saudi Gazette reports on the disquiet following the discovery of pro-ISIS graffiti on the walls of schools in eastern Riyadh. The article suggests that this is vandalism, but also that there is concern that the group’s appeal to young men is something to watch.

IS slogan found on school walls in Riyadh
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — The residents of Al-Naseem neighborhood, east Riyadh, were shocked when they saw the slogans of Islamic State (IS) on the walls of some schools, Al-Hayat daily reported.

A number of residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said they suspect that a group of young men were behind it.

The young men did not look religious but used to stay up till late on the streets near the schools, the residents said.

Sulaiman Al-Battah, sociologist, blamed social media for publishing inaccurate news reports and deviant ideas.


September:01:2014 - 06:30 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

Transcending Organization: Individuals and “The Islamic State”

BACKGROUND
The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.


August:28:2014 - 06:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has arrested eight men who had been working to recruit young Saudis to join up with ISIS, Al Arabiya TV reports. It might well serve the Saudi government if, when they are tried, it relax its rules about not naming names and fully publicize its efforts to eradicate extremism within the country.

Saudi Arabia busts cell of ISIS recruiters

The Saudi interior ministry said Tuesday it detained eight individuals for trying to recruit youth into “extremist groups abroad.” Al Arabiya News channel that the recruits were for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Security authorities conducted on Monday an operation that led to the arrest of eight citizens who were involved in recruiting youth to join extremist groups abroad,” an interior ministry statement carried by the country’s Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance against militant groups in the kingdom and has made arrests of cells with links to extremist elements in different Arab countries.

Asharq Alawsat reports that similar arrests have been made in Jordan:

Jordanian authorities arrest ISIS, Nusra Front suspects


August:27:2014 - 07:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Jamal Khashoggi has an interesting article translated on today’s Al Arabiya TV website and in Arabic at Al-Hayat newspaper. He takes a look at ISIS and sees it as a “third-generation” takfirist/salfist movement. He sees its origins in Egypt of the 1990s. I’d put it earlier, if not with the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, then at least in the 1980s, with the conflict between Muslim Brotherhood associates and the Syrian government in Hama. There, the Syrian government succeeded in (bloodily) suppressing the group. This time around, it’s not being terribly successful.

Khashoggi is right in pointing out that you don’t fix a problem or cure a disease until you have a correct diagnosis and understand the cause. There is far too much refusing to look for, look at, or otherwise identify the causes, but they are known. Treating the symptoms may make things look or feel better for a time, but that does not solve the problem. Nor do $100 million dollar donations to talk about the problem.

How can we defeat ISIS if we don’t understand it?
Jamal Khashoggi

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been digging its own grave, just as it has irrationally led many to their graves. It did not disappoint all those who followed its rise and predicted the inevitability of its end, as it carried the seeds of its own destruction within itself.

Last year, I published an article entitled “What history teaches us about Syria’s extremists.” At the time, ISIS was emerging in Syria and rebelling against those involved in the revolution. It was like an uninvited guest. I wrote about a story that took place in the Indian continent in the 18th century; the story of a young fighter who became the Emir of Peshawar after the success of the Islamist corrective movement to liberate the city from the rule of the “Maharajah” in just two months.

After the imposition of hardline provisions by the new emir on the tribal population of the region, they rebelled against him and brought back the Sikhs and their army to rule again. They did not rebel against the emir alone but against the whole movement, and its spiritual leader.


August:25:2014 - 10:47 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is crying “Foul!” over a video clip that has been appearing on various social media sites. The clip purports to show a member of the Commission uttering threats against blackmailers and homosexuals while presenting himself as a member of the vice police. His is not a part of the Commission but an imposter, authorities say, and they are determined to find out who he is and to punish him.

It is not terribly difficult to make fake news. Some allege that “Pallywood” is a manifestation of this, but we have all seen mock news articles. Unfortunately, some of these get taken up by reputable media — with less than wonderful fact-checking — and become part of “what we all know.”

The Saudi Gazette article here quotes a Shoura Council member as saying that social media sites should not be shut down as they are not the problem. The problem is with those who would abuse it.

Haia distances itself from viral video
Saudi Gazette report

DAMMAM — The Presidency for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Haia) said the man who recently appeared in a video clip beside one of the Haia’s vehicles and launched a wave of threats against homosexuals and those who blackmail young women is not one of its personnel.

The Haia described the man as an impostor, Al-Hayat daily said.

The Haia, through its spokesman Turki Al-Shelayyil, also said it will investigate and punish the person who arranged for the man to shoot video clips next to the Haia’s vehicle. If he is convicted of impersonation, he will be imprisoned for 10 years or be fined or both.

The video clip elicited a response from the commission’s presidency as it contained words and insinuations that violate the regulations and policies of the Haia, specifically the principle of “promoting virtue and preventing vice”.

In the video, a man whose appearance indicates that he is a Haia member stands next to a vehicle belonging to the commission. He subsequently makes numerous threats, something that prompted the commission to find out his true identity so appropriate action can be taken against him.


August:24:2014 - 09:28 | Comments Off | Permalink
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