There’s been a recent media splash over portions of an ancient Quran discovered in a collection at Birmingham University in the UK. Some of the claims about it have been a bit extravagant, such as claiming it as “the world’s oldest.”

Saudi scholars think the reports are mistaken, according to this story from Saudi Gazette. The scholars point out that there are certain historical discrepancies such as the use of red ink (not appropriate for the period) and believe the Birmingham researchers should have carbon-dated the ink, not the parchments.

Experts doubt oldest Qur’an claim
Saudi Gazette report

MAKKAH — Historians and manuscript experts have cast doubt on the credibility of the recent Birmingham University claim that it had discovered the oldest copy of the Qur’an.

The university recently showed two leaves of parchment with Qur’anic verses from chapter 18-20 in legible Hijazi script. It said the verses could have be scribbled somewhere between 568 AD and 645 AD.

The university’s claims mean that the verses were written close to the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was widely believed to have lived between 570 AD and 632 AD.

Quoting the experts, Makkah daily said on Sunday that the manuscript might have possibly been written after the time of the Prophet (pbuh) due to several factors.

Experts contend that during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) there was no separation between the Surahs (chapters) in red colors, no red ink was used in writing “Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem” with which a Surah begins and that the holy book itself was not put in its today’s order.


July:27:2015 - 07:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

Once again, the government of Saudi Arabia is calling for all nations to enforce laws prohibiting blasphemy. Saudi Gazette carries a story from the official Saudi Press Agency reporting on a call made at a European symposium. The story does not report on what Iceland, which earlier this month repealed its laws against blasphemy, had to say.

Criminalize vilification of religious symbols, says Saudi official

SPA: LILLE, France — Saudi Arabia has reiterated its call on the international community to criminalize any act vilifying religious beliefs and symbols of faith as well as all kinds of discrimination based on religion.

Addressing an international symposium on media coverage of religious symbols based on international law, which started in this French city on Saturday, a senior Saudi official said the Kingdom emphasized years ago that the international community must act urgently to confront ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance, which has become widespread in all communities and peoples of the world.

“We have made it clear that freedom of expression without limits or restrictions would lead to violation and abuse of religious and ideological rights,” said Abdulmajeed Al-Omari, director for external relations at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.


July:26:2015 - 08:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV carries an Asharq Alawsat column by Abdulrahman al-Rashed exploring how the group variously known as ISIS or Daesh is very wittingly playing word games to its benefit. By insisting on the use of the name “Islamic State,” the group attempts to give itself unearned legitimacy, wrapping itself in the honor of Islam. This, al-Rashed says, is doubly pernicious. Not only does it delude young Muslims into thinking the group righteous, but it provide an easy example for Islamophobes to point out and say, “See what Muslims really are?!”

ISIS: Why should we care about the acronym?
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Many governments have begun urging the media to not use the “ISIS” acronym. The terrorist organization started using this acronym two years ago, when its leader declared himself a caliphate and changed the name of his group from ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) to ISIS in order to expand from Iraq to include Syria.

When the group’s formation was announced in April 2013 under the appellation of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, the media and specifically Al Arabiya News Channel decided to call it as “Daesh” (the Arabic abbreviation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). We are all aware that ISIS wants to use us, as media platforms around the world, to build a picture that serves its purposes. A lot of people objected to the appellation and the coverage because it is insulting the true defenders of Islam against the Western occupiers or the oppressed Sunni community. It offended the defenders of the people of al-Anbar or the rebels against al-Assad regime in Syria. In fact, ISIS activities confused people initially, but most of them discovered later on that ISIS is nothing but the same al-Qaeda evil group, despite adopting rightful issues.

ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) is not a cynical label as said and written in the Western media. It is just the acronym of the appellation. The group is certainly against this acronym because it intentionally wants to be known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to rally around it Muslims from all over the world.


July:25:2015 - 09:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi authorities have arrested 431 people for their alleged involvement in terrorist attacks in the Kingdom, Al Arabiya TV reports. Those arrested come from ten countries, including Saudi Arabia. They are accused of playing a role in the attacks on Shi’a mosques and other Shi’ite areas in the Eastern Province, including attacks in 2014.

Saudi arrests 431 ISIS-linked suspects

Saudi Arabia arrested 431 people as part of a crackdown on a cluster of cells linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, the kingdom’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) said.

Authorities also thwarted seven mosque attacks that had been planned by the suspects in the capital Riyadh as well as the Eastern Province, MOI Spokesman Gen. Mansour Al Turki said in a press conference carried by Al Arabiya News Channel.

Among the arrested were Saudi nationals and suspects from nine other nationalities, he said adding that the cluster of cells was divided by tasks and target, he told reporters.

In one cell, made of five members, their task was to prep suicide bombers while another five-member cell had the mission to manufacture explosive belts.

Of the 431 arrested, 190 made up the four cells suspected to behind the Al-Qadeeh and Al-Unoud mosques’ bombings which claimed the lives of dozens of worshippers in May.


July:18:2015 - 10:02 | Comments Off | Permalink

I wish a joyous Eid al-Fitr to all those celebrating the end of Ramadan

Eid Mubarak


July:17:2015 - 07:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed says that trying to shut down social media (typified by Twitter) won’t do much to address the real problems caused by ISIS or other extremist groups. Social media are just that: media. They’re the channels through which information is flowing. Blocking the channels won’t alter the information; won’t make the groups or their ideologies any less dangerous. Block one channel, and another one will appear.

Blocking social media will, however, annoy and inconvenience multitudes of people who aren’t involved in extremism for no good purpose. It’ll be just another ham-handed government effort that burdens citizens, including those who use social media to fight against extremism.

Blocking Twitter is not the solution
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Many counterterror experts believe they have pinpointed the source of the problem when it comes to terrorism and extremism. They believe social media networks are to blame because they play a hand in inciting extremism and help with the recruitment of militants. Some experts have even called for blocking these sites in order to starve the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its ilk of their primary means of communicating with sympathizers and potential recruits.

Despite the rush of calls to shut down Twitter and other social media sites, this is not an ideal solution, because these groups will just end up using alternative platforms. It’s also not fair to punish millions of ordinary users in order to get rid of the thousands of militants or militant supporters online. It is a known fact that the world is battling against extremist ideologies, and therefore it is understandable that this sometimes requires giving up our privacy and freedom. However, even the necessities of war aren’t enough of a reason to restrain millions of people just because the problem was not dealt with from another angle. Reform education, reform da’wah (the preaching of Islam), and spread Islam’s real and beautiful values, then you’d realize that extremist concepts are an exception and are actually rejected. If such steps are implemented, moderation would become a real ideological movement that everyone adopts.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other websites are a means of communication that can either eliminate extremism or help spread it. What distinguishes extremists is that they are an active and determined party with a cause which they believe is righteous. They are capable of adapting to technological changes. They exploit religious communities, which they don’t belong to, and try to lure people into their extremist ideologies. There are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of militants who spend hours surfing these websites in search of lost, angry, or curious youths, attempting to “guide them” to jihadist solutions and then recruit them as soldiers who await orders.


July:13:2015 - 06:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Haj service providers are complaining that the government’s new effort to centralize services is flying in the face of reality. Government policy sees Islam as a unitary (well, maybe binary) belief system. That’s not so, the service providers say. Various sects and groups have different practices that should be taken into account when grouping pilgrims together. The service providers fear that mixing groups with different beliefs will be confusing and upsetting.

Saudi Gazette reports on an article originating in the Arabic daily Al-Watan.

Haj service providers oppose online registration
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Several Haj service providers are reportedly unhappy with the Haj Ministry’s new regulations regarding online registration of pilgrims.

The Ministry of Haj held an urgent meeting on the issue after reportedly receiving complaints from Haj service providers for the upcoming Haj season, Al-Watan daily reported.

It cited a source as saying that many companies were opposed to the procedure of letting all pilgrims sign up to a campaign online. “Pilgrims have different beliefs and sects and it will not help anyone to mix these beliefs and sects in the same campaign,” said the source.

The source also said each company usually represents a different sect and pilgrims who sign up with a company are usually from the same sect it represents.

“The ministry has enlisted Haj companies under public services, allowing the ministry to take full control over the registration procedure. However, the companies would like to restore their identity as a stand-alone private business,” said the source.


July:12:2015 - 06:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing at Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi finds a difference in the recruitment of would-be extremists for Al-Qaeda and for ISIS. Candidates for the former, he suggests, come through ideological channels. Recruitment for the latter, through social media taking advantage of the dumb and ill-educated.

The Rapid Spread of ISIS
Mshari Al-Zaydi

One of the differences between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lies in the way members join each of these ultra-radical groups.

Those wishing to join Al-Qaeda are often exposed for a long period of time to the writings of the group’s ideologues. The process would take several years before recruits are no longer content with the mission of merely calling for “jihad.”

However, with ISIS recruitment is much easier—but more dangerous. An ISIS member could be someone who had no Islamist links weeks or even a few days before joining the radical group. An ISIS recruit could be a normal youth who supports, say, Real Madrid or FC Barcelona, or a fan of pop stars. Such recruits usually go unnoticed by state security until they detonate themselves or engage in a shooting spree, taking by surprise official bodies who fail to predict their activities, particularly what they say on social media.

Two such examples are Seifeddine Rezgui, the Tunisian criminal who carried out the Sousse beach massacre, and Fahd Suleiman Abdul Mohsen Al-Qaba’a, the 23-year-old Saudi national who attacked the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait.

Rafik Chelli, senior Tunisian security official, said the perpetrator of the Sousse attack was a university student who “had no criminal record.” The Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement that Qaba’a was born in 1992 and was not previously involved in any terror-related activities.

This means that ISIS poses a hidden danger whose elimination requires from all those concerned, whether governmental or civilian organizations, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries to take preemptive measures against potential ISIS members.


July:10:2015 - 08:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an Associated Press article talking about the Saudi Ramadan TV series “Selfie,” noted here earlier.

The article describes the content of some of the shows, along with the reactions — positive, negative, and deadly — it’s drawing.

Saudi TV show becomes a hit by mocking Islamic State group
Aya Batrawy?|?AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A new TV satire program has become a hit in the Arab world by mocking some of the region’s most serious issues, from the intractable Sunni-Shiite divide and religious extremism to the brutality of militants like the Islamic State group.

The show, “Selfie,” has also brought a backlash. Islamic State group sympathizers have made death threats against its Saudi star and top writer on social media. One mainstream Saudi cleric denounced the show of heresy for mocking the country’s ultraconservative religious establishment. That has made it the buzz of the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is the peak television viewing season in the Middle East.

Naser al-Qasabi, the series’ star, and its writer Khalaf al-Harbi told The Associated Press in their first interview with foreign media that they expected the backlash, but weren’t prepared for the popularity. It’s one of the top shows on MBC, the privately owned Saudi network that airs it, and has been the talk of the Gulf press.

Al-Qasabi says the series’ dark humor reveals just how tragic the situation across the Middle East has become.

In the Yahoo.com news carriage of the same piece, there are photos and a few video clips included:


July:09:2015 - 07:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

In his current Asharq Alawsat column, Amir Taheri says that trying to analyze the chaos of the Middle East in terms of religious sectarianism is a mistake. It’s not religious identity that’s at play, but politics that will use sectarianism as another tool.

Shi’ism may be a big tent, he writes, but Iran has certainly not welcomed Syria’s Awalawites or Yemen’s Houthis into the religious fold. Both of those groups are seen as heretical. But, they’re useful. Supporting those groups serves Iranian ends, not because they’re religiously pure, but because they and their issues allow Iran an entry into the region that would otherwise be closed to it.

Continuing to try and parse the current struggles as sectarian matters is to continue to miss the point: It’s politics, all the way down. And if you’re not correctly identifying the problem, the odds of fixing it are remote.

The Terrorist Challenge—Understanding and Misunderstanding
Amir Taheri

Faced with the growing threat of terrorism, Western officials and analysts seem hard put as to how to deal with something they find difficult to understand.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has advised the media not to use the term “Islamic State” for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—known as “Da’esh” in Arabic—because, he claims, the “caliphate” based in Raqqa in Syria is not Islamic. In other words, Cameron is casting himself as an authority on what is Islamic and what is not. At the other end of the spectrum, French Premier Manuel Valls speaks of “Islamofascism” and claims that the West is drawn into a “war of civilizations” with Islam.

Cameron continues Tony Blair’s policy in the early days of Islamist attacks on Britain. Blair would declare that although the attacks had nothing to do with Islam he had invited “leaders of the Muslim community” to Downing Street to discuss “what is to be done.”

As for Valls, he seems to forget that Islam, though part of many civilizations including the European one, is a religion not a civilization on its own. He also forgets that civilizations, even at the height of rivalry, don’t wage war; political movements and states do.

While it is important to understand what we are dealing with, it is even more important not to misunderstand the challenge.

To circumvent the hurdle of labeling the Da’esh-style terror as “Islamic,” something that runs counter to political correctness and could attract cries of Islamophobia, some Western officials and commentators build their analysis on the “sectarian” aspect of the phenomenon.

Thus, we are bombarded within seminars, essays and speeches seeking to explain, and at times explain away, the horrors of ISIS and similar groups as part of sectarian Sunni–Shi’ite feuds dating back to 15 centuries ago.

However, the “sectarian” analysis is equally defective.


July:04:2015 - 07:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that the government of Kuwait is looking into the possibility that the Saudi responsible for the suicide attack on a Shi’ite mosque may have ties with an Al-Qaeda affiliate, “Peninsula Lions.” The government believed it had crippled the group back in 2005, but documents found in the house from which the recent attack was staged show some relationship to the group. On the other hand, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. It is, however, conceivable that the group has migrated toward ISIS, away from Al-Qaeda.

Kuwait investigates link between Shi’ite mosque attacker and “Peninsula Lions” group

Kuwait City, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kuwait is investigating whether the perpetrator of last week’s deadly attack on a Shi’ite mosque had links to the “Peninsula Lions,” an Al-Qaeda-linked group that staged a series of attacks in the oil-rich country in 2005.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a Kuwaiti security source said there were reports that jailed Peninsula Lions members shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) upon receiving the news of Friday’s deadly attack on the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in the neighborhood of Sawabir in Kuwait City.

The incident has prompted the authorities to investigate whether the perpetrator of the attack had any links to the Peninsula Lions group whose members have been killed, imprisoned or fled Kuwait.

Kuwait dismantled the group in 2005 and jailed 37 of its members on charge of belonging to Al-Qaeda.

Nine members were killed during clashes with Kuwaiti police in early 2005 and six were given death sentences.

Kuwait has identified the suicide bomber as Fahd Suleiman Abdul Mohsen Al-Qaba’a, a 23-year-old Saudi citizen who crossed into the neighboring country on the same day he carried out the attack.


July:01:2015 - 07:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

H.A. Hellyer, writing at Al Arabiya TV, notes that there’s something wrong with the (partial) condemnations of sectarianism popping up in the regional media. Whether is obliviousness, disengenuity, or out-and-out machinations, what is condemned is only that which comes from the other guy. “Our guy” gets a pass, if not actual support.

The short-sightedness (to put it at its most gentle) is appalling. There seems to be utterly no conception of the possibility that today’s majority might not remain so tomorrow. And when that happens, all the methods, tricks, interpretations, and the like that are used to justify violence in the name of today’s majorities will be used to justify similar actions against them when they’re in the minority. Even the most cursory reading of history should inform one that things do not stay the same forever.

Sectarianism is bad… until it is your side that is inciting it
H.A. Hellyer

It’s Ramadan. Against the backdrop of Muslims observing the obligatory performance of the fast, sheikhs and religious authorities will remind the faithful of the saying of the Prophet: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which God has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up.” Sages in the past would comment – and warn believers that if there were sins they persisted in the month, they had to take them seriously. For in this month, the whispers and murmurs, beckoning souls to wretchedness – well, that’s all on them. Because the devils, as the adage goes, are locked up.

One would hope, then, that in this month, there would be an absence of truly horrendous actions – if from no one else, than from Muslims themselves, particularly those that claim to raise high the banner of Islam. Alas, the last few days show that while some human beings don’t require the murmurs and whispers of baser beings at all – they can do rather evil things all on their own.

… Is the principle really ‘sectarianism is bad’ – or is the principle ‘sectarianism is bad… until it is my side doing it?’

Is there anyone who will take seriously within the region that be it Sunni on Shiite sectarianism; or Shiite on Sunni sectarianism; or Sunni on Sunni sectarianism; or Muslim on Christian sectarianism; that these are all just bad ideas? That differences of views can, and should, be expressed – but that the incitement that finds itself in words will, far too often, be eventually conveyed in acts of violence and terrible consequences? Or have too few not reached the point of realizing that rotten discourse does not have rotten consequences?

Are there leaders in these communities who know they must rise, in order to be clear once and for all, not simply in rhetoric but in action, to avert further catastrophe by declaring – if you will seek to promote hate and incitement, you will not be tolerated? Are there leaders who will pursue that path, not as a way to crackdown on legitimate dissent and varying opinions that do not win favor with the palace – but as a way to ensure and develop the health of their communities and societies?


June:29:2015 - 10:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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