When will Saudi women achieve equality with Saudi men? Not anytime soon, I’m afraid. Saudi Gazette reports that the Grand Mufti has waded into the fray calling those who would see them as equal ‘decadent and immoral’. Women, he seems to say, are too silly to be taken seriously and men must be kind in their condescension of them. But never, no never, should men and women be allowed to work side-by-side in the workplace.
This would be a laughable attitude except that it isn’t. This is coming from the highest religious leader in the country, a man who is considered to know more about what God wants than the common man. He even draws a government salary to espouse his views.
Sorry, Saudi women… the clock measuring your progress just got set back a century or two.
Mufti slams advocates of free mixing of sexes
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The advocates of intermingling between men and women at the workplace want decadence and immoral behavior to spread among Muslims, said Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh.
Giving his Friday sermon at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh, he said such mixing poses a great danger to society and women in particular.
The Grand Mufti also stressed the importance of not taking divorce lightly, warning men against making hastened decisions in issuing concerning their family life.
He said that women can lead their husbands to divorcing them when they do not adhere to rules of modesty and that men must help their wives, protect their rights and be patient with them.
“Islam has taught men not to focus on their wives’ follies and to forgive their mistakes. They must look at their wives’ virtues and positive attitudes,” the mufti said.
Saudi Arabia leads the world in terms of YouTube viewership. But Saudis aren’t just consuming YouTube videos. Al Arabiya TV runs this Reuters report on how young Saudis are creating content to fill the void created by state-operated media (void because no one watches it for other than Saudi sports and religious inspiration).
Saudis live in a severely constrained social environment. As a result, many youths are living a ‘virtual’ life on the Internet where they are able to say and see things that are otherwise not available to them. Rather than waiting for governmentally shaped commentary, they make their own and get immediate feedback, both positive and negative.
Young Saudis getting creative on YouTube
Turn on a Saudi television and you’ll usually get a diet of religious programming and uncontroversial imported fare. But there’s much more to a “night in” for the average Saudi – they’re also the world’s most avid watchers of YouTube.
The programs of Jeddah-based UTURN, from drama to reality shows, are typical. “3al6ayer,” or “On the Fly,” is a Saudi version of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “Eysh Elly” is a lighthearted weekly review of Arab online videos.
As of mid-September, UTURN had 286 million views on YouTube and 8 million followers on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, most of them Saudis, said Abdullah Mando, 27, who set up the company in 2010 with two university friends.
The secret of UTURN’s success is simple, but in a Saudi context, rather revolutionary: give the audience what it wants
The state of the judiciary in Saudi Arabia is problematic. While the country has undertaken a program of massive legal reform, training and re-training judges, and working to codify laws, individual judges remain an issue.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz front-page an article about a handful of judges who are being relieved of their positions and one who will be facing trial. Their actions range from sending out inappropriate Tweets to financial corruption.
Judges sacked for corruption, absence, lack of discipline
Adnan Al-Shabrawi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Judicial authorities are completing procedures to relieve four judges from their posts for corruption and discipline-related reasons.
Okaz/Saudi Gazette learned that one of the judges was accused of financial corruption and is still detained in a Riyadh prison.
Another judge was relieved from his post for remaining absent from work for a whole year while the remaining two were dismissed for disciplinary reasons such as inappropriate tweeting, even though they were repeatedly warned.
The judge accused of financial corruption, identified as F.Y., is expected to stand trial within the next few weeks before a disciplinary committee.
He will also be tried before the Supreme Judicial Council and will be able to defend himself.
Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University has a good piece in Foreign Policy magazine.
In it he notes the cynical, political use to which sectarian differences are used as a matter of identify politics rather than actual, theological differences. It’s worth a read.
The thrust of his piece is about the often-contrived conflict between Sunni and Shi’a populations. He mentions the tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt. He might have expanded it to include the visceral, but unfounded hatred of Jews. Or, for that matter, the sense of some American fundamentalist Christians that Islam is the problem.
The Entrepreneurs of Cynical Sectarianism
A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.
This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at an American university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with Denise Spellberg, author of the new book Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: Islam and the Founders. The book takes a look at how the founders of the American republic viewed Islam and how those views colored the writing of the US Constitution and state laws.
The author notes that 18th C. Americans generally shared the negative attitudes of their European contemporaries, but that exception men were far-seeing in certain regards, though seemingly blind in others.
The book certainly looks interesting.
Islam at the Birth of America
Mohammad Ali Salih
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Denise A. Spellberg is an American scholar of Islamic history. She is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas and holds a PhD from Columbia University. She is also the author of Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past, which looks at the portrayal of Aisha in Islamic tradition.
Spellberg is perhaps best known in the media for the controversy that surrounded the Sherry Jones novel, The Jewel of Medina. Spellberg sharply criticized the novel from a historical perspective, informing publisher Random House that the book might result in violence by radical Muslims.
In her latest book, she looks at the impact that Islam, in particular a copy of the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson, had on the birth of the US Constitution and the concept of religious freedom during the infancy of the United States of America.
Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders is published by Knopf Publishing Group and was released in October 2013.
Writing at pan-Arab Al-Hayat (here translated by Al Arabiya TV) Abdullah Hamidaddin goes after the ultra-facile ‘analysis’ of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, in my view, gets some things right in his global analyses. At other times, he gets them very wrong. His latest piece on Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations, alas, falls in the latter camp and Hamidaddin calls him on it.
Ranting or analyzing? Fareed Zakaria and Saudi foreign policy
Fareed Zakaria is a very influential media figure, but his understanding of the region is somewhat limited, and his approach to foreign policy analysis is quite immature. Both qualities featured in his recent Time Magazine article: “Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.”
Criticizing the foreign policies of any State is absolutely necessary. The one who benefits most is the target of the critique. But it is one thing to offer political critique and another to offer political ranting; which is what Zakaria did in his article. But the problem is not his rant, rather, the problem is that it would be taken as a serious political analysis. Saudi Arabia is stereotyped. And as a result people are allowed to think about it in certain ways, regardless of the facts. Worse still, people are allowed to analyze it nonsensically and still be taken seriously. This is a fundamental problem. If the logic which Zakaria used in his article was applied in an analysis of German or Russian foreign policy, it would become a laughing matter. But applying that logic to Saudi Arabia made it a political analysis.
He starts by saying: “America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious.” And then he sarcastically says: “Surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.”
Two years ago, Hamza Kashgari took to social media with a series of injudicious twits. He recognized that what he said about Islam might be taken the wrong way and put him in jeopardy with not only religious authorities, but the government as well. He fled the country to Malaysia, but the government there sent him back to Saudi Arabia, where he was tried.
Now, Saudi Gazette reports, he has been released from prison.
Two years in prison, however, is seen as too weak a punishment by some Saudis. They are still calling for his execution for blasphemy, or, at least, a longer jail term.
Blogger Kashgari released
Laura Bashraheel | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Saudi authorities released on Tuesday a blogger who was detained for almost two years for allegedly making blasphemous comments on Twitter. Hamza Kashgari, 24, was arrested over the series of tweets in February 2012.
At 8 a.m., one of Kashgari’s close friends tweeted: “Hamza Kashgari is at his home now; he spent one year and nine months in loneliness and being attacked by people who know nothing about him, and at 6.30 a.m. he was released and went home.”
Close friends and family of Kashgari also confirmed on Twitter that he was released in the morning.
The same day Kashgari reactivated his Twitter account and wrote only one tweet: “Mornings of hope and the souls that does not die, thanks to Allah”. He received more than a thousand retweets within only a few hours while people congratulated him on his release and return to family.
However, his release was received with negative reactions, with others still calling for him to be punished and even executed.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that five members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice have been convicted in a Saudi court for their role in a car chase that led to the death of two young men in the car they were pursuing. According to the story, the main charge for which they were convicted was the falsification of their report on the incident. No mention is made of what punishment the court levied.
5 Haia members found guilty in deadly Riyadh chase
Sa’ad Al-Shamrani | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
RIYADH – Two members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia), who drove Haia vehicles, were found guilty in the deadly chase that resulted in the death of two Saudi siblings last month.
A committee that probed into the death of Nasser and Saud Al-Qaus came to the conclusion that another four people, including three Haia staffers, were also involved in the crime.
Two Haia patrol teams chased on Sept. 24 the brothers before crashing into their sedan and forcing it off an overpass and onto a lower-level track on King Fahd Road in Riyadh. The patrol vehicles left the scene immediately after the incident. Saud died from wounds sustained in the chase, just hours after the funeral of his brother Nasser who was killed on the spot in the incident. All five members of the Haia, who were allegedly involved in the incident, were transferred to Riyadh public prison after bail was denied to them, while the sixth person, who is a temporary staffer and a university student, was released on bail.
Saudi Arabia is again warning young men away from going to Syria to take part in jihad. This time, it’s the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh who’s doing the lecturing. His target are clerics who are not only theologically wrong, in his view, but also hypocrites, urging young men to go off to fight, but not their own sons. As far as the Saudi government is concerned, a call to legitimate jihad can come only from the government; it is not an individual decision or duty. Since Saudi Arabia has not declared for jihad in Syria, going there to fight is illegitimate, with no room to quibble.
RIYADH – Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh has urged youths to refrain from fighting in Syria.
“This is all wrong, it’s not obligatory,” he said, in reference to Saudi men joining a civil war that is now into its third year, Al-Hayat Arabic daily reported.
Delivering a lecture on “Deviation among the youth: Causes and ways to address them” at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh on Saturday, the Grand Mufti warned preachers against encouraging young men to fight in Syria during their sermons.
He criticized some preachers who encourage and lure youths to wage holy war (jihad) but prevent their sons from doing the same.
“Muslim should be fearful of God and not deceive young Muslims and exploit their weakness and lack of insight and push them to an abyss. I ask them (preachers) to advise (young people) as they would advise their sons,”
Asheikh said, adding that it is not good to incite others to do evil and at the same prevent their sons from doing it.
In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi concludes that religious terrorism is going to be with us for a long time. It will take a serious look within Islamic societies to understand the causes of extremism and to begin the attempt to bring it to rein.
Opinion: We must live with terrorism
Could religious terrorism be eradicated?
Not for the foreseeable future, no. The problem with religious terrorism is that it basically relies on a narrow discourse that negates all other viewpoints. It is a confident dialogue that is also repressive, angry and crazy. Its proponents will not be satisfied until the temple comes down on the heads of all its occupants.
It is a discourse that believes perfection is missing and legitimacy is absent, and that we live temporarily in this immorality. Its followers believe all we should do in life is work on bringing back legitimacy.
It is therefore relatively easy to see an ordinary young man suddenly turn into a suicide bomber without previously being religious or being a member of these groups. This was the case with a young Saudi man who went by the name of “Sambatik” and who once posted photos on a social network showing off his modern hairstyle and making fun of others. All of a sudden, he said goodbye to his family and went to Syria to fight alongside Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This, of course, would please Bashar Al-Assad and his brother, Maher.
For decades—even before 9/11—waves of religious terrorism have been hitting us. A new wave starts as soon another ends, which weakens the already weak explanation that these terrorist phenomena are the result of losing political liberties, Western hegemony, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As we said a decade ago—and as we repeat now—these were factors that helped terrorist recruitment, not factors that created terrorism itself.
The creation of a terrorist cannot be stopped without destroying the social and cultural climate that facilitates its creation, and this climate cannot be destroyed without a hard look at ourselves. There is no denial of identity here, no slighting of our culture, but rather a defense of it and those who drive us all to collective suicide.
Agence France Presse, in addition to Saudi media, are all reporting that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior is slamming on the brakes when it comes to the activities planned today to support the right of Saudi women to drive in the Kingdom. The Ministry, it is reported, has even called individual activists to warn them that the full weight of the law will be applied to them.
Which raises an interesting question… Which law? There are no actual laws on the books that prohibit women from driving. Religious authorities say there is no Quranic prohibition. So just which law is it that women drivers would be violating? The Ministry comes up with vague statements about ‘causing social discord’. If that were a law universally applied in Saudi Arabia, the country would be paralyzed.
Saudi Arabia was braced for possible protests Saturday after women activists declared an “open driving campaign” against the deeply conservative kingdom’s ban on women behind the wheel.
Activists had originally planned a “drive-in” Saturday but cancelled it after threats of legal action, instead declaring an open-ended campaign in the only country that forbids women from driving.
“Out of caution and respect for the interior ministry’s warnings… we are asking women not to drive tomorrow and to change the initiative from an October 26 campaign to an open driving campaign,” activist Najla al-Hariri told AFP Friday.
Several women said they had received telephone calls from the ministry, which warned of measures against activists who chose to participate and asked them to promise not to drive on Saturday.
“It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support” of this cause, ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP
CNN International is reporting that some women are choosing to ignore the Ministry’s admonitions:
UPDATE: The New York Times reports that some Saudi women went ahead with their protest, getting behind the wheel and driving. Some also made videos of it. No arrests or detentions are reported.
UPDATE: According to Al-Jazeera TV (via Yahoo.com’s Maktoob portal), some 60 women across the country took part in the effort. It reports there were no arrests made.
Currently in the cities of Saudi Arabia, when the call to prayer (Adhan) is made, all commercial activity comes to a stop. Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice roam the streets to ensure that shutters are drawn and to encourage people to head toward the mosques to take part in communal prayer.
This, says a member of the Saudi Shoura Council, is incorrect. There is no religious obligation to communally pray, though it is strongly encouraged. But encouragement should not rise to the level of mandatory behavior. As a result, the Council member, Issa Al-Ghaith, says that new regulations should be set forth, freeing various types of activity from compulsion. Among these are hospitals, pharmacies, and shopping malls, as well as gas stations located outside the cities.
Shoura to review closure of stores during prayer times
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH —A Shoura Council member is all set to present a draft to the consultative body recommending hospitals, pharmacies and shopping malls remain open during prayer times.
Issa Al-Ghaith said the closures, enforced by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia), are applied due to official instructions and there is no Shariah law to that effect. The draft will also recommend amendment of several regulations of the Haia, Al-Eqtisadiah Arabic daily reported Thursday.
Al-Ghaith said several new regulations that replace old ones affecting the way the Haia functions have not been made public yet and encouraged the commission to publish its new regulations and explain the role of its staffers to the general public.