Saudis reflect on the extremism and sectarianism being fueled inside their own mosques

Hassan Hassan writes: The role of clerics in stoking tensions is again under scrutiny in Saudi Arabia. ISIL’s suicide bombing inside a Shia mosque in Al Qudeeh on May 23 has triggered an important debate in the kingdom that should not be missed.

Last year, a similar debate following ISIL’s takeover of Mosul and the subsequent carnage committed in the name of Islam, led many activists in Saudi Arabia to question the roots of such acts. For example, Saudi commentator Ibrahim Al Shaalan tweeted: “ISIL’s actions are but an epitome of what we’ve studied in our school curriculum. If the curriculum is sound, then ISIL is right, and if it is wrong, then who bears responsibility?”

After last weekend’s attack, similar questions have been raised. A day after the bombing, Tariq Al Hamid, a prominent Saudi writer, criticised the sectarian incitement that still spewed in schools and at the pulpit. He said: “What needs to be said, especially after the Al Qudeeh terrorist attack that targeted Saudi Shia nationals, is that the educational, religious, cultural and media discourse in Saudi Arabia must be changed … through laws and regulations. Reform must punish incitement in all forms, at traditional and other pulpits.”

Al Hamid added that reform would prevent a “fertile ground that turns young Saudis into fodder in any battle” taking place in the region. He said that attacks target both Sunnis and Shia in the country, citing the ISIL cell recently uncovered by Saudi authorities, which targeted security officers. Equally important, he echoed a rare admonition of the kingdom’s top clerics by the late King Abdullah about the failure of religious and media figures at speaking out against extremists.

Saudi Gazette’s editor was similarly candid in an article titled “Sectarian divide threatens national security”. He criticised clerics who he said spewed hatred and spread falsehood. “The perpetrators of these murderous acts are driven by an insane ideology disseminated by self-appointed clerics,” he wrote. “For too long, we have kept quiet as they used the mosques, the media … to spread their evil philosophy.” [Continue reading…]

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