Tag Archives: Wahhabi

Israel and Saudi Arabia: Unlikely Allies

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saMedia outlets have been speculating about the emerging alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The International Business Times (December 2, 2013), quoted London’s Sunday Times as saying that “Israel and Saudi Arabia were working together to bring down Iran’s nuclear activities.” Clearly, having a mutual interest in stopping the threat of a hegemonic and nuclear Iran has made the two unlikely allies.

Saudi and Israeli interests have converged more than once before. First, during the Yemen War, Egypt’s dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser sought to sustain the revolutionary republican Yemeni officers who brought down the Hamiduddin dynasty. In the mountains of north and east Yemen, Imam Mohammad al Badr and his royalist insurgent army fought back. In the five-year war (1962-1967) in which the Egyptians committed 70,000 troops (it became Nasser’s Vietnam), the Saudi’s and Israelis, fearful of Nasser’s hegemonic ambitions, helped the royalist forces.

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute wrote: “To get more arms to the royalists, the Saudis and their mercenaries turned to another enemy of the Egyptian dictator, Israel. In early 1964, the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, made arrangements for the Israeli air force to begin flying clandestine supply missions down the Red Sea from Israel to parachute weapons to the royalists. The mission was approved by the senior leadership in Israel, and the flights were code-named Operation Leopard.” In the years 1964 through 1966, the Israelis flew more than a dozen resupply flights to aid the royalists.

In 1991, during the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles at both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the two countries found themselves again on the same side. In the 1990’s, Saudi Arabia accepted the permanence of Israel’s position in the Middle East by agreeing to support the Madrid and Oslo peace processes. Now, in the wake of the recent P5+1 Geneva interim agreement with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabian and Israeli interests have found common ground once more. Both nations are critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Iran.

Israel and Saudi Arabia are threatened by the prospect of a nuclear Iran imposing its hegemonic ambitions on the entire region. Israel is facing the missile arsenals of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, both supplied by Iran. The Saudis face similar threats emanating from Iran. Saudi Arabia feels encircled by the Iranian supported Houthi rebellion in Yemen, a Shiite insurrection in Bahrain, the Shiite-led Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki, and in Syria, by the direct intervention of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.  In Lebanon, a proxy conflict is taking place between the Iran supported Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni-Lebanese supported by the Saudis. Riyadh is particularly disturbed by Iran’s incitement of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia.

Shared interests notwithstanding, the points of conflict between the Saudis and Israel have been long and deep, albeit, indirect. The Saudis launched the Arab oil embargo against the US and the West during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, ostensibly to punish the US and its allies for supporting Israel. During the Second Intifada (2000-2003), the Saudis provided a major portion of Hamas’ budget, and sent payments to the families of suicide bombers. Much earlier, in February, 1945, King Ibn Saud expressed his hatred of Jews and to the idea of a Jewish State in a meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). He cautioned FDR against supporting a Jewish state in Palestine, and warned that creation of such a Jewish State would lead to continuous war and undermine US-Saudi relations.

Saudi Arabia is considered the leading Sunni-Muslim state. The Saudi royal family serves as the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites – the cities of Mecca and Medina. Along with being the “guardians,” the Saudi royal family has supported Sunni Muslim mosques and imams worldwide, and funds the spread of Islam in Europe and the US. The Saud family, which created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has tied its fortunes with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), and Wahhabism.

Wahhabi Islam is a term commonly given to a strict Sunni sect of Islam. Followers of Wahhabi Islam do not refer to their religion as “Wahhabi.” Many merely call themselves “Muslim,” for according to their beliefs, they are the only true Muslims. Some Wahhabists refer to themselves and their religion as “al-Muwahhidun,” or “Salafi Da’wa,” or “Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’a.” Wahhabi Islam is a fundamentalist and strict revivalist vision, and beliefs that were preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the late 1700’s sought to imitate the original ways of the Prophet Mohammad and his four immediate successors.

One reason to be skeptical about a Riyadh-Jerusalem long-term partnership is Saudi concern with the legitimacy of their rule. Since Israel is considered by many as the “enemy” of Islam, and Riyadh the “defender” of Islam, it is far-fetched to talk about an enduring alliance. The Saudi royal family has to balance legitimacy within the Muslim world and personal security, or simply put, the preservation of the royal family. In the long term, the historical animosity between Persians and Arabs, and even with Sunni Muslim negative disposition towards Shiite Islam notwithstanding, we are more likely to see an Iranian-Saudi rapprochement than a Saudi alliance with the Jewish state.

Riyadh has been a vocal advocate of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear) free zone in the Middle East. With Syria disposing of its chemical weapons, the Saudis hope that Iran will be pressured to abandon its nuclear project in the permanent agreement between P5+1 and Iran. This would leave Israel as the primary target of a Saudi led campaign in the UN, to compel Israel to dispose of its alleged nuclear weapons.

For now, Iran, not Israel, constitutes a real threat to the royal family’s security, and to their kingdom. According to the Beirut based Al-Akhbar, (November 12, 2013) “The Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi clerics never saw a contradiction between their anti-Semitism and their coordination with the Israeli state, especially when the coordination bolstered the Saudi place in US foreign policy plan.” In fact, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, disagreed with the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, on whether there can be a truce with the Jews. Bin Baz argued that a truce (hudna) with Israel is allowed and even an exchange of ambassadors is permitted, if it serves Islam’s interests. In a fatwa he issued, Bin Baz endorsed the Middle East peace process.

Al-Akhbar added that the “Saudi and Israeli foreign policies have mirrored one another on Egypt and Iran. The two may not have seen eye-to-eye on Syria, but they seem to have put their trust in the Free Syrian Army.” It is true that both the Saudis and Israelis opposed the Muslim Brotherhood, resented the removal of President Mubarak, and supported the Egyptian military coup, which the Obama administration seemed to oppose.

Whatever the ideological differences between the Saudis and Israel may be (and indeed they exist), self-interest in fending off the immediate Iranian threat, for now, trumps ideological considerations. This may not be an alliance, but the two states, as much as they are “unlikely allies,” have good reasons to be in it. It has never been truer in the Middle East that, ones’ enemies’ enemy could be one’s friend.

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Can Islam be reformed?

Can Islam be reformed? (Daniel Pipes)

 

This is a very thought-provoking article by Daniel Pipes, behind Commentary’s paywall but also on his website. Here are excerpts:

My argument has two parts. First, the essentialist position of many analysts is wrong; and second, a reformed Islam can emerge.

To state that Islam can never change is to assert that the Koran and Hadith, which constitute the religion’s core, must always be understood in the same way. But to articulate this position is to reveal its error, for nothing human abides forever. Everything, including the reading of sacred texts, changes over time. Everything has a history. And everything has a future that will be unlike its past.

Only by failing to account for human nature and by ignoring more than a millennium of actual changes in the Koran’s interpretation can one claim that the Koran has been understood identically over time. Changes have applied in such matters as jihad<>, slavery, usury<>, the principle of “no compulsion in religion,” and the role of women. Moreover, the many important interpreters of Islam over the past 1,400 years—ash-Shafi’i, al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiya, Rumi, Shah Waliullah, and Ruhollah Khomeini come to mind—disagreed deeply among themselves about the content of the message of Islam.

However central the Koran and Hadith may be, they are not the totality of the Muslim experience; the accumulated experience of Muslim peoples from Morocco to Indonesia and beyond matters no less. To dwell on Islam’s scriptures is akin to interpreting the United States solely through the lens of the Constitution; ignoring the country’s history would lead to a distorted understanding.

Put differently, medieval Muslim civilization excelled and today’s Muslims lag behind<> in nearly every index of achievement. But if things can get worse, they can also get better. Likewise, in my own career, I witnessed Islamism rise from minimal beginnings when I entered the field in 1969 to the great powers it enjoys today; if Islamism can thus grow, it can also decline.

Key to Islam’s role in public life is Sharia and the many untenable demands it makes on Muslims. Running a government with the minimal taxes permitted by Sharia has proved to be unsustainable; and how can one run a financial system without charging interest? A penal system that requires four men to view an adulterous act in flagrante delicto is impractical. Sharia’s prohibition on warfare against fellow Muslims is impossible for all to live up to; indeed, roughly three-quarters of all warfare waged by Muslims has been directed against other Muslims. Likewise, the insistence on perpetual jihad against non-Muslims demands too much.

To get around these and other unrealistic demands, premodern Muslims developed certain legal fig leaves that allowed for the relaxation of Islamic provisions without directly violating them. Jurists came up with hiyal (tricks) and other means by which the letter of the law could be fulfilled while negating its spirit. For example, various mechanisms were developed to live in harmony with non-Muslim states. There is also the double sale (bai al-inah) of an item, which permits the purchaser to pay a disguised form of interest. Wars against fellow Muslims were renamed jihad….

While the medieval synthesis worked over the centuries, it never overcame a fundamental weakness: It is not comprehensively rooted in or derived from the foundational, constitutional texts of Islam. Based on compromises and half measures, it always remained vulnerable to challenge by purists. Indeed, premodern Muslim history featured many such challenges, including the Almohad movement in 12th-century North Africa and the Wahhabi movement in 18th-century Arabia. In each case, purist efforts eventually subsided and the medieval synthesis reasserted itself, only to be challenged anew by purists. This alternation between pragmatism and purism characterizes Muslim history, contributing to its instability.

…If Islamism is to be defeated, anti-Islamist Muslims must develop an alternative vision of Islam and explanation for what it means to be a Muslim. In doing so, they can draw on the past, especially the reform efforts from the span of 1850 to1950, to develop a “modern synthesis” comparable to the medieval model. This synthesis would choose among Shari precepts and render Islam compatible with modern values. It would accept gender equality, coexist peacefully with unbelievers, and reject the aspiration of a universal caliphate, among other steps.

Here, Islam can profitably be compared with the two other major monotheistic religions. A half millennium ago, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all broadly agreed that enforced labor was acceptable and that paying interest on borrowed money was not. Eventually, after bitter and protracted debates, Jews and Christians changed their minds on these two issues; today, no Jewish or Christian voices endorse slavery or condemn the payment of reasonable interest on loans.

Among Muslims, however, these debates have only begun….


Reformist Muslims must do better than their medieval predecessors and ground their interpretation in both scripture and the sensibilities of the age. For Muslims to modernize their religion they must emulate their fellow monotheists and adapt their religion with regard to slavery and interest, the treatment of women, the right to leave Islam, legal procedure, and much else. When a reformed, modern Islam emerges it will no longer endorse unequal female rights, the dhimmi status, jihad, or suicide terrorism, nor will it require the death penalty for adultery, breaches of family honor, blasphemy, and apostasy.

Already in this young century, a few positive signs in this direction can be discerned. Note some developments concerning women:

  •  Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has responded to rising public outrage over child marriages by setting the age of majority at 18. Though this doesn’t end child marriages, it moves toward abolishing the practice.
  • Turkish clerics have agreed to let menstruating women attend mosque and pray next to men.
  • The Iranian government has nearly banned the stoning of convicted adulterers.
  •  Women in Iran have won broader rights to sue their husbands for divorce.
  • A conference of Muslim scholars in Egypt deemed clitoridectomies contrary to Islam and, in fact, punishable.
  •  A key Indian Muslim institution, Darul Uloom Deoband, issued a fatwa against polygamy.
  •  The Saudi government abolished jizya (the practice of enforcing a poll tax on non-Muslims).
  •   An Iranian court ordered the family of a murdered Christian to receive the same compensation as that of a Muslim victim.
  •  Scholars meeting at the International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Sharjah have started to debate and challenge the call for apostates to be executed.

Pipes’ ideas for helping these changes occur seem a bit too simplistic to me – he advocates Muslim reformers find a way within Islam to implement their ideas, and non-Muslims should “support” the reformers, whatever that means.

In general, though,  I believe that outside pressure can and does have an effect on Islam.

To me, the key is to take advantage of the honor/shame mindset and continually shame the Muslims into increasing human rights. The examples that Pipes gives of slowly increasing human rights for women in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, for example, is only happening because Muslims were embarrassed to be seen as backwards by the West. On the flip side, the reason that there has been a rise in Islamism lately is because Muslims were shamed by the idea that they weren’t adhering to the religion properly enough by the radicals. In both cases, it is shame that is the driving factor.

Similarly, it was only twelve years ago that Al Jazeera was making Bin Laden into a hero; that changed over time as the network wanted to be accepted as a proper new outlet worldwide. It simply was too ashamed to keep the same editorial position while seeking the approval of the West.

Pipes shows how Islam can reform itself given enough incentive. I think that using shame is the most effective leverage the West has to change Islam today. Unfortunately, it is a lever that many Westerners are too frightened to pull, because of fears of acting like elitists. This needs to change. Human rights applies to all humans and giving a free pass to some because they say their religious beliefs trump those rights does no one any favors.

(h/t MtTB and EoZ)

#myjihad Saudi Arabia:Cleric Promises “Paradise” to 14-Year-Old Girls Who Have Sex with Terrorists

According to Sheikh Mohammed al-Arifi, these “temporary marriages for intercourse” (an Islamic legalistic way of permitting prostitution or concubinage) will satisfy the militants’ sexual desires and boost their determination in killing Syrians.

I’m not sure I completely follow the logic of that last part, but I imagine that the Al-Nusra Front, despite its boasts that it is forcing its fighters to live a clean lifestyle without any smoking or drugs, may be having trouble keeping homicidal maniacs in the fight without sex and Islam is a practical enough religion that there’s always a wake to take the forbidden and make it permitted in the name of Jihad.

The Jihadis get to molest an underage girl and the girl is told by her family that if she goes through this, she’ll earn paradise and unlike most women, who are hellbound according to Mohammed, will not have to worry about the afterlife.

Islam. It’s really feminist.

A hard-line Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia has recently issued a special religious decree that permits the militants in Syria to engage in short-term marriages with Syrian women.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Arifi said that the marriages between the foreign-backed militants and Syrian women will satisfy the militants’ sexual desires and boost their determination in killing Syrians.

He added that the marriages, dubbed by him as “intercourse marriages,” can be with Syrian females as young as 14 years old.

He also promised “paradise” for those who marry the militants.

Arabic sites provide more background stating the Sheik was upset that the Mujahadeen have gone for two years without sex, and that a temporary marriage of a few hours for girls over 14, divorced women and widows, will help them attain paradise.

The source for this story is Press TV, an Iranian propaganda outlet, so I wouldn’t usually post it, but Sheikh Mohammed al-Arifi has a history of saying similar enough things so that it’s not completely implausible, though the Sheik has taken to Twitter to deny it. As Robert Spencer further points out, there’s an irony in Shiite Muslims in Iran who routinely use temporary marriages for premartial and extramartial sex to complain about the Saudis.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Arifi has a certain history of liking them young, really young, so I’m surprised that he drew the line at 14.

Islam Does Not Set a Minimum Age for Marriage

In the days of Prophet Muhammad and his companions, people would get married at a younger age. For example, how old was ‘Aisha when the Prophet Muhammad married her? I will give you a hint.

Member of panel of Saudi youth: She was seven years old.

Muhammad Al-’Arifi: And how old was she when he had sex with her?

Member of panel: Fourteen.

Muhammad Al-’Arifi: Fourteen?! No way, she was nine. You are getting married tonight and you still can’t count…

She was nine years old. People might think it is strange that he married such a young girl. But this was the age at which they used to get married. The proof is that when the Prophet told Abu Bakr that he wanted to marry ‘Aisha – what did Abu Bakr say? He said: “You are more than welcome, oh Messenger of Allah, but my daughter is already married.” At seven years old she was already married.

And if your 7-year-old wife misbehaves, Sheik Muhammad Al-’Arifi will tell you the proper Islamic way to beat her.by