Held mere kilometres from the infamous Dhabhan prison, how can the Makkah summit preach moderation and pluralism by sentencing to death those who seek it?
Last month in the same holy city of Mecca where the revelation descended and the call to Islam began, some Muslim scholars held a summit under the title of 'The Value of Moderation in the Quran and Sunnah', with the participation of more than 80 muftis from around the world.
The summit was held mere kilometres from the Dhahban prison in Jeddah, where symbols of moderation in the Muslim world such as my father, Salman al Oudeh, and others (three of whom - including my father - the prosecution demanded the death sentence for) are being held.
Most of the values behind this conference to sponsor moderation are noble ones, such as refusing violence, intimidation campaigns using Islam, racism and human rights violations.
These great principles were however recited only a couple of kilometres from the infamous Dhahban prison, where the real symbols of moderation tell a different story.
This conference, sponsored by official institutions, presents essential values in the concluding document like refusing hatred, dictatorship, oppression, and the violation of people’s rights, etc. It also respects the value of the difference of opinion and pluralism and the importance of respecting the other (except when that other is a moderate scholar lying in Dhahban prison who calls for reconciliation).
Is it possible to not be embarrassed by a conference held under these conditions? Is it possible to not feel a contradiction and fear the judgment of history which witnesses this situation and its absurdity?
The scary part of this document, which in theory contradicts pluralism, is the concluding article which calls for a priestly monopoly in Islam and partisanship in fatwa making.
The article reads: "No one can consent the Islamic Ummah’s affairs and speak in its name on its religious affairs and anything connected to them except its ulema who are established in an association such as the association of this document…”
This monopolistic nature over religion, religious knowledge and fatwas bring to mind the Christian church and the Christian experience in Europe’s Dark Ages. That is to say, this instrument of power was not born today in the Arab and Islamic world.
In 2010, King Abdullah - may he rest in peace - decided by royal decree that fatwas in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be limited to only the Council of Senior Scholars. That decision was a disastrous step towards a monopolistic church of Islam, which wants to keep the duty of releasing fatwas to a government institution, appointed by the king himself and run according to his desires, so he may appoint and release who he desires.
In the 90s, Sheikh Ibn Jibreen - may he rest in peace - was removed from the council. Almost overnight, he turned from being a scholar to a “so-called scholar” because of his participation in a different circle of ulema, intellectuals and reformers who called for political reform, a parliament based on Shura, and a constitution to protect values before establishing the current Shura council.
In a later period of King Abdullah’s reign, Sheikh Saad al Shathri was also removed from the Council of Senior Scholars because of his position on gender-mixing in King Abdullah University.
The issue here is that the modern Arab institutions of despotism want to transform the process of fatwa-making, traditionally done by interacting with the people and working from within their midst, into a modern church-like institution for Muslims that they would then monopolise.
Also implicit in them is the creed of al Walaa and al Baraa (to love and hate for the sake of Allah) that runs counter to most of the document that speaks of pluralism, respect for the other, and anti-racism. It also clearly contradicts the most basic concepts of a difference of opinion in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and Sharia in Islam.
It is even more stunning to look at how the conference and its ulema deal with one of the most sensitive and important issues related to their colleagues and other ulema who lie just kilometres away in an infamous prison awaiting the death penalty.
How can ulema, who speak of the value of difference and tolerance and other higher ideas, accept the detention of those who not only share the vast majority of these values but spoke about them for decades?
How can these great values and (mostly) well-constructed articles in the document be turned into a monopolistic clergy? How can these sheikhs allow the counter-revolutionary countries to promote these values and use them as part of a political propaganda campaign to implicitly excuse the elimination of all other trends and opinions and the demands for truth, justice and reform?
Where is that legacy of Sharia and knowledge in scholars advising and warning rulers and carrying Muslims’ concerns, instead of looking after the interests of corrupt tyrants?
The ulema gathered could have spoken the truth in defence of their oppressed brothers and give advice that the politicians need - being a voice for the people instead of the voice of rulers and regimes. Otherwise, they should say goodbye to this heritage of knowledge that they carry.
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