mixed messages

Edward at ObWi noticed the same speech against terror by Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, the Chief Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca as did Laura, and asks the reasonable question, why don't those anti-muslim zealots celebrate messages such as this, given that it's exactly what they are ostensibly asking for from Islam and muslims. Here's an excerpt:

A leading Saudi cleric issued a plea today for Muslims not to heed calls to wage terror attacks in the name of Islam. Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudeis, the state-appointed preacher at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, told pilgrims in a sermon marking the feast of Eid al-Adha that scholars must preach moderation to confront militants, who were using "misguided and void" interpretations to justify violence.

His sermon, dedicated to the 2.5 million Muslims performing the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, echoed comments made yesterday by Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al Sheik. The kingdom's grand mufti said the greatest test to the nation of Islam came from its sons who were "lured by the devil" to carry out acts of violence.

Sheikh al-Sudeis said militancy was not a valid interpretation of Islam. "Because Muslims have strayed from moderation, we are now suffering from this dangerous phenomenon of branding people infidels and inciting Muslims to rise against their leaders to cause instability," he said.

"The reason for this is a delinquent and void interpretation of Islam based on ignorance ... faith does not mean killing Muslims or non-Muslims who live among us, it does not mean shedding blood, terrorising or sending body parts flying."
The preacher warned that extremism would ruin the Muslim nation: "This phenomenon has expanded so much that scholars must confront it with concrete proof from Islam to protect our youth from its stench and putridity."

Laura points out (and Edward did not seem to notice this) that the speech was delivered not for the benefit of foreign media, but was a sermon directed to 2 million muslims performing the hajj.

Now, several commentators (notably Tacitus) pointed out that this particular sheikh has a history of saying things that are quite different in tone from the above rosy rhetoric:

O Allah, support our brother Mujahedeen for your sake and the oppressed everywhere. O Allah, support them in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya. O Allah, we ask you to support our Palestinian brothers in Palestine against the aggressor Jews and usurper Zionists. O Allah, the Jews have oppressed, terrorized, and indulged in tyranny and corruption. O Allah, deal with them for they are within your power.

Such sentiments are expressed in his sermons at the Grand Mosque with a regular frequency.

However, looking at things from Al-Sudayyis' perspective, which is Qur'anically inept, it is clear that the statements are not contradictory. Within the particular world view of Al-Sudayyis, these facts are true: (1) The Jews are the root of all evils against Islam (directly inherited from Qutb), (2) Jihad in defense of religion is justified and worthy of praying to Allah for victory, and (3) Hirabah against innocents is not justified and will be the ruin of the Islamic politic entity (though, presumably, not Islam, see point 1).

Looking pragmatically at his statements, my assessment is that he is trying to insulate the Saudi regime from accusations of heresy, so that Al-Qaeda's renewed attention to toppling the Saudi dynasty via acts of terror against Saudi citizens is delegitimized. However, there is also a mainstream element here with regards to asserting that the struggles of Sunnis in Fallujah, Palestinians in Gaza, etc which he has cited in previous sermons as justified jihad are by definition not hirabah against innocents, but legitimate resistance to oppression.

Note that no less a thinker as Steven den Beste has pondered whether citizens of a democracy can really be considered civilians in an armed struggle, given that democracies uniquely give the citizen sovereign power over their government. From the perspective of a Palestinian father whose girl was killed by a tank, or an Iraqi girl with her father's blood on her face, the Israeli and American citizenry who voted to power those whose policies led to their tragedy are culpable. While I disagree with the idea that there is no such thing as a civilian (for other moral reasons), it is useless to deny that such an interpretation has been articulated by thinkers on both sides of these conflicts. While Al-Sudayyis' interpretations are contrary to mine, I think that he sees himself as acting out of a consistent set of principles with regards to justified war or not. Given that my own nation is engaged in "just war" of its own definition, I am content to agree to disagree with him. May the better ideology win.

Al-Sudayyis' statements are certainly self-serving, but having been articulated to a group of 2 million hajjis from around the globe, his personal agenda is also diluted (99.999% of those who heard his message about rejecting terror certainly will never have heard a sermon of his castigating Jews for perceived evils, either). The event therefore is notable and worth celebarting as a positive event. I fully agree with the assessment of the man in the ObWi thread, but those who seek to discredit this message against terror on the basis of his past (and assuredly present) anti-semitic rantings are missing the point.

And Edward's point about the motives of those specific anti-muslim zealots in American society, such as infest LGF and the conservative talk radio airwaves, also went unacknowledged in the fuss over Al-Sudayyis's credibility. That, for obvious reasons, is far more a concern of mine as what Al-Sudayyis spouts off in his sermons on Fridays.


Abu Noor said...

As salaamu 'alaykum Aziz,

I basically agree with your argument in this post, although I would quibble with some of the statements you make along the way.

Only one really demands being mentioned and that is the implication if not direct statement that anti-Jewish attitudes of Sudais would come from Sayyid Qutb. While I don't know the biography of Sudais, as you know, the particular school of thought he follows is often quite hostile to Sayyid Qutb, and in no event does it take him as a teacher or someone who would be studied.

So, unless there is some evidence that I am missing, I think to suggest that Qutb is the source of any of Sudais' opinions would be quite difficult to imagine, especially for something like anti-Jewish views, for which there is a multitude of other more likely sources he could be taking from.

On a more positive note, the blog is coming inshAllaah, it's moved from a matter of if? to when? I definitely look forward to engaging with you, but I have to warn you I don't really think what I have to say will be helpful to your project of trying to remake Islam in some way to support western democracy. You've only given small hints of what you are going for, so it's likely I don't really understand what you are hoping to do.

In any event, I guess that's what we'll find out in the discussion.


Joshua Scholar said...

What we're seeing here is a public reversal of opinion by a man who one poster on ObWi (posting under the name of the venerable Tacitus) pointed out:

********** Start Quote *******
[don't take] propaganda at face value. ... al-Sudais is, of course, a Saudi mouthpiece (hence this story being in Arab News, which itself has
all the news value of an official press release), touting this particular line only because it benefits the royals at this moment to nullify the threat to their rule from al Qaeda. When left to his own devices, of course, he is busy urging good Muslims to kill Christians and Hindus, and denying the humanity of Jews. Naturally, many comply. Canada won't even let the good Sheikh visit due to his detestable religious views.

Oh yes, he also endorses the Iraqi insurgency.

So why don't "anti-Muslim Americans" take note of this fellow's proclamation? Perhaps because it's utterly insincere in light
of the Imam's bloody hands?
********** End Quote *******

I've seen similar public reversals before for instance:
Dr. Adel Sadeq in favor of suicide bombings and ethnic cleansingDr. Adel Sadeq against suicide bombings and terrorizing of innocentsThat these reversals happen without any acknoledgement that I've seen explaining the radical change of thinking and heart, I think is meant to signal to us that they are entirely the result of coercive duress and are not at all sincere.

Still, even censorship that suppresses hatred and recruitement for terror is a good thing. It's just not the breakthrough you're representing it as, and the lack of free will involved in these conversions imply that they don't signal any real change in the culture, just a ratchetting up of coersive threats against an individual (Al-Sudayyi in this case) - it will take a long time to gain any confidence that such coersive means achieve anything. Coersion can't possibly be inspiring to anyone.

Joshua Scholar said...

By the way I feel uncomfortable saying that I think someone is making public statements he doesn't believe because he (or his family?) are under duress and then following that with "even censorship that suppresses hatred and recruitement for terror."

The problem is that if you follow the links to "Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis" previous speeches you'll note that his speeches have been full of incitement to hatred and violence of such an extreme nature that giving such a speech in Canada, or anywhere in Europe would likely land him in jail under hate speech laws.

I can't judge for sure what caused his change of rhetoric, but (as in other cases) when a person changes so completely, it the person changed his mind through some natural process of growth, one would find him explicitely explaining to others how he found his change of heart, why he was wrong before and why they should follow him in his growth.

-- but when change of hearts are ignored in the rhetoric and treated as though there was no arguement for the previous point of view / a flip rather than a conversion, it's my reading that the speaker is being forced and doesn not wish to convince those who followed him before to follow him through his change...

But anyway, I want to get back to the point that such speech is illegal in most countries, even the United States with our extreme 1st amendment. Thus, one could argue, that legal threats or coersion that inspires such public recantations isn't necessarily illegitimate. Now I don't know if it was a threat made by an official that caused the man's change, but I want to say that one can argue with the Saudi legal system, it's arbitrariness and it's harshness, but that doesn't mean that every threat made by a representitive of the Saudi is unjust.

Joshua Scholar said...

That first sentence should read:
By the way I feel uncomfortable saying that I think someone is making public statements he doesn't believe because he (or his family?) are under duress and then following that with "even censorship that suppresses hatred and recruitement for terror is a good thing.

And I wrote "it" instead of "if" in third sentence ie it should read "if the person changed his mind..."

Joshua Scholar said...

By the way I do agree with Aziz that such a change of thinking, if sincere, would be momentus and we should shout it from the rooftops.

Perhaps there is some difference between the permanence of position in unfree societies that we should take into account. Perhaps his previous opinion wasn't sincerely held either, or perhap Middle Easterners live in such a different culture that they don't ask the questions we'd ask ie. "does the man mean it?"

But I must say I perfectly understand that most Americans' response to this would be so sceptical that they wouldn't even mention it.

Aziz Poonawalla said...

Abu Noor: I have no agenda to "remake Islam" whatsoever. I have an agenda to re-orient the political calculus of American muslims. I did joke about transforming Islam using Qutb's methodology over at Ideofact because I was trying to be witty, though...

I think however that my reference to Qutb in this post was fair, given that Qutb's entire thesis of why Islam needed to be "reformed" (to his liking) was solely because of the Jews. I don't see how this point can be denied.

Joshua: I give up. If your'e able to be more succinct it would be a lot easier to engage you in dialog (or if you'd just start blogging, for god's sake). Im not going to try to wade into the mass of five consecutive and lengthy scattershot comments though, its just too much work.

Abu Noor said...


My point was more about whether Qutb was the source of Sudais' views rather than whether Qutb believed this or that. Since you bring it up, however, I don't think Qutb believed that the reason Islam needed to be reformed was due to the Jews. Maybe I need to reread Qutb. I know there may be some quotes which would support what you are saying, but there are many others that wouldn't and that's not the message I got from reading Qutb originally at all.

InshAllaah we can into this when my blog is launched although I must admit that the anti-Jewish opinions of many Muslim thinkers and common Muslims, although I do think they come out of a context and are often misunderstood, are also on many occasions truly indefensible, and I have no desire of trying to defend them or really spending a lot of time discussing them.

Finally, I understand your witticisms, Aziz, although I'm not 100% sure I understand what you actually are getting at, I was just preparing you for the possibility we made totally disagree on it -- but, upon reflection you probably already knew that.