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Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom

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The Saudi government forbids the practice of any religion other than the state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam (Wahhabism). Worship for Muslims in Saudi Arabia is compulsory and during times of worship, all shops, restaurants, radio and television stations must close. Those who do not comply are subject to interrogation, humiliation, imprisonment and flogging. If non-Muslims are caught practicing their faiths in public, they are routinely taken to filthy detention centers and left to languish under harsh conditions. If they are foreigners, they remain in these conditions until they are deported. If religious prisoners come before a court, they face a biased judicial system staffed by extremist judges, who consider non-Muslims and religious minorities to be infidels.

The Saudi government uses religion as a tool of political, social, economic, and psychological oppression. Religion is used to justify tyrannical rule, reject democracy and impose severe censorship on the flow of information into and out of the country under the pretense of protecting Islam from the immoral values of “infidels.”

As host to the birthplace of Islam and the home of its holy shrines in Mecca and Medina, the Saudi ruling dynasty exerts disproportionate religious influence throughout Arab and Muslim communities worldwide. The official state religion, Wahhabism, advocates intolerance and depicts democracy as antithetical to God’s will and power. Unless the international community takes concrete measures to discourage the Saudi institutions from promoting religious hatred the consequences could be catastrophic.

 

Al-Azhar Scholars: “Wahhabism: Mortal Enemy of and a Threat to Islam and the World”

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Al-Azhar Scholars: “Wahhabism: Mortal Enemy of and a Threat to Islam and the World”

By Ali Alyami

In an unprecedented conference held on April 25, 2010 in Cairo, Egypt, titled “Wahhabism: Threat to Islam and the World,” a constellation of prominent Muslim scholars and specialists in Islamic movements condemned the Saudi state’s brand of Islam, Wahhabism, as a “mortal threat to Muslims and the world.” The scholars indicted Wahhabism as a mortal threat that “the modern world has not experienced … if it were not for Saudi money and American hypocrisy it would be possible to resist and eliminate Wahhabism. However, America and Saudi Arabia benefit from this perverted idea which is falsely attributed to Islam and is used for terrorism in some cases and blackmail in other cases.”

The scholars went on to say that “… it is a duty to fight this idea (Wahhabism) with all permissible means.” During their deliberation, the high caliber Muslim scholars and specialists from Islam’s oldest and most prestigious institution, Al-Azhar University, said, “Wahhabism, as an idea and a movement, is of the most dangerous enemies of Muslims and the world.” In their research and discussions, the specialists and scholars explained that Wahhabism relies on rejection of the “Other and his thoughts,” and threatens security and peace in the Muslim World. They said that Wahhabism spreads severe criminal and terrorist ideas that propel Muslim youth to commit heinous crimes, inflict havoc among people and destabilize Muslim states and their rulers.

Given the weight and position of the discussants and presenters, the conclusions reached should be heeded by Muslims, especially Saudis, and the West. The only reason the Saudi government spreads its austere brand of Islam is to be able to blackmail anyone at anytime, especially those who may pose a threat to the survival of the Saudi monarchy.

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Crown Prince Sultan: Mobilize Muslim Communities Worldwide

By Ali Alyami

Mired in what seems to be an unending family feud over domestic, regional, and global policies, facing a more informed and demanding population, threatened by increased Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula activities, worried about their drying oil fields, nervous about the increased possibility of the world moving away from fossil fuels and the steady decline of their regional and global influence, the Saudi ruling dynasty is resorting to its most dependable and inexhaustible source of legitimacy and power: Extreme religious doctrine.


In an unprecedented move, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan (who is also the Defense Minister, Inspector General, Deputy Prime Minister, Director of Aviation, and the President of the High Council for Islamic Affairs, among other titles) summoned the most powerful princes and royal loyalists to his elaborate Aziziyah Palace to instruct them to mobilize all modern means available to serve Islam. He also instructed the high caliber attendees to increase support for all registered Muslim institutions and organizations around the world. Prince Sultan’s goal is to encourage Muslim groups, especially in non-Muslim countries, to strengthen and develop their communities instead of encouraging them to integrate into and build the larger communities in which they live. In light of the Saudi state’s treatment of Muslim minorities at home and beyond and of non-Muslims in general, it’s more likely the communities Prince Sultan and his government want to strengthen will have to fall in line with the Saudi religious ideology, Wahhabism.

Astoundingly, the powerful attendees included Prince Naif, Minister of Interior and Second Deputy Prime Minster, Prince Saudi Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister, Prince Migrin Bin Abdul Aziz, Director of Intelligence, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Asaaf, Minister of Treasury, Dr. Khalid Al-Angary, Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Mohammed Al-Essa, Minister of Justice, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al-Alshaikh, Minister of Islamic Affairs and Dr. Abdul Mohsen Al-Turki, General Director of the International Muslim Community.
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How Could Red Roses Constitute Threat to Faith and Culture?

By Ali Alyami

It’s hard to think of a place in the world where repression is more inclusive and comprehensive than in Saudi Arabia. Political repression exists in many countries; in Saudi Arabia, repression is unlimited. Religious, social, political, educational, sexual, and all forms of free expression are considered un-Islamic and are therefore forbidden. Additionally non-Islamic celebratory and joyous occasions (according to the Saudi-Wahhabi interpretations and definitions) are considered threats to Islam and the sanctity of perceived supremacy of Saudi culture. This is why selling roses before Valentine’s Day is taboo in the Saudi Kingdom, as described in the attached article. But there is more to the prohibition than merely selling and buying roses for this romantic occasion. It is seen as recognition and appreciation of Christianity, a faith the Saudi theocratic establishment considers inferior and blasphemous.
While taboos in Saudi Arabia are attributed to cultural and religious sensitivities, the real reasons are much deeper. The Saudi authorities and institutions’ relentless efforts to poison their captive subjects’ minds, attitude and perceptions against other religions and cultures have to do with fear of new ideas and empowering values. The Saudi system is built on and sustained by emphasis on total submission to rulers and God as well as by creating massive illusions in their subjects’ perceptions and psyche, from cradle to grave. Saudis are subjected to intense and continual religious, social, political, and cultural programming in schools, mosques, and living rooms. They are constantly reminded, coercively in most cases, into believing that their religion, culture, system of governance and dress code are superlatively superior and divine while those of other peoples’ are artificial, unfulfilling, and Godless. The good news is that educated Saudis, especially women, do not subscribe to this deceiving illusion anymore.
Note: Disconcertingly, Saudis are not the only ones subjected to incessant indoctrination. Most Muslims fall into this category, and that’s why they have difficulties assimilating in other societies—even the ones they escape to because of intolerable political, social, religious and economic conditions and oppression in their homelands.
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Defying Self-Appointed Autocratic Religious Theocracy

By Ali Alyami

The ongoing revolt against the oppressive theocratic regime in Iran is being enthusiastically observed by the mostly disenfranchised Arab people in the hope it will spill across the borders into its neighboring autocratically ruled Arab countries. At the same time, Arab ruling oligarchs are frantically trying to determine how the outcome of Iranian uprising will affect their shaky systems. Sunni Muslim Muftis (the highest religious authority) in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan and the Mullahs in Iran, Afghanistan and other places, are rethinking their fate as a result of what’s happening in Iran. These self-proclaimed religious leaders and power wielding clerics are worried about their control as a result of the courageous Iranian people’s loud expression of defiance against their illegitimate “supreme” Mullah, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

For the West not to support and take notice of what is happening in Iran is a self-defeating policy blunder for two major reasons. The men and women who subject themselves to ferocious police bullets are not doing it for fun, they want liberty. Not supporting those who yearn and are willing to pay the ultimate price for liberty in Iran, as well as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will only strengthen the hands of the autocratic regimes and empower those who want to topple them and institute totalitarian religious systems.

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Religion as a Tool of Abuse

By Ali Alyami

In Saudi Arabia, religion has become a tool of intimidation, coercion, discrimination and oppression. This is not an accident, but a policy supported by the political and religious power brokers and those aiming to strengthen their image and position in the society. Youth, women, and democratic thinkers are commonly oppressed, condemned and imprisoned because they have supposedly offended God or imitated the “infidels.”

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Eradicating the Root Causes of Terrorism

By Ali Alyami

Saudi Arabia has become synonymous with religious intolerance and suicide bombers. Sadly, there is some truth to these assertions. While the Saudi government has cracked down on terrorists within its territories and has even built luxurious centers to rehabilitate ex-terrorists, no serious and strategic efforts have been made to eradicate the root causes of extremism: oppression, poverty and religious indoctrination. Young Saudis are still incited to travel the globe to fight “the infidels” not only Christians and Jews, but also Muslim minorities and Hindus, among others.

Eradication of religious intolerance requires a total transformation of the Saudi educational and religious institutions. This includes, but is not limited to: the closure of schools and mosques that teach animosity toward non-Muslims, Muslim minorities and women; the introduction of classes that teach human rights; the creation of non-sectarian codified laws tolerant of all faiths; and the end of public and private financial support of groups and governments that use religion as a tool for oppression.

The accomplishment of this formidable task will require a strong civil society in which power emanates from the will of the governed, not from a self-appointed autocratic dynasty. Global pressure can play a constructive role in ridding Saudi Arabia and the world of institutions that breed deadly extremist ideologues.

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Four Urgent Issues (ticking bombs) That Must be addressed

By Ali Alyami

While there is an intermittent and unpredictable movement to introduce reforms in Saudi Arabia, major issues demand urgent attention, immediate planning and implementation in a timely, transparent and steadfast manner. Prominent among these issues are: empowerment of Saudi women, religious tolerance and freedom of worship, eradication of rampant corruption, transparent and balanced distribution of wealth, and addressing the burgeoning needs and expectations of the restless Saudi youth. The youth issue is perhaps the most urgent and potentially explosive phenomenon Saudi Arabia faces today. If this issue is not addressed in a judicious and serious manner, it could plunge the country into costly civil strife.

Saudi youth make up about 60% of the population, yet the Saudi government has failed to recognize their modern needs, expectations and hopes for a lifestyle and secure future comparable to those of their counterparts in affluent and free societies.

Lack of tangible solutions for the issues listed above could lead to a dangerous outcome, namely, an increase in the power and influence of extremist elements in Saudi society and government. Internal Saudi problems are real and are homegrown. They are not the creation of external enemies usually blamed for ills facing Saudi society.

Saudi allies in the West, especially the US, could support Saudi reformers, whether royals or commoners, in their efforts to move Saudi Arabia toward political participation of all citizens. Without the Saudi people’s full participation in the decision making processes, the country will continue to drift toward an uncertain future. Such instability could compel the US and other energy-dependent countries to intervene militarily to secure the production and flow of oil, without which the world’s economies would collapse.

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Domestic Unrest Threatens Saudi Fragile Unity

By Ali Alyami

Unlike any other people, the citizens of Saudi Arabia have no national identity. They identify with their tribes, regions, and cities, but nationally, they are all coerced into identifying with the family that named the country after itself, the House of Saud. The people are identified as “Saudis” as opposed to Americans, Indians, French, Jordanians, Swiss, Lebanese or Sri Lankans. It depends on where one comes from, but identifying with regions, tribes and villages can carry some stigma. This, however, is nothing like religious distinctions, especially between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Religious designation in Saudi Arabia carries disproportionate stigma; consequently it has been the most divisive, challenging and destabilizing component in Saudi society since the inception of the Saudi-Wahhabi state in the early 1930s. Even though most Saudis are not adherent to the austere Hambali-based Wahhabi brand of Saudi Sunni Islam, they are forced into accepting Wahhabism because it is the state’s imposed official religion. The Sunni Wahhabis consider their brand of Islam pure and those who question its supremacy are considered enemies of God and true Islam.

It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the Saudi population is adherent to the Shiite brand of Islam. The majority of the Saudi Shiites lives in the oil rich eastern region of Saudi Arabia on the Arab side of the Arab-Persian Gulf. Because of religious animosity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in general, but more so between the Wahhabi brand of Islam and the Shiites, the Saudi Shiites have been severely discriminated against, especially in employment, education and infrastructural development, even though most Saudi revenues are generated by the sale of petroleum produced in the Shiite region. Not only are the Shiites excluded from economic development, they are denied the right to practice their religious rituals publicly. The religious oppression and economic disparity have been points of contention between the Saudi-Wahhabi government and the Shiite minority.

The Shiite marginalization in Saudi Arabia began to change after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. The population of Iran consists primarily of Shiites, who not only share religious commonality with Shiites everywhere, but resent the manner in which Sunni Muslim regimes and societies treat their Shiite minorities. This was a turning point for the Saudi Shiites. They began to defy the Saudi religious oppression and demand their share of the national wealth, but the Saudi regime did very little to accommodate their rights. The same activities were happening in the smaller Arab Gulf states with sizable Shiite populations. All Shiite populations in the Gulf States were growing in number and in strength, the latter due to the formidable Iranian power in the region.

The ascendance of Iran as a major power in the Gulf region and the Middle East at large, the rise of Hezbollah to power domination in Lebanon and the shift of power from the minority ruling Sunnis to the majority Shiites after the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein changed the political and military landscape in the Middle East in favor of the Shiites. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and some members in his family started to realize this, but not to the point of rectifying the massive economic damage done to their Shiite minorities in different parts of the country. They slightly reduced religious restrictions on Eastern Province Shiites, but ignored the economic development that has been denied to the Shiites because of their religious beliefs.

There have been recent reports of skirmishes in Medina between a small number of Shiites and Sunni religious police over Shiite rituals. This resulted in a number of injured Shiites, which seems to have provoked a Shiite religious cleric in the oil rich region to demand religious freedom and economic equality for Shiites, or secession from the country. The Saudi forces are reported to be arresting people and restricting their movements in Shiite areas in the oil rich province. Saudi analysts feel this could lead to more violence which could bring in external players to help their oppressed brethrens.

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