Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh recently advised a group of preachers he met at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to keep away from politics and dedicate their time to religious preaching. It is perhaps one of the few times in which a prominent religious figure has frankly told young activists that he is against the approach of politicizing religion.
Political activism by Islamists is a common phenomenon today. If politics was as clear and simple as those preachers and zealots like to think, political science would be a branch of religious sciences. However, this is not the case.
Those who are most enthusiastic to change the world around them and to engage in major public issues actually view events thorough the prism of their own sentiments. Salman Al-Omari, a researcher in Islamic affairs, has said that good intentions are no substitute for the science of the study of Shari’a law. The same applies to politics, as sentiment cannot act as a guide when it comes to international relations.
The kingdom’s mufti, who is also the head of the Council of Senior Scholars, is known for being humble, highly educated, and for his tendency to keep away from political controversy. He represents the old generation of Salafist scholars, the purest ones, before some tried to exploit Salafism for political ends and “renew” it with their own ideas and plans. Although most criticism and blame today is directed towards traditional Salafism, the truth is actually different—this branch of Islamic thought has reigned over the modern Islamic school.
Much like the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Salafism was born during the era of secret activities—similar to Communism—and it later became led by political aspirations, like Qutbism and Suroorism. What we see today is nothing more than the premature newborn of a confused society in which there’s social Salafist extremism and political Brotherhood extremism. Both are being exploited by political regimes in the region.
The large number of crimes being committed in the name of Islam in different parts of the world—and which have no precedent—has led us to one of the worst periods in Muslim history.
With this chaos, the worry that entire societies may be hijacked is justified, and even if its slogans and intentions are innocent, the trend they represent is sweeping. It’s normal to wonder when a women’s forum in the Saudi city of Khobar says it “seeks to attract 200,000 girls.”
The number is, of course, exaggerated, but the idea itself is worrying. Who is to be blamed tomorrow when some of those who attend get out of control? The program of this forum is a normal one, with topics such as humanitarian and social affairs on the table, but the idea of changing the concept of school and neighborhoods to operate within the concept of camps and collective consciousness is worrisome.
In Pakistan and India, the religious movement Tablighi Jamaat, which says it is dedicated to asceticism, is an active group that many—including Saudi scholars—have criticized. Although it does not call on youths to fight, it does intellectually prepare them to, and it thus makes them an easy target for recruiters of extremist groups.