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Al-Ouda’s motorcycle | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People on “Twitter” posted and re-tweeted pictures of Sheikh Salman al-Ouda riding on a motorcycle during the hajj in order to avoid traffic on the roads. Whilst his instagram profile includes images of the Sheikh playing football during a family holiday and other images that are being viewed by others as a source of discord.

Such images may appear normal in some Arab or Islamic states; however the same cannot be said about other societies. Therefore this has aroused stark controversy amongst the social networkers, between those who view this as a form of overcompensation and unworthy of a religious scholar and student, and those who viewed this as normal activities. The latter talk eloquently about the Sheikh and view his actions as being wise and an attempt to break the halo that has been forcibly placed around sheikhs and religious scholars, particularly as this goes beyond the line of appreciation. In other words, this is a situation that is based on customs and traditions, but ultimately not supported by the guidance related by Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, and his Companions and the first generation of the noble Muslims.

I told a well-known scholar, “if you told a story about racing with your life to your students, and they tweeted about this, do you think the general public would accept this? Would you or your wife find this acceptable?” He answered, “no”. I asked “how can you not [accept this], when the prophet, peace be upon him, did?” For isn’t it true that there is a hadith, narrated by Abu Dawud and Ahmed and others to this effect. This hadith relates that Aisha, may God be pleased with her, reported that when she went on a journey with the Prophet, peace be upon him, she challenged him to a race and won. Later, when she had gained weight, she raced him again, but this time he won, and he told her, “This is for that”.

I asked this well-known scholar: what about if a sheikh, upon leaving a mosque following Friday prayers, notices a friend of his from who does not notice him, and taps him on the back to scare him as a joke? Do you think people will view such behaviour as a form of “light-heartedness” that is in line with the behaviour of a scholar, particularly as Sunnah relates a similar occurrence?

Therefore religious scholars and students are being embarrassed by some actions or behaviours that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not find embarrassing. This is perhaps due to a lack of public understanding or general ignorance. This includes some Islamic scholars being embarrassment to meet with representatives of other religions, from priests to rabbis, to achieve interests or prevent corruption, such as protecting ethical values and fighting homosexuality and defusing sectarian strife. This is similar to the manner in which the prophet met with the Christians of Najran and praised the agreement signed by the Arab tribes during the time of jahiliyyah.

You must be aware that it is important to talk to people. You must talk to the people and spread knowledge of Allah and the Prophet, as Imam Ali, God be pleased with him, said. However our respect for religious scholars and sheikhs should not be all-encompassing. The prophet’s Sunnah aims to raise awareness and teach and educate Muslims so that our actions are in line with the light of God and his prophet, rather than being embarrassed by actions that the prophet himself was not embarrassed of.