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Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Dr Tawfiq al-Sudayri, Under Secretary of the Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are accusations that Friday preachers are not advising people on daily life and social affairs, but instead are focusing on issues related to fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).?

(Al-Sudayri) This accusation includes generalization. It is difficult to make a general judgment on thousands of people without a through study. It is also fundamental and natural that there is disparity among them concerning several issues, including competence, discernment, awareness, and performance. This is the nature of mankind. On the other hand, most of the preachers discuss the needs of society, especially since the Friday preacher should basically follow the prophet’s guidance in delivering the sermon in terms of its goals and balance, and even its length and shortness. Over the past five years, the ministry has sought to evaluate the performance of preachers and to train any preacher who needs this.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) many have been critical that a number of preachers continue exploiting mosque to promote backward ideological trends. What steps are being taken in this respect?

(Al-Sudayri) If such a thing exists, then it is an individual behavior that does not constitute a phenomenon. Each case is handled in due time with the suitable treatment.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are social issues that have surfaced in Saudi society, such as family violence, human rights, and the exploitation of legal powers. Does the ministry have a plan to tackle such issues through the mosques?

(Al-Sudayri) Yes. The ministry interacts with the issues of society and listens to the opinion of the other specialized authorities in this field. The ministry also monitors such problems through many channels. The preachers are given guidance to discuss such issues within the context of the existing communication between the ministry and the mosque preachers.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The ministry on numerous occasions has warned against the spread of the individual fatwa (religious ruling). In your opinion, what is the reason for the spread of such fatwas recently, and what are the effects of this?

(Al-Sudayri) The individual fatwas, particularly on public and major issues, pose clear dangers against the individual and society. Therefore, concerning the major issues and issues of concern to society in general, one should have recourse to the collective fatwas, which are the result of revision and research by specialists and qualified people, like the Standing Committee of Scientific Research and Ifta (issuance of religious rulings), the Senior Ulema Committee, and the respected fiqh assemblies.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the lack of public confidence in scholars and their conflict with the new scholars?

(Al-Sudayri) I do not believe that there is a lack of confidence, especially since reality shows the opposite of this. Anyone who follows the ifta and guidance programs in the various media and via telephone can see the large number of questioners from all groups of society. At the ministry, we have the experience of toll-free numbers during the pilgrimage season. We received hundreds of thousands of telephone calls from various countries in the world during the pilgrimage season last year. I also do not see a conflict, but I see diversity in the method of presentation.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) many would like the Islamic establishment to review their ideological interpretations and to reconsider the fiqh and political rhetoric, which in their opinion suffers from inflexibility and rigidity?

(Al-Sudayri) The Islamic rhetoric in general is in the stage of birth and change. The features of this stage should be read accurately, and the soundness of the approach and principles should be verified.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some critics believe that the current Islamic rhetoric that is currently being used in the new media (Internet, satellite TV) is inappropriate, what are your thoughts on this issue?

(Al-Sudayri) This statement could have been true in the past, but now the situation is different, especially since the Islamic rhetoric is largely accepted in the media. According to statistics, the percentage of recipients and viewers is high despite the strong competition and some of the unsophisticated means used in presenting this rhetoric. Certainly, what we are saying does not mean that serious efforts should not be made to develop the means of presenting the Islamic rhetoric in accordance with the requirements of the present and the future.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is your opinion of the calls for adopting a “European-style Islam” that meets the successful conditions for integration into Western communities? Do you think such a proposal contradicts the Shariaa constants?

(Al-Sudayri) Islam is Islam in every place and time. Despite this, every society has its own character, in which religious, political, and social issues are mixed together. Consequently, one should be proud of religion and have confidence in its constants as well as self-confidence. The Muslims in Europe should also be positive in dealing with the environment they live in. Certainly, this does not mean melting away the Islamic character, especially since the true Islamic character is an active, effective, productive, and constructive character. However, concerning the firm belief of some people, to the effect that it is impossible for any Muslim to strike a balance between adherence to principles and positive interaction with society, this is the outcome of erroneous cultural and social accumulations, which have distorted the true image of the Islamic character.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) with the United Kingdom as an example, many people have noticed the failure of Muslims to integrate into Western society. What are the reasons for this?

(Al-Sudayri) As I said in my answer to a previous question, the Muslim minority in European society has failed to strike a balance among principles, constants, the nature of the daily life, and coexistence with society. In other words, it failed to present the true Islamic character that can show pride in its religion and constants, and at the same time, have a positive influence on the community it lives in. This is due to social and cultural accumulations within the Muslim minority. This is in addition to the fact that some religious, ethnic, sectarian, and ideological problems have moved from the Islamic countries to the society of the Muslim minorities. This has greatly contributed to isolating the Muslim minority and marginalizing its role in the society it lives in, as well as its role in interacting with the Islamic nation.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Many people stress the need to renew old fatwas and reconsider some of them. What are your thoughts on this and what is the mechanism you deem appropriate?

(Al-Sudayri) There are constant religious rules that are necessarily known. They cannot be changed by the change of time and place. There are other rules that could change with the change of time and place or both. The fatwa in the case of such rules has two aspects. The first is the Shariaa foundation in the Koran and the Sunnah of the Prophet and what stems from them. The second are the circumstances surrounding the fatwa, including time and place, in a way that a Shariaa rule may not be applicable to them. This means that the fatwa could be renewed. This is within the context of interpretation that provided Islamic fiqh with vitality and continuity.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some believe that when it comes to dealing with extremist preachers that the ministry only gives them a slap on the wrist by only verbally reprimanding them?

(Al-Sudayri) This includes generalization and reshuffling of cards. I do not know what is meant by extremist preachers, or the form of extremism. I am afraid that some of the truth will become extremism in the viewpoint of some people, and, consequently, they will accuse preachers of extremism. This is not true. We do not accept using the term extremism arbitrarily without verifying it, and no one can verify it except for scholars. For example, the preachers of the ministry are selected only after verifying their shari’ah competence and the soundness of their approach, as well as their wisdom. Furthermore, their performance is assessed gradually.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Many people criticize the dreadful voices of a number of Saudi muezzins (callers to prayer) and their incompetence to call to prayer, but those muezzins are ignored out of consideration for their living conditions, since they are provided with free housing and a salary. What is your role in addressing this issue?

(Al-Sudayri) A muezzin is only appointed after testing his performance by a shari’ah committee. This is in addition to other conditions of competence. The ministry also monitors the performance of muezzins and their discipline. These include the senior muezzins. I do not think that there is any problem in the sector of muezzins based on the reports the ministry receives and the monitoring it carries out.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Despite the ministerial decision on using loudspeakers at mosques only for the call to prayer, the performance of prayer, the Friday sermons, the two feasts, and the prayer for rain, we see that the imams do not comply with this. What is the reason?

(Al-Sudayri) The purpose of the loudspeaker is to make the voice of truth reach the people living near the mosque. This has some conditions related to the strength of the sound, the number of loudspeakers, their height, and the like. The ministry follows the wrong practices and addresses them when they occur.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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