Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- Adel al-Moawda is the deputy chairman of parliament in Bahrain and former leader of the Asalah salafist party in the Gulf state. Al Moawda talks to Asharq Al Awsat about the difference between Salafism and the Salafi Jihadist movement, Iraq, terrorism and sectarian conflict in the region.
Q) What is the Salafi position on the Salafi Jihad movement?
A) First we must differentiate between Salafi methodologies, which derive their origin, principles and fundamentals from the script and stipulations of the Holy Quran and Sunnah, and follow in the footsteps of the Sahaba (companions of the Prophet Mohammed), disciples and prevalent Imams. The Jihad movement in reality is an external takfir trend whereas Salifism calls for the return to pure Islam by understanding the first generation’s knowledge and actions.
The history of Salafism is firmly entrenched in Islam itself, for it is true Islam. It materializes the merits and beauties of Islam, peacefulness, security, diligence and propagation. It is unheard of, in the history of the Islamic Ummah that Salafism, at any point, was a factor in any conflict or the axis of controversy and bloodshed. Its position on sedition and those who commit it is well known; it is to tie the hand that wades in blood and riches, to honour others and not to engage in talk that may incite conflict and turmoil.
There are many historical evidences to support this, firstly the position of the Sahaba and the supporters of [the battles of] Jamal and Safeen. In addition, the position of Imam Ahmed on the rulers of Mutazila and the prohibiting of dissent and bloodshed. This remains a pillar of the Salafi trend until the present day. The Salafi position on sedition has been demonstrated a number of times by Salafi scholars for example on the fighting between militant factions in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal. These scholars advised the factions to employ restraint, to put down their arms and prohibited the pursuit of warring factions.
Q) What about the Salafi Jihadists who claim to follow Salafism?
A) Salafi Jihadists attempt to strengthen their position by claiming that it descends from Salafism, which means that they must adhere to Salafi scholars who are the most dedicated to real Jihad against non-believers and accordingly, they blessed and approved Jihad in all its different but legitimate domains and situations. They are also the ones responsible for warning against this concept and to expose its danger and harm to religions, societies and people. Therefore, they issued statements, held seminars, debates and conferences to warn of such straying devious views and to bring to light and demonstrate how it contradicts Islam and Salafism.
Furthermore, regarding the current situation in Iraq, they were the first to state that if anybody wanted to involve themselves in what is happening between the different people of this one nation, they should do so only if their goal is to alleviate sedition.
Recent publicized views of the Salafi mission by Imams of today contradict the dissident takfir ideology. Those who have distorted views have distanced themselves from Salafism as they do not consult its authorities, figureheads or elders, but rather they have their own title which is Al Salafiya Al Jihadiya. They have their own scholars to whom they refer. In addition, those who follow the takfir ideology have killed dozens of Salafis in Iraq. It is unjust to associate this faction with the Salafi movement, and he who makes the association does so out of ignorance. There are also Shiites who follow the tafkir ideology.
Q) It has been argued that Salafism has caused sectarian conflict in Iraq through the practices and conduct of Salafi Jihadists. What is your reaction to this argument?
A) The tafkir ideology is what caused sectarian conflict in Iraq; however, was it Sunni or Shiite followers of this ideology? Not even the Salafi Jihadist movement caused sectarian conflict. The tafkir ideology is responsible for what is taking place in Iraq and this thinking exists amongst both Sunnis and Shiites.
There are Sunnis who follow the tafkir ideology and believe that Shiites should be killed, and vice versa. As far as we know, the Shiite followers of the tafkir ideology began to kill Sunnis in central and southern Iraq some weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the killing still takes place on a daily basis and this was before there was any Salafi Jihadists in Iraq.
Sunni followers of the tafkir ideology took the opportunity of Shiites killing Sunnis to react by killing Shiites so innocents were murdered on both sides. May God help the people of Iraq.
Q) Why is it rare to hear moderate voices from the Salafi movement?
A) There is moderation in Salafism as moderation is required to achieve justice. This is the truth behind the Salafi mission, which calls for placing everything in its correct place. We worship only Allah and we do not believe that it is just to separate religion from life. We do not condone dictatorial rule or secularism, but we call for the arbitration of Shariah law. We do not wish to tyrannize anyone or be tyrannized ourselves. The Salafi movement has a good chance of achieving this in moderation.
What is required from Muslims is to abandon exaggeration and extremism and choose moderation. However the call for moderation does not mean abandoning the fundamentals and the constants of religion.
Q) Have Salafis been the cause of sectarian conflict in the region?
A) Firstly we do not acknowledge that sectarianism is rife in the entire area. Iraq does not represent the entire Gulf region and Shiite minorities in the Arab Gulf countries are integrated in societies. There is no proof of a certain group inflaming sectarian conflict in the region.
It is incorrect to accuse the Salafis of igniting sectarian conflict. The Shiites in Bahrain stood united with the Sunnis in support of Al Khalifa in the seventies when the assembly of nations held a referendum and chose to remain independent from Iran in favour of Al Khalifa. Therefore, if the Shiites had a sectarian motive, they would not have taken that historical position. Furthermore, in Kuwait, the Shiites took a similar stand as they supported the Al Sabah government. The Shiites of Saudi Arabia also live under the auspices of an Islamic government founded on Salafi origins that is nearly eighty years-old by King Abdul Aziz al-Saud. We do however acknowledge that there are those who seek to stir sectarian disorder for their own personal interest and Iraq is a clear example of that, as some of Iraq’s neighbours have profited from the escalating sectarian turmoil and have attempted to play a significant role in the politics, economics and social aspects of Iraq. They seek to extend their influence on the entire Gulf region through some of their loyalist sectarian trends by playing the sectarian card.
Q) Do you not fear that sectarian conflict could erupt in the Gulf?
A) This question is directed to those who play the card of sectarianism and they are neither Salafis or the governments of the Gulf countries that have no interest in provoking such turmoil. We do not fear such a conflict as all people in the Gulf stand behind their leaders and prioritise the interest of the country. Asharq Al Awsat previously published an interview with a prominent Shiite figure whose comments were characterized by the national Gulf spirit. When loyalty is shown towards other countries and when relationships gain their resources from sectarian countries and regimes, then it will be time to fear the eruption of sectarian turmoil. What is feared is the foreign role that is played by some regimes to ignite sectarianism in the region, by sending arms to the region, however, if the situation remains the same, there is no fear of a sectarian turmoil in the Gulf.
Q) What is your response to accusations that Salafis have not condemned terrorism?
A) Did anybody criticise and issue warnings about the dangers of the takfir ideology in the same way that Salafis did? Such criticism comes from those who do not comprehend the truth of Salafism and are unaware of what our modern-day scholars say. Salafism is one of the biggest religious movements that stood against violence, extremism and terrorism; and its scholars and institutions have issued several fatwas (religious rulings) and announcements condemning extremism and terrorism. Salafism has warned of the ill effect of terrorism and extremism in this life and the after life.
Q) Why can there not be an Islamic alliance between moderate Sunnis and moderate Shiites?
Q) There is no need to over look the fact that religious feuds between Islam and other religions exist as well as between different schools of thought within Islam itself. We are loyal to Shariah and we call for alliance, between all fronts and trends that do not contradict Shariah. We call for solidarity which benefits the country, its society and people.
Q) Do you believe that the call for solidarity between Sunni and Shiites in Iraq in particular and in the region generally is a waste of time?
A) The call for unity between Sunni and Shiites is constantly colliding with the ideological and intellectual conflict, which obstructs achieving unity. If we look at the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites in that context only, the call for unity would certainly be a waste of time, as the goal would be unachievable. However, if we look at the nature of the relationship between Sunni and Shiites in Iraq and in the region as people of the same religion and country, sharing the same rights and duties and enjoying the right of citizenship equally, aiming to achieve prosperity and security for society, and understanding that intellectual and ideological differences cannot be solved overnight but can be contained and resolved with reason in a legitimate objective frame, then these calls might be successful.
Q) How can we achieve religious harmony between Sunnis and Shiites in the Gulf?
A) I mentioned before that the constants of religion cannot be changed and that this concept prevents unity between Sunnis and Shiites. Its is very difficult to achieve religious harmony between Sunnis and Shiites and even amongst the various Sunni and Shiite schools of thought. However, as I said before, it is possible to undermine and contain these differences and discuss them through unique channels that are distant from instigating sectarian conflict. It is possible that there will be harmony between Sunnis and Shiites on a multitude of bases and religious invariables, which would bring about safety to the region, and pave the way for religious harmony, based on firstly, closing the door to the undisciplined takfir ideology through Shariah law. Secondly, by all members of Gulf societies supporting their national and political leaders and to attain complete national fusion. Thirdly, by blocking the road for regimes and factions that seek to exploit sectarianism to disturb regional stability, since security is a legitimate and religious requirement and a human necessity. Therefore, if it is not possible to attain complete religious harmony, we can achieve comprehensive and well-founded national harmony.
Q) Who is responsible for sectarianism reaching parliament in Bahrain?
A) Heated arguments and fighting takes place daily between different people, however, sectarianism is what attracts the media, especially in parliament which is usually under the media spotlight. There have been a few incidents that can be described as sectarianism, however, there are numerous national patriotic stands, in which members of the council stand united, why do you not mention this as this is more common?
Q) Bahrain is on the verge of a parliamentary election. Do you believe that Sunnis will vote for Shiites and vice versa?
A) The ballot boxes will reveal the answer.
Q) Is it true that you gave up the presidency of Asalah (main Salifist party in Bahrain) to form alliances with the Shiites in your capacity as the deputy chairman of parliament without this affecting the opposition?
A) No. Furthermore, we view the leading position of any work by Muslims to be a duty not an honour. Honour is when a human being serves his God, religion and nation.