Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Abdullah Al Manee, a prominent Member of the Saudi Council of Senior Ulama (scholars), has called for the initiation of dialogue in Saudi Arabia to include all four schools of thought within Saudi society, as well as the various Islamic factions such as the Shia and the Sufis. He has suggested that the best way to supervise such a dialogue is through a royal decree. Moreover, in an interview with Asharq Al Awsat newspaper in Riyadh, he called for the necessity to codify the jurisdictional rulings in Saudi courts, as they would play a major and decisive role in hastening the judicial process. He further expressed that the base of judicial reform is to maintain the penal code, which is open without codification according to the interpretation of the judge. Finally, Al Manee expressed his wish that the Saudi ruler prohibit the speculation of the stock exchange.
The following interview with Sheikh Abdullah Al Manee sheds further light on his opinions:
Q) Why are there many interpretations of the same text, which consequently leads to several sub-rulings of the same text?
A) The text is open to a number of interpretations. This however, does not mean that there are contradictions, as the scholars adopt those concepts that are best suited to the conditions they face. The nature of this dynamic justifies multilateral variations even if the adaptation of one scholar differs to another.
Q) Do you consider the variations in religious opinions healthy?
A) Variations in interpreting the religious text are not a new phenomenon. Many companions of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) had different opinions about the same texts. For example, you have Ibn Abbas’s school, which is known for opting for the softer edicts, on the other hand you have Abdullah Ibn Omar’s school which is characterized with being more careful. Moreover, there is such a wide spectrum of opinions for a varied number of companions such as Abu Bakr, Omar, Ali, Othman, Abdel Rahman Ibn Aouf, and Saad Ibn Abi Waqas. The same phenomenon of varied opinions lasted until the next generation of the companions. In fact, the four schools of Islamic Law sprang from this generation.
Q) Who has the right to choose one interpretation over another?
A) Anyone who is qualified for Ijtihad. However, his opinion has to be based on rationalism not emotion. Those who lack knowledge have to follow and abide by a particular school of law.
Q) How is a person qualified for Ijtihad?
A) He must have acquired the tools of Ijtihad, which will give him the ability to understand the rules and fundamental basis of Islam and Sharia, as taken from the Quran, the Hadith, and the sciences of the Arabic language.
Q) What is your opinion of those who call for quarterly and annual sessions with representatives of the four Islamic schools of thought?
A) This is a very positive idea because Allah has ordered Muslims to unite to seek the truth. The major academies of Islamic Jurisprudence today, are nothing more than a practical implementation of God’s orders. Such academies include the Jurisprudence Academy of the Islamic Conference Organization, the World Muslim Association, the Authority of Prominent Scholars in Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian Islamic Research Academy.
Q) What about dialogue with the different factions such as the Shia and Sufis?
A) Serious dialogue is the key to unity, taking the Prophet Mohammad as a model, when he took part in dialogue with the Christians in his Mosque. It would be even more valid to develop dialogue between the Islamic factions. Nevertheless, this dialogue should always be according to the way and tradition of the Prophet Mohammed. In my opinion, the ground is set for a fruitful dialogue, but only if people want to seek the truth without any factional bias.
Q) Is there anything wrong with convening such meetings from the religious point of view? If not, what is currently preventing this?
A) There is nothing wrong with it, but who rings the bell? We need certain authorities to adopt such approaches. therefore, we hope that the national dialogue may expand to include religious dialogue also. If the foundations are laid, there should be no problem, as long as all opinions and statements expressed are respected by all.
Q) Do you think that the Saudi House for Fatwa should call for these meetings and this idea?
A) I do wish that the ruler would call for these meetings, yes.
Q) Some argue that there is a gap between the prominent scholars and the students in this subject area. What do you think?
A) I do not think that this is true. The young students always refer to the prominent scholars. I stress that there is no split. We should expand the circle of communication through a number of meetings in which several issues can be addressed.
Q)in light of the recent stock market crash, What do you think about stock market speculation? Is it legal or do you consider it gambling?
A) The issue of shares has reached a serious level. In effect, it has now paralyzed Saudi Arabian economic activities, with respect to imports and exports. The state no longer prospers on people’s fortunes. Yes, of course I call for an end to it.
Q) If the stock prices continue to deteriorate, will you issue a fatwa against the stock market?
A) I hope our ruler prohibits it before it is too late.
Q) What do you think about the increase in the number of cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment in Saudi society?
A) Until recently, Saudi society was clean and innocent. Unfortunately, it has changed due to several factors. Among these is the household staff that has come from different societies, also, the spread of satellite television and internet, which has introduced pornography. Finally, the employment of women has led to mothers leaving the house and leaving their children with foreign maids or nannies all day. This has had an especially negative impact on society.
Q) There is wide public discontent related to the delay in the issuing of verdicts in judicial litigations in Saudi courts, especially regarding personal legal cases. What is your opinion on this subject?
A) The reason for this is that there are not many judges in Saudi. There is no more than 800 judges for a population of 26 million, meanwhile much smaller countries, in size and populations, have double that number of judges.
Q) Do you see any necessity in codifying the laws in light of the frequent disagreements between judges and the delay in the examination of judicial litigation?
A) I have been calling for such a move for over 25 years. I called for codification according to the four schools of thought, not only the Hanbali School. If an official party took on this responsibility it would undoubtedly reduce differences and would constitute a strong factor in hastening the verdict in judicial proceedings. It would also make rulings much clearer for litigants before going to court. I would like to emphasize that codification would be one way of judicial reform in Saudi.
Q) What about the codification of the penal code, do you support such a move?
A) The law cannot be changed, manipulated or reinterpreted.
Q) What about the codifying of Tazeer punishments (punishments which are not clearly defined in the scriptural texts)?
A) Of course; I do not think it should be codified; however, these should be left to the discretion of the judge.
Q) What is your opinion on the victories of Islamic political parties across the region such as Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamic party in Algeria?
A) Democracy means that whomever the people choose should rule and this was the case in the three countries that you mentioned. Unfortunately, those who called for democracy placed obstacles in its way, such as the European and American position towards Hamas, using democracy only as a pretext.