London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The “Nahda Youth Forum”, which was scheduled to begin in Kuwait today, under the auspices of well-known Saudi cleric Dr. Salman al-Ouda, has been the subject of controversy and uproar on social media networks, particularly Twitter, after some members of the Kuwaiti National Assembly called for an investigation into this forum and its organization, citing its “suspicious agenda.” The most recent development saw the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry banning this forum from taking place, although other reports indicate that the Kuwaiti Society of Graduates had given the 3-day “Nahda Youth Forum” the go-ahead. The youth forum intends to bring together youths from different Islamic sects to discuss social and cultural issues. The forum has previously been held in Bahrain and Qatar.
Saudi cleric Dr. Salman al-Ouda is at the heart of the controversy raging around the “Nahda Youth Forum” in Kuwait. He was responsible for organizing this forum, and has come under fire for his choice of guests, particularly his failure to invite members of the Salafist trend, whilst opening the door to members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Gulf Shiites.
This controversy spread online, particularly on Twitter where supporters of al-Ouda and Salafists angered at being snubbed have traded accusations. Salman al-Ouda is a prominent Twitter-user and has more than 900,000 followers. He is also the director of the Arabic Islam Today website.
This controversy has revealed clear divisions between online activists in their understanding of political and ideological slogans, such as the concept of “a state of laws and institutions.” This dispute also demonstrated the extent of the division between online activists who belong to Islamist groups or trends (such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, and Shiites) and some intellectuals. This is not the first time that such a division has been exposed: this can also be seen in the case of Saudi youth Hamza Kashgari and the controversy surrounding his Twitter posts.
This is not the first time that Dr. Salman al-Ouda has found himself at the heart of controversy. Although his followers view him as a “sheikh of enlightenment”, al-Ouda has taken a number of controversial positions over the past 10 years which have raised considerable questions, particularly regarding his seeming changeability. For example, he signed the infamous “on what basis do we live” statement addressing western intellectuals, and then later distanced himself from this statement and its principles, instead attempting to portray himself as putting forward a tolerant vision.
Dr. al-Ouda has also taken a changeable position on the Gulf Shiites. Although he today has invited Gulf Shiites to attend his youth forum in Kuwait, he previously wrote an article for the Saudi al-Jazirah newspaper in 2007, in which he said that “the Jews have their festivals and the Christians have their festivals…and the Zoroastrians even have their festivals, as do the rejectors [Shiites], for example Eid al-Ghadeer…as for the Muslims, they only have two festivals [Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha].” Responding to this, Lebanese writer Hazim Saghieh, in his book “Rawafid wa Nawasib” , writes “he [al-Ouda] does not include the Shiites within Islam in a clearly derogatory manner” adding “he writes about pluralism…but he is against real pluralism.” Al-Ouda later removed the above statement about Shiites from his personal website.