Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – It seems that reactions to the incident which occurred at the Riyadh Book Fair last week are continuing to reverberate throughout Saudi society with the latest being the Saudi Arabian Minister of Culture and Information being compared to “Abu Lahab” the infamous enemy of Islam during the time of Prophet Muhammad(pbuh).
The incident at the Riyadh Book Fair, which transgressed the bounds of appropriate behavior, saw a group of Islamist extremists attempt to disrupt the event, criticizing the presence of books deemed un-Islamic, as well as the presence of unveiled women. Saudi Arabian Minister of Culture and Information, Abdul Aziz Khoja, who was attending the Riyadh Book Fair when this incident occurred, criticized the religious extremists and called on them to return to their homes. He later issued a statement denouncing those who attempted to disrupt the book fair, describing their behavior as unacceptable.
The Saudi Minister of Culture Information later received a text message, which he uploaded to Twitter, criticizing him for his part in organizing the Riyadh Book Fair, as well as his denunciation of the Islamist extremists. This message told Khoja that “you are corrupting the earth, and I am happy to oppose you at the hands of the God of the heavens and the earth, and there will come a time when your position and family background will not avail you, for even if you hold the highest position, God’s position is always higher, and may He bring you to account for your malevolence.”
The message described Khoja as the Saudi Minister of Culture and Movies [a play on words in Arabic], and called on God Almighty to punish him, saying “I call on God to hasten your destruction; Oh God, put Abdul Aziz Khoja with Abu Lahab [in hell].”
Abu Lahab was one of the most famous enemies of Islam, and there is a chapter of the Quran dedicated to him and his fate, which reads “The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish. His wealth and gains will not exempt him. He will be plunged in flaming Fire, And his wife, the wood-carrier, Will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre.” [Surat Al-Masadd]
Dr. Abdul Aziz Khoja did not comment on the text message in question, although this has been the subject of debate on Twitter and Facebook, with internet users expressing their support of Khoja and their dismay at the content of this vitriolic message.
Witnesses told AFP that dozens of bearded young men entered the venue where the Riyadh Book Fair was being held, and attacked Khoja asking him “how he could allow such a fair” and saying that certain books on display were the work “of infidels who would go to hell.” Khoja later criticized “the harassment of visitors and publishers” and stressed that the Riyadh Book Fair is “a cultural showcase for our country.”
This was not the first time that the Riyadh Book Fair has been protested, and previous Riyadh Book Fair’s have witnessed similar scenes. In spite of this, the Saudi Minister of Culture and Information has confirmed that the Riyadh Book Fair will continue to be held and that he would not be deterred by recent events.