Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an upstairs wing of the Imam Turki Bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat meets the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh who is sitting on the floor with a student explaining a religious book.
After the Grand Mufti leads prayers, and providing there is enough time, he usually holds a question and answer session with those in the mosque to answer their questions on religion. During his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Grand Mufti Sheikh Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh answered questions with the same humility and clarity that he answers religious questions. The following is the text of the interview Asharq Al-Awsat conducted with Grand Mufti Sheikh Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh.
Q) What is your religious position towards joining, supporting, or covering up for members of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia?
A) In the name of God, the most Gracious the most Merciful, and praise be to God, and peace and blessings upon his messenger Prophet Mohamed, and his family, and his companions. Almighty God said to the Believers, ‘Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment,’ [Surat Al-Maeda, Verse 2]. The character of a believer should be to cooperate and help others in goodness, righteousness, and piety, not helping [to achieve] sin and transgression. Sin and transgression, and those who do this, should be condemned and detested, and he [the believer] should not help to commit them. Any group that inflicts harm on Islam and Muslims, or any group that is hostile to Islam, or [any group that] spreads corruption, chaos, and fear, and destabilizes security, and sheds the blood of the Ummah [Muslim nation], any group or organization that assumes such a role, then the Muslims are not with them but against them, and are an enemy of them, because Muslims respect the value of human life and [understand the concept of] honour.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The life, wealth, and honour of a Muslim are inviolable by another Muslim,” [Sahih Muslim Hadith]. If this is the case, then no believer should recognize the people of falsehood. The Prophet (pbuh) also said, ‘“Support your brother, whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed. They said, ‘we will support him if he is oppressed, but what about if he is the oppressor?’ He [the prophet] said ‘[in this case] you should support him by preventing him from committing injustice.’” In other words, do not aid your brother in committing unjust acts. Whoever aids a corrupt person in spreading corruption is a partner in sin. This is why the Prophet (pbuh) also said, “God curses those who shelter a heretic.”
Scholars say that sheltering a heretic includes [physically] sheltering him, covering up for him, not exposing him, as well as aiding him and standing with him, and this is something that does not befit a Muslim who believes in God and Judgment Day.
Q) The Al Qaeda organization targeted the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs, Prince Mohammed Bin Naif, during the holy month of Ramadan. What is your opinion of this?
A) There is no doubt that Prince Mohammed Bin Naif is a uniquely well-mannered and religious individual who works restlessly to advise the ummah. As the Deputy Minister of Interior for Security Affairs he is one of the strongholds of Islam in this country, and he has made laudable efforts and achieved good results. There is no doubt that what happened to Prince Mohammed is a serious incident, but as God said ‘If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good,’ [Surat An-Nisa, Verse 19]. This incident highlighted this man [Prince Mohammed Bin Naif] and his virtues and deeds, and thank God that he is well and unharmed. The targeting of such figures will undoubtedly result in the public condemnation of all of these evil organizations and trends because they harm Islam and Muslims.
Q) The security apparatus has achieved great success in curbing these organizations and their crimes, however there are some who believe that the efforts to address their ideology in schools, mosques, universities, and even within families is still below the requisite level. What do you recommend in this regard?
A) This ideology is being treated in a variety of ways. It must be treated by the education curriculum, either by way of written materials or at least by lectures, to clarify this evil ideology to people and warn them against it. Whether by way of lectures or study, what is important is that in education there is something to wake people up from their indifference [to the dangers of this ideology], and help them understand what is happening in reality, and warn them against it.
Our news media should also treat this issue realistically, not with words and culture, but with a realistic and uncomplicated treatment [of the issue] to clarify to the public what these organizations are, what their goals are, and what harm they cause, and so the media must also be cooperative. Imams should also play a role in this. The press should also have a role, and it is up to the press to write fairly on this issue, rather than just showing one point of view, that terrorism takes place against good and righteous people, or vice-verse. This evil issue should be treated on a case-by-case basis, rather than by blaming it on the other side.
Q) Moving now to the H1N1 virus, there has been much talk on the issue of swine flu, and scholars are divided over whether somebody who dies from swine flu is a martyr. What is your opinion on this?
A) The Prophet (pbuh) said that [dying from] plague is martyrdom. So if this epidemic proves to have the same impact as a plague, then it would be considered a plague. I would not describe it as this now, but it is well known that plague causes massive numbers of death in a short period of time. If physicians say this disease is similar to diseases with high-mortality rates, then it should be deemed so. This [however] depends upon the specialists that can better assess this disease and its impact to understand whether it is a deadly disease or not.
Q) So what is the religious advice with regards to postponing one’s Hajj pilgrimage for fear of contracting swine flu?
A) If one is afraid of contracting the disease, then Hajj is not a duty for him, and he can postpone his Hajj pilgrimage until next year, but thank God we hear that this illness is not critical, and that it is a treatable disease. The Ministry of Health says that 98 percent of swine flu cases in Saudi Arabia have fully recovered meaning that, thank God, this is an uncomplicated issue. The King has also ordered that the relevant vaccine be purchased, and we pray to God that these prove beneficial.
Q) Satellite television channels and telephone lines are now full of people issuing fatwas and interpreting dreams, do you believe legal and official measures are necessary in order to curb this?
A) There are two types of satellite television channels at the moment, those present inside Saudi Arabia, and those present outside of the country. Every satellite channel is trying to increase its audience and therefore occasionally bring Muftis, dream interpreters, and singers to appear, depending on what the audience wants at a particular time. There is no doubt that issuing fatwas has a role in the country, and the people like to do good deeds, and so those who issue fatwas appear on one television channel or another, and perhaps some channels entice them with money, in order to attract a larger audience. However this issue concerns the Mufti in question who should fear and obey God and know that speaking about God in ignorance is one of the greatest sins. The Quran says, ‘Say: the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which He hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge, [Surat Al-Araf, Verse 33].’
It is essential for a man to preach from his heart, and not be lured into appearing on a television channel; he should keep God in mind and know that one day God will ask him about everything that he said.
As for the issue of interpreting dreams, this is undoubtedly a knowledge granted by God to Prophet Yusuf (pbuh), as God almighty said, ‘Thus will thy Lord choose thee and teach thee the interpretation of stories (and events),’ [Surat Yusuf, Verse 6]. However, many of these [dream interpreters on television] say what they think the dreamer wants to hear, and this is wrong. Interpreting dreams is knowledge and not a means to compliment somebody, and some of these interpret dreams in order to satisfy the dreamer whether or not he believes this is true. This is a grave mistake, as dream interpretation is knowledge, and only those who have mastered this are entitled to speak.
Q) The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz recently ordered that the Council of Senior Ulama be expanded to include 21 members representing the four juristic schools of Islamic thought. To what extent do you believe this will affect the topics put forward for deliberation by the Council?
A) The Council of Senior Ulama is a consultative body that comprises of members who I hope will make favourable judgments and will be up to the responsibility [of this] and may God bless the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques with regards to this decision.
Q) Regarding the current economic reforms and economic activity that emerges from time to time, and the related fatwas regarding whether or not it is possible to hold shares in a particular company, to have insurance etc. do you believe that there should be just one authority for issuing fatwas to give explicit and clear opinions regarding all financial dealings that emerge in the Saudi market?
A) This is what is needed and what we hope for, but unfortunately many of them seek fatwas from clerics who lack knowledge and issue fatwas blindly. It is very problematic as you might find several different answers to one question on the same company. Instead, there must be a general principle for what is prohibited and what is permissible. Thank God, we know that the government does not license a company unless it is Sharia-compliant. We are aware of this but matters that follow should be discussed with knowledge and calm, and the Council of Senior Ulama and the Permanent Committee [for Islamic Research and Fataawa] should be consulted on this.
Q) Banks and other bodies such as satellite television channels have their own Sharia committees. To what extant can those committees be trusted and have you looked at their work?
A) We have not looked at all of the work of all these committees, but I wish them success as long as they are Sharia compliant and comprise of knowledgeable people.
Q) The Shura Council recently discussed a proposal to set up committees affiliated to the General Presidency for Fatwas with regards to all fields (economics, medicine, sociology, politics etc.), which would aim to raise the scholars’ awareness of facts and reality. In this sense, through the accurate and correct awareness, you can take part in issues that require fatwas. What is your view in this regard?
A) A medical authority comprising of some members of the Council of Senior Ulama and some specialists, has been set up within the Permanent Committee and is held once every four months to look into medical issues. This is promising and if the council wants to look into an economic issue, it can simply summon specialists to give their opinions in writing, and so on.
Q) King Abdulaziz Bin Abdul Rahman unified this country and Islam. However, certain phenomena have surfaced recently in society such as showing off about tribal and regional affiliations, branding one another as Islamists, liberals, communists, Marxists etc. To what extant does this pose a threat to society?
A) This is a Muslim nation that is governed by Islam and one that worships God and obeys the prophet, and follows Islamic Sharia. Our rulers are Muslims who administer and establish God’s Sharia. This country’s urban and desert parts were unified by King Abdulaziz, may his soul rest in peace, who did not allow for racism; therefore, it is our duty to ignore these matters because boasting about being highbred goes against Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) who said, “There are two practices among my people both of which indicate disbelief: ridiculing the ancestry of others and wailing over the dead.” Ridiculing or boasting about ancestry are low and rejected practices. The Quran says: ‘The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct’ [Surat Al-Hujraat, Verse 13], and ‘the believers are but brethren’ [Surat Al-Hujraat, Verse 10] and, ‘And hold fast by the covenant of Allah all together and be not disunited, and remember the favor of Allah on you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favor you became brethren,’ [Surat Al-Imran, Verse 102]. The relationship between Muslims is one of Islamic brotherhood that has nothing to do with tribal or regional discrimination. We are a Muslim nation and are governed by the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh), and the leadership upholds all of this, and I pray that Allah will grant it success.
Q) Throughout the past four years, Saudi Arabia has sent tens of thousands of its citizens abroad on scholarships. What is your advice to them whilst they are abroad or after they return home?
A) I pray to God that they preserve their religion and remain virtuous and strong, gain the knowledge that benefits their country, maintain their morals and are never lured by temptations of civilisation that will be of no benefit to them as Muslims. I hope that they will return to their homeland with knowledge, and promote God’s religion through their religion. I recommend that they uphold good morals so that others would recognize them as Muslims through their morals and conduct, and to abide by the rules [of the countries in which they live] and at the same time uphold the [Islamic] Sharia morals that guide them towards good.
Q) What would you like to say to the Muslim nation now that the month of Ramadan has come to an end?
A) I pray to God that our fasting during Ramadan is accepted and that Ramadan is returned to us once again with faith and prosperity and that God helps us carry out good deeds, and helps the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince, and the Second Deputy [Prime Minister] with all that is good.