Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Tawfiq al-Sudayri, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call, and Guidance for mosques” affairs, has revealed that local and central mosques in Saudi Arabia offer annually around 1 million preaching and propagation activities, adding that just over 300,000 of them are approved and the 1 million is the total number of lessons that have not been recorded when added to the recorded ones.
He affirmed to "Asharq al-Awsat" that there are mosques” observers in the kingdom”s various parts who go to listen to the sermons and ensure they do not contain any unsound calls or incite terrorism. He said the ministry informs the executive authorities in the kingdom”s provinces if it discovers any violation so that it can take the legal measures for punishing those responsible for them.
He explained that there are more than 70,000 local mosques and 15,000 central ones in Saudi Arabia some of which offer preaching lessons while the smaller mosques with the smaller number of worshippers do not offer any preaching lessons. The lessons are mostly given in the larger mosques, but the imam of a small mosque is not banned from carrying out his own activity like reading from a book. He stressed that there is a Sharia committee that determines which mosques can give lessons and lectures.
Regarding the youths who preach after prayers, he said this is illegal and there are specific names who are allowed to part take in that activity. Any person from outside this list is banned totally from preaching. The Islamic Affairs Ministry issued a list of authorized preachers, some of them from the Senior Ulema Council and propagators who are prominent in Saudi Arabia”s religious arena.
according to Islamic affairs expert Yusuf al-Dini, "There are systematic lessons and sermons that are relied on to be within the "firm" ideological and jurisprudence orbit where the sheikh”s role is either to explain, add, or apply the old theories to the contemporary reality." He added that the problem is not in the volume of these lessons or the preachers” names as much as in the contents that should be based on the concept of Islamic moderation and centrism and the consolidation of religion”s values, love, and original concepts and not the hard-line ideas that are based on giving preponderance to exclusivity and restrictiveness in our heritage that has both in abundance because it is in the end a human heritage that has both the good and the bad which does not necessarily express Islam. "
Regarding the preachers and propagators, he said, "This is part of the Islamic Affairs Ministry”s role as it is people”s most basic right. The local and the central mosques are considered the most important sources for learning religious concepts. The ministry needs to prepare and retrain the preachers and propagators so that they can perform their required role. There are good steps in the context that the ministry is undertaking but its responsibility is a very big one.
Al-Dini added, "The issue now has stopped being the mere preaching to the people about setting the good example as much as it is the correction of the concepts of many Islamic issues, many of which have been tarnished by extremism and hardliners views. He stressed that an opportunity must be given through specialized research centers for offering systematic lessons in educational courses or lessons to students around the year. These lessons are the ones that form the so-called class of students who turn in time through a social and religious hierarchy into preachers and sheikhs.
Asked whether many lessons are positive or negative, he answered , "The issue has nothing to do with whether there are too many or too few. The people are yearning for piousness and there are waves of a return to religion as the main cause for spiritual stability. This is happening at the level of all religions. The religious question is on the increase all over the world but there are not unfortunately strenuous and urgent efforts to play a real and effective role toward this rush that needs guidance and the correction of the view and the track."
As to the hardline ideas that some are presenting in the mosques, Al-Dini said, "It can be said they are the first bullet fired at the homeland”s body by the rifle of terrorism. They are created in the field of the hardline and inflexible ideas that close the door to interpretation, consolidate the single view, and deny the people a plurality that represents Islam, which consolidated since its first dawn the concept of religious relativity in all its laws, especially the jurisprudence ones. He added, "This inflexibility is the first key to the youths with which they enter the world of terror. It is easy to make a person who holds inflexible ideas and a mentality that is closed to himself, his homeland, and the world escalate his intransigent ideas and turn them into reckless and irresponsible actions."