Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Arabia’s Senior Ulema Council is currently holding closed-door sessions to discuss two important issues affecting the kingdom; the financing of terrorism, and Takfiri fatwas.
Last week, another closed-door session held by the Saudi Shura Council discussed calls to criminalize Takfiri fatwas that are issued from outside the official religious institute in order to put an end to the issuance of such fatwas that have been on the rise in recent years. Takfiri fatwas are fatwas or religious advisory opinions that state that a certain practice or act is haram or religiously impermissible and that anybody who takes part in such practices is not a Muslim.
Sources close to one of the members of the Senior Ulema Council stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the sessions being held by the council in Riyadh are “secret and extraordinary,” while another source at the Senior Ulema Council explained that the meetings, which commenced on Saturday and will end today Monday 12 April, will discuss the criminalization of the “Takfiri fatwas,” and the “financing of terrorism.”
Regarding last week’s Shura Council meeting on Takfiri fatwas, official sources said that the proposal put forward by Dr. Zuhair al-Harthi was the subject of intense discussions by members of the Council. Sources also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Dr. al-Harthi, a member of the Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee, justified his decision to put forward this proposal on the grounds that the fatwas in question exceed their limits, and that this phenomenon has reached the point of “infringing upon the principles, values, and spirit of religion and the value of national unity and also diminishes the prestige of the state, as well as impacting on external relations between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.”
According to sources, Dr. Zuhair al-Harthi said that it was the duty of the Shura Council to “act to protect the blood of Muslims as well as protect Islamic Shariaa law from distortions, and the time has come to issue a system or law to criminalize Takfiri fatwas that are issued by non-official institutions.”
Al-Harthi confirmed that the issuance of a decision criminalizing illegitimate Takfiri fatwas “is no longer a luxury but a necessity.”
This is the first formal move in Saudi Arabia towards putting an end to illegitimate Takfiri fatwas that have given some religious clerics a foothold in the country. One of the most prominent Takfiri fatwas to cause controversy was the fatwa against gender mixing in places of work and education.
Sources who attended last week’s meeting informed Asharq Al-Awsat that al-Harthi told the Shura Council that “the Takfiri fatwas that are issued now and then are issued by figures that do not meet the requirements to issue fatwas, and they are not affiliated to the official [religious] institution.” He added that the problem lies in the fact that such figures are considered to be “Saudi Arabian religious clerics” when in fact they are not affiliated to the official institution and therefore have no right to issue such fatwas.
Al-Harthi also told the Shura Council that he believed that the silence over the growing phenomenon of Takfiri fatwas represented “a crime against the nation.” He said that such illegitimate fatwas shared certain themes like “blood spilling, denouncing others as apostates, and devotion to the concept of exclusion.” After this, according to a member of the Shura Council who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, al-Harthi called on the Shura Councils’ Committee for Islamic Affairs to adopt the proposal to institute a system to criminalize illegitimate Takfiri fatwas in collaboration with the General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta.
For his part, Sheikh Azeb al-Mesbel, Chairman of the Committee for Islamic Affairs, refused to comment on any plans to criminalize illegitimate Takfiri fatwas.