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Saudi Arabia: Details of Project to Retrain the Kingdom’s Imams | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Arabia announced earlier this week a new plan to retrain 40,000 mosque imams in all regions on communication skills and the culture of dialogue.

The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue will carry out the training in cooperation with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The National Dialogue, which is a project that was launched in 2003 by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, is considered the largest project designed to achieve ideological change toward centrism and moderation and away from extremism and excess. This, in addition to broadening the base of dialogue among the various groups in Saudi society.

This inclination toward the spread of the ethos of dialogue and centrism within Saudi society, which the King Abdulaziz Center is seeking to implement, falls within the framework of reinforcing the results of the first National Dialogue meeting, which stressed the centrist nature of Islam in terms of belief and shari’a-related rules and highlighted its rejection of excess and extremism. The meeting emphasized that Islam does not accept disengagement from Shariaa constants; that it differentiates between extremism and excess, and between adhering to the Sunnah [of Prophet Muhammad] and committing to it. This, in addition to the realization that dissimilarity, ideological diversity, and a multiplicity of creeds are a reality that we see in our daily lives and a part of human nature, in which we must invest by establishing the base for a strategy for conduct in the fields of preaching, guidance, and dialogue.

In coordination with the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, government bodies in Saudi Arabia are seeking to spread an awareness of the importance of national unity and of the Shariaa principles on which national unity is based, in addition to the pioneering role of science and of scholars in Saudi Arabia in ensuring national unity by permitting ideological diversity among the various groups of society, accepting others’ opinions, projecting the central nature of Islam, and combating excess and extremism.

In December 2007, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz told the press that: “Mosque platforms are focusing on minor or outside issues at a time when the homeland and its citizens are suffering from major events that influence the fate of this homeland.” He pointed out that: “This reflects incapacity and shortcomings. We must shift our focus to the greatest danger of all — that is, deviation from religion and disobedience to those in charge.” This step to retrain mosque imams falls within the framework of the ethos of dialogue in an effort to reinforce ideological security, which is no less important than other security measures in the field. Prince Naif said that: “Unfortunately, to date, efforts to deal with the ideological aspect have fallen short of the standard that we hoped for.

This is because security measures alone are not sufficient. Ideological measures protect our youth and prevent deviant ideas from reaching their minds.” He added: “Moreover, we are purifying these ideas, which are foreign to Islam yet which it is claimed are part and parcel of its teachings; in reality, Islam is innocent of such ideas and they damage it.” He went on: “I am not the only one to say that. Scholars, rational thinking people, and all those who possess some kind of knowledge in Shariaa-related fields, however limited, agree with me. These people were the first ones to work, and are still working, against Islam in an effort to further the goals of anti-Islamic parties. Thus, ideology-related efforts must be unique and distinct, and they must produce results on the ground.” It is worth noting that the Saudi National Dialogue has completed six major discussions addressing sensitive and important issues.

It has also produced a set of recommendations that were referred to the custodian of the two holy mosques. The seventh National Dialogue session is expected to begin in the Al-Qasim region on 21 April, and it will be addressing the topic of “Fields of Work and Employment: A Discussion between Society and Work Organizations.” This session will be held with the participation of government officials from the Ministries of Labor and Civil Service and from the Human Resources Development Fund [HRDF], in addition to businessmen and businesswomen, intellectuals, students, and unemployed workers of both genders.