RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator has shut down three websites that were violating a government decree limiting the issuance of religious edicts to the country’s most senior group of clerics, authorities said Saturday.
Saad al-Shihri, an official at the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission, said the regulator began blocking the websites on Wednesday. He said authorities also have drawn up a list of clerics whose services break the decree, and that they have been sent messages “warning them to comply.”
Among those breaking the ban are clerics who offer fatwas via text messages, some for as much as $3 per message, al-Shihri said. Regulators have already started barring such services.
The move comes as part of a campaign that began last month when Saudi King Abdullah decreed that only the powerful government-sanctioned Council of Senior Islamic Scholars could issue fatwas. Fatwas are religious edicts that provide guidance in matters of everyday life to pious Muslims.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam and religious leaders have strong influence over policy making and social mores. King Abdullah has been trying to clamp down on ultraconservative ideology, including reining in the fatwas from various groups.
It is a daunting task. Observant Muslims freely seek guidance from local clerics concerning any aspects of their lives.
Last month, Saudi authorities issued the first public reprimand following the royal decree, telling a conservative cleric to stop giving unauthorized edicts after he called for a boycott of a supermarket chain that employs women as cashiers.