In what is widely being regarded as a strong rebuke of the jihadist terror group Islamic State, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, has called fundamentalist Islamism “the number one enemy of Islam” and warned Imams against convincing young men to fight in Syria.
Al Jazeera reports that the comments were published as a statement in the state’s Saudi Press Agency. The Grand Mufti declared all jihadist groups apostates and enemies of the true interpretation of Islam: “Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilisation, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims.”
The Grand Mufti added that imams were encouraged not to tell young men to wage jihad, particularly in turbulent areas like Syria and Iraq.
As Reuters notes, some may find the Grand Mufti’s comments incongruent with the fact that Saudi Arabia has funded rebels in Syria, and the fact that the Saudi government endorses an extreme interpretation of Wahhabi Sunni Islam. Religious leaders in Syria, Reuters explains, “endorse execution by beheading for offences that include apostasy, adultery and sorcery, oppose women driving or working and describe Shiites as heretics.”
Islamist groups that wage jihad against anyone who does not subscribe to their extremist form of Islam are a threat to the power of the Saudi king, however, and many of the youth who make up the majority of groups like the Islamic State have little support from senior religious scholars for their ideology. Saudi Arabia, Reuters adds, has attempted to re-funnel funding to Syrian rebel groups away from the Islamic State and towards other, less volatile groups.
While among the most prominent Muslim leaders to come out against groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, the Grand Mufti is not the first to do so. The government of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, banned support for the Islamic State and decreed all their activities illegal in the nation after the terrorist group released a propaganda video aimed at young Indonesian men. Large Muslim groups, like the International Union of Muslim Scholars, have also condemned the actions of the Islamic State, releasing a statement in support of Christians and condemning their removal from Iraq: “These are acts that violate Islamic laws, Islamic conscience and leave but a negative image of Islam and Muslims.” Individual Muslims generally have used social media to condemn the Islamic State, and particularly to stand with Iraq’s Christian and Yazidi minorities against their genocide.