Text of Asharq Al-Awsat interview with Secretary General of Council of Senior Ulema

May 23, 2010

Interview with Secretary General of Council of Senior Ulema

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT:  In its preface, the decision referred to other decisions and statements that the council had made. This leads me to ask about the extent of the importance of this decision and about its significance in the context of past decisions. 

DR. FAHD AL-MAJID:  First of all, allow me to express my gratitude to God Almighty for the successes and righteous decisions made by the Council of Senior Ulema of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that is chaired by His Eminence Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh. This decision labeled terrorism as a crime aimed at sowing corruption, destabilizing security, committing crimes against human beings, destroying public and private property, and so on. These days, the phenomenon of terrorism constitutes a world concern for states and societies. The biggest injured parties of this phenomenon are the Islamic countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that is a model in enforcing the moderate and tolerant face of Islamic Shariah.  

Had it not been for the successes that God Almighty provided us and had it not been for the wisdom of the leadership in dealing with the issue of terrorism, our situation would have been different from what it is now. Praise be to God Almighty, we are now enjoying security, stability, comprehensive development, and ongoing progress.  

As you pointed out in your question, the Council did well by referring in the preface to previous statements and decisions that it had made about the phenomenon of terrorism.  This preface shows the reader and researcher that the Council was not late in dealing with this evil and sinful phenomenon.  In fact, the Council played a pioneering role in warning and cautioning against it before it turned into an international and domestic phenomenon.  In Decision No 148 of 12 Muharram 1409 Hijra [corresponding to 25 August 1988], the Council noted the emergence of criminal activities that strike at the group and destabilize the security of communities. This preface clearly and categorically answers the queries of some writers about the role of the Council in dealing with this phenomenon and whether this new decision is the first such decision in this regard. 

The decision says very clearly that the council is clearly aware of the picture and that it was among the first Shariah establishments that drew attention to it, warned against it, and issued repeated statements regarding it. The Council thus worked with other state institutions in dealing with this phenomenon. In fact, its statements, for instance its statement dated 4 Rabi al-Thani 1419 Hijra [corresponding to 31 July 1998], were well received in Islamic societies that are suffering from the spread of this phenomenon. If you want to know the significance of this decision in relation to previous statements and decisions, this decision focused specifically on the issue of prohibiting and criminalizing the financing of terrorism in any form and on any level and in any way. 

No doubt, previous decisions and statements that discussed the issue of terrorism in general and prohibited it and criminalized it, including its financing. However, what distinguishes this decision is that it focused exclusively on the issue of financing and then issued a verdict and a fatwa on it. 

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT:  So why is so much attention being given to the issue of financing?

DR. AL-MAJID:  A financier is more often than not more dangerous than the actual terrorist. Without funds, schemes fail and such things do not take place. Qays bin Saad bin Abdullah, may God be pleased with him, who was known for his generosity and munificence, has been quoted as saying, "God, grant me money and the ability to do good deeds; good deeds require money". This is especially true since finance in this age has developed and has taken many shapes and diverse ways. So called money laundering has surfaced and developed in the world. It is exploited by the proponents of radical and extremist ideas to implement their motives. It is also exploited by the proponents of illicit gains. That is why I believe that the council was correct in focusing on the issue of financing as a major factor in order to destroy this evil phenomenon, God willing.

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT:  How should we view this decision in general?

DR. AL-MAJID:  Praise be to God Almighty, the decision was balanced. It began by referring to previous statements and decisions by the council and then defined the meaning of terrorism as it understands it. The decision then elaborated on the texts and Shariah laws that it adopted to issue its verdict and fatwa. The fatwa was then issued that enumerated the various forms of financing. It then talked about the direct person [the financier] and the indirect person [the terrorist] who was financed. The decision also considered the form of financing as money or other assets and the legitimate or illegitimate source of financing. With these three points, the council thus defined the various forms of financing in succinct sentences that demonstrate the decision's thorough understanding of the Shariah laws. Moreover, the decision did not forget to exclude legitimate charitable work - that might be affected in fighting terrorism - since Islam calls for assistance to the poor and the needy and distinguishes between good and evil and between terrorism and philanthropy. Therefore, the decision can be described in three words: It is deep, comprehensive, and balanced.

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT:  Does this decision deal with the financing of terrorism only on the local level or does it deal with it on the international level as well?

DR. AL-MAJID:  You know that we do not live alone on an island isolated from the rest of the world.  As far as we know and read, mankind has not known a world like the one of the present neither in the near or distant past. Multinational companies have replaced empires where the sun does not set. Thus the world is interrelated; it is like a vast sea that is not separated by land. A wave that begins on one coast is felt on the other coast or as the "chaos theory" in modern physics says, "a butterfly flapping its wing in one corner of the world may lead to turbulence in another part of the world". This interrelationship requires us to deal with the problem of financing terrorism from its global perspective because this approach is more capable and powerful in besieging the financing of terrorism.  Moreover, Islam is the religion of mercy and justice for the whole world and not just for Muslims. Just as the decision prohibited and criminalized the financing of terrorism that attacks Muslims, it also prohibited terrorism that attacks non-Muslims because this is sowing mischief that God Almighty has prohibited: "Do not do mischief on earth.” [Surah Al-A’raf, verse 56] because this is cooperation in doing evil and aggression that God has prohibited: "Help ye one another in righteousness and piety; help ye not one another in sin and rancor" [Surah Al-Ma’idah, verse 2].

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT:  Since we are talking about combating terrorism and the kingdom is one of the most active and most successful in fighting terrorism, where, in your opinion, does this dangerous phenomenon belong in King Abdullah's project for reform?

DR. AL-MAJID:  This is a very important question that prompts us to look at the broad picture, I mean, the totality of the picture that organizes many parts. I say that I do not view the fighting of terrorism as separate from King Abdullah's plan for national dialogue inside the Kingdom and his call for dialogue abroad. Dialogue aborts the evil schemes of all terrorists everywhere who seek to destroy the world and kill people. "Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they strive to do mischief on earth, And Allah loveth not those who do mischief" [Surah Al-Ma’idah, verse 64].  I also do not view the fight against terrorism inside the Kingdom in isolation from King Abdullah's ambitious plans to double the number of universities and to provide quality education through The King Abdullah University for Sciences and Technology and other universities. General education and higher education promote good citizenship, useful information, and creative imagination. This type of education at this level is no doubt one of the most successful ways in bringing up righteous people with enlightened minds.

ASHARQ AL-AWSAT:  How did the Council of Senior Ulema view the gratitude that the custodian of the two holy shrines expressed for the decision?

DR. AL-MAJID:  The Council of Senior Ulema highly appreciates the letter of the custodian of the two holy shrines. This letter expresses the cohesion between the leadership and religious scholars in the kingdom. The kingdom is thus offering a model to be emulated by the entire Muslim world. This is not out of the ordinary for The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. He always honors scholars and other citizens with his gracious gestures and effective stands.