Saudi Ban on Tablighi Jamaat: A Reality Check

Recently most of the Indian newspapers and news channels in English, Hindi and Urdu carried a news story stating that the Saudi Arab has banned the Indian organisation Tablighi Jamaat from functioning in Saudi and carrying out its Tabligh activities in the Kingdom.

The manner in which the story was reported mostly, based on a series of Tweets from the official Twitter handle of the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah, and Guidance Sheikh Abdul Latif bin Abdulaziz Al Ash-Shaikh, made it look like that the Indian Tablighi Jamaat has been banned by the Saudi government from carrying out its Tabligh and Dawah activities.

The Reality Check

Before reaching any conclusion, we need to verify some facts related to the Tweets by the Minister.

First, though in most of the countries it has become a normal trend to announce the official policies or stand through the social media, in Saudia an edict or a rule becomes a law only when issued through a Royal Decree. Though the targeted audience may act on the guidance given on social media yet it is not a law in the larger sense.

Second, nowhere in the Tweet, the words Tablighi Jamaat, Deobandi Tablighi Jamaat, Indian Tablighi Jamaat or Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat is mentioned. Also the point to be noted is that Friday Khutbah in Saudi mosques are based on the Khutbas supplied by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and no Imam is supposed to change that, so how could they change it based on a Tweet?

Third, the tweets ask the Imams to follow four points while denouncing the Tabligh and Dawah activities by any group, referred to as Al Ahbab in the tweets.

In reality Al Ahbab is a Nigerian terrorist group and Al Ahbab in Arabic means a group of friends, persons known to each other or your near and dear ones. And the words ‘gates of terrorism’ might have been attributed to the Nigerian group.

Fourth, in Saudi Arabia no political or religious organisation is allowed to function without the state patronage or recognition or registration. So one wonder how an organisation, which is not even present in the country, could be banned.

Fifth, the Tweets have been translated using Google Translation, which sometimes leaves scope for non-clarity or ambiguity while translating.

Sixth, one needs to understand that the Tabligh activities are focussed towards Muslim audience and the Dawah activities are focussed on non-Muslims, or in other words they are like missionary activities, which are controlled by the Saudi government through the Dawah Centres called Markaz-e Dawah Wal-Irshad are managed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and are usually engaged in publishing and disseminating literature, not through any public engagement. And the Tablighi Jamaat is never engaged in any Dawah or missionary activity. Also in a Muslim country there is no need of Dawah work, so the word in the tweet has been used superfluously.

The Saudi politics

Moreover, we also need to understand the phase through which the Saudi Arabia is currently passing. The Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) handles majority of state functions, but important portfolios are still handled by the Saudi King Shah Salman.

In addition MBS is being credited with ushering a reform phase in the Saudi society and politics and giving up age old religious and societal customs and laws. Under his stewardship theatres have been opened up in various Saudi cities, women have been allowed to drive the cars, women can visit the market or shopping malls without any male chaperon, they have been allowed not to wear Hijab or Abaya in places or to cover their faces, even they can perform Umrah and Hajj, the two most significant Islamic practices without any male accompanying them.

These reforms initiated by MBS have alienated a large percentage of the Saudi population, which still wants to carry forward with the ages old Islamic and societal traditions. But even the MBS is against the fanatical groups operating in the country. So these tweets might have been an endeavour by the minister to make him seen as one more nearer to the King and MBS, both.

In addition the words ‘opens the gates of terrorism’ have been used to make the recommendation carry weight and also address the issue which the Saudi government faces in provinces nearer to other countries and which mostly comprise Shia, Houthis and Lebanese groups.

So one can surmise that the Indian Tablighi Jamaat has not been mentioned in the tweets and the Indian media should have acted more responsibly by fact checking the contents of the tweets, which it started reporting on after five days on 11 December.

Ban on books

Last week only some Urdu newspapers also carried out a story that the Saudi government has recently banned some books by Hassan al Banna, Yusuf Qardawi and Maulana Maudoodi. This story is completely false and the fact is that the Saudi government had banned these books in 1990. Even countries like the UAE had banned books by these and other authors in 2011, when the Morsi-led Muslim Brotherhood had taken over power in Egypt.

The fact is that most of the Islamic states are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and the tweet while not mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood might have been targeted towards it as its propaganda is also conveyed through groups of Ahbab. Most of my journalist friends working in the Saudi or other middle eastern countries, and I too fully concur with it, that it might be the case and the Indian Tablighi Jamaat has been maligned for none of its fault.

In addition, very few of the newspapers and outlets gave prominence to the story on 6 December, in which the Delhi High Court found many flaws in the case filed against the Tablighi Jamaat, last year.

Thus, it would be better if the Indian media takes a more responsible approach towards sensitive issues, which might create unwanted controversies and an atmosphere of hate in the country.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Saudis Plagued By ‘Misyar’, An UnIslamic Practice

The Saudi society is currently facing a dilemma bordering on societal norms, morals and Sharia. This peculiar situation has developed mainly due to the increase in number of Zawaz Al-Misyar or Misyar marriages in the Kingdom.

A Misyar marriage is considered legal across Arab countries, but is not favoured upon due to its immoral basis, though legally it stands the trial of Sharia. Its opponents say that no reference to such marriage is found in the Holy Quran or Ahadith (the saying and practices of the prophet Muhammad-PBUH). They further put it at par with Muttah marriage, which is prevalent amongst the Imamiyyah Shiites.

What is Misyar?

Basically, Misyar is a contract under which the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives, the wife’s rights to housing, and maintenance money (nafaqa), and the husband’s right to home-keeping and access etc.

The couple continue to live separately from each other, as before their marriage, but get together regularly, often for sexual relations in a permissible and halal manner. Although allowed in some Muslim countries, Misyar is not popular with many because women lose nearly all their rights in this confidential marriage. A large number of such marriages end up in divorce.

A Saudi study conducted by Mada Bint Abdul Rahman Al Qurashi at the King Saud University confirmed the necessity of working to reduce the exorbitant costs of marriage so that some men do not have to resort to a Misyar marriage for economic motives. The study stressed the need not to increase the mehr (gifts and money given by husband to his wife after the nikah), as it is one of the main reasons for the spread of Misyar marriage in Saudi society, particularly among not well-off young Saudis.

The Saudi study showed that one of the reasons for husbands resorting to Misyar marriage is that most Saudi women do not accept the idea of polygamy. The study further called for conducting studies aimed at uncovering the reasons for the spread of a Misyar marriage among different segments and groups of the Saudi society in different cities of the Kingdom, so a proper strategy could be formed and a campaign started against it.

It showed that women often resort to Misyar marriage, forfeiting their right to maintenance and overnight stay, in order to obtain a husband who provides her with the life needs that were difficult for her, and that most divorced women resort to Misyar marriage because of their desire to marry and chastity, as well as the woman’s desire to move and travel freely.

Even the Saudi government is aware of the ill effects of Misyar, Al Watan newspaper quoting government sources reported in 2018 that such marriages are often short-lived, with most ending in divorce from anywhere between 14 and 60 days.

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Some time back a prominent Riyadh cleric attributed its proliferation to men unwilling to shoulder the full responsibilities of polygamous marriage, which is permitted in Islam as long as all wives are treated equally.

Senior Saudi journalist Tariq Al Maeena in one of his columns published in the Saudi Gazette daily in 2019, termed Misyar as a “license to have multiple partners without much responsibility or expense”. “Reports in the Saudi press have spoken of growing concerns over the number of children fathered by Saudi males in their trips abroad and abandoned for all practical purposes.” he wrote.

Misyar and Sharia

Though no reference to Misyar is found either in the Holy Quran or the Ahadith, one is also not sure how and when it crept in the Saudi society. Moreover Misyar is permissible only under Hanbali Fiqh (school of Sharia or jurisprudence), which is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Saudi clerics say the practice has proliferated since 1996, when the then Grand Mufti, the kingdom’s highest religious authority Abed Al Aziz Ibn Baz, legitimised it with an Islamic edict. But no one is ready to ascertain what were the factors based on which the Grand Mufti issued such a controversial fatwa.

Since then many fatwas have been issued concerning the legality of the Misyar marriage. At the beginning Sheikh Al Athemain, made a distinction between the legal aspect and the moral or social consequences of the ambulant marriage. Nevertheless he did not say that it is against the Sharia; however, what scholars fear, are its dangerous and unpredictable social consequences, which no one is ready to address.

According to Sheikh Al Athemain and Sheikh Al Yusef Qardawi, the Misyar is a lawful marriage since it includes a contract, a declaration and a dowry. However, within this marriage, the fact that the Misyar wife gives up her rights of cohabitation and nafaqa are ones which no jurist is ready to address.

Most of the Islamic jurists take a very convoluted and cautious approach to the issue by saying that it fulfills the requirement of the Sharia and when pointed out that no reference to it is present in either the Holy Quran or the Ahadith, they evade response. But most of the Indian fuqah (Jurists) who follow the Fiqh-e Hanafi describe Misyar as an unIslamic practice.

Mufti Amanat Al Qasmi, Mufti at Dar-ul Ifta (Department of Jurisprudence) at Darul Uloom – Waqf, Deoband says categorically that fulfilling the legal aspects of a lawful marriage in certain aspects doesn’t grant the status of legality to Misyar marriages. He opines that as a jurist and alim (scholar) one should also consider the moral and customary aspects of a decision and should not be bound by the legalese and take cover under them. In addition Misyar also exposes the contradictions found in the Saudi society.

One can only hope that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has taken many progressive steps to ensure rights to women, he might also take-up this issue with jurists and campaign against it. In addition he should also call for decreasing the mehr amount, which not every young Saudi is able to meet, therefore trying to solve two issues with one edict and also freeing the Saudi society from an allegedly unIslamic act.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)


INDIA AS PEACEMAKER IN WEST ASIA?

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the latter, in a first by an Arab nation perennially in conflict with Israel, granted Air India, the national carrier, approval to operate direct flights from Delhi to Tel Aviv over and through Saudi territory. Can India use this soft power and more to bring down the growing tensions among Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran? A tall order, but is doable, insists diplomat-scholar Talmiz Ahmad who served in West Asian region for over ten years as India’s envoy to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Ambassador Ahmad thinks that of all the global diplomacy India is currently engaged in, the one in West Asia is truly unprecedented. It gives India a unique position to play peacemaker.   Taking forward his premise, one should consider the biggest likely hurdle: how will an unstable and unpredictable Donald Trump administration take an Indian initiative? India and the US have been consolidating their ties exponentially. Will that help? And how will a Brexit-hit Britain, well past its imperial grandeur, take it? Britain historically and the US since the last century have been the principal players behind much that has been happening, particularly the conflicts, in West Asia. The Saudi-Iran-Israel tensions keep the region on the boil and their impact goes well beyond. Everyone is walking the tight rope. And that is an understatement for India the way it has been interacting with diverse nations in the region, many of which are at daggers drawn with one another. Yet they all come to India and host Indian leaders. These visits have yielded numerous agreements and memoranda of understanding, setting the agenda for the future collaboration in multiple areas of mutual interest. It is another matter, however, that India has acquired a reputation for not fulfilling many proiects – some not taking off some others delayed. This is not unique to West Asia, though.  Fortunately, even if the projects are missed and hived off to others, India’s goodwill continues. And nowhere else this goodwill is more visible than in the presence of eight million Indians working in countries across West Asia, out-populating nine of them. It has not been easy, though.  The turmoil of the past few years in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen has unleashed untold sufferings on Indians working there.   The USD 70 billion earnings by Indians being repatriated home last year, a global highest, have fallen due to an unprecedented fall in crude oil prices and simmering geopolitical tension in the Persian Gulf.  They may nevertheless remain as formidable as the oil and gas that flows from the region to meet 65 percent of India’s growing needs.   Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the last nearly four years visited and/or hosted leaders from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, Palestine, Oman and Iran. Among numerous minister-level consultations, foreign minister of Syria, besieged by five combating forces, visited in January. The UAE Crown Prince was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day last year. Within a six months’ span, Modi both visited and played host to Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet, India did not toe the US/Israeli line on Jerusalem at the United Nations and Modi travelled from Tel Aviv to Palestine. Significantly, India, while getting cozy with Trump – also daughter Ivanka and son, Donald Trump Jr. — also deals with Iran, Trump’s bête noire in the region.  President Hasan Rouhani’s visit is yet another signal, not just to the US, but to all players in the Gulf region, of India’s long term intent.   The Rouhani visit yielded significant results that need sustained follow-up. Not just that, it has gingerly pushed the Chabahar project, being jointly worked with Iran. India has secured control of the first phase of the port that it has built to gain connectivity to Iran and through it, Afghanistan, bypassing a hostile Pakistan and with future prospects of reaching Central Asia. Far from being ceremonial in nature, these interactions have consolidated defence ties and investments in India’s energy, infrastructure and other key sectors. The stage for this Look-West Asia was set by government of P V Narasimha Rao (who also initiated Look-East Policy) in the 1990s. It was assiduously followed up by premiers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. But those were different times and circumstances. The Modi Government has shown a better understanding by undoing a historical error on Gwadar which once belonged to Oman and was offered to India during the Nehru era. Understandably, it was then thought that Gwadar could not be defended in an attack from Pakistan. Another act of the “late-Latif” has been to gain access to Oman’s Duqm port, long after many others gained a foothold there.  It is nevertheless useful if India has to secure its presence along the Gulf and Africa’s eastern sea coast.   The importance of these ports cannot be underestimated, not the least in competition to China that is rapidly expanding its presence in the Indian Ocean region, directly and through Pakistan. Chabahar is a smaller project compared to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), but has greater potential  of access to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. It is more doable, if only the US does not put a spoke, because both India and Iran are on the same page.    A little comparison of India’s ‘Look/Act’ policies would be appropriate. Tackling South Asia, its immediate neighbourhood, easily the most difficult part of its diplomatic task, has kept faltering as it meets new challenges practically each day. The Maldives developments are a pointer, so is a less friendly government taking shape in Nepal, and both have China as the common adversarial factor.     The China factor is stronger in India’s “Act East” Policy. But there India is tying up with the US, Australia and Japan to enhance its clout.  By contrast, the ‘Act West’ policy leaves India to devise its own strategy that in some instances is at odds with the Anglo- American interests.   Given the turbulence in West Asia, many would advise India to have a hands-off approach, and focus only on its bilateral interests in the region. However, India cannot afford to ignore this perilous challenge. It needs to play a role in resolving the regional conflicts. Unlike Pakistan that is happy to dispatch troops to seek leadership of the Muslim ‘ummah’, for India, sending troops would be unwise. India’s military presence is neither sought as of now, nor desirable. Given the goodwill it enjoys, and with a reputation of neutrality, the Indian presence should remain non-combatant, in areas where its economic assistance and knowledge are made available directly to the people. This neutral role helps India as a prospective interlocutor in West Asia. Its relations go back to ancient times, long before that region got divided into modern-day nations. In contemporary terms, India’s ties with each of those nations have been bilateral and transactional. Indians have not participated in any of their conflicts. Nor have Indian Muslims been part of any terrorist group like Al Qaida or the ISIS.   Indians have played peacekeepers on behalf of the United Nations. It is time India uses its unique position to play the peacemaker.             ]]>

Hariri returns to Lebanon 2 weeks after resignation

 Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has returned to Beirut for the first time since announcing his surprise resignation in Saudi Arabia more than two weeks ago.

Hariri is expected to take part in the country’s independence day military parade on Wednesday and the customary reception at the Presidential Palace. He was greeted at Beirut airport late on Tuesday by members of the security forces as he disembarked from his plane. He then visited the grave of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, CNN reported. Hariri stunned the Lebanese people when he announced on November 4 in Riyadh that he was resigning from his post because he feared his life was in danger. Hariri denied speculation that Saudi Arabia had forced him to depart as part of a regional power struggle with Iran. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who refused to accept Hariri’s resignation earlier, will meet him later in the day. Hariri visited Cairo and Cyprus on Tuesday before flying to Beirut. He met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and thanked him for his support for Lebanon. Later he flew to Larnaca in Cyprus where he met President Nicos Anastasiades. During Hariri’s stay in Riyadh, Aoun accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri against his will but both the Saudis and Hariri denied this. After mediation efforts by Egypt and France, Hariri left Riyadh last week. He headed to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and pledged he would be home by Wednesday. (IANS)  
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Anti-graft swoop nets 11 Saudi princes

Al-Waleed: Multi-billionaire in Salman’s sights

Billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, is among those arrested in Saudi Arabia. The 62-year-old is worth $17 billion, according to Forbes who he has sued for underestimating his wealth. Some say his wealth is closer to $32 billion. Flashy as only a Saudi prince can be, Al-Waleed is also one of the few progressives in the kingdom. A grandson of King Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s first ruler, Al-Waleed owns larges chunks in Citigroup ,Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, Apple, Time Warner, and Twitter, besides owning Rotana, a major broadcaster in the Arab world. Such is his heft that it was his ‘instruction’ to the Murdochs that took down Rebekah Brooks in the News of the World phone hacking scandal of 2011. Al-Waleed controls the investment firm Kingdom Holding with a 95 per cent stake. Apart from backing Citigroup, from the 1990s through the financial crisis of 2008 and after, Al-Waleed has also picked up parts of Chinese retail giant JD.com and cab company Lyft. Kingdom Holding owns London’s Savoy Hotel as well as the George V hotel in Paris. Al-Waleed is an animal rights activist and has famously backed the cause of women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. A superjumbo he ordered from Airbus a decade ago—with a bay for a car, a steam bath and a concert hall—remains undelivered. He’s bought a yacht from Donald Trump once, but that hasn’t kept him from bashing the US president in public over his perceived anti-Muslim bias.
The royal decree said the committee was needed “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds” and will “trace and combat corruption at all levels”, the statement said. The committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has the authority to investigate, arrest, issue travel bans and freeze the assets of those it finds corrupt, CNN reported. The three ousted ministers were replaced, with Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf Al Muqren becoming National Guard minister, Mohammed bin Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri becoming the Economy and Planning Minister, and Vice Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghifaili taking on the role of Naval Forces Commander.
According to the New York Times, the creation of the anti-corruption committee and the subsequent arrests are aimed at consolidating the position of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a modernist and self-declared moderate who is also King Salman’s top advisor

The Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh, the de facto royal hotel, was evacuated on Saturday, stirring rumours that it would be used to house detained royals, reports The New York Times. The airport for private planes was closed, arousing speculation that the crown prince was seeking to block rich businessmen from fleeing before more arrests. (IANS) // ]]>