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Muslim civil society adds voice to Saudi executions

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South African civil groups are adding their voices to calls for the Saudi Kingdom to halt a pending execution of three moderate Islamic scholars, who have been labelled as political dissidents for their views on Saudi politics. Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari have been in prison since their arrest in September 2017 and could face execution after Ramadan. They have been held on charges of “terrorism”, following tweets criticising the Saudi Kingdom’s economic and diplomatic blockade against Qatar.

Their arrests form part of a widescale crackdown against any critics of the state. In November 2017, Saudi authorities launched what it said was a crackdown on high-level corruption by detaining hundreds of prominent businessmen and former officials at the Ritz-Carlton in the capital. Saudi Arabia has never officially disclosed the names of those accused in its corruption crackdown, the allegations or evidence against them, or any assets recovered in the process.

In a letter to the Saudi ambassador in South Africa, the South Africa Muslim Network (Samnet) expressed its “shock” at the current turn of events.

“We the undersigned members of the South African Muslim Ummah, as well as South Africans of conscience, write to you as the representative of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to raise our deep concerns at recent media reports which mention the impending executions by the Saudi government, of 3 Saudi nationals who are well known scholars of Islam and public commentators. They are Shaykh Salman al-Odah, Shaykh Awad
Al-Qarni and Shaykh Ali Al-Omari.”

“We are surprised and indeed shocked that such eminent personalities with a huge global following on social and digital media would be detained and accused of terrorism amongst other crimes.

Given their popularity amongst the Ummah globally and their efforts to spread Islamic knowledge through various means which has benefited many people. The global Ummah needs to understand how it is possible that they have been identified as criminals and terrorists according to Saudi law.”

“We are surprised at the treatment of Shaykh Salman Al-Odah who visited South Africa in 2008 on a speaking tour as a guest of a local NGO. His lectures and engagement with the South African public was a very positive experience and everyone benefited from this. Alhamdullilah. His website, Islam Today, has assisted many people, both Muslims and nonMuslims to access current, relevant and accurate knowledge about Islam. It has even helped many to accept Islam because they understood its beauty and significance through the articles on the website.”

Samnet said that if indeed these scholars have been detained, then the Saudi government must disclose the nature of the charges, the judicial processes followed and the findings of the courts in this matter. Given the prominence of these scholars globally, transparency in all aspects regarding these scholars “will clarify rumours and speculation”.

“If indeed these scholars have been found guilty of any charges, we sincerely call on the government of the Kingdom to reconsider this decision and impending action, if it is indeed true that such eminent personalities have been identified for execution.

“If these killings go ahead, it will be a huge loss for the global Muslim Ummah, especially in light of the fact that these individuals have been an asset to Islam throughout their lives and careers.”

Earlier this week, the United Ulema Council of South Africa (UUCSA) wrote a similar letter, but said its appeal to the Saudi Kingdom was “apolitical” and is motivated by the prophetic tradition that says:

“Religion is naseegah. The people said: “To whom?” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “To
Allah and to His Book, and to His messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and
to the common folk of the Muslims.” [Muslim]

UUCSA said it would be “catastrophic” if reputed Islamic scholars who enjoy international recognition and who are regarded as beacons of guidance and proponents of tolerance and moderation are executed in the name of anti-terrorism for expressing their scholarly views.

“Such dastardly action will only serve to marginalize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the global ummah and prove to be counterproductive for its long term stability.”

“We trust that you accept this ‘naseegah’ in the spirit that it was intended and that you will withdraw the execution order and that you will summarily release scholars who are incarcerated for simply articulating judicious and scholarly views regarding the political climate in the Kingdom.”


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