GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Wahhabi Islam and the Arab Spring:
Paper Proposal Text :
Protests are "un-Islamic," because demonstrations threat the unity of the Islamic world, stated Saudi Grand Mufti, Shaykh `Abd al-`Aziz Al al-Shaykh, in response to the Arab Spring. He blamed Muslim sinfulness for instability in the Middle East and the unrest resulting from the Arab Spring: "The schism, instability, the malfunctioning of security and the breakdown of unity that Islamic countries are facing these days is a result of the sins of the public and their transgressions". On the same note, Shaykh `Abd Al- Rahman al-Barrak issued a fatwa considering the conflict in Yemen to be a fitna that must be avoided, accusing those engaged in demonstrations of: "seeking mundane demands rather than promoting the Word of Allah." A similar stance has been taken regarding the demonstrations in Bahrain where thirteen Saudi clerics issued a fatwa denouncing protests in their country and warning of "illicit schemes" by protestors.
On the other hand, some prominent Wahhabi scholars show support and sympathy regarding protests in the Arab world. For example, Shaykh Salman al-`Udah broke rank and expressed his support for the Arab Spring. He challenged the legitimacy of the regimes in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. He sparked another dramatic episode when, in early April 2011, he chastised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reluctance to support protesters in Libya and Syria. Al-`Udah tweeted: "With all due respect, do not be a supporter to the criminals. It is the right of the Syrian and Libyan people to have the freedom your people have, so do not shake hands with those whose hands are stained with the blood of their people." Likewise, Shaykh `Ayd al-Qarni urged the Yemeni President `Ali `Abd Allah Saleh to resign, claiming that remaining in power is nothing but fitna.
As the Arab protests intensified, some clerics broken ranks with their institutions, while others seemed to contradict themselves over time. For example, in a clear break from the Saudi Board of Senior `Ulama', Shaykh Salih al-Luhaydan called directly for Hosni Mubarak to step down, urging that he meet the demonstrators’ demands to preserve security and stability in Egypt. In late April, he issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the "atheist" Syrian government: "The Baath Party is fascist and malignant. It pretends to want to resurrect Arabs anew. However, Arabs have seen nothing but evil from them. I call on the Syrian people to be diligent in resisting the Syrian regime, even if there are casualties." Nasir al-`Umar, whose early fatwa against self-immolation served to temper the enthusiasm of protest movements, also shifted his stance. In June 2011, amid continued unrest, he joined al-Qarni in calling on the Yemeni regime to cease its: "bloody crimes against defenseless people." A month later, the Association of Muslim Scholars, where al-`Umar serves as Secretary-General, condemned the "massacres" in Syria and called for the end of the Assad regime. `Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, who had denounced protests in Yemen, appeared to reverse his position on Egypt in late May. According to one fatwa, the protests in Egypt were: "a testimony to God’s power, Praise the Lord for what happened; which was needed for the people of Egypt and the evil is removed."
Clearly, the Arab Spring has challenged the Wahhabi religious discourse on freedom of speech, in general, and regarding the right and means to protest, in particular. In this proposed paper, I will attempt to understand the means by which modern-day Wahhabis approach these fundamental principles. Given the varied Wahhabi attitudes towards the above, emphasis will be placed on changes and developments within the Wahhabi doctrines on the right of speech, demonstration and protest.