OPN PRAY-1577530542498
Image Credit: AFP

As 2019 slides into history, these final days are significant for their religious themes to Christians and Jews. For them it is a time to come together and renew their bindings of faith and family. Muslims all over the world should respect the fact that coexistence based on respect for the faith of others is essential. In Saudi Arabia, during recent years, the trend towards that concept has been very positive and obvious in the decline in divisive fatwas (religious edicts) that used to spring up constantly earlier.

Going back in history, callous individuals used religion as a tool to stamp their brand of prejudices or morality. To sway the poor and uneducated, they would often appear in the guise of holy men and preachers of knowledge and peddle on their personal beliefs in the form of holy edicts, some designed to increase suspicion and hostility of other faiths.

Those in Saudi Arabia have not been strangers to such phenomena. In fact, in the past three or four decades, edicts or fatwas, as they are called, took on extreme and sinister turns. These fatwas are supposedly derived from interpretations of the Hadith, the sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Clerics were quick to issue edicts based on their personal interpretations and understanding. In many cases, these were actually nothing more than ill-thought expressions of cultural identity.

One of the greatest igniters of hatred and Islamophobia unfortunately comes not through clerics, but some world politicians who are not shy to let their racial comments spew forth...

- Tariq A. Al Maeena, Saudi commentator

To counter the sordid results of some of these extreme edicts, leaders of the Islamic world have sat up and taken notice. More than a decade ago, the late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia had the foresight to understand the cancers of Islamophobia and reached out to leaders of other religious followings and set up an interfaith exchange to help dispel the suspicions between faiths. That programme still exists and has broadened the understanding between faiths.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) soon followed with another series of interfaith conferences that brought in a lot of positive developments and understanding. Such is the divisive nature of these interpretations of the Hadith that it finally compelled the kingdom to counter this rising menace. In a royal decree not long after he took over, King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz ordered the establishment of an authority to scrutinise interpretations and applications of the Hadith, which are accounts of the sayings, actions or habits of the Prophet [PBUH] that are used by preachers and jurists to support teachings and edicts on all aspects of life. This newly-formed authority’s primary purpose would be to “eliminate fake and extremist texts and any text that contradicts the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders and terrorist acts”.

In more recent times, leaders of Malaysia, Turkey and other Islamic countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur to address the many critical issues facing the Muslim world. Islamophobia factored prominently among the major topics for discussion.

more on the topic

Terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al Qaida in the past had used extreme interpretations of Hadiths numbered in the thousands to recruit terrorists, justify violence and to urge supporters to carry out attacks in the name of Islam. That in itself is one of the greatest vilifications of all. These people do not have a shred of Islamic behaviour coursing through their bodies.

The kingdom is actively countering to stamp out such acts. Extremist individuals have been rounded up and sequestered and replaced by qualified clerics in Islamic scripture. Islam has suffered enough through the actions of divisive and intolerant people.

Today, one of the greatest igniters of hatred and Islamophobia unfortunately comes not through clerics, but some world politicians who are not shy to let their racial comments spew forth to the delight of their constituents. Using Islam as a punching bag, these politicians target the faith in the hope of securing votes or acceptance. Nothing could be more unscrupulous than that. From the United States to the United Kingdom, from India to Australia, we have all read of reports of anti-Muslim acts that in some cases have led to tragic ends. We, as Muslims, must counter such feelings incited by these hate-mongers by sticking to the discipline taught to us by our religion.

Let 2020 be a year of Islamic understanding. Happy holidays and a blessed New Year to all.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.