Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaik Image Credit: AFP

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, the highest religious authority in the country, said on Tuesday that the militant groups Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al Qaida were “enemy number one of Islam” and not in any way part of the faith.

Although Al Shaikh and other senior Saudi clerics have condemned Isil, Al Qaida and other militant groups before, the timing of Al Shaikh’s statement is significant given the gains made by militants in Iraq.

“Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilisation, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims,” he said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

He later compared them to the Kharijite movement in early Islam, which assassinated the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) son-in-law Ali for making compromises to a rival Muslim faction, and has been seen as heretical by most Muslim sects.

Saudi Arabia sees Islamist militants, who have staged attacks in the kingdom last decade, as posing a threat to its own stability. Thousands of young Saudis are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join rebel and militant groups, heightening domestic security concerns.

Saudi Arabia labelled Isil, Al Qaida, Nusra Front and other groups as “terrorist” organisations in March and set out long prison terms for offering them public support or giving them moral or material aid.

Early this month, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz made a speech attacking militant groups using religious justifications for their actions, and urged Muslim scholars and leaders to help mould public opinion against such groups.