Saudi clerics mount charity defense

April 20, 2010

The headline reads, “Saudi Arabia’s Senior Ulema Council Criminalizes Terrorism,” but that’s only half of the story.  As you’ll see, the decision may have more to do with defending zakat than criminalizing terrorism.  Hat tip to David Cafferty for sending in this Apr. 14 article from the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat:

The Kingdom’s Senior Ulema Council has resolved one of the most important and controversial dossiers by descriptively defining “terrorism” and criminalizing its financing. The Council considered its criminalization of terrorism applicable to all terrorist actions to which the countries of the world are subjected and not just Saudi Arabia.

The council’s decision stipulates the “criminalization of the financing of terrorism” and it stressed its dangers, considering the financer “a partner” in crime, as the Shariaa texts make it clear. The Shariaa fatwa reached by the Senior Ulema Council is considered “important and unprecedented” as it criminalizes terrorism and refers to “fighting and criminalizing terrorism in all its forms and kinds, including its financing” according to the text of the decision that sources have reported to Asharq Al-Awsat.

The decision did not include a specific penalty for the financers of terrorism and left it to the judiciary to determine the penalty under Shariaa law.

The Senior Ulema Council’s decision included a definition of terrorism which was confined to descriptions, saying that these include “targeting public resources, spreading corruption, hijacking planes, and bombing buildings.” It stressed that the opinion it has concluded concerning the definition of terrorism and the criminalization of its action and financing does not concern Saudi Arabia alone but includes the Muslim countries and other countries of the world.

It becomes clear from the ulema’s decision that it excluded charity work from the responsibility for backing and financing terrorism while making individuals involved in exploiting charity work responsible. It exempted charitable work which targets the poor and the building of hospitals and schools on the basis that these are charitable functions under Islamic Shariaa.

By making this decision, the Senior Ulema Council has reached a definition which criminalizes all the terrorist actions by Al-Qaeda organization in Saudi territories since 12 May 2003. The 9/11 events when 19 Al-Qaeda members hijacked three civilian planes are considered “criminal” according to the Saudi ulema’s decision.

The council held an extraordinary secret meeting since last Saturday which the secretariat general called for to discuss the issue of “criminalizing terrorism.” It concluded its meetings and deliberations by sunset on Monday and reached the historic decision about the terrorism phenomenon and the criminalization of its financing in all its forms and kinds.

The announcement hasn’t receive much media attention, but what has been written is largely skeptical.  Elder of Ziyon points out that the fatwa does not clearly criminalize suicide bombers in Israel or Iraq.  Arabia Deserta scratches his head about why it’s taken the Saudi clerics nine years to admit that 9/11 was a crime.  The Strategy Page notes that many Muslims ignore the Ulema Council because they’re on the Kingdom’s payroll.  The Voice of Russia observes that this isn’t the first time Saudi Arabia has made such a hollow announcement to improve its image (like a similar announcement in 2003).

But for Money Jihad, what’s even more significant than the Ulema’s decision about terrorism is its decision about charity.  The Ulema Council appeared to go out of its way to make its case for zakat projects like mosques, schools, and orphanages.

The problem, however, is that separating zakat from terrorism is like separating a zebra from its stripes.  For example, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) charity is busy around the world with efforts to radicalize mosques and madrassas from Macedonia to Bangladesh.  If not confronted, these efforts could tip the balance in favor of Islamist control in those regions.

Also, mosques in the United States such as Dar al-Hijrah have been the beneficiaries of Saudi largesse.  The return on that investment was that Al-Hijrah became a wellspring for jihadist influence in America.

And Saudi-funded orphanages were the veritable womb of the Taliban.  The youngsters from those Saudi-backed “charitable” efforts in Pakistan became the students and foot soldiers of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, which, as we all know, gave safe haven to Al Qaeda and led to 9/11 itself.

Direct funding of terrorism by oil-soaked Saudi sheiks and businessmen is indeed a problem, and it’s good that the Ulema Council has issued a fatwa against terrorism.  But the groundwork laid for global Wahhabi fundamentalism by Saudi charity efforts has become a Frankenstein’s monster unto itself.  Saying, “there, there—don’t fly more planes into more buildings” does not eliminate the pattern of charitable support for Islamist poison in the first place.

If anything, this fatwa represents a doubling down of Saudi obstinacy against any regulation of its own charitable sector.  This bodes awfully for whatever slimmer of hope existed that Saudi Arabia would rethink its position against the creation of a charity regulatory commission.

One comment

  1. […] 2010, Saudi Arabia’s ulema council issued a ruling against terrorism, but the very same ruling defended zakat, which has often been used by wealthy Saudis to finance terrorist causes.  Saudi pronouncements […]

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