Saturday, 16 March 2013

Challenging the Saudi Government on their policies

The Saudi Arabian government, or rather the country's King, claims to be the "Custodian of the Two Holy Places". In addition, its visibility as the home of Islam, and as a country that wears its faith on its sleeve, means that the policies and practices of its leaders and government reflect not only on the citizens of Saudi Arabia but also on Muslims across the world. BFTF is increasingly finding itself having to challenge the Saudi government on some of its policies as described below :

Mar2013: Saudi Gov plans to destroy historic parts of mosque around the Kaaba
A report in the Independant recently described how development to increase the area of the Masjid Al-Haram around the Kaaba in Mecca. According to the article "workers with drills and mechanical diggers have started demolishing some Ottoman and Abbasid sections on the eastern side of the Masjid al-Haram" and points out that many of these old columns are inscribed with intricate Arabic calligraphy and that one column believed to have been destroyed is supposed to mark the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse. Moreover, the plans seen by the Independent show that the Bayt al-Mawlid, an area containing the site of the house where Muhammad was born in, will have to be removed unless plans change.

The article quotes Islamic Heritage expert Dr Irfan al-Alawi as saying “It matters because many of these columns signified certain areas of the mosque where the Prophet sat and prayed...The historical record is being deleted. A new Muslim would never have a clue because there’s nothing marking these locations now. There are ways you could expand Mecca and Medina while protecting the historical heritage of the mosque itself and the surrounding sites.”

BFTF has sent an email to the Saudi Embassy challenging them on this issue:
"I have been disturbed to read that beatifully decorated Ottoman era columns are being torn down and destroyed during the renovation of the Masjid Al-Haram. This is unacceptable and a shocking abuse of your position as the "Custodian of the Two Holy Places". This desctruction should stop now, as should any work to obliterate the Bayt al-Mawlid area. Why are you destroying the Muslim Ummah's heritage in this way?" Ref no CWM-17032013-74632

Also sent an email to the MCB challending them on what they were doing to stop this desctruction of Islamic Heritage. The MCB responded with :
"The Muslim Council of Britain is a British organisation speaking primarily on matters that effect British Muslims...We do not support the destruction of heritage sites anywhere."

And bounced back to the MCB with :
"I am aware that the MCB speaks PRIMARILY on UK based issues, but the MCB does not EXCUSIVELY do so. Indeed, some 20% of the MCB's press relesases over the last year have been on international issues - so I am sure that the MCB could challenge the Saudi Embassy on the issue of destruction of Islamic Heritage if the MCB wanted to.

But I also understand that the MCB can only do so much, and if the wanton destruction of the Islamic architectural heritage around the most holy place in Islam is not, in your eyes, sufficiently high up on the list to warrant taking any action over (not even sending an email to the Saudi Embassy), then so be it."


Feb2013: Saudi Gov lets child murderer off with a fine
Like everybody else (apart from the Saudi Arabian judiciary system it seems) BFTF has been sickened by the fact that the celebrity Saudi preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi has been let off with a fine after torturing his 5 yr old daughter to death. According to media reports (here, here and here) al-Ghami had an agreement with his ex-wife to share the parenting of their daughter, Lama. Recently, he took his daughter from his mother for an agreed two week period. But, within this time, he inflicted the injuries (including a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken left arm and extensive bruising and burns) that lead to Lana's death. Fayhan al-Ghamdi was arrested, charged and admitted the crime.

None of the above is why this story is being posted here. Al-Ghamdi is clearly an evil man - but there are many of those around the world. The reason this story is here is that the juidicial system in Saudi Arabia claims to be Islamic but, in this case, refused to give any kind of severe sentence, instead insisting that Al-Ghamdi should only be fined (with the money going to the Lana's mother). THAT is what has made BFTF angry. Very very angry indeed. Which resulted in this email to the Saudi Embassy in London :
"I have been sickened by the lenient sentence that has been handed down to Fayhan al-Ghamdi for the crime of torturing his daughter to death. Saudi Arabia claims to be goverened by Islamic Law, but this case makes a mockery of that claim and is an insult to the values you profess to uphold. The Saudi Government should be ashamed of itself. "


Update Mar 13: The negative publicity and, presumably, emails challenging the Saudi Embassy on this issue have resulted in the Embassy issuing a statement saying the the trial is not complete, that Al-Ghamdi can be senteced to death and that, even if blood money is accepted, a convicton will still result in a prison sentence. You can read the whole statement here, and if you were one of the people who emailed the Embassy about this, then you are part of what forced them to react an issue these comments. Well Done!
Statement from Saudi Emabassy (click to enlarge)

Update Oct 2013 : A BBC report states that Al-Ghamdi has been sentenced to 8 years in jail and - this is the bit BFTF really likes - 600 lashes. A life sentence was ruled out as the mother of the murdered child had accepted blood money in order to provide for her other children.

Campaigners told the BBC that the "I am Lama" campaign had been key in pressuring the governemnt to introduce new legislation aimed at preventing domestic abuse, and that the outrage generated by the judges earlier comment that Al-Ghamdi might go free without sentence had also been important.

Nov2012:Plans to destroy historic Mosques in Medina
BFTF was disturbed to hear about a report in the Independent that described how the Saudi government is preparing to demolish some of Islam's earliest mosques around that Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina. The articles states that the mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama are under threat in the proposed development plans and that the authorities have announced no plans to preserve or move the three seventh century mosques. Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation comments that "...they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down..."

Indeed the Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in Mecca and Median have been destroyed in the past 20 years. Dr al-Alawi adds that "...Muslim silence over the destruction of Mecca and Medina is both disastrous and hypocritical...The recent movie about the Prophet Mohamed caused worldwide protests... and yet the destruction of the Prophet’s birthplace, where he prayed and founded Islam has been allowed to continue without any criticism.”

BFTF has spoken to some local Imams, who feel that they cannot speak out on this issue or challenge the Saudi Embassy on what the government there is doing. With options limited, the only avenue that seems to be available to ordinary Muslims who are concerned by this is to email the Saudi Emabassy directly, which BFTF has done as follows :

I have been disturbed to read reports that the Saudi Government intends to destroy some of Islam's earliest mosques during the redevelopment of the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina. Can you confirm to me that these reports are untrue and that these mosques are safe from destruction at the hands of the authorities? I have talked to a number of local Imams about this and they have told me that there is no point in contacting you as the Saudi government does not listen to anybody and only wants to destroy all of Islams heritage, but I want to give you the chance to show that this is not the case.



Update 6th Dec 2012 : No response so emailed again.

Update 16th Mar 2013 : A report states that "However new plans approved by King Abdullah last week appear to show a change of heart with the bulk of the expansion now slated to take place to the north of the Masjid an-Nabawi"

Jul2012 : Destruction of Muslim Shrines in N Africa BFTF has been disturbed to hear about the latest in a series of attacks by Muslim extremists on Muslim shrines (often shrines that are hundreds of years old). In the latest incident (reported in Dawn.com), a group called Ansar Dine have attacked and destroyed several shrines in Timbuktu, Mali, at least one of which (the 500yr old tomb of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar) was on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. According to an journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity, "There are many of us watching them destroy the mausoleum. It hurts but we can’t do anything. These madmen are armed, we can’t do anything ...". Sanda Ould Bourama, spokesman for Ansar said that the group would “destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception”.

BFTF wondered what the organisations representing British Muslims were doing about this kind of arrogant vandalism, so sent the following to the MCB and the ISB.

"It has been distressing to read reports of attacks - unbelievably, by Muslim groups - on shrines and mausoleums across the Muslim world. This kind of descruction robs Muslims of their heritage and represents the height of arrogance. Already, much of the heritage in Saudi Arabia has been lost. I would hope that organisations representing Muslims in the UK would be active in preserving that which is left across the world. To this end, could you please advise whether you are doing anything, domestically and internationally, to stop these kinds of attacks."

UPDATE 02Jul12 : Having calmed down a bit, modified the email to use some gentler language. Also would have added MAB to the list if had been able to find an email address for them on their website.

UPDATE 29Jul12 : Discussed this issue with my local Imam, who agreed that national Muslim organisations should be making a stand on this issue. Chased up MCB and ISB as had not received any response from them.

UPDATE 18Aug12 : Chased up MCB and ISB as had not received any response from them.

UPDATE 08Sep12 : Contacted MCB regional representative to ask why central MCB were not responding to emails.

UPDATE 16Sep12 : Discussed with a local Imam who suggested that I should contact MINAB (which BFTF has now done), and that he could raise this at the next meeting he had with his colleagues. Also wrote a relevant post about the contect to this issue. And here are two relevant reports (report one, report two),the first showing how the Salafis attacking the shrines have even tried to dig up the body from its grave.

UPDATE 04 Oct 2012 : Received the following response from MINAB:"Please accept our apologies but we do not engage in question and answer sessions."

UPDATE 04 Oct 2012 : Also sent an email to the Saudi Arabian Embassy saying:
"I have been dismayed and saddened to see the destruction of Muslim shrines across North Africa by Salafi groups, who are widely believed to be supported by Saudi Arabia. What is the Saudi Arabian Government doing to condemn this destruction and to stop it happening in the future"

UPDATE 04 Oct 2012 : Also asked a local Mosque (who are a member of the Muslim Council of Britain) to challenge the MCB on what they are doing on this issue, and gave them a draft email that they could use, if they wanted to:

"As an organisation, XXX is deeply concerned by the destruction of Muslim shrines in North Africa. A concern that is shared by many Muslims in the UK - who are only too aware of what has happened to Islams heritage in Saudi Arabia and fear that a similar "cleansing" is being undertaken in North Africa. It is the duty of national Muslim organisations to lobby and protest against this destruction and we would like to ask what XXX is doing to bring this destruction to Islams heritage in North Afirca to an end. We hope that you can respond, so that we can, in turn, inform our congregation about what is being done in their name."

UPDATE 13Oct12: Talked to an Imam at a local mosque (note: there are several mosques that BFTF classes as "local", please do not assume that it means the same place each time)about this issue. He commented that, whilst he was sympathetic, he felt that Muslims should concentrate on those issues where physical harm was being done and that the reason BFTF had not got any meaningful response from the MCB or MINAB was that these organisations were controlled by people who actually supported the destruction of these historical sites in North Africa. BFTF responded that it is possible to do two things at once, and that as things stood, these organisations were under the impression that no-one cared about what was happening -because no one was challenging them on it.

UPDATE 02Nov12 : Talked to another Imam about this recently, he said that none of the bodies claiming to represent Muslims in the UK could do anything about this and that they had no staff to respond to any ordinary Muslims who contancted them. The Imam did not feel it was useful to challenge governments (e.g contacting the Saudi Embassy) on this issue. BFTF finds this rather heartbreaking - Muslim heritage is being destroyed wholesale and while people are happy to whinge about it, Muslim organisations do not appear to wat to lift a finger to do anything to stop it, or even to speak out to Governments in the region that what is happening is unacceptable.

UPDATE 06Dec12 : Chased up Saudi Arabian Embassy and MCB via email.

UPDATE 04 Mar 2013 : Chased up Saudi Arabian Embassy and MCB via email.

Related links
How Islamic thought is context based.
Attacks on Muslim Shrines.
Wikipedia page on destruction of early Islamic sites

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