Muhammad Bin-Ahmad Bin-Abd-al-Aziz al-Farraj is a prominent Saudi cleric who recognizes the authority of the Saudi regime but advocates militant jihad abroad and opposes any political or social reforms not based purely on Islamic law. Al-Farraj supports the establishment religious scholars and denounces terrorist attacks inside Saudi Arabia. At the same time, he calls for jihad against the “enemies” of Islam, is intolerant of other sects and religions, and rejects the concept of democracy. Al-Farraj has openly criticized as adopting “deviant Western ideas” some non-royal-family officials promoting political reforms. He characterizes demands to alter the religious content of school curricula as an attack by the “enemies” on the foundations of the Saudi state and says any freedoms granted to women would lead to the “degeneration” of society. This profile of Al-Farraj is the second in a series of periodic profiles of leading Saudi clerics.
Al-Farraj has not been observed to appear on Saudi TV or the pan-Arab Islamic channels. His views are expressed in sermons and audio lectures, most of which are available on Islamic websites. His name often appears as a signatory to the joint statements issued by Saudi clerics, although he also issues statements in his own name. Apart from some human rights reports, the primary source of information on Al-Farraj`s life is a profile in the London-based, Saudi-owned online daily Ilaf. The information on Al-Farraj`s biography appears at end of this profile. Views Saudi Regime, Clerics Legitimate
Al-Farraj argues in sermons and public statements that the authority of the Saudi regime is legitimate because its rule is based on Islamic law.
Al-Farraj said in an audio sermon that the “Saudi state was first established on God`s law and thus it enjoyed glory despite the cunningness of its enemies among the Jews, the Christians, the infidels, and the al-rafidah (rejectionists, a derogatory term used in reference to Shiites).” He said the secret of the Saudi state`s survival is not the strength of its leaders, army, or intelligence services, “but because it was founded on Islam as revealed by God” (islamlight.net, date not identified).
In an audio sermon, Al-Farraj referred to King Fahd as “the leader of this country” and said Fahd`s speech to the Shura Council on 17 May 2003 “affirmed that this state has been and will continue to be founded on God`s law” (islamlight.net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj says that Saudi citizens should follow all of the religious clerics` and scholars` rulings and that they are the authority that should guide the leaders to follow Islam. He also supports the members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
In an audio lecture, Al-Farraj described the Senior Ulema Council as “the highest religious authority in the country.” He said: “Everyone should adhere to the sayings of the scholars and refer to the Senior Ulema Council in everything they do” (islamlight.net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement saying: “Scholars and preachers should perform their duty by enjoining what is right . . . They should advise their leaders to establish the true religion; and adhere only to the will of God, as revealed” (islah800.org, 28 Oct 02).
Al-Farraj signed another statement calling it the duty and responsibility of all ulema, whether in official posts or not, “to watch out for errors in religion, make public declarations to keep the people aware of what is happening, issue warnings to the population, and promote virtue and prohibit vice” (islamlight.net, 23 May 06).
Terrorism in Saudi Arabia Denounced
Al-Farraj has denounced terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia; however, instead of referring to those who carry out such attacks as “terrorists,” he calls them “my brothers who carried arms.”
In his statement on the 2004 Riyadh attacks, Al-Farraj described the act as “a great sin, a serious crime, a mounting evil, and a serious development, regardless of those behind it and their pretexts or motives” (saaid.net, 21 Apr 04).
Al-Farraj responded to an article by Cleric Muhsin al-Awaji in which Al-Awaji called for dialogue between the state and Saudi youth involved in the terror attacks on the country. Al-Farraj said: “I urge my brothers who carried arms to withdraw their weapons and make use of this appeal which comes from the highest authority” (muslm.net, 2 Jul 04).
Al-Farraj rejects jihad if it leads to killing Muslims.
In his statement condemning the 2004 attack on the Riyadh traffic directorate, Al-Farraj described the killing of an “innocent Muslim soul” as “an offense and injustice,” and said the act was “completely unacceptable.” In the same statement, Al-Farraj said it is not part of the “mujahid`s ethics” to “violate sanctities, blow oneself up, kill, rob or threaten Muslims with weapons.” He described this as the behavior of “bandits” (saaid.net, 21 Apr 04).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement in 2007 urging the “Islamic insurgency factions” in Iraq to stop their infighting. The statement said: “If the jihad against the enemy ends up being among the mujahidin themselves, and if reconciliation becomes impossible, then it would be better for the mujahid to go home and get busy with his family`s affairs rather than be the cause of shedding the blood of a protected Muslim” (almoslim.net, 11 Apr 07).
Jihad Against Jews, Christians a “Duty”
Al-Farraj preaches that armed jihad is a duty that should be performed to make Islam supreme and he rejects the notion that jihad should be a purely defensive war.
In an audio lecture, Al-Farraj said: “It is our duty to liberate the Muslims from every oppressor and every unjust infidel regime. We should perform jihad to make God`s word supreme. Then, jihad will be for God`s path. After that, we should prepare ourselves and train for war” (audio.islamweb.net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj issued a statement objecting to another statement by some Saudi intellectuals on the possibility of coexistence with the West. Al-Farraj said the intellectuals` statement contained “errors” by “limiting jihad to defensive jihad.” He also thought it was a “let down to the mujahidin, indirectly dissociated itself from their acts, and accepted the term `terrorism,` in its Western context, to describe them” (montada.com, 11 May 02).
Al-Farraj voiced similar criticism in response to a statement signed by clerics following the 2003 terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. In his response, which was posted on the web forum muslm.net, Al-Farraj said that while he agreed “in theory” with the statement`s views on the importance of jihad “as a way out for the nation from the successive crises,” he disagreed on implementation and applications. Al-Farraj was concerned that the statement would mark the start of a “new trend” that seeks to “deviate toward peace” and “isolate jihad and the mujahidin.” He said such a trend would be “unwelcome” (www.muslm.net, 4 May 03).
Al-Farraj delivered an audio sermon in which he blamed the current state of the Islamic nation`s “degradation” on abandoning violent jihad. He says “the only thing that will cleanse this disgrace is the blood of jihad and martyrdom” (islamway.com, date not identified).
According to Al-Farraj, jihad should be performed against the Christians and Jews, who are attacking the Islamic nation. He says those who fight “the people of the book” are the “best martyrs” and calls on Muslims to support and protect the “mujahidin.”
In a statement condemning the 2004 attack on the Riyadh traffic directorate, Al-Farraj nevertheless said that jihad is a “good way to defeat the oppressors and expel the occupiers and invaders: the usurping Jews, Crusader Christian, atheist communists, and the other enemies of religion” (saaid.net, 21 Apr 04).
In an audio sermon, Al-Farraj said: “Today, we see the infidel enemy from the American crusaders, and the Jews behind them, attack the Muslim nation . . . They have declared it a large-scale open-ended war on all fronts to destroy Islam . . . they attacked Afghanistan, and are making plans for Iraq. Now, they are conspiring and inciting against this land of tawhid (monotheism)” (islamway.com, date not identified).
In a statement which he addressed to “the people of Iraq,” Al-Farraj said that fighting “the people of the book is the best form of jihad” and “the best martyrs are those who kill the Christians in the bloody battles between them and the Muslims” (saaid.net, 25 Mar 03).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement urging Muslims to support the “mujahidin” in the Palestinian territories through “words, prayers, advice, money, or physical participation in jihad.” The statement said giving money to the mujahidin is “one of the greatest forms of jihad,” and those who could not do that should use their voices and pens (qal3ah.org, 6 May 02).
Al-Farraj also preaches that youth should be taught to “love jihad and sacrifice.”
In an audio lecture, Al-Farraj said jihad needs “recruitment” and “mobilization of faith.” He said: “Media and school curricula should call for fighting the enemy. People should be brought up on jihad and sacrifice and faith . . . Youth should be raised to love jihad and sacrifice for God. After that, we train them physically” (audio.islamweb.net, date not identified).
In another audio lecture, Al-Farraj said that while he understands that fathers may prevent their sons from going to perform jihad out of sympathy, he reminded them that jihad is a “great duty” and they should assist their sons “on the path of obedience.” He said: “Don`t you know that the martyr supplicates for 70 of his people who should go to hell?” (audio.islamweb.net, date not identified).
Other Religions, Sects Not Tolerated
Al-Farraj expresses intolerance toward non-Muslims and opposes their presence in Saudi Arabia. He says they should either be converted or deported.
In his statement on the 2004 Riyadh attacks, Al-Farraj said: “The enemies of this unified Muslim nation are many . . . At the head of the nation`s enemies are the Jews and the Christians, and all those who serve their aims” (saaid.net, 21 Apr 04).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement which considered the “enmity” between the “infidels” and Muslims “a cosmic law and a shari`ah-based duty.” It accused “the People of the Book and their allies” of “openly demonstrating their hostility” to Islam by attempting to “alter and corrupt” the Islamic religion (miraserve.com, 2 Jan 04).
In an audio sermon on the principle of al-wala wa al-bara (association with Muslims and dissociation from infidels), Al-Farraj says: “Fear God, all of you who have brought the infidels among the Muslims, allowed them in your homes, and employed them in companies and establishments. Invite them to embrace Islam. If they do not, then deport them and expel them from the Arabian Peninsula. You are disobeying God in every second they spend among you” (islamlight.net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj voices similar hostility toward Shiites. He considers them “enemies of Islam” and condones the use of force against them. He says Shiites in Saudi Arabia should not be accepted as citizens or entrusted with any positions.
In an audio sermon, Al-Farraj described the Shiites as the “enemies of Islam” and said that the “war” with Shiites is a “war of creed” and not a “political war.” In the same sermon, Al-Farraj said that “nothing will teach (al-rafidah) a lesson except force,” and it would be “foolish” to consider them good citizens, employ them, entrust them with positions or with the Muslims` holy places, or think that they could be united with the Sunnis by one government (audio.islamweb.net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement warning of a “crusader, Safavid (Iranian) and al-rafidi (Shiite) scheme” against the Sunnis in Iraq. It said the allegiance and obedience which Shiites demonstrate to Sunni rulers are “merely forms of appeasement and hypocrisy until they gain the upper hand.” It cautioned Muslims of the “danger” that the Shiites pose and asked the ulema to “expose al-rafidah`s deeds at every turn” (almoslim.net, 7 Dec 06).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement which accused the Shiites of using the 11 September 2001 attacks to “fill the hearts of Americans with a grudge against school curricula.” It said: “They claimed that this creed, which they deprecatingly described as Wahhabism, incites hatred against religious minorities and other religions” (miraserve.com, 2 Jan 04).
Democracy, Political, Social Reforms Rejected
In one of his audio sermons, Al-Farraj declared his “disbelief (kufr)” in democracy, which he described as “an infidel pagan and devious concept” that “imitates the infidels and questions whether Shari`ah rules.” He said: “Anyone taking part in an infidel parliament endorses the communists, secularists, and atheists” (islamlight.net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj also strongly opposes any political and social reforms except those based on Shari`ah law. He signed a joint statement criticizing the “westernization drive” in Saudi Arabia that said “reforms can only be carried out by adhering to the shari`ah” and “reforms, security, and stability can only be achieved by implementing the Islamic creed, shari`ah, and method” (islamlight.net, 23 May 06).
Al-Farraj is open in his criticism of Saudi officials and calls for exiling some officials “known for their deviant Western ideas.”
Al-Farraj criticized the Saudi information minister for statements which Al-Farraj characterized as encouraging women to rebel against authorities and demand their right to drive. In an audio sermon, Al-Farraj said: “Since this man became minister the media is suffering from corruption and depravity” (islamlight. net, date not identified).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement accusing “circles from this homeland” of leading a westernization drive in the country. The statement warned of a “gang” of individuals which it said were “well-known for their deviant Western tendencies” and who “succeeded in seizing sensitive posts, influencing the state`s decisions, and controlling some government departments.” The statement accused this “gang” of “discrediting” and “distancing” ulema, preachers, and judges from the rulers. It asked the rulers to “exile every person whose religious commitment and loyalty is suspect, remove them from their positions of power, and exclude them from the pulpits of information and guidance.” It also accused an official figure with “political and cultural credentials” of encouraging the female writer of the novel Riyadh Girls “to continue in total defiance of Islamic society`s values and the country`s traditions” (islamlight.net, 23 May 06).
Al-Farraj signed another joint statement condemning the Interior Ministry for its “westernization” ideas and for “upholding the campaign for westernizing the society.” In addition to criticizing the ministry, the statement asked all those who participate in the “deviant media” to “fear Almighty God and realize the danger of what they are doing” (islamlight.net, 2 May 06).
A website posting said that during a lecture held at the sidelines of the Riyadh International Book Fair, Al-Farraj threatened to present Prince Muhammad Bin-Nayif (assistant interior minister for security affairs) with a list of names and demand that they be prosecuted for “corrupting and westernizing the society.” During the lecture, several Islamist extremists, including A-Farraj, directed harsh criticism at the chief editors of Al-Watan and Al-Riyadh newspapers and called for the resignation of the Saudi information minister, all of whom were present at the lecture (alhoreyah.net, 26 Nov 06).
Education Reform Opposed
Al-Farraj defends the Islamic content of educational curricula, particularly the chapters on jihad and the principle of al-wala wa al-bara, because he says they are related to the declaration of faith and constitute some of its essential elements.
In an audio sermon, Al-Farraj said: “Jihad is the destiny of this nation. Those who want to remove the chapter on jihad from the Islamic sciences curricula, the Muslim`s dictionary, and Muslim`s lives are mistaken and in the wrong” (islamway.com, date not identified).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement which considered it a “religious duty” and “top priority” for Muslims to protect Islamic curricula, educational and religious institutions, and charity organizations. It said: “We should first resist those voices that slander this country and brand it with terrorism, extremism, and radicalism.” The statement said “compromising” a Muslim`s position on education or religious studies is “a great sin” (islah800.org, 28 Oct 02).
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement opposing plans to change school curricula. The statement said the aim of the changes was to delete the issue of allegiance and disavowal from the curricula, along with the attitude that a Muslim should have toward Jews, Christians, and other “infidels” (MIRA, 2 Jan 04).
Al-Farraj considers the demands to change curricula to be an attack by the “enemies” of Islam against the foundations of the Saudi state, and any change to Islamic curricula to be a surrender to outside pressure. He accuses reformists inside Saudi Arabia of collusion with foreigners.
Al-Farraj signed a joint statement which considered the demand to alter school curricula to be a “part of (the enemies`) war on Islam and an assault on the nation`s sovereignty, independence, and loyalty to its principles.” The statement said complying with these demands “is no less serious than military surrender to an enemy in battle.” It argued that altering or removing the writings of Islamic scholars and preachers from the curricula contravenes the state`s policy of allegiance on the basis of faith and would “undermine the foundations of the state” and “the union among its various regions and tribes. The statement said such a move “would constitute a tacit admission of the false allegation made by orientalists and other enemies of the Tajdid (Renewal Movement) that it is an extremist movement that contradicts the attitudes of the majority of Muslims” (MIRA, 2 Jan 04).
Speaking in a debate held at the “education reform forum” at the sidelines of the Riyadh International Fair, Al-Farraj rejected “any reform or any change that comes from outside.” He added: “Unfortunately, there are voices inside the kingdom that have been in tune with voices abroad” (alwifaq.net, 3 Mar 06).
Liberation of Women Opposed
Al-Farraj opposes women`s participation in public life. He believes that any freedoms granted to women will open the door to gender mixing and thus lead to the degeneration of society. Al-Farraj considers women`s driving and gender mixing a source of “great vice.”
Al-Farraj said in an audio lecture: “A woman`s place is at home and it is better for a woman to remain in her house, whether people like it or not.” Anyone objecting to this, he said, “is an infidel” (islamlight.net, date not identified).
In a written lecture, Al-Farraj considered gender mixing “a dangerous door and a dark path to degeneration and detachment from morals.” He advised fathers not to be lax in allowing their wives or daughters to go out as this will lead to “serious evils” because they will “beautify themselves, take off their hijabs and be indecent” (islamlight.net, 4 Jul 05).
In an audio lecture entitled, “The objectives and influence of (the television program) Tash ma Tash,” Al-Farraj declared the actors of the program apostates who should be punished by death after an episode mocked the Islamic law that a woman cannot be alone with a man or travel alone without the presence of her husband or a muhram (a man she cannot marry, such as her father or brother) (www.muslm.net, 4 Nov 03).
Al-Farraj was a signatory to a joint statement which said women`s driving should be prohibited “as a preventative measure,” because it will lead women and society “to great vice and grave consequences” (metransparent.com, 13 Jul 05).
Al-Farraj has expresses contradicting views on women`s right to an education, yet is consistent in demanding that women`s education be controlled by the religious establishment.
Al-Farraj delivered an audio lecture in which he considered the “worst and most serious form” of gender mixing that which takes place at universities. He demanded a separate university for females which is planned by “ulema, not secularists,” and supervised by “people of religion” (islamlight.net).
Also in an audio sermon, Al-Farraj said women`s education has to “abide by Islam” and should be “controlled in accordance with God`s laws.” Anything else, he says, “is totally rejected” (islamlight.net).
Biographical Information on Al-Farraj
Dr Muhammad Bin-Ahmad Bin-Abd-al-Aziz al-Farraj is a lawyer, an orator at Al-Rawdah mosque in Riyadh, and formerly a lecturer at Imam Muhammad Bin-Sa`ud Islamic University (Amnesty International human rights 1999 report on Saudi Arabia, amnesty-arabic.org, muslm.net).
The primary source of information on Al-Farraj`s life is a profile by Sultan al-Qahtani, a reporter for the London-based internet daily Ilaf (29 Nov 06, GMP20061129825003). In addition, some human rights reports documented Al-Farraj`s arrest in 1999.
The Ilaf profile describes Al-Farraj as “one of the distinguished students” inRiyadh and says he gained his knowledge from senior scholars of the Salafi movement, such as Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Baz and Shaykh Muhammad Bin-Uthaymin. He was influenced by the Afghan jihad, particularly Shaykh Jamilurahman, a prominent Salafi leader in Afghanistan. He visited Afghanistan several times and received weapons training in the camps of Afghan leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Ilaf says Al-Farraj became one of the leaders of the Islamic Awakening movement following the second Gulf war, along with clerics Salman al-Awdah, Safar al-Hawali, and A`id al-Qarni. Al-Farraj has been active in the Hisbah (an Islamic judicial system) within the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Al-Farraj was arrested more than once; first in 1995, when he participated in an unspecified way in an attack against Saudi security officer Colonel Sa`ud al-Shibrin who had an acidic substance thrown at him as an act of revenge by Abdallah Bin-Abd-al-Rahman al-Hudayf (Ilaf, 29 Nov 06). Apparently, Al-Shibrin had tortured Al-Hudayf when Al-Hudayf was serving a prison sentence for “inciting against the state and holding it to be infidel” (Ilaf, 29 Nov 06). Al-Farraj served three years and was released by a royal amnesty in August 1997.
Al-Farraj was arrested again by the Saudi General Intelligence in August 1999 and jailed in Al-Ha`ir prison in Riyadh two weeks after he wrote and published a poem lauding clerics Salman al-Awdah and Safar al-Hawali, who had been arrested in September 1994 for political and religious activities. Al-Farraj was arrested again on 27 November 2006 after leading a gathering of Islamist extremists who stormed the stage and used force in an attempt to stop the performance of a local play that discussed the issue of religious extremism inSaudi Arabia. (Amnesty International human rights 1999 report on Saudi Arabia, amnesty-arabic.org)
Al-Farraj is the cousin of Fahd al-Juwayr Al-Farraj, who was identified as the former leader of Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula and was the man who led the attack on the Buqayq oil facility in eastern Saudi Arabia on 24 February 2006 (GMP20060316710030).
Al-Farraj has a webpage hosted on the Nur al-Islam website (www.islamlight.net/alfarraj ) Description of Sources Islamweb.net: Qatari-based Islamist website providing a “balanced” and “moderate” view of Islam. Montada.com: Website registered in Saudi Arabia providing discussion forums on a wide range of issues. It contains some jihadist material. Almoslim.net: Sunni conservative website founded under the supervision of Saudi Cleric Shaykh Nasir al-Umar Islamway.com: Islamic website providing information about Islam and an archive of fatwas and audio sermons. Saaid.net: Islamist website providing articles, fatwas, library of audio sermons, as well as links to websites of many clerics and preachers. Qal3ah.org: Islamist internet forum. Islamlight.net: Sunni conservative website founded under the supervision of Saudi Cleric Muhammad al-Habadan. Islah800.org: Website of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a London-based Saudi dissident organization. Miraserve.com: Alternative website for the Movement for Islamic Reform inArabia, a London-based Saudi dissident organization. Alhoreyah.net: Website providing discussion forums on political, social, and cultural issues. Alwifaq.net: Electronic newspaper focusing on coverage of Saudi local issues. Muslm.net: Website popular for forum discussions and statements related to jihad groups in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world. Metransparent.com: Website containing news reports and articles by various Arab writers, and links to Arab news websites.
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