Saad al-Ateeq – who has previously called for God to “destroy” Christians, Jews, Alawites, and Shiites – speaking at the 2018 Dubai International Holy Quran Award.
The Islamic month of Ramadan is a venerated time in the Gulf. Worshippers place a renewed emphasis on piety and community, while governments try to burnish their moral credentials by sponsoring major religious activities.
Yet in so doing, America’s Gulf allies provided a platform this year to a wide range of hate preachers. By hosting such extremists – even if the preachers do not incite hatred at that specific event – these governments are complicating the war on terrorism and sending a message that flagrant hate speech is not an impediment to rewards from the state.
Such conduct is particularly problematic when it comes from the Gulf, because many pious Muslims consider there to be a certain legitimacy that comes from speaking the language of the Quran in the regional home to Islam, its prophet, and its two holiest sites. As such, incitement in the Gulf can often have ripple effects beyond the region and should be discouraged more actively by Washington.
Qatar is by far the most problematic of America’s Gulf allies in this regard. Indeed, Qatar’s Emir literally embraced the noted hate preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi this Ramadan for at least the second year in a row, hugging and kissing Qaradawi on state TV according to footage posted online. The Emir did not seem bothered by the fact that Qaradawi has glorified al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and advocated genocide against the Jewish people, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
Both of the preachers who continue to deliver regular Friday sermons at Qatar’s state-controlled Grand Mosque have given sermons there this past year that demonized the Jewish people and told their fellow Muslims that Jews or Christians are their natural enemies, according to sermon transcripts on the Grand Mosque’s website. Despite this, each man was awarded his own series of Ramadan specials this year on Qatari state-owned TV.
This Ramadan, Qatar’s government also demonstrated support for at least five other hate preachers through its Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, using its Twitter account to promote their lectures at prominent locations, including Qatar’s Grand Mosque, the mosque in its Katara cultural village, and the country’s Education City Mosque. The U.S. has a particular interest in what happens at the latter site because it serves the educational institutions on the Qatar Foundation’s Education City campus, including satellite campuses for six U.S. universities.
These preachers included Thabit al-Qahtani, who through his Twitter account has called upon God to “destroy the Jews” and ruled that “if the West says: ‘we are not the enemies of Islam,’ either they are lying or we are not for true Islam”; Mowafi Azab, who has declared (on a Qatari government website for fatwas called IslamWeb) that “the Jews” use pornographic movies to “destroy the world and control it”; and Ahmed al–Farjabi, who has issued rulings on that same website calling the Jewish people “our enemy” and suggesting that America is one of “the homelands of corruption and abomination and the countries of the infidels.”
The preachers also included the Mauritanian Mohammed al-Dadow – who, according to his website, has called the Jewish people “the enemies… of humanity in general” and claimed the Islamic world is under attack from “the cross worshippers,” “malicious Zionists,” and treasonous Shi’ite “rejectionists” – and Shaqer al-Shahwani, who claims on Twitter that “the Jews” are “behind every immorality and vice” in the world.
The latter two preachers also have had ties to terrorists, according to news reports.
Several days before his government-sponsored speech in Qatar, Dadow shared a stage in Mauritania with a top Hamas leader and reportedly encouraged donations according to a local news site. According to Britain’s The Telegraph, Shahwani used to be a “full-time ‘representative in Qatar’ collecting donations” for a Kuwaiti fundraiser who was sanctioned soon afterward by the U.S. and U.N. for funding al-Qaeda. Shahwani himself was sanctioned in 2017 by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain on terrorism charges.
Like Qatar, the U.A.E. emirate of Dubai also promoted preachers this Ramadan who have an obvious record of hate speech. This is at odds with the policies of Abu Dhabi and the U.A.E. federal government, which generally promote religious tolerance.
The Dubai International Holy Quran Award is organized by a committee led by the Ruler of Dubai’s adviser, according to the festival’s website. Fliers for the event that were posted by the program’s Twitter account carried the name and logo of the Government of Dubai, as did the event’s table for guest speakers.
Ateeq has previously called in his public sermons for God to “destroy… the Jews,” as well as the Christians, Shiites and Alawites, a heterodox Muslim sect located primarily in Syria. Ateeq has also called for God to “save al-Aqsa from the claws of the Jews.”
According to the New York Times, Omar Abdulkafi has instructed Muslims not to walk on the same side of the street as Christians. And MEMRI notes that Abdulkafi has also described 9/11 as a “comedy film” and called the Charlie Hebdo attacks its “sequel,” in which he falsely claimed no Muslims took part.
The Dubai festival also hosted Saleh al-Moghamsy, a Saudi preacher who has claimed that God created women as a mere “ornament” to men and “only gathered Jews in the land of Palestine to destroy them.” Moghamsy has also declared that Osama bin Laden died “with more sanctity and honor” than any non-Muslim, according to MEMRI.
Saudi Arabia is making some important reforms, including in religious affairs. It recently replaced its hardline Minister of Islamic Affairs with a relative moderate. Similarly, the Saudi-based Muslim World League now has a more tolerant secretary general, who has prioritized interfaith dialogue.
However, Saudi Arabia still promoted some notable extremists this Ramadan.
For example, Saudi state television hosted several hour-long programs this Ramadan featuring Saad al-Ateeq, the preacher who has called for God to “destroy” the Christians, Shi’ites, Alawites, and Jews.
Also featured on state television: Saleh al-Fawzan, who remains a member of the kingdom’s highest government religious body and was visited this April by the Saudi heir apparent according to al-Arabiya. The Economist has previously reported that Fawzan claimed that the Islamic State – a Sunni terrorist group – is actually a creation of Jews, Christians, and Shiites. He has even gone so far according to Human Rights Watch as to demonize Shi’ite Muslims by calling them “the brothers of Satan.”
Saudi Arabia also gave the honor of delivering this year’s Eid al-Fitr sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca to Saleh bin Humaid, who like Fawzan holds a seat on the kingdom’s highest religious body. Bin Humaid has previously dehumanized gay people as “lower than beasts” and claimed it is in Jews’ “nature” to “plot against the peoples of the world.”
The Gulf nation of Kuwait promoted a problematic preacher named Nayef al-Ajmi this Ramadan by featuring him on an hour-long program on state television, according to footage and posts on social media.
Ajmi previously served as Kuwait’s Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs but resigned after the U.S. condemned his fundraising for Syrian jihadists and pointed out that his image had been featured on fundraising posters for a prominent al-Qaeda financier. Ajmi has also engaged in egregious anti-Semitism, dehumanizing the Jewish people as “scum,” according to MEMRI.
He still appears to be listed on the faculty of Kuwait’s flagship public university, according to the website for the university’s College of Sharia and Islamic Studies.
America’s Gulf allies should know better. More importantly, they need to be pressed by Washington and the international community to do better, too.
Strengthening religious extremists is bad for America and undermines the fight against terrorism, making it easier for terrorists to fundraise and recruit. But it is ultimately dangerous for the Gulf states as well, making it harder for them to build safe, tolerant, and open societies.