Ramadan is a holy month in the Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies. In addition to daylong fasting, one other aspect of the festival in this region is that governments sponsor a range of religious programming in order to burnish their religious credentials, particularly at state-run mosques and on state-owned television stations.
However, many Gulf governments fail to provide adequate oversight when sponsoring Ramadan programming, arranging events that feature religious leaders who have a longstanding record of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. Even if such preachers are more measured in their remarks at these particular government-sponsored events, their state hosts still run the risk of legitimating proponents of bigotry.
The global media outlet Al Jazeera, which the State Department describes as “government owned,” published an offensive video during the second week of Ramadan this year that denied and distorted basic facts about the Holocaust. Following outcry, the network removed the video, suspended two journalists, and said it would apply some sensitivity training.
Yet at this same time the religious fundamentalist most empowered by Al Jazeera, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, continued to remain in the regime’s good graces.
Even though Qaradawi has advocated genocide against the Jewish people and advocated terrorism against American civilians and soldiers in Iraq, Qatar’s ruler kissed Qaradawi and gave him the seat at his side at his Ramadan iftar, ahead of all other preachers and for at least the fifth year in a row.
Less than twenty-four hours later, Qaradawi published a column in a Qatari paper dehumanizing Jewish people by calling them the offspring of apes and pigs.
Nor were the views broadcast by Al Jazeera or published by Qaradawi an isolated phenomenon during this Ramadan.
For example, Ahmed al-Raysouni is Qaradawi’s successor as head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a Qatar-backed preachers’ union based in Doha. Raysouni took exactly the wrong lesson from Al Jazeera’s offensive Holocaust film, writing an article this Ramadan calling on all people to question, distort, or reject basic facts about the Holocaust. This came just days after the Qatari government encouraged the public to attend a Ramadan Friday sermon by Raysouni at Qatar’s state-controlled Grand Mosque.
This year, Qatar also invited back another IUMS cleric, Mohammed Hassan Dadow, as a Ramadan speaker at its state-organized religious activities. Even though his institute in Mauritania was recently closed down for spreading extremism, the government of Qatar promoted him again this Ramadan as part of a symposium pushing the claim that Islam is under attack.
Like Qaradawi, Dadow has dehumanized Jews as the brothers of apes and pigs since his last Ramadan appearance in Qatar. During the intervening year, he also called Jews the enemy, blamed them for all moral and economic corruption in the world, and called for killing them on judgment day.
Not one but two Qatari government TV stations carried daily Ramadan programs this year by a preacher named Thabit al-Qahtani. In 2017, Qahtani wished for God to “destroy the Jews” and has continued since then to spread bigotry toward Christians and Jews.
Qatar’s government also continued to host, broadcast, and/or advertise for appearances at its state-controlled Grand Mosque, Education City Mosque, or Katara Mosque by many other preachers who have a long record of past incitement. Examples include not just Ahmed al-Raysouni but also Abdullah al-Ni’ma, Mowafi Azab, Ahmed al-Farjabi, and Mohammed al-Muraikhi.
Like Qatar, the Saudi government continued to host a number of preachers with a record of past hate speech.
The Grand Mosque in Mecca is the holiest site in Islam and administered by the Saudi state. The preacher selected to kick off the Ramadan prayer services there this year was Saud al-Shureem, who has alleged that there is a conspiratorial “alliance of Safavids with the Jews and Christians against Muslims.” The preacher selected to lead the Eid al-Fitr sermon there at the end of Ramadan was Saleh bin Humeid, who has aspired to “break the cross” of Christianity, taught that immorality is in Jewish people’s nature, and dehumanized gay people as “lower than beasts.”
Saudi Arabia’s state television station Channel One also carried a daily Ramadan program by Saleh al-Moghamsy, a preacher who has declared that Osama bin Laden died with more honor than any non-Muslim, that women are merely an “ornament” to men, and that God “only gathered Jews in the land of Palestine to destroy them.”
More positively, the Saudi-backed Muslim World League hosted a four-day conference with over 1,000 Islamic leaders to generate a “Mecca Charter” in favor of religious moderation and coexistence. The conference was sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and leaders of the effort visited King Salman’s court to present him with their charter.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait
Several related issues seemed to persist this Ramadan in the other Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies as well.
For example, Saleh al-Moghamsy – the Saudi preacher who previously said God “only gathered the Jews in the land of Palestine to destroy them,” called women ornaments, and praised Osama bin Laden for dying a Muslim – made several government-linked appearances this Ramadan in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In the UAE emirate of Dubai, Moghamsy prayed shoulder-to-shoulder between the Dubai ruler’s son Maktoum and the head of the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department at a mosque-opening promoted by the government’s Media Office. Moghamsy delivered the event’s sermon, which was also prominently attended by the ruler’s uncle Ahmed, the chairman and CEO of Emirates Airlines.
Moghamsy also visited Bahrain this spring, including to record a Ramadan television program that was produced, promoted and broadcast by the Bahraini government. Another preacher who spoke at the same mosque Moghamsy visited just before Ramadan, Saad al-Ateeq, is notorious for having previously called for God to “destroy the Jews,” “destroy the Christians,” and “destroy the Shi’ites”.
On the positive side, the Bahraini government hosted a relatively constructive dialogue session this Ramadan at its Embassy in Washington that focused on the importance of tolerance and coexistence between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
Also on a positive note, the UAE appears to have fixed or canceled the two annual state-sponsored events that had been most problematic in the past, in terms of hosting known hate preachers. Both the Dubai Ramadan Gathering and the Dubai International Holy Quran Award had repeatedly hosted preacher lectures and given awards to hate preachers from around the region during Ramadan in years past. But for the first time, neither of them appears to have hosted preacher lectures or given awards to clerics at all this year, sidestepping this chronic problem in an effective way.
Lastly, the Gulf principality of Kuwait did somewhat better this year but also still had room for improvement. For example, the government’s Islamic Affairs Ministry purportedly sponsored a lecture featuring a Sunni preacher named Othman al-Khamees, who has previously helped fundraise for violent extremists in Syria and has repeatedly offended Shi’ites and non-Muslims with his sectarian invective.
Unfortunately, these sorts of missteps could send a message that the preachers of hatred may be tolerated or even supported by governments. Because hatred can sometimes lead to terrorism or other forms of violence, it is in America’s national interest to encourage its allies in the Gulf to resolve this problem once and for all. And it is incumbent on all governments in the Gulf to make it much clearer if these preachers of intolerance and the sentiments they convey are not in keeping with national values.
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