CORRECTION: Sami has kindly alerted me to the fact that Al-Awdah does mention 9/11 in a negative light, although Gulf News doesn’t quote that. It’s in the full text of his letter, here. It is refreshing, then, that Al-Awdah apparently rejects the contention (explained by Anjem Chaudary here) that no non-Muslim is innocent.
Now if he can go the whole way and renounce the whole Islamic supremacist project, we might be getting somewhere — although his emphasis on da’wah in this letter, as more effective than jihad violence, doesn’t make that likely.
This is already being hailed, predictably enough, as a major breakthrough, and predictably enough, there is less here than meets the eye. “Why now, Sheikh?,” asks Tareq Al Homayed, and he has a good question. In the first place, it’s noteworthy that “clerics in his native Saudi Arabia…have avoided direct criticism of the Al Qaida leader.” Why have they done that? Are they afraid that if they criticize Osama they will alienate Saudis who find his assumption of Islamic purity compelling?
Also, Salman Al Awdah decries the innocents killed by Al-Qaeda, but does not of course clarify the burning question of just who qualifies as innocent in Islamic law, and whether non-Muslims can ever be legitimately regarded as innocent.
He is upset about Al-Qaeda activity in Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia — unmentioned, you’ll notice, is the United States, or Britain. And his support of Islamic “charity” work — that is, financial contributions to the global jihad — and of the jihad in Falluja indicate that his quarrel with Osama is just over the killing of fellow Muslims, and perhaps of some tactics, but not over larger questions of his motives and goals.
“Top Saudi cleric denounces Bin Laden,” from Gulf News (thanks to Sami Zaatari):
Riyadh: A leading Saudi cleric has publicly denounced Osama Bin Laden, a rare move among clerics in his native Saudi Arabia who have avoided direct criticism of the Al Qaida leader.
Salman Al Awdah issued his “open letter to Osama Bin Laden” on his Web site this week (www.islamtoday.net) and read it out on a show he presents on Saudi-owned pan-Arab channel MBC.
Western and Arab critics of Saudi Arabia’s hard line religious establishment have often criticised senior clerics for failing to unequivocally distance themselves from the mastermind of 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people.
“Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of Al Qaida?” he said.
“The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, … cannot make Muslims happy,” he said, attacking Al Qaida’s policy of revolt across the region.
“Who benefits from turning countries like Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia into places where fear spreads and no one can feel safe?”
Al Awdah said Al Qaida’s actions had led Western governments to rein in Muslim charity work around the world and Arab governments to jail thousands.
One Saudi commentator said the letter was six years too late.
“Why now, Sheikh?,” wrote Tareq Al Homayed in the pan-Arab Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat on Monday. “He is distancing himself from Bin Laden at a time when those who do so have nothing to lose and no price to pay.”
Awdah was one of 26 Saudi clerics who supported resistance to US forces in Iraq as “jihad”, or holy war, during the US siege of Falluja in November 2004.