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Saudi Prince Warns Clerics on Rhetoric

Saudi Prince Warns Clerics on Rhetoric

Author:
Publication: International Herald Tribune, UK
Date: November 16, 2001

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia's crown prince has asked clerics to tone down their sermons to avoid embarrassing the kingdom or aggravating anti-Muslim sentiment around the world following the September attacks on the United States.

"I hope you appreciate your responsibility before God, your people and officials, so we do not land in an embarrassing situation," Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz said in remarks published Thursday by the English-language Arab News. "We are a moderate nation," he said, "and there should be no exaggeration in religion."

Telling the clerics that Muslims are going through "difficult days," Prince Abdullah, who is Saudi Arabia's day-today leader, said, "Now you are a target for those against Islam." Diplomats in Riyadh said the request was significant because the government was acknowledging for the first time its concern about Saudi Arabia's image abroad as an Islamic state that fosters extremism.

"They have been sending this message privately, but this is the first time they have done it publicly," said a Western diplomat in Riyadh. "It's a big step."

"It's a serious effort to control public opinion here and to make clear that intolerance is not to be favored at this stage," the diplomat said.

Saudi Arabia has been criticized in Western press reports for not doing enough to assist the U.S.-led war against terror. It has refused to allow use of a U.S. air base in the kingdom by warplanes taking part in air strikes on Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terror suspect, has been hiding.

The government has urged official clerics to issue statements making it clear that the kingdom condemned the Sept. 11 attacks. But some clerics have recently increased anti-Western rhetoric in their Friday sermons, sharply criticizing non-Muslims and denouncing supporters of the U.S.-led military strikes on Afghanistan as nonbelievers.

The publication gave a fuller account of Prince Abdullah's presentation on Wednesday to senior religious and judicial officials than a report issued the same day by the Saudi Press Agency.

"I ask that you not be swept away by emotions or be incited by anyone," Prince Abdullah said, adding that the government would handle foreign affairs judiciously and without hasty decisions.

He was addressing the top Saudi cleric, Sheikh Abdulaziz al Sheikh; the top judicial official, Sheikh Saleh Ibn Mohammed al Luhaidan; the Islamic affairs minister; and other officials.

The newspaper Okaz quoted Sheikh Luhaidan as replying that clerics had a duty to listen to the Saudi leadership. "Our duty to our guardians is to listen and obey properly within the limits forced on us by God and to hold our tongues properly, except for that which brings benefit to our country and Islamic nation," he said. (Reuters, AP)
 


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