Unsettling

Sheikh Namer al-Namer is a radical Shia cleric who enjoys a following in his little hometown of al-Awamiya in Qatif. If Sheikh Hasan al-Saffar represents the dominant and more tolerant, open-minded voice calling for unity and dialogue with the government, then Sheikh al-Namer stands at the other end of the Shia spectrum with some extreme views and a divisive message. As you might expect, his views didn’t win him many friends, especially in the government who has detained him several times over the past few years.

In his Friday sermon last week, Sheikh al-Namer talked about a possible war between the US and Iran. He asked Iran to reassure the neighboring countries that their peoples’ vital interest will not be compromised, and at the same time said that Iran has the right to defend itself. “They would definitely have the right to close the Straits of Hormuz, to destroy the Zionist entity and to hit American bases and its interests present all over the world,” he added.

Moreover, he said “We stand by Iran and we will do everything to support this country.”

Now of course Sheikh al-Nemer has the right to express his opinion in any issue he wants, but I don’t think the pulpit is the right place to promote his political agenda. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking, but the message he is sending here is certainly unsettling to many of his countrymen and reinforces the prejudices some of them already have regarding the loyalty of Saudi Shia to their homeland.

There are some efforts on both sides to soothe the sectarian tension, but unfortunately most of these efforts remain modest compared to the loud voices of extremists like al-Nemer and his counterparts on the other side of the divide. I believe moderates should work harder and join forces with the King who has repeatedly shown his commitment to dialogue and better understanding between the different trends in our society, as well as between all Muslims and between major faiths around the world.

Who Needs Doctors?

Saudis comprise around 20% of the workforce in the healthcare sector. Considering this very low figure, the government have decided to open new colleges of medicine and health-related sciences to cope with the increasing demand of healthcare services in the country. It seems pretty much straightforward and it should make sense to almost everyone. I say “almost” because there is one particular man who strongly disagrees.

Sheikh Saleh al-Fowzan, a senior cleric and member of the Ulema Council, recently wrote to Al-Riyadh daily expressing his dismay at this approach by the government, which included opening health colleges even at Imam Mohammed bin Saudi Islamic University, and asking the government to open more religious colleges at the “civic” universities. I thought we already have large Islamic studies departments at all of our universities but what do I know.

Sheikh al-Fowzan argues that people need Sharia more than they need medicine and science, and that they need muftis and preachers more than doctors and scientists. (!)

With mentalities like this one, no wonder our country is still struggling to join the modern world. Such statements readily exposes that there are still some people in the religious establishment who seem so detached from reality. I have to say that at first I was laughing and thought nobody would buy his argument, but going through many comments on the newspaper’s website had left me frightened. This man owns a seat in the body which has the highest religious authority in the country, and his opinions — bizarre and foolish as they maybe — exert much influence on how regular folks here think.

I don’t want to ask him to be more responsible and act according to what is in the best interest of our nation because apparently that doesn’t concern him at all. But please, cut the nonsense and stop insulting our intelligence. Oh and btw, I think he could really use a doctor.