US embassy cable - 91RIYADH1865

ISLAM AT THE JIHAD CONVENTION

Identifier: 91RIYADH1865
Wikileaks: View 91RIYADH1865 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Riyadh
Created: 1991-02-24 10:31:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: KISL PROP PREL IZ SA
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 241031Z FEB 91
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7752
INFO RUEHVV/ISLAMIC CONFERENCE COLLECTIVE
USIA WASHDC 8887
USOFFICE TAIF 0147
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 01865 
 
 
USIA FOR NEA - RUGH 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  KISL, PROP, PREL, IZ, SA 
SUBJECT:  ISLAM AT THE JIHAD CONVENTION 
 
1.  (C)  SUMMARY: WHILE ISLAM WAS A CENTRAL SUBJECT AT 
LAST WEEK'S JIHAD CONVENTION IN RIYADH, DISCUSSIONS 
GENERALLY REPEATED THE SAME POINTS EMPHASIZED BY SAUDI 
RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES SINCE LAST AUGUST.  THE IRAQI 
GOVERNMENT, AND ESPECIALLY THE BAATH PARTY, WERE ROUNDLY 
CONDEMNED BY ALL SPEAKERS, ALTHOUGH ONLY A FEW HAD 
SPECIFIC COMMENTS ABOUT SADDAM HUSSEIN.  ALL SPEAKERS 
ALSO HAD STRONG PRAISE FOR THE AL SAUD AND THE COALITION 
EFFORT, AND ALL LISTED THE NUMEROUS REWARDS FOR THOSE WHO 
WAGED OR SUPPORTED JIHAD.  THE ONLY CONTROVERSIAL MOMENT 
CAME WHEN AN ANONYMOUS WRITTEN COMMENT SUGGESTED THAT 
MOST ISLAMIC SCHOLARS IN OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES SUPPORT 
SADDAM.  AFTER ONE SHEIKH TRIED TO BLAME JEALOUSY OF 
SAUDI WEALTH AND IRAQI PROPAGANDA FOR SUCH SUPPORT, TWO 
SENIOR SAUDI RELIGIOUS LEADERS ARGUED STRONGLY THAT MOST 
SCHOLARS IN OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES IN FACT SUPPORT SAUDI 
ARABIA.  NONETHELESS, THE STYLE AND SUBSTANCE OF 
DISCUSSION SEEMED TO REFLECT UNITED SUPPORT FOR SAG 
POSITIONS ON THE GULF CRISIS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (U)  ALMOST ANY LARGE MEETING IN SAUDI ARABIA WILL 
INVOKE ISLAM AS A PRINCIPLE THEME, AND THE RECENT JIHAD 
CONVENTION AT RIYADH'S IMAM MOHAMED BIN SAUD ISLAMIC 
UNIVERSITY WAS NO EXCEPTION.  AS EXPECTED, ALL SESSIONS 
AND SPEAKERS MENTIONED THE PROPERLY ISLAMIC NATURE OF THE 
KINGDOM'S CURRENT JIHAD.  COMMENT: IT IS WORTH RECALLING 
THAT, WHILE JIHAD IS USUALLY TRANSLATED AS "HOLY WAR," 
ITS MORE LITERAL MEANING IS THAT OF "STRUGGLE."  AMONG 
MANY SUNNI POPULATIONS, ESPECIALLY THE CONSERVATIVE 
WAHHABI CIRCLES OF SAUDI ARABIA, JIHAD CAN ALSO DESCRIBE 
THE EFFORTS OF MUSLIMS TO FOLLOW ISLAM DURING A 
PARTICULARLY TRYING TIME OR SITUATION.  BOTH THESE 
RELATED USES OF JIHAD WERE IN EVIDENCE THROUGHOUT THE 
CONVENTION.  END COMMENT. 
 
3.  (U)  THE MOST DIRECT COMMENTS ON ISLAM WERE MADE 
DURING A PANEL DISCUSSION ENTITLED "JIHAD IN THE GULF IS 
A DEFENSE OF RELIGION AND THE HOLY PLACES."  THREE SENIOR 
MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS 
(ULEMA) WERE ON THE PANEL: SHEIKH SALEH BIN MOHAMMAD 
AL-LEHEIDAN, SHEIKH ABDULAZIZ BIN ABDULLAH AL ASH-SHEIKH, 
AND SHEIKH SALEH BIN FAWZAN AL-FAWZAN.  OTHER 
PARTICIPANTS INCLUDED: SHEIKH MANNA AL-QAHTAN, A 
NATURALIZED SAUDI FROM SYRIA; KUWAITI SHEIKH AHMAD 
AL-QAHTAN (NO RELATION TO MANNA), ONE OF THE BEST-KNOWN 
RELIGIOUS SPEAKERS IN THE GULF REGION; SHEIKH MOHAMMED 
ABDALLAH AS-SUBAYYEL, DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF THE MINISTRY OF 
HAJJ AND ENDOWMENTS' DEPARTMENT FOR AFFAIRS OF THE TWO 
HOLY MOSQUES; AND DR. ABDALLAH BIN MOHAMED AL-AJLAN OF 
THE IMAM MOHAMED UNIVERSITY FACULTY.  ANOTHER FACULTY 
MEMBER, DR. RASHED BIN RAJIH AL-RAJIH, SERVED AS 
MODERATOR.  NUMEROUS OTHER RELIGIOUS LEADERS WERE IN THE 
AUDIENCE, INCLUDING UNIVERSITY RECTOR DR. ABDALLAH BIN 
ABDULMOHSEN AL-TURKI AND SENIOR SAUDI RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR 
ABDULAZIZ BIN ABDALLAH BIN BAZ. 
 
4.  (U)  THE THREE SUPREME COUNCIL MEMBERS STRESSED THE 
SAME THEMES THAT THEY HAVE IN VIRTUALLY ALL THEIR PUBLIC 
APPEARANCES SINCE LAST AUGUST.  ALL WERE QUICK TO 
CRITICIZE THE "EVIL" IRAQI ACTIONS IN BOTH IRAQ AND 
KUWAIT SINCE THE INVASION, GENERALLY PLACING BLAME FOR 
ALL PROBLEMS WITH THE "ATHEIST" BAATH PARTY AND ONLY 
OCCASIONNALLY MENTIONING KUWAIT OR SADDAM.  AS-SUBAYYEL 
REMINDED THE AUDIENCE SEVERAL TIMES THAT JIHAD IS FOUGHT 
NOT ONLY THROUGH ACTION BUT THROUGH DEED AND THOUGHT AS 
WELL.  AL-LEHEIDAN, WHOSE PERIODIC APPEARANCES ON SAUDI 
TV AND RADIO SINCE AUGUST HAVE BEEN WELL-RECEIVED, WAS 
ATYPICALLY GENERAL IN HIS REMARKS, STRESSING THE REWARDS 
FOR THOSE WHO BECOME MARTYRS DURING JIHAD.  AL ASH-SHEIKH 
POINTED OUT THAT THE IRAQI BAATHISTS HAD ACHIEVED WHAT 
THE CHRISTIANS AND JEWS NEVER COULD: THE "DISINTEGRATION" 
OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD.  OTHER SWEEPING CONDEMNATIONS WERE 
MADE OF SOCIALISM AND PAN-ARABISM, AND SOME SPEAKERS 
(NOTABLY DR. AL-AJLAN) STRESSED THE NEED FOR A 
REUNIFICATION OF ALL THE MUSLIM NATIONS. 
 
5.  (U) THE BEST-RECEIVED OF THE SPEAKERS WAS 
UNQUESTIONABLY SHEIKH AHMED AL-QAHTAN OF KUWAIT.  LIKE 
HIS FIRE-AND-BRIMSTONE TAPES CIRCULATED THROUGHOUT THE 
GULF STATES, AL-QAHTAN WAS MUCH LOUDER, MORE FORCEFUL AND 
DIRECT THAN HIS SAUDI COLLEAGUES.  HE SAID THE AFGHANS 
AND PALESTINIANS WERE THE MAIN VICTIMS OF SADDAM AND THAT 
ISRAEL WOULD BE THE ONLY WINNER OF THE WAR.  HE SAID 
ISRAEL HAD RECEIVED SUBSTANTIAL AID FROM THE U.S., 
GERMANY, AND JAPAN SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE CRISIS, AND 
CONTRASTED THAT SUPPORT TO THE LOST SIXTEEN MILLION 
DOLLARS A MONTH THAT THE PALESTINIANS USED TO RECEIVE 
FROM SAUDI ARABIA.  AL-QAHTAN CONCLUDED WITH A STATEMENT 
HE SAID WAS MADE BY KING ABDULAZIZ AL SAUD IN 1933:  "I 
DO NOT FEAR THE FOREIGNERS AS I FEAR THE MUSLIMS BECAUSE 
OUR PROBLEMS WILL COME FROM THE MUSLIMS." 
 
6.  (U)  ENSUING COMMENTARY FROM THE FLOOR OF THE 
CONVENTION WAS MADE BY VARIOUS FOREIGN GUESTS WHO 
REPEATEDLY PRAISED THE AL SAUD IN GENERAL AND KING FAHD 
IN PARTICULAR.  ONE SUDANESE DELEGATE PRAISED KING 
ABDULAZIZ FOR "CIVILIZING THE BEDOUIN" BY TEACHING THEM 
MODERN WAYS, A COMMENT NOT WELCOMED BY THE 
TRADITIONALLY-MINDED AUDIENCE.  ANOTHER SOURCE OF 
DISCOMFORT FOR THE CONSERVATIVES ATTENDING WAS THE 
ASSERTION BY EGYPTIAN PROFESSOR DR. MUSTAFA ASH-SHAKA 
THAT THE CURRENT PROBLEM WAS NOT WITH SADDAM BUT WITH THE 
PROCESS WHICH BROUGHT SADDAM TO POWER.  HE SAID THAT 
SIMILAR MEN WOULD RISE TO POWER IF PRINCIPLES OF 
"CONSULTATION" (SHURA) WERE NOT IMPLEMENTED THROUGHOUT 
THE MUSLIM WORLD. 
 
7.  (U)  AFTERWARDS, WRITTEN QUESTIONS SUBMITTED 
ANONYMOUSLY FROM THE AUDIENCE WERE READ, WITH ANSWERS 
PROVIDED BY PANEL MEMBERS.  ONE QUESTION ASKED FOR AN 
EXPLANATION OF THE PRO-SADDAM POSITION TAKEN BY MOST 
ULEMA OUTSIDE SAUDI ARABIA.  AFTER AS-SUBAYYEL ATTRIBUTED 
SUCH POSITIONS TO TRICKERY BY SADDAM OR ENVY OF SAUDI 
WEALTH, DR. AL-TURKI INTERRUPTED TO SAY THAT MOST ULEMA 
OUTSIDE THE KINGDOM IN FACT DID NOT SUPPORT SADDAM.  HE 
ASCRIBED REPORTS OF ANTI-SAUDI FEELING IN OTHER COUNTRIES 
TO WESTERN MEDIA DISTORTIONS AND TO THE PRO-SADDAM 
POSITION TAKEN BY SOME GOVERNMENTS IN THE REGION.  SHEIKH 
BIN BAZ ALSO DENIED THE PREMISE OF THE QUESTION, SAYING 
THAT HE DAILY RECEIVED CABLES FROM ULEMA ALL OVER THE 
WORLD IN SUPPORT OF SAUDI POSITIONS AND ACTIVITIES.  BIN 
BAZ REPEATED THE RELIGIOUS JUSTIFICATION FOR MUSLIMS TO 
SEEK THE ASSISTANCE OF NON-MUSLIMS FOR A JIHAD. 
 
8.  (U) OTHER SESSIONS OF THE CONFERENCE REPEATED MANY OF 
THE POINTS MENTIONED ABOVE, TYING THEM INTO THE TOPIC AT 
HAND.  AMONG THE MORE IMAGINATIVE ARGUMENTS WAS A CLAIM 
THAT BAATH PARTY FOUNDER MICHEL AFLAQ WAS A JEW; 
THEREFORE, SAID THE SPEAKER, THE BAATH PARTY WAS ONE OF 
THE GREATEST DANGERS CURRENTLY FACING THE MUSLIM WORLD. 
OTHERS WERE MORE CIRCUMSPECT IN THEIR CRITICISMS, 
GENERALLY ARGUING THAT SADDAM'S WAR HAS DISTRACTED THE 
MUSLIMS FROM OTHER PROBLEMS FACED BY MUSLIMS IN 
AFGHANISTAN OR THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES. 
 
9.  (C)  COMMENT:  THE SLIGHTLY CONTROVERSIAL MOMENTS 
DESCRIBED ABOVE WERE NOT PARTICULARLY EXTREME AND, LIKE 
THE ENTIRE CONVENTION, ARE MOST NOTEWORTHY IN THAT THEY 
HAPPENED AT ALL.  THE COMMENTS BY THE EGYPTIAN AND 
SUDANESE DELEGATES SHOW THAT FOREIGNERS WERE NOT 
PROHIBITED FROM SPEAKING THEIR MINDS, ALTHOUGH THE 
PROFESSOR CAREFULLY AVOIDED USING THE WORD "DEMOCRACY" IN 
HIS TALK.  IN MOST OTHER WAYS, THOUGH, THE DISCUSSION WAS 
TYPICALLY SAUDI, WITH QURANIC INVECTIVE MIXED AMONG CALLS 
FOR MUSLIM STEADFASTNESS IN THE MODERN WORLD (SOMETIMES 
WITH CORRESPONDING CALLS TO OPPOSE ZIONISM AND 
IMPERIALISM). 
 
10.  (C)  OF SOMEWHAT GREATER INTEREST WAS THE INTERPLAY 
BETWEEN THE RELIGIOUS FIGURES AT THE CONVENTION, 
ESPECIALLY BETWEEN THOSE ON THE PANEL AND BIN BAZ. 
UNLIKE THE PANEL OF MEDIA FIGURES (REPORTED SEPTEL), 
MEMBERS OF THE RELIGIOUS PANEL NEVER OPENLY DISAGREED 
WITH ONE ANOTHER.  AT MOST, THEY RAISED SUPPLEMENTAL 
POINTS THROUGH THE USE OF SOMEWHAT NEBULOUS ANALOGIES OR 
QURANIC REFERENCES.  BIN BAZ RECEIVED FAR MORE RESPECT 
THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE AUDITORIUM, SOMETIMES 
INTERRUPTING TO ADD AN ADDITIONAL QURANIC REFERENCE AND 
SOMETIMES BEING CALLED ON BY THE MODERATOR FOR 
COMMENTARY.  BOTH THE MODERATOR AND THE PANEL REFERRED TO 
BIN BAZ AS "OUR FATHER" (WALIDNA) AND WERE ALWAYS READY 
WITH EFFUSIVE PRAISE FOR POINTS RAISED BY THE SENIOR 
SHEIKH. 
 
 
FREEMAN 

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