Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin

Researcher of Political Science & Classical Islam. Initiated by the Khwajagan i-Naqshband.

Ideological Exorcism: Saudi Royals Turn Against Salafist Ideology

Saudi Arabian Former Oil Minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani Giving Speech in a Mawlid un Nabi sitting next to him Saudi Sufi Scholar Sayyid 'Abdullah Fadeq in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Governor of Makkah Saudi Prince Khaled Al-Faisal Against Extremist Ideology
By: A. Dankowitz

Saudi Prince Khaled Al-Faisal bin Abd Al-‘Aziz, governor of Makkah, is one of the most prominent opponents of the Islamist worldview. He is the owner of the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, which is considered relatively open to all political views Al-Faisal is also the head of the Arab Thought Foundation, which he founded in 2001 with the goals of raising Arab funds to support Arab culture and of providing a link between intellectuals and decision-makers. [1]

In a number of recent interviews Al-Faisal called upon the Saudi public and rulers “to fight against all the hidden deviant ideas that have infiltrated schools, [university] faculties, homes, and society in general, and to fight against extremism and excess of all forms.” [2] He warned against the informal education in Saudi Arabia which incites to violence, and called to initiate reforms so as to avoid their imposition on the country from outside. The following are excerpts from recent interviews with Khaled Al-Faisal:

The Extremist Doctrine Came from Outside Saudi Arabia, But Saudi Society is Receptive to it

In July 2004, Saudi liberal TV moderator Turki Al-Dakhil hosted Khaled Al-Faisal on his weekly program Idhaat on Al-Arabiya TV, which dealt that week with the spread of extremist ideologies in Saudi Arabia. According to Khaled Al-Faisal, “this deviant ideology has begun to spread in the kingdom, in the schools, in the mosques, and everywhere. We now have TV channels which advocate an extremist ideology accusing [other Muslims] of heresy … in our schools and mosques there are young men, 15-20 years of age, who deliver sermons as though they are senior clerics. At times these young men … who call themselves missionaries for Islam, even offend the kingdom’s senior clerics and attack them.”

When asked by Al-Dakhil what has changed in Saudi Arabia in recent years, since Saudi Arabia has always been a conservative religious country, Khaled Al-Faisal answered: “Many things have changed. First of all, the [extremist] ideology didn’t exist among us, but came from outside a number of years ago… When it found its way to the Saudi kingdom there were certain people who found it appealing … and they disseminated it … there is no doubt that this ideology found fertile ground, since Saudis are religious. I always say that the Saudi’s source of strength [his religion] is [also] his weak point … that is, it is quite easy to deceive a Saudi by means of a religious program or a religious idea… Unfortunately, his good disposition has been exploited in order to propagate this deviant ideology…”

The Informal Educational Program is More Dangerous than the Official Curricula

Al-Dakhil: “The second meeting on national discourse, which took place in Mecca [in December 2003], discussed the relationship between Saudi school curricula and terrorism, to what extent they feed terrorism, and to what extent they spread an extremist atmosphere of one sort or another. Your Honor, as a citizen you studied from these curricula during a long period in your life. Now, as governor of the ‘Asir province, do you think that there is a connection between these curricula and the violent ideology spreading in Saudi Arabia?”

Khaled Al-Faisal: “There are some things which I haven’t seen myself, but which I have heard have been introduced into the older curricula. These additions were introduced when the jihadist ideology and violent ideas found their way to us from the outside. However, this is not the essential thing; that is to say, it is possible to clean them [out from the curricula] … the problem now is that [this] ideology is spreading in a different manner, [and not by way of] the written curricula. There is a hidden curriculum and an [officially] published curriculum… There is a phenomenon which has spread in the schools, in the universities, in the institutes and in the faculties, a phenomenon in which the educator or lecturer doesn’t teach only from the published curriculum, which is approved by the Ministry [of Education] and by the state… Rather, being with the students in a classroom behind closed doors, or through the fact that he is with them in camps and activities, he transmits his ideas …

“I will give you an example: last summer I heard that in the city of Abha there is a camp I didn’t know about… I sent people to go into the camp and to see what is going on there… [when the organizers heard about it, they] quickly relocated the camp overnight, and left… When the people I sent arrived to ask about them and to look for them, they found that the camp was over and that [its organizers] had taken their cars and left. We found documents that they had left behind in the camp’s office in their haste. These documents are filled with sketches of bombs, machine guns, and military plans. And this was supposed to be a camp for youth…”

Al-Dakhil: “Do you think this sort [of activity] has done more to foster violence than the school curricula?”

Khaled Al-Faisal: “There is no doubt about it… The school curricula constitute 20% of the issue, but 80% is the hidden curriculum and the way in which these ideas of violence and extremism are inculcated by those who are responsible for the students in the schools, institutes, faculties, and universities.”

Government Employees are Helping to Disseminate the Extremist Ideology

Al-Dakhil: “Are you insinuating that are there are people, amongst those who work in official institutions, who allow these ideas to pass and turn a blind eye to them?”

Khaled Al-Faisal: “Indeed, there are people in the government apparatus who pass on these ideas, and there are those who help to disseminate them … [I am talking about] the spread of [these] ideas in numerous government agencies which are concerned with youth, with the people, or with public education, such as the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Higher Education, [the Department of] Islamic Affairs Dealing with Religious Outreach … this ideology has spread a lot in the men’s and women’s charity associations. I think that this ideology exists even in the media institutions, including the Ministry of Culture and Communications.”

Al-Dakhil: “Do you think then that those who generate an extremist atmosphere have deeply penetrated Saudi society?”

Khaled Al-Faisal: “There is no doubt that they have deeply penetrated [both] the official and civil realm… There are large civil organizations which allocate funds for charity programs and religious and Islamic programs. As I have said, it is easy to deceive a Saudi by means of religion… One can easily approach a rich man and say to him: give me such and such an amount to build a mosque in Africa, in Asia, or in any Muslim area. You happily give him the funds, certain that he won’t deceive you since he is a Muslim, but in fact … it is possible that these funds are not going to a mosque or to an Islamic project, but to an extremist terrorist plot … I think this is clear. Anyone who is tuned in to what is going on, who monitors or follows what is going on, can easily see and discern this. These things aren’t that clandestine and hidden. In many cases they are open for all to see, but many people in Saudi Arabia prefer to disregard them and don’t even want to believe that they exist…”

A National Agency Should Be Established to Fight the Terrorist Ideology

Al-Dakhil: “You pointed out that those with a jihadist ideology … have deeply penetrated many areas of life, official and social… What do you think should be done in such a dangerous situation…?”

Khaled Al-Faisal: “The situation is dangerous, and we must acknowledge this. Making light of this matter is unacceptable to me… I drew the ministers’ attention [to the problem] and I think that the attention of the provinces’ governors should also be drawn to it. The princes, myself included, have an important role in paying attention to the spread of this ideology and monitoring its diffusion. The prince is responsible for security, as well as for the security mode of thinking, which is very important, and is no less important than security in the streets. We want security of the mind and the soul as well, security within the family and tranquility among people. Therefore, it is the duty of the province governor to monitor matters such as these: What is going on in the schools? In the hospitals? In the institutes, and even in the orphanages?”

Al-Dakhil: “What do orphanages have to do with a violent extremist ideology?”

Khaled Al-Faisal: “There is a video that is currently circulating in the kingdom…a video of a child who I think is ten years old, or less. He is asked, ‘who is your role model,’ and he answers, ‘Osama Bin Laden.’ He is asked, ‘what is your nationality,’ and he answers, ‘Islam.’ He is asked as to his homeland, and he answers, ‘the world’ … he doesn’t know that Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t know that there is a capital and he doesn’t know that there is a country called Saudi Arabia … and this child lives in an orphanage which is under governmental supervision and whose staff are government employees whose salaries are paid by the government… Imagine someone taking advantage of an orphan of this age … in order to turn him into a human bomb that one day will explode in our streets and in our homes.”

In response to the question what can be done to fight the phenomenon, Khaled Al-Faisal answered: “The spread of the extremist ideology cannot be stopped just by the treatment and the initiative of each official [working] alone. There must be a governmental strategy to fight this ideology. I think it is necessary to establish an agency for fighting the terrorist ideology, and not just for the fight against terrorism, [that is] the terrorism in the streets. I think that the government ministries should only supply security personnel … the Ministry of the Interior should supply the agency with information, but the other members of the agency – ten or more – should be chosen from among specialists … researchers in the fields of political science, economics, administration, religion, and law…

“[The extremist ideology] is a very large problem that needs to be studied. After studying it, a strategy and a program should be proposed that would obligate all government staff and all official and non-official institutions … there should be a national offensive against the terrorist ideology, in which the state, the citizens, the official institutions and the civil institutions should participate … the agency should look for the causes of the spread of this ideology and who is responsible for disseminating it in the country. One shouldn’t concentrate only on the question of how it came to us and who brought it; we must look for who is disseminating it inside the country…

“When [the terrorist attacks] started, Saudi society and the Saudi people were shocked that they occurred, and didn’t believe that among their sons there were people who were ready to kill and commit suicide at the same time in the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah, Qasim, Khobar, and other cities in the kingdom. Afterwards came the stage of confusion, and the [people] didn’t know what to believe. At present I think that the citizens from all corners of the kingdom are united against this violent extremist way of thinking, which accuses [Muslims] of apostasy…” [3]

In an address delivered at the prize ceremony of the Abha national competition in various cultural events, Prince Al-Faisal said that the Saudis would stand united in the fight against terrorism. He said, “More than 60,000 men and women in Saudi Arabia have signed a declaration, which says ‘No’ to terrorism and destruction… and ‘No’ to tarnishing the image of Islam through extremism and killings.” It should be noted that the prize for best research was won by the Arab News columnist Suraya Al-Shehry and by Dr. ‘Ali Fayez Al-Jihani, whose research focused on the causes of terrorism and on ways to tackle it. [4]

Those Claiming to Belong to the Wasatiya Movement [of Ibn Taimiyya] are Inciting the Youth Against the Arab Regimes

In a speech given at a cultural conference in the city of Abha, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal spoke about those who portray themselves as belonging to the wasatiya [“the middle path”] Islamic school – and claimed that they are the very ones who in the past disseminated radical ideas, and that, in addition, they are currently inciting against the Arab regimes. According to Khaled Al-Faisal, “the pioneers of the wasatiya movement in Saudi Arabia, who today accuse the traditional [religious] establishment of encouraging violence – meaning by this the Al-Sheikh family and the Al-Saud family – they are the very ones who disseminated the thought of Sayyid Qutb and Al-Mawdudi, and they are among the students of Muhammad Qutb [5] … Today they speak about wasatiya, but they don’t mention bin Laden by name when they talk about acts of destruction, and they don’t mention Al-Qa’ida by name when they talk about acts of destruction and terrorism.

“Go to the internet sites of those who talk about wasatiya and read the attacks that are published there against the Arab and Islamic regimes and leaderships. Listen to their cassettes which are still wailing away in the schools, the faculties, the vocational schools, and the mosques; listen to what they say and how they describe the Arab rulers. They describe them as tyrants and the Arab governments as dictatorships that must be brought down. They themselves exhort the youth to fight against every government and regime in the Arab and Islamic world…

“We are no longer in the era of slumber as we once were, and things won’t return to how they were in the last twenty years. We will not by any means allow this kind of thinking to continue…” [6]

The Arab World Should Initiate Reforms

In an interview on the Al-Arabiya TV program ‘Personal Encounter’ on the occasion of a December 2004 Arab Thought Foundation conference, titled “The Arabs: Between the Culture of Change and the Change of Culture,” Khaled Al-Faisal, who heads the foundation, said: “The topic of change and reform is the topic of the hour in the Arab world. There are those who think that the Arab nation faces two options: either it reforms itself and begins to change, [which would lead] to progress … or else it puts itself in danger of change being imposed from outside. If change comes from outside, it won’t be merely to reform the present situation, but in order to change our culture. Can we agree to that? Will the Arabs agree that change be imposed upon them that will influence their culture, their heritage, their history, and first and foremost their religion? Or do the Arabs possess a culture that allows them to initiate reform of the current situation and to introduce changes… I, of course, believe that the Arabs must initiate reforms from within, put their own house in order by themselves, and develop themselves… We shouldn’t close ourselves off to the world, and we shouldn’t reject everything [that comes from outside]. We should accept that which is beneficial to us, but [at the same time] we must reject disavowing our identity and faith…” [7]

In answer to interviewer Hasan Al-Fateh’s question why there is now a pressing demand for change, Khaled Al-Faisal answered: “International conditions created this situation. It is not only in the Arabs’ hands, and not even in the hands of others outside the Arab nation… there are many reasons for this – political, economic, and cultural – but what is clear is that the Arab nation today needs to take the initiative and must not allow initiatives to come only from outside…

“Change always comes in response to demand. It is the nature of life to evolve, and life does not allow stagnation. If you follow history you will see that it is all about development … in my opinion, civilization is one single human civilization that has arisen on the shoulders of other civilizations. There is no Eastern civilization, Western civilization, Arab civilization, or non-Arab civilization; civilization is human, and every nation established its civilization on the shoulders of the one preceding it. True civilization is human civilization.” [8]

Khaled Al-Faisal said similar things at a press conference in Marrakesh on the occasion of the Arab Thought Foundation conference, and went on to say: “We believe in mutual fertilization among civilizations, and not clashes among them … every science began in one civilization and continued in another. This is true even in the field language – there is no language in which you will not find words or expressions from others. Civilizations complement each other.” [9]

In a speech given at a cultural conference in the city of Abha, Khaled Al-Faisal spoke about the two important components of Saudi society – Islam and Arabism – and stated that Islam encourages progress and modernization, and that therefore the country’s leadership is determined to stay the course of reform: “The Saudi Arab Kingdom was established and founded on an Islamic basis. Its founding king chose the Qur’an and the Sunna as a constitution and the monotheist credo [‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Prophet’] as a banner. Likewise, he chose the name ‘The Saudi Arab Kingdom’ … in doing so he emphasized that Islam and Arabism are not separate things. The Arabs have no honor without Islam, and there is no Islam without the Arabs and the Arabic language. The last of the prophets [Muhammad] was an Arab, the last [revealed] book, the Qur’an, is in Arabic, and as has been made known to us – the language of the people of paradise is Arabic. In Saudi Arabia we should be proud that Allah honored us with two things … that he included us in the best nation, the Islamic nation, and [placed us] next to his house [the Ka’ba in Mecca] and next to the mosque of his prophet [in Medina]; and that he made us belong to the Arab race, to which the last of the prophets also belonged…

“The country’s leadership made a determined resolution to continue in development, modernization, and the introduction of reforms, since it believes that Islam is a religion that is relevant at all times and in all places, and that Islam encourages progress, modernization, advancement, and development. Anyone who stands in the way of modernization and progress is not one of us. If he doesn’t think that Islam encourages this path, then he should look for another Islam…” [10]

As in the West – Arab States’ Strategies Should Be Determined in Think- Tanks

Referring to the role of the Arab Thought Foundation, Khaled Al-Faisal said: “We don’t determine strategy or solutions. We are preparing the arena and the stage for Arab thinkers and intellectuals to voice their opinions on solutions and strategies. I believe that the Arab nation today must listen to the Arab thinkers, intellectuals and academicians, since if we look at the Western countries and Western societies we will see that all the governmental strategies are based on [ideas] that originated with intellectuals and thinkers in think tanks, in universities, in cultural foundations, or even in the media. These ideas crystallized until in the end they became national strategy. I hope that the Arab countries and the Arabs’ ruling institutions will henceforth take into account Arab cultural and intellectual initiatives and will adopt them as the core for strategies that they will present to the Arab nation…”

* Aluma Dankowitz is Director of MEMRI’s Reform Project.


[1] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 12, 2003. Poems by Khaled Al-Faisal appear on the internet site:

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 23, 2004.

[3] Al-Arabiya (UAE), July 15, 2004.

[4] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), August 14, 2004.

[5] Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) and Abu Al-‘Ala Al-Mawdudi (1903-1979) are two of the most prominent thinkers of the Islamic Awakening movement, under whose rubric is included the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamic scholar Muhammad Qutb, who is Sayyid Qutb’s brother, teaches at Umm La-Qura University in Mecca.

[6] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 7, 2004.

[7] Al-Arabiya (UAE), November 30, 2004. Khaled Al-Faisal made similar statements in his opening remarks at the conference. See, January 13, 2005.

[8] Al-Arabiya (UAE), November 30, 2004.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 26, 2004.

[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 7, 2004.

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