Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Your Era, O Bin Baz"

Saja (who kindly translates some of my Arabic articles--and she does that on volunteer basis) kindly translated my article on Bin Baz (published in Al-Akhbar a few months ago):

"Your Era, Bin Baz

It is said that Abdulaziz bin Baz is only one man, and that his death would mitigate the influence of his fatwas (religious creeds). Those who say that forget that Islamic schools around the world follow educational curricula based on his exegesis and fatwas. He followed only Ibn Taymiya and Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s fatwas, both of whom were extremely fundamentalist.

Abdulaziz Bin Baz: We never took this man seriously. We never took Saudi Wahhabism seriously. They represented intolerance, extremism and bigotry. There were initiatives during the twentieth century for tolerance, plurality, secularism and female’s liberation before King Faisal managed to quell them, following the horrendous 1967 defeat. The slogans of that era were progress, liberation and enlightenment. Saudi Wahhabism was receding and put on the defensive. It did not win people’s hearts and minds. Instead, it resorted to the position of defending the US and colonialism during the Cold War. During the fifties and sixties (until the 1967 defeat), Saudi Arabia had a difficult time buying off newspapers and consciences. Only the Beirut-based “Al-Hayat” followed Saudi policy in the region, and never deviated from it. Gamal Abdul Nasser was not in a position to clash with a regime that was viewed as leftovers of the Middle Ages. Arab parties (both loyal and deceitful ones) competed to offer programs for growth, modernization, progress and even liberation. But the oil sheikhs and Wahhabi sheikhs were viewed as men of the “tarboosh” and mocking them was necessary in Arab political literature, even in café discussions. This is what Yasin Al-Hafith meant by his term “Shakhboutism” in Saudi political ascension: it indicated their extreme backwardness (some in liberal Saudi media today rely on Yasin Al-Hafith’s traditions to defend “moderate” Salafism. Discourse about moderate Salafism is akin to talking about dry swimming). But the Saudi mufti (religious authority) (who did not descend from the Al-Sheikh family, meaning Wahhabism’s founder’s family), was very eminent in Saudi government since the beginning. He crystallized twentieth century Wahhabism, under which we still succumb in the twenty first century. A Saudi judge said a week ago that killing of owners of “deviant” satellite channels was permitted. Like other jurists of darkness and backwardness, he relied on Bin Baz for authority.

Here is a noteworthy scene from the sixties: King Faisal attends an opening ceremony to fundraise for King Abdulaziz University, but he notices the presence of Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Baz and says “I seize the presence of our big brother, Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Baz, whom I consider a father figure … and Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Baz bears great responsibilities and important tasks to serve Islam and Muslims, not only in this country, but all over the Islamic world. I beckon him to honor us with just a few words on this happy occasion” (Al-Bilad, 16 October, 1964). This was the influence of Bin Baz on Faisal. King Fahd described him at his death as “the dearest of people” and called him “the father”. (An American ex-ambassador to Saudi Arabia told me that King Abdullah was careful not to smoke in public, to abide by Bin Baz’s teachings). Today we see his influence more than any other time. This is his era, his generation, and his fatwas flood us from every direction. They target the individual and mount increasing constriction on women. Saudi media tries to distract us with Rotana’s channels of decadence and debauchery so that we may forgive their fatwas of intolerance. They change their discourse from channel to channel.

Bin Baz represented the Wahhabism founded by Muhammad Bin Abdulwahhab and made it even more intolerant, extremist and hostile to women. He became a judge at the age of twenty seven, which entitled him to issue a large enough number of fatwas for generations to sink under after him, both in Saudi Arabia and those countries which follow Wahhabi Islam in return for more than a handful of dollars, such as Al-Azhar, which Muhammad Abduh, and later Gamal Abdul Nasser, tried to reform. Abdul Nasser deserves acknowledgement for adopting a reformist, tolerant model of Islam, especially in women’s issue, which comrade Mervat Hatem termed “state feminism,” without one’s full adoption of the Nasseri program. The extremist Bin Baz, who was an extremist in Wahhabi extremism, and made it the country’s official religion and policy foundation for spreading the message around the world by (reactionary) collaboration with the United States. Osama Bin Ladin held him in high esteem and didn’t criticize (gently) until recently. Bin Baz called for discarding all Sunni schools of thought. He denied in a rare interview with the Saudi Al-Majalla magazine that he had allowed following the Hanbalis (or others). He called for returning to Hadith (Prophet’s sayings) and his commentary. The more intolerant the commentary and extremist the exegesis, the closer it was to his thought and taste. He had no inclination towards jurisprudence books, and admitted that he never finished reading the books of Abi Dawud, Ibn Maja and even Imam Ahmad’s book. He only relied on Quran and Sunna, as he repeatedly stated. He objected to the broadcast of four schools of thought’s teachings because they resulted in “abhorred traditions” (P. 349, Aspects of Abdul Aziz Bin Baz’s Biography).

The influence of pro-ruler jurisprudence

Bin Baz might be women’s worst enemy in the twentieth century. His writings, declarations, speeches and fatwas with regard to women were repugnant. A woman was entirely vice in his opinion, which explains official animosity towards women in the Kingdom of Saudi Oppression. This appears in both intolerant Saudi religious media and lewd Saudi media that commercializes women. Bin Baz said in an interview with Ukath newspaper “as for publishing pictures of women on covers or inside of magazines and newspapers, that is a great abomination and serious evil which invites degeneration and falsehood. The same goes for misleading secular calls, or those which invite prohibited acts. All this is a great abomination.”

The current program of dispute between Sunnis and Shiis, which has become official Saudi policy (with American blessing at the beginning even though the United States, measured with a Tripoli yardstick, was cautious of the risks of spreading dispute because Salafism could easily get out of control), can be blamed on the Wahhabi creed and Bin Baz’s fatwas specifically, which in turn follow Ibn Taymiya’s fatwas. Saudi closed-mindedness was not temporary or casual, but calculated and blessed by religious institutions in the kingdom. Bin Baz decreed that “connecting refusniks [derogatory term for Shiis] and Sunnis is unacceptable because the theology is different. As it is unacceptable to bring Jews, Christians and idolaters together with Sunnis, it is similarly disallowed to bring the refusniks and Sunnis due to the theology differences we mentioned.” (Collection of Various Fatwas and Essays, Fifth Volume).

Another part of his legacy is superficiality, or giving branches precedence over the fundamentals of religion. When asked why he never combed his bushy beard, he answered “I fear any of it might fall off,” which contradicted sunna (prophetic teachings) in his opinion. He issued a fatwa, for example, that women were not allowed to wear high heels “it is prohibited to wear high heels because it exposes the woman to the risk of falling, and people are legally mandated to avoid dangers. It also exaggerates her height and her posterior, which is deceitful, and exposes beauty that faithful women are prohibited from displaying.” (Fatwa number 1678, recorded in Salih Al-Wardani’s book, Bin Baz’s Fatwas). He also proscribed wearing “the atheists’ distinct clothing” (Fatwa number 1620). As for hijab, he was clear in his letter on “Beautification and Hijab” when he declared that a woman’s face and hands were “vice”. In matters of marriage and divorce, he gave no room for emotions according to a hagiographic biography “the couple may say ‘we have children’ and he would say ‘even if you have a hundred, they won’t get lost’. The wife may say ‘I’ll die’ and he’d respond ‘many died before you in obedience to God and His commands.’” (p. 289 of Bin Baz’s Biography). Bin Baz dedicated a special pamphlet for prohibiting photography.

He would also encourage Muslim males (as Muslim females were vice in his opinion) to abandon countries of “polytheism” and return to Muslim countries. This took place within the old framework of separation between the house of Islam and the house of war (which some orientalists, like some Bin Ladinites, believe still dictates the essence of international relations between Muslims and others). Science had no place in Bin Baz’s jurisprudence; charms were a substitute for medicine, as “his grace used to use charms on himself and utter them on points of pain in his body.” (p. 511 of his biography). Some of his fatwas stemmed from pre-Islamic polytheistic practices, such as asking for forgiveness during times of drought. We have no idea how to reconcile the House of Saud’s celebration of their national holiday and Bin Baz’s insistence that “Muslims have no holidays aside the ones God legislated for his creation.” (p. 346 of his biography). But since when does the House of Saud consult religion, logic or science in its policies?

Bin Baz is responsible for advocating (with oil revenue support) for the culture of intolerance, backwardness, closed-mindedness and dejection. He warned “against attending assemblies of amusement and singing, and listening to malignant broadcasts, and gatherings for gossip.” He added “even graver are cinema theatres, and the like, watching lewd films which infect the heart and distract from the mention of God and reading his book, and provoke vile character, and abandonment of decent character.” (Bin Baz’s Biography). This is exactly the culture the Hariri family (whether deliberately, stupidly or foolishly) tries to spread to Lebanon. We remember the campaign that the scholars of Qretim waged against Marsel Khalifa’s song, which was a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. They were partners of Al-Azhar’s book burners who maintain silence about the suffering of the Palestinian people and the participation of the mummified president’s government in Sharm Al-Sheikh during the siege of Gaza. Instead, they monitor books which include secular thought, liberation and feminist thought, and they provoke the masses against cartoons that arrive from Denmark.

Bin Baz was influential in the Cold War in Arabic and Islamic context around the world. He issued fatwas against “destructive ideologies” in reference to leftist and progressive thought generally. There is a word of Latin origin (the root means to block enlightenment), which we often translate as “darkness”. It points to animosity towards thought and the era of enlightenment. This applies exactly to Saudi Wahhabism which flees progress and modernity, even their appearance, and in this regard it meets with the darkness of Christianity and Judaism. The Egyptian writer Ahmad Baha’uldin accused Bin Baz in the sixties of denying that the earth was spherical, based on an article the latter had written. However, in his response to Ahmad Baha’uldin, Bin Baz said he did not state either “affirmatively or negatively” about the earth’s sphericity, but he did reiterate the familiar tune (which mimics King Faisal’s speech) about destructive ideologies and socialists and their “apostate, Jewish leader Marx” (see the response on Bin Baz’s official website online). But Bin Baz was frank about denying the earth’s sphericity while he proves it indisputably. As for denying man’s landing on the surface of the earth, it is likely that Bin Baz waited spent his whole life awaiting proof.

However, Bin Baz’s usefulness to the House of Saud was political, par excellence. He had said that obedience of the prince was obligatory (“and he who obeys the prince obeys me”). Bin Baz’s obedience to the House of Saud continued in spite of the various phases that the kingdom went through politically. The princes of Saud didn’t consult him on all religious and educational matters; the import of Muslim Brotherhood scholars and their leaders to the kingdom, appointing them to high offices, and their contribution to devising educational programs and school curricula all occurred without Bin Baz’s approval. Bin Baz wasn’t enamored with the Brotherhood because they were not Salafist, which is enough to deem for a Wahhabi apostasy ruling. Bin Baz obeyed the House of Saud and called for Muslims to obey them. In the most dangerous decision the kingdom took, of inviting American troops (even though American troops started moving before Dick Cheney, American Defense Secretary at the time, received the official invitation), Bin Baz supported them and called on Muslims to support the war on Iraq (without referencing the identity of the foreign troops involved, which Saudi press described as “Arabic, Islamic and friendly troops.” The American friend in Saudi need is a friend indeed.

There was a Salafi revolt against Bin Baz that year, from Al-Qaeda to some reform currents in the kingdom which condemned Bin Baz’s agreement with the ruling family about all matters. Bin Baz changed when the House of Saud’s kings and princes started to publicly state their policies towards America and Israel, which had been secretive. Today we know that everything Abdul Nasser accused them of the fifties was right, and emphatically so. The Saudi scholar who used to foam at the mouth at Jews and “crusaders” (using Al-Qaeda’s language) and threatened against “the disreputed morals of the apostates among the children of Israel” and call for cursing them, spent his final days settling for peace with Israel, following the example of Al-Azhar’s sheikhs. But Bin Baz’s supplication was more comprehensive; he would call Muslims to “curse infidels including communists, Jews, Christians and all remaining polytheists.” (P. 320 of Bin Baz’s Biography). We don’t forget, and we shouldn’t forget, Bin Baz’s role in encouraging “jihad” in Afghanistan. When he stopped receiving Gulf money in the nineties, Yasir Arafat would mention the colossal figures of Saudi support for extremist Islamist groups which resisted communist rule in Afghanistan. (Who can deny today that communist rule there represented a golden era in the history of Afghanistan, at least as far as women’s rights and separation of church and state were concerned, even if it were repressive, exactly like the regimes of “American liberation” per the Bush doctrine?) Bin Baz marketed the House of Saud’s policies, which were an extension of American politics during the Cold War; the Saudi government used to pay travel expenses for every Saudi who desired to fight America’s enemies. These are your fatwas, bin Baz, your war and America’s war, you shakhbouti adviser to the sultan. Nothing moved the House of Saud and its jurists like they were moved for Afghanistan’s cause because it represented common ground with their allies in Washington (the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” hints to that and to the House of Saud’s pliability to Ronald Reagan’s will during King Fahd’s rule).

The American ex-ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Hume Horan, who was fluent in Arabic (and later served the occupation authority in Iraq) knew Bin Baz’s significance and made an effort to meet with him. But King Fahd was uncomfortable with this meeting and asked the American president to withdraw his ambassador, and that is what happened (consult sources such as The Arabists by Robert Kaplan for other various reasons for King Fahd’s objection to Ambassador Horan). Some may say that extremism is an attribute shared by all religions, creeds and ideologies, and this is true. However, Wahhabi extremism relied on oil resources to incite hostility and hatefulness between people, destroy all possibilities for peaceful coexistence among Arabs and play a destructive role in fighting progressive thought. An ex-leftist (who was recently promoted to General Secretary of locals, tears and marxisms in “The Future of Salafism” – thanks, Hani - , meaning he was the right or left hand for Faris Khashan, who uses the internet to publish cheap sexual slurs to describe his opponents and doesn’t republish his essays praising Emil Lahhoud and Bashar Al-Asad thinking that we forgot about them) who tried to give excuses and justifications for the idea of Wahhabi apostasy rulings by referring to writings about uncleanliness among Shiis (the ex-leftist became a party to the ideological war between Islamic schools of thought). But the mufti of Tyre, Ali Amin, quickly responded live and silenced him because he had higher rank in the Hariri political establishment. Wahhabi hatred shouldn’t be confronted with another hateful ideology, of course.

Pro-state jurisprudence is not limited to an ideology, a sect, an era or a current. There are ruler’s advisers in Iran even though Khomeini (before taking office, of course) condemned them in his book about Islamic government. There are jurists in Najaf who support the American occupation of Iraq and yet never receive criticism from Hezbollah. It is difficult to explain this as anything but sectarian solidarity. There are reactionary jurists like Ibn Hanbal who refused (or refuse) to modify their beliefs and fatwas even if they had to endure torture. Those, even if you disagree with their perspective and logic, might be among the hundreds whom Al-Hayat newspapers was proud of the Saudi government for firing from their jobs after September 11. Some may have sinned by calling for the liberation of Palestine or gathering donations for its besieged people. As for Al-Qaeda’s ideology, it remains the official creed for the Kingdom of Oppression, in spite of Bin Ladin’s recent differences with the House of Saud (whom he knows, king by king and prince by prince) about foreign policy. Bin Baz enables the kingdom’s ideology that controls the official Arab system on behalf of America and its ally Israel. Although this is his era, his time, and his fatwas encumber women (and men) throughout the Islamic world, darkness will inevitably end, as it cannot last forever."