One of Islam’s leading religious figures, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, spoke out against suicide bombings Thursday. It was not the first time that Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh has done so. But his words were particularly strong and very general.
The possible reason? Suicide bombings – by Muslims against Muslims – are roiling the Middle East.
The Saudi cleric said these suicide killings of civilians are “great crimes” against Islamic teachings. But he distinguished between the bombings and the bombers, saying the latter were “robbed of their minds” and used as tools “to destroy themselves and societies.”
Many more prominent Muslim leaders like Mr. Abdulaziz need to assert, frequently and forcefully, that Islam is a religion of peace – especially now. From Pakistan to Libya, various political events, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the sputtering Arab Spring, as well as shifts in the Syrian and Afghanistan wars, help account for a sharp uptick in suicide bombings.
On Dec. 5, for example, suicide bombers, many from Saudi Arabia, killed 56 people in Yemen. Iraq has seen more than 8,000 people killed this year, mainly by bombings. Suicide bombings are becoming more frequent in Syria as jihadists join the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
One particular attack on Nov. 19 shook the region. Two suicide bombers killed 18 people near Iran’s Embassy in Lebanon. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The attack was seen as not only the spread of the Syrian conflict outside Syria but as a possible escalation of the contest for power between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi leaders fear an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program may eventually give the Shiite clerics in Tehran more freedom to exert influence in the region. And the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus appears stronger in that country’s civil war.
Many things need to happen to curb the number of terrorists who abuse the name of Islam in murdering civilians. The Middle East needs more freedom, rights, and economic development. Force must be used to hit terrorist cells. Western troops must minimize their role in the region.
But the most effective tool lies with respected Muslim scholars who preach against suicide bombings.
Sheikh Maher Hammoud, a Sunni cleric in Lebanon, told Al-Akhbar news last month that Islamic clergy who justify suicide attacks “are pretenders who take bits and pieces of religious texts and issue fatwas that are suitable to them.” Other Muslim clerics, such as many in Yemen, are trying to reach young men who dream of being heroic martyrs for Islam. In Pakistan, prominent leaders of differing Muslim sects met Dec. 8 to promote interfaith harmony and tolerance. “The Holy Quran teaches the lesson of adopting the path of peace,” Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain told the group.
More Islamic leaders need to speak out.