Debate In Saudi Arabia Following Saudi Clerics’ Call For Jihad Against Russian Forces In Syria

Oct 29th, 2015 | By | Category: Weekly Washington Updates

SaudiMenBy: N. Mozes, at


Russia’s increasing military involvement in Syria, which constitutes another lifeline for the Bashar Al-Assad regime, is of great concern to Saudi Arabia, which together with Turkey and Qatar is leading the battle against this regime. However, Saudi Arabia is taking a cautious approach on this matter, due to its desire to preserve its relations with Russia, which have warmed over the past year. While the Saudi ambassador to the UN condemned the Russian airstrikes in Syria and called for them to be stopped,[1] in an interview with the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat on October 1, 2015, Saudi Foreign Minister ‘Adel Al-Jubeir said that despite its disagreements with Russia on Syria and Iran, the kingdom was aiming for closer political and economic ties with it.[2]

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In contrast, 55 Saudi clerics, many of them known to be Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, had a much harsher response to the Russian military intervention in Syria. On October 2, several days after Russia began conducting the airstrikes against targets in Syria, the clerics issued a communique[3]calling the Russian offensive a “war crime.” They called on “able men” in Syria to “join the ranks of jihad,” and warned that this was a “true war against [all] Sunnis” being waged by a “Crusader Shi’ite alliance” and a “Western-Russian coalition with the Safavids [i.e., Iranians] and ‘Alawites.” According to the communique, the Syrian jihadis defend all Muslims, and therefore Arab and Muslim countries should assist them morally, materially, militarily, and politically.

The following day, the Syrian MB also issued a communique titled “The Syrian People Will Repel the Russian Occupation with Jihad,” declaring that defensive jihad was an individual duty for anyone able to bear arms, and announcing that it was making the organization’s resources available for this purpose. Similar statements were also made by the Syrian Islamic Council, a body established in April 2014 in Istanbul that comprises 128 Syrian clerics, many of them MB members, as well as by Sheikh Muhammad Kurayyim Rajih, the most senior Syrian Koran reciter and a member of the Syrian Islamic Council.[4] All these statements were made by individuals who are members of or support the MB.

To date, Saudi authorities have issued no official response to the clerics’ communique. The sole exception to this was one report in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadidstating that the Saudi Interior Ministry intended to investigate and prosecute the clerics on charges of violating the 2014 anti-terror law that bans Saudis from fighting outside the country andfrom encouragingfellow Saudi citizens to do so.

However, the communique did spark anuproar in the Saudi press and on social media. Several Saudi articles attacked it, terming it a call for Saudis to go and fight in Syria, which constitutes incitement and defiance of the ruler, who has the sole authority to declare jihad. They warned of the serious implications that this would have for national security and for Saudi Arabia’s image and relationship with Russia. The conflict in Syria, they noted, is political and not religious, and therefore does not necessitate a jihad war. An especially harsh critique by Mansour Al-Nogaidan called toarrest the clerics and force themto apologize to Russia.

The harsh criticism of the communique may stem from the fact that many of its signatories are supporters of the MB, which is outlawed in Saudi Arabia.

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Conversely, others defended the communique, stating that the call for jihad was aimed solely at the Syrians themselves. They also attacked those who opposed the communique. At the same time, it should be mentioned that these calls came primarily from outside Saudi Arabia and on Qatari media; the latter is known for its pro-MB approach.

This report will review the calls for jihad against Russian forces in Syria and the Saudi responses to the clerics’ communique.

55 Saudi Clerics: All Able Syrians Should Join The Ranks Of Jihad

The 55 Saudi clerics, many of them known to be MB supporters –including ‘Abdallah bin Muhammad Al-Ghunaiman, Nasser bin Suleiman Al-‘Umar, ‘Ali bin Sa’id Al-Ghamdi – stressed in their communique that this was a war launched by “the Orthodox crusader Russia” against the Muslim Syria. They said Muslims would redeem their faith by sacrificing their lives, and called on Syrian fighters to join the ranks of jihad. They stated: “After nearly five years of unrelenting political and military support for the ‘Alawite regime, Russia is now throwing its full weight behind [it] and is intervening directly and militarily to protect the Bashar Al-Assad regime from falling. In light of this most terrible calamity and war crime on the part of an influential country that presumes to be responsible for world justice and peace, we hereby declare the following:

SaudiJihadRussia“O Russians, the most extreme among Christians – [there is] nothing new under the sun! 36 years ago the communist Soviet Union invaded the Muslim Afghanistan to support the Communist Party and protect it from falling. And now, its successor, the Orthodox crusader Russia, is invading the Muslim Syria to support the ‘Alawite regime and protect it from falling; it must learn a lesson from the fate of its predecessor. The heads of your Orthodox Church have declared [the Russian intervention of Syria] a crusader holy war, just as [George] Bush Jr. did in the past [regarding the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq]. Know that Muslims will redeem their faith by sacrificing their lives, souls, and all they hold dear, and just as they expelled you from Afghanistan, they will bring about you humiliating defeat in Syria, Allah willing.

“O, our men in Syria – the calamity afflicting you is severely worsening and your test has lasted a long time… You must fear Allah, repent, and trust in Allah… Know that Russia only intervened to save the regime from certain defeat. Through you, Allah defeated the security [mechanisms] of the regime and its shabiha [militias], followed by its army, and later the Shi’ite Safavid groups from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Through you, He defeated the Party of Satan [i.e. Hizbullah] and He can defeat the Russians [as well]. Therefore, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah, that you may be successful’ (Koran 3:200)… We call on you to hold on, and we urge the men [of the various groups], [all] able and skilled people in all fields, to stay and not leave Syria, and to take part in building and liberating [it]. We call on the able among you to join the ranks of jihad, for this is your hour… Swiftly join the jihad against the enemy of God and your enemy, and Allah will be with you, and the Muslims will stand behind you as much as they can.The dawn of victory is at hand…

“To Arab and Muslim countries we say: The Western-Russian coalition with the Safavids and ‘Alawites is a true war against [all] Sunnis, their lands, and their identities, with no exception. The jihad fighters in Syria are currently defending the entire ummah. Trust in them and give them moral, military, and political support, for if they are defeated… it will be the turn of the remaining Sunni countries, one after the other… O clerics and thinkers – this is a war on Islam… Stress in your words, writings, sermons, and lessons that we must abandon all sources of schism, and warn against them. Unite the ranks and tell people the truth behind the crusader Shi’ite alliances so they can beware it… Encourage people to devote all their efforts and give as much as they can, and to provide material aid, since Syrians are fighting our enemy and defending us against him…

“Allah, please hasten the victory of the people of Syria… and defeat the armies that have conspired against us…”[5]

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