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Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti urges young Saudis not to fight in Syria

Grand mufti urges young Saudis not to fight in Syria, despite backing the rebels battling President Bashar Al Assad.

DUBAI // Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, the kingdom’s highest religious authority, has urged young Saudis not to go fight in Syria.

Saudi Arabia has backed the rebels battling President Bashar Al Assad, publicly calling on the world powers to “enable” Syrians to protect themselves. But it is worried that veterans of the fighting could return home ready to foment unrest, even wage war, against their own government.

Islamists in Saudi Arabia, who follow a conservative version of Sunni Islam, denounce Mr Al Assad and his administration as infidels because of their roots in the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

But recent precedent worries Saudi authorities. Fighters for Al Qaeda, which was founded by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and is almost exclusively Sunni, attacked targets inside Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006, having gained experience fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“This is all wrong, it’s not obligatory,” said Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, referring to Saudi men joining a civil war that is now in well into its third year.

“These are feuding factions and one should not go there. I do not advise one to go there ... Going to a land that you do not know and without experience, you will be a burden to them, what they want from you is your prayer,” the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat quoted the grand mufti as saying.

An Arabian Gulf source familiar with military movements in the region said in September 2012 that thousands of Saudis had sought to head to Syria to join the uprising. It is not known how many succeeded.

The grand mufti, appointed by the Saudi king, warned preachers to refrain from using their sermons to encourage young men to fight in Syria. He made his comments after delivering what Al Hayat said was a lecture at a mosque on the subject, “deviation among the youth”.

“Muslims should be fearful of God and not deceive young Muslims and exploit their weakness and lack of insight and push them to an abyss,” the grand mufti was quoted by the paper on Monday.

“I advise them [preachers] to advise [young people] as they would advise their sons.”

Bin Laden led a battalion of Arab volunteers fighting against the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s, while others joined local Muslim forces in civil wars in the 1990s in Bosnia and Chechnya.

But even before he sent 15 Saudis and four other Arabs to carry out the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, bin Laden had turned against the Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family, in protest of what he said was its overly close relationship with the West.

* Reuters

Updated: October 29, 2013 04:00 AM

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