The Islamic State's (IS) influence has penetrated Saudi Arabia so successfully via social media that some Saudi youth are being persuaded to kill soldiers and police, even when they are family members.
Salafists — ultraconservative Muslims — believe in the concepts of al-wala wal-bara, which some scholars interpret as loyalty to all that is Islamic and disavowal of everything not considered Islamic. They believe these concepts are a main pillar of monotheism and the basis of Islam and are an expression of the love of God. IS is often said to adhere to "Salafi jihadism."
Much like al-Qaeda, IS accuses Saudi Arabia of being an infidel country and describes its rulers as tyrants, apostates and being loyal to the Crusaders. Both organizations believe Saudi soldiers in the army and security services are killing the mujahedeen, or holy warriors, and are just as much infidels as the country's rulers.
Faris Ahmed Jamaan al-Showeel al-Zahrani, one of al-Qaeda's most prominent theorists, believed all soldiers of a tyrant government, including Saudi Arabia, are infidels. In his 2002 book, “Al-Bahith fi Jwaz Qatl Afrad Thobat al-Mabahith” ("Inquiry Into the Ruling of Death Upon Soldiers and Officers of the Security Forces"), Zahrani relied on religious texts to justify the killing of Saudi secret service members or police officers. (The Saudi government executed Zahrani in January.)
In a recent demonstration of how IS has infiltrated the minds of Saudi youth, on March 11 the Saudi Interior Ministry announced six wanted IS members were killed in a shootout with police in the country's northwest. Those killed were suspected of being involved in the killing of their cousin Sgt. Badr Hamdi al-Rashidi on Feb. 16 after they allegedly lured him to a deserted area. The suspects are between the ages of 18 and 28; the oldest among them, Wael al-Rashidi, appeared in video footage released right before the murder threatening to kill Saudi soldiers if they did not quit their jobs.
This murder is not the first against the backdrop of the spread of IS supporters among Saudi families. Several incidents had already taken place, including the Sept. 24 murder of Madus al-Anzi — who had only recently joined the Saudi army troops — at the hands of his IS-affiliated cousins, ages 18 and 21. Two days after the incident, the Saudi security authorities announced one killer had been arrested and one killed by police.
On July 16, Abdullah al-Rasheed, 19, allegedly killed his uncle Rashed al-Sufiyan, a colonel in the Saudi security forces, then took Sufiyan's car to carry out a suicide attack against a checkpoint in Riyadh. After the murder, the colonel’s sister received a recorded voice message in which the killer, her son, revealed that he killed his uncle for being an apostate and a soldier for taghouts (idolaters).
This violence attests to how deeply IS ideology has penetrated the tribal and family fabric in Saudi Arabia. IS is recruiting Saudis less than 30 years of age on Twitter. This age category represents a group that is enthusiastic and easily influenced by IS productions such as impassioned anthems and scenes promoting jihad against polytheist foreigners and Arab "idolaters."
Saudi security authorities are supervising social media sites, tracking those promoting jihad and those who sympathize with terrorists. Moreover, many religious institutions have prohibited any activity promoting the ideas of IS and have banned Muslims from joining the group. The Council of Senior Scholars, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, had already declared in September 2014 that joining IS or al-Qaeda is a heinous crime under Sharia law. A number of religious figures in Saudi Arabia have warned Saudi youth not to get involved with IS. In a Friday sermon in August, the Grand Mosque Imam Saleh bin Abdullah bin Humaid described IS as a sinful and criminal organization.
Yet former Saudi Shura Council member Khalil Abdullah al-Khalil told Al-Arabiya news channel July 25 that 60% of young Saudis are ready to join IS. This would indicate that Saudi Arabia has failed to convince its own prominent scholars and Salafists that IS ideology is a dangerous departure from Islam.
Through its media publications and the statements of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS is setting a model of the Muslim imam who memorizes the Quran, compared with the Arab rulers who are not proficient in reading Quranic verses. Baghdadi appears as a combatant commander who defies the West, as a ruler who cares about the rights of Muslims and defends the oppressed — a stark contrast to the rulers of the Gulf whom Baghdadi describes as dependent on Western powers.
To promote its ideology and wars, IS relies on war-related religious texts from the Quran and the Sunnah. These texts are found in abundance in Sunni Islam, and even the most prominent Saudi senior scholars, including Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, apparently cannot interpret them contrary to the approach adopted by IS in its fight against all those who have a different belief.
These texts include Quranic verses such as the verse of al-Anfal (Spoils of War): “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah and [until] religion, all of it, is for Allah."
Young men’s attraction to IS is a global phenomenon that goes beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia. But when a young man hailing from the monotheistic land of the Two Holy Mosques proclaims his allegiance to someone hundreds or thousands of miles away, disavows his country's rulers and kills in cold blood any member of his own family for being a Saudi soldier, this means that the 300-year-old partnership between Salafism and the monarchy has come to an end. Their differences have led to confrontation and separation, and each side will seek to find one or more new partners.
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