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Cablegate: Hejazi Scholars Share Views On Religion And

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHJI #0505/01 2100405
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 290405Z JUL 06
FM AMCONSUL JEDDAH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9381
INFO RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 6704

C O N F I D E N T I A L JEDDAH 000505

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

RIYADH, PLEASE PASS TO DHAHRAN; DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP,
INR/B; DRL/IRF FOR AMBASSADOR JOHN HANFORD; PARIS FOR ZEYA;
LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/26/2016
TAGS: KISL PGOV PREL SA SOCI
SUBJECT: HEJAZI SCHOLARS SHARE VIEWS ON RELIGION AND
POLITICS

REF: A. A) 05 JEDDAH 3015

B. B) 05 JEDDAH 3362.

Classified By: Consul General Tatiana Gfoeller for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Consul General and ConGenOffs reached out
to religious scholars, including the liberal religious
scholar Dr. Sami M. Angawi, in Jeddah to hear their views on
the status of Islam in the Kingdom and how it is practiced in
the nation's traditionally diverse Hejaz region. The
scholars focused on the discrepancies between religion
currently and how it was practiced more than 20 years ago,
and opined that the Saudi government is stifling religious
diversity nationwide. As a result of Dr. Angawi's open
rhetoric he lost his position as a guide for Hajj pilgrims
and was warned by the Ministry of Information not to
associate with Westerners anymore. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- -----
A WARNING FROM THE MINISTRY: NO MORE WESTERN PRESS
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (C) ConGenOffs met with Dr. Sami M. ((Angawi)), a
prominent architect and liberal religious thinker, three
times during the past month (Note: for detailed information
on the Consul General's meeting, see following septel. End
Note). As one of Jeddah's steadiest voices for dialogue,
Angawi is well known to the Consulate General and, in the
past, has been open about his views on the harm that comes
from limiting public discourse on religion to only the views
of the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence, also known as
Wahhabis (Ref A, Ref B). He even was willing to express that
point of view on the US-sponsored Al Hurrah television
channel, which drew criticism that Angawi is acting as a
mouthpiece for the United States. As a result, Angawi said
that he was called into the Ministry of Information offices
in Jeddah on June 21 and given a "polite but clear" warning
to no longer speak his mind to "Western media." He then
offhandedly told PolOff that he expected possible future
warnings to include orders to stop meeting with Westerners
altogether. Previously, his criticism of the SAG had
resulted in his being banned from acting as a guide for Hajj
pilgrims, which he had done for over two decades.

-----------------------------------------
SAUDI VERSION OF ISLAM UNLIKELY TO CHANGE
-----------------------------------------

3. (C) Angawi admits that he is concerned by the way in
which Islam is now practiced in Saudi Arabia but does not see
much hope of an improvement in the near-term. He praised
King Abdullah for moving ahead on reform but remained
pessimistic about long-term change. Angawi, who is fond of
using analogies to emphasize his views, described Mecca as
the "heart" of Islam and compared the pilgrims who believe
they are purified by coming to Mecca during the Hajj to blood
that circulates through a human body and then flows back to
the heart to be renewed. He stressed that Mecca should be
impartial but instead sees that "the heart is in
disequilibrium." He claims that the traditional open
exchange of ideas, which 50 years ago included all five
schools of Islamic thought, has been replaced with only the
conservative strain of Wahhabism. Angawi sadly added that in
Saudi Arabia "the difference is that Islam has gone from
being the origin to being the authority." He was equally
skeptical when asked if there would ever be a chance of a
split happening between the ruling Al Saud family and the Al
Sheikh family, which for centuries has controlled religious
practices. Angawi likened the two families to Siamese twins
whose best chance for survival means remaining joined.

------------------------------------
CHALLENGES IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS
------------------------------------

4. (C) Dr. Ibrahim A. ((NATTO)) and Dr. Sadig A. ((MALKI)),
scholars and friends of Angawi who are also versed in Islam
and current events, shared similar concerns during a
roundtable discussion held at Angawi's house on July 16.
Natto, whose specialty is higher education, and Malki (Ref
B), who teaches political science at King Abdulaziz
University in Jeddah, said they have felt the limitations in
their work. They both recommended increasing cultural
awareness as a way of breaking down barriers but lamented
that the SAG makes it very difficult for dialogue to continue
at any level.

5. (C) Speaking about the violence in Israel-Lebanon, Malki
mentioned that his students were disenchanted with the SAG's
handling of the situation. Noting that "they all laughed"
about the July 14 statement issued by the SAG, Malki
explained that the broader feeling is that Israel
over-reacted in their attacks and that the Kingdom should not
just pretend to be neutral when innocent Arabs are being
killed. Additionally, Angawi noted his deep sadness by the
current events and wished that the international community
would ascribe the same value to Muslim, Christian and Jewish
children. He stated that he felt that the Israeli response
was disproportionate to the kidnapping of their soldiers.

6. (C) The scholars also stressed that the U.S. image in
Saudi Arabia has continued to decline, while leaders such as
Osama Bin Laden and Hizballah's Nasrallah are praised. They
suggested that the United States needs to be a more
even-handed player in the Middle East, but added that even if
attempts are made to help all sides, Washington is still
unlikely to be considered neutral. Angawi also told
ConGenOffs that the "weight" of all people is not the same,
and that there should be a distinction between the actions
that are permissible against soldiers and those used on
innocent civilians.
Gfoeller

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