Salman Al-Odah: The chameleon cleric

Salman Al-Odah: The chameleon cleric
Al-Odah, who once referred to the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as ‘brother,’ was known for his jihadist rhetoric in the 1990s.
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Updated 22 February 2021

Salman Al-Odah: The chameleon cleric

Salman Al-Odah: The chameleon cleric
  • The controversial Saudi has a reputation for masking or denying his extremist views, even though they are on his website
  • Al-Odah is infamous for his 1990s sermons “Come for Jihad” and “The Industry of Death”

JEDDAH: Salman Al-Odah is next in the Arab News series “Preachers of Hate.” The controversial preacher, who once referred to the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as “brother,” has influenced young Saudis and Muslims for decades. 

Al-Odah is infamous for his 1990s sermons “Come for Jihad” and “The Industry of Death.” Circulated on clandestine audiotapes that were spread throughout Saudi Arabia and beyond, the sermons called for his followers to perform jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq and other occupied Muslim lands. 

Although after his release from jail in 1999 he profusely refuted claims in TV interviews on MBC that he incited jihad, the audiotapes are still obtainable on his personal website.

Al-Odah capitalizes on his show of piety with softly spoken words, but is criticized for using this approach to incite terror and intolerance. 

Born and raised in the Saudi city of Buraidah, he first rose to prominence as a lecturer at the local institute in the 1980s. 

He then took a sharp turn at the end of the decade to become a voice of the Islamic Awakening (Al-Sahwa) movement. 

For years, as the leader of that movement, Al-Odah and his associates preached anti-Semitic and anti-Western ideas to their followers.

 

It was halted in 1994 by the Saudi government as the movement took a more extremist approach to Islam, spreading a terror-related ideology among the region’s youth in opposition to the foreign military presence in the Kingdom during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

 

In 1993, a joint commission spearheaded by the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz found Al-Odah’s rhetoric a danger to Saudi society. 

Al-Odah was ordered to attend a rehabilitation session, and was banned from conducting sermons and lectures. 

But he disregarded the order, continued preaching disdain for the presence of American soldiers, and was sentenced in 1994 to five years in prison. 

The charges included spreading hate rhetoric that jeopardized the sanctity and religious stability of Saudi society.

After his release from prison in 1999, Al-Odah came across as a reformed man, suggesting on talk shows that he had changed paths from his previous conservative and highly controversial views.

His first test came after the 9/11 attacks. His critics say he failed to condemn them clearly, but on the sixth anniversary, he said on a TV show: “My brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled? How many innocent people, children, elderly and women have been killed … in the name of Al-Qaeda? Will you be happy to meet God Almighty carrying the burden of these hundreds of thousands or millions of victims on your back?”

While Al-Odah once deemed TV watching as evil, he began to build a major fan base via appearances on multiple Arab channels, such as Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic and the Saudi Almajd TV Network. 

He even hosted his own show, “Al-Hayat Kalima” (“Life is a Word”), on the Saudi-owned MBC. The show was cancelled in 2011. 

With the development of social media platforms, Al-Odah reached out to a much larger audience, gradually establishing himself on YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Telegram to speak directly to his followers. His messages on these platforms focused on philanthropy, religion and social issues.

“He achieved more prominence with his appearances on satellite channels and the media, and with the spread of the internet,” Hani Nasira, an Egyptian author and journalist who specializes in ideological movements, told Arab News.

Appearing nonchalant in numerous TV interviews, refusing to admit wrongdoing while dodging challenges with his elusive rhetoric, Al-Odah denied issuing his controversial fatwas (religious edicts), even though they are documented, distributed and available in Arabic on his personal website.

In one such fatwa, posted on his website in 2017, he prohibited women from wearing trousers in front of others because, he said, they show the size of women’s sexual organs, causing “sedition and excitement.”

Al-Odah is accused of developing affiliations with groups that have been regarded as terrorist organizations, notably the Muslim Brotherhood and the International Union of Islamic Scholars, of which he is a member of the board of trustees. 

The union was listed as a terrorist organization by several Arab countries in November 2017 for its support and funding of acts of terrorism worldwide, specifically in the West. 

It was founded in 2004 in Qatar under the leadership of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who was featured in the Arab News “Preachers of Hate” series and whose controversial views include the “justified” killing of Jews.

In a 2010 interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Qaradawi described Al-Odah as “one of my closest friends.”

In May 2017, Al-Odah was put on a blacklist of six preachers banned from entering Denmark for two years for preaching against the fundamental values of Danish society. 

The list included Christian pastor Terry Jones, who was also included in the “Preachers of Hate” series.

In September 2017, Al-Odah was detained in Saudi Arabia, in a government crackdown on several of the most prominent preachers of hate. Al-Odah’s son Abdullah Alaoudh (he spells his name differently than his father), a Washington Post and New York Times (NYT) contributor, has been a vocal critic of his father’s arrest. 

In an NYT op-ed, Alaoudh questioned the legitimacy of his father’s arrest and defended his subtler approach to Islam. 

“For almost two decades, he (Al-Odah) has vocally led the campaign against terrorism in Saudi Arabia,” Alaoudh wrote. “He has called for renewing religious discourse and argues for moderate Islam.”

However, Alaoudh does not delve into what many critics believe is the devastating effect his father’s hate preaching has had on Muslim youth. 

Nor does he explain his father’s contradictory points of view on serious topics such as non-Muslims, Western values and justification for taking lives. 

In the view of critics, Al-Odah has developed a reputation for shifting like a chameleon to avoid censure, appearing as a soft-spoken spiritual cleric appealing to younger generations on social media, while masking his extremist views with elusive rhetoric or dismissing previous sermons as back in the past. 

This despite him promoting his extremist views on his own website, and despite his extensive affiliations with terrorist organizations.

This tendency to shift positions “according to time and context” is common among “many clerics and preachers, especially those … who have ambitions for power, domination and religious tutelage,” said Nasira.


Saudi Arabia and Greece sign defense agreement

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia and Greece sign defense agreement

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. (SPA)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’a Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.
During the meeting, they reviewed bilateral relations between the Kingdom and Greece, aspects of joint cooperation in various fields, and ways to support and develop it. They also discussed current regional issues and the efforts made toward solving them.
The meeting was attended by Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman and Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, along with Greece’s Minister of National Defense Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Kingdom and Greece signed an agreement related to defense cooperation during a series of ministerial meetings in Riyadh.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Saudi and Greek foreign ministers signed an agreement regarding draft arrangements for the legal status of the Greek armed forces participating in supporting the Kingdom’s defense capabilities.
Prince Faisal then held official talks with the two visiting ministers to discuss bilateral relations, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.
They also exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual concern.
Following the meeting, Panagiotopoulos said “Greece and Saudi Arabia are linked by strong friendships, have common concerns about current geostrategic challenges and a common vision for the future.”
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir also held talks with Dendias and his accompanying delegation.
Nayef Al-Hajraf, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), met Dendias and Panagiotopoulos, where he stressed the importance of growing Gulf-Greek relations.
Al-Hajraf and Dendias signed a memorandum of understandingfor consultations on issues of common interest between the GCC’s General Secretariat and the Greek government.
Al-Hajraf said the agreement included a mechanism for cooperating and consulting in the political, economic, commercial and investment fields.


Saudi king and crown prince offer condolences over Egypt train accident

Saudi king and crown prince offer condolences over Egypt train accident
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi king and crown prince offer condolences over Egypt train accident

Saudi king and crown prince offer condolences over Egypt train accident
  • At least 11 people were killed and nearly 100 injured when a train derailed outside Cairo

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent a cable of condolences and sympathy to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, following a train accident in Qalyubia province, north of the capital.
At least 11 people were killed and nearly 100 injured on Sunday when four train carriages derailed in the city of Banha. The train was traveling to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura from Cairo.
The king said: “We received the news of a train accident in Qalyubia province in Egypt on April 18 resulting in deaths and injuries.
“We send to Your Excellency and to all the families of the deceased our deepest condolences and sincere sympathy,” King Salman adding, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a similar cable to the Egyptian president.


Saudi Arabia records 12 COVID-19 deaths, 1,070 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 12 COVID-19 deaths, 1,070 new cases
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia records 12 COVID-19 deaths, 1,070 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 12 COVID-19 deaths, 1,070 new cases
  • The Kingdom said 940 patients recovered in past 24 hours
  • The highest number of cases were recorded in Riyadh with 483

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia recorded 12 new COVID-19 related deaths on Monday, raising the total number of fatalities to 6,846.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 1,070 new confirmed cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the disease. 
Of the total number of cases, 9,626 remain active and 1,105 in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 483, followed by Makkah with 209, the Eastern Province with 157, Madinah recorded 44, and Asir confirmed 39 cases.

The ministry also announced that 940 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 390,538.
The ministry renewed its call on the public to adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 141 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 3.01 million.


Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and China’s president discuss climate change

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to strengthening relations. (File/SPA/AFP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to strengthening relations. (File/SPA/AFP)
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and China’s president discuss climate change

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to strengthening relations. (File/SPA/AFP)
  • Kingdom is working to organize an annual summit for the Middle East Green Initiative, with China as a major partner
  • They also discussed cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and technology

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.
During the call, the two leader reviewed the recently announced Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative to combat environmental challenges in the region.
The crown prince announced the two initiatives in late March that aim to form partnerships with regional countries to tackle afforestation, reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent, and protect the marine environment, among other projects.
The crown prince and the president discussed the contributions of these two initiatives toward achieving global targets to combat climate change, and their influential role in raising the quality of life in the region and the world at large.
The crown prince said the Kingdom is working to organize an annual summit for the Middle East Green Initiative in the presence of leaders and officials in the environmental field, adding that China will be a major partner for the initiative.
The Chinese president said Beijing supported both initiatives, stressing the importance of their support by the international community.
Xi told the crown prince that China wants to advance its strategic partnership with the Kingdom.
The crown prince and the president also discussed cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and technology.
Prince Mohammed said his country was ready to strengthen the interconnection between the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
During the call, Xi said Beijing “is willing to work with Saudi Arabia and other members of the international community to build an equitable climate governance regime that is cooperative and beneficial to all,” Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chinese president also called for joint efforts to comprehensively and effectively implement “the Paris Agreement on climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.”


Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait

Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait

Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepts Houthi drone launched towards Khamis Mushait

DUBAI: The Saudi-led Arab coalition intercepted and destroyed a Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait on Tuesday, state TV Al-Ekhbariya reported.

The Kingdom has seen an increase in attacks by the militia after the US delisted the Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations.

Last month, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak condemned recent attacks by the Houthis, saying that they hindered the peace process and blamed Iran for the ongoing crisis in the country.
“The Iranian interventions have become a formidable obstruction to peace as Iran has turned the Yemeni conflict into a negotiating card that Iranian regime capitalizes on to serve its nuclear negotiations,” he said.