Saudi Arabia: Outcry Over Fatwa to Kill Satellite TV Owners

Aside from being the world's dominant oil producer and home of the largest hydrocarbon reserves, Saudi Arabia is the key player in the Arab and Muslim world. Ruled by the Al Saud family since its establishment in 1932, Islamic laws are adopted as the one and only constitution to obey.

The media plays a huge rule in preserving the stability that the Al–Saud aim to maintain. Not a long time ago, the Saudi government restricted televised broadcasts into two main channels (owned and run by the government). One was in Arabic and the other in English. When the cable and satellite broadcast networks were developed around the world, the Saudis made it clear that purchasing such equipment is prohibited and banned by law. Nonetheless, smugglers and well connected individuals managed to acquire this new technology which slowly began to surface in every household.

While the rest of the Arab world began to adopt this technology and update their broadcast range and reach, Saudi Arabia in an attempt to catch up with the region's fast pace allowed the use of this new trend and soon updated its own channels to broadcast internationally.  Although over the past few years, lectures and social awareness campaigns were promoted by the Saudi government to prevent the influence of Western cultures and anti-Islamic habits deemed corrupting to the Islamic communities, there wasn’t a single incident of an extreme ruling that could be compared to the latest fatwa (religious decree).

Sheikh Saleh Al-Laheedan, the head of the Saudi Supreme Judiciary Council, issued a fatwa that makes it permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV networks that broadcast immoral content. And although the Sheikh didn’t specify any particular channels, this announcement created a wave of controversy and attacks from the international and western media in particular, as well as Arab media and bloggers. And even though the Sheikh issued another statement, following the worldwide response, in which he clarified his original fatwa as not to kill people randomly but bring them to justice and issue the death penalty if they were found guilty, it didn’t calm or answer some people’s frustration and questions.

Ali Alomari posted a video of the fatwa declared by the Sheikh and backed its message up, since in his opinion a change is needed in society to maintain an open mind without compromising Islamic values:

فتوى واضحة في مدلولها, صريحة في لغتها, ومتفقة تمام الاتفاق مع روح الإسلام؛ تلك التي أصدرها سماحة الشيخ صالح اللحيدان -رئيس مجلس القضاء الأعلى وعضو هيئة كبار العلماء- عبر إذاعة القرآن الكريم من المملكة العربية السعودية؛ حيث أفتى -سماحته- بجواز قتل مّلاك القنوات الفضائية الهابطة “قضاء” إذا قدر على منعهم فلم يمتنعوا ولم يمكن دفع شرهم بعقوبة دون القتل…

The fatwa by his Eminence Sheikh Saleh Al-Laheedan is clear in its message and purpose and is in line with Islam's spirit. His fatwa decress that the killing of the owners of satellite channels which broadcast immoral material is their destiny. If they are warned and chose to disregard such warnings, then there are no other ways to stop their evil doing than by killing them.”

In his post regarding the fatwa, Yaser Al-Ghaslan took the opportunity to address the Sheikh by asking him to be more transparent in his future speeches and requested that future fatwas should shed the light on more day to day issues that are more critical and real to many Muslims in the region:

لن اطالب هنا بأن لا يفتي فضيلتة في القضايا التي يراها حساسة رغم ظروف الوطن المختلفه و لن اطالبه بأن يقدم مصلحة الوطن و الشعب على ما يمليه ضميرة الديني تجاه القضايا التي يراها مفسده و خروج عن الدين، بل أطلب أن يكون واضحا و شفافا في فتاويه القادمه بخصوص قضايا بلادنا الحقيقية و التي تمس الناس مباشرة مثل غلاء الأسعار و موقف الشرع حول أفضل طرق الوقايه من الغلاء و تقديم النصح للناس من أجل عيشه كريمة، كما اطلب من فضيلته أن يفتي بضرورة محاسبة المسئولين المقصرين صراحة و أن يكون مباشرا في نقده و فتواه و تقديم النصح بدلا من الحديث في العموم و إطلاق الأحكام العمومية

I am not here to question the Sheikh's wisdom or intentions. I am asking him to take issues that effect people directly with a clearer approach and speeches, issues such as the ever rising prices of goods and the best ways to deal with providing our citizens with decent living conditions. I also ask of him to direct the blame on those responsible with all honesty in his criticism and fatwas instead of generalizing.

Ibrahim Hudhaif's post on this issue was more of a response to a piece by writer Turki Al-Hamad, where the latter expressed his disgust at how the human life is so cheap:

يقول الكاتب تركي الحمد … هل صار الإنسان بهذا الرخص؟ وهل أصبح الحكم بالقتل بهذه السهولة … وكأن المقتول دجاجة؟ ثم ينهي كلامه ويقول المحرض على القتل فهو قاتل!!! انتهى
أين هؤلاء عندما تقصف أمريكا عرسا في أفغانستان ويسقط الأبرياء بسبب معلومات خاطئة قدمت لهم … هل صار الإنسان بهذا الرخص؟
أين هؤلاء عندما قتلت أمريكا أكثر من مليون عراقي في العراق … هل أصبح الإنسان رخيصا لهذه الدرجة يا تركي؟
أم أين هم عندما عذبت امريكا المعتقلين بسجن أبو غريب واستخدمت شتى أنواع الذل والمهانه تجاه المعتقلين … ويحاكم جندي واحد فقط ويسجن كم شهر!!! … لهذه الدرجة الإنسان رخيصا يا أديبهم … سبحان الله

Writer Turki Al-Hamad asks when did the human life become so cheap and easily disposed and compares it to killing a chicken, and ends his piece claiming that the those who promote killing are killers as well.

Let me ask you Turki, where were those attacking the Sheikh's fatwa when the US bombed a wedding in Afghanistan based on false intelligence?! Is human life that cheap?!
Were were they when the US killed more than a million citizens in Iraq? Is human life that cheap?! Where were those voices when the US tortured the prisoners in Abo Ghareeb and used all sorts of humiliation methods while questioning them? And at the end only one US soldier were accused in court and sentenced for few months in jail?! Is life that cheap Turki?!

Blogging to tackle the issue behind the fatwa rather the fatwa itself, Abed Al Aziz Al Sweed writes his post admitting he didn't listen or watch the Sheikh's speech but he is more interested in the core of the issue:

ما أتمناه ألا تنشغل الصحافة بظاهر الفتوى وإثارة صحافية “مغرية” فيها، بل علينا تجاوز ذلك، إلى اللب والأسباب. لقد كتب الكثير عن الفضائيات والمسؤولية الأخلاقية التي يجب أن تحكم أعمالها وتؤطر نشاطها إلا أن كل هذا، وهو عصارة رأي عام مستهدف من القنوات يجب أن يعطى حقه الأخلاقي… لم يحرك ساكناً ويحدث تغييراً يذكر في برامج تلك الوسائل الإعلامية، بل أن الاستمرار شجع على تزايد توالد فضائيات أقل ما يقال عنها إنها مخجلة بحثاً عن الربح السهل السريع.

What I am really hoping for here is for the media to avoid exhausting its resources on the this post-fatwa frenzy for commercial gains, and actually pay more attention to the reasons and elements building to this fatwa. A lot of these broadcasting networks were questioned in the past regarding their ethics and responsibilities on what they are broadcasting and promoting, but those questions came back empty handed. And unfortunately such disregard in the past encouraged the multiplication of those networks, and the least I can say is that they merely are a shameful display running behind easy financial gains.

Ahmad Ba Aboud, asks himself personal questions implied by this controversy, and while finding his answers he states that such an incident proves how behind the community has become in the absence of tolerance and intellectual debates that could have saved the country from sinking into such useless controversies:

- حتى لو توقفت القنوات التي يملكها سعوديون عن بث ما يحوي الخلاعة و المجون، من سيمنع الناس من مشاهدة القنوات الأخرى التي ستستمر في بث ما تشاء لمن يريد!.
– و لو فرضنا أن كل القنوات العربية توقفت عن بث الخلاعة و المجون، من سيمنع الناس من مشاهدة القنوات الأجنبية التي تبث على الأقمار الصناعية التي يصل بثها للدول العربية؟
– من سيوقف ما يوجد في الأنترنت من محتويات غير أخلاقية و تحمل صفات المجون و الخلاعة؟
– أليس من حق الناس أن تشاهد و تحكم بنفسها و تقرر ما تشاهده و ما تمتنع عنه؟
– كيف يمكن المطالبة بوقف قنوات التسلية و التي تبث الخلاعة و المجون في ظل شح وسائل الترفية و النشاطات الإجتماعية في السعودية؟ أين سيذهب الناس في أوقات فراغهم؟.
– إلى أي حد يجب على السلطات أن تتدخل في مواجهة ما قد ينظر إليه البعض على أنه خطر على المجتمع (متمثلاً هنا في صورة القنوات المتهمة بالمجون و الخلاعة) و بأي صورة يكون هذا التدخل؟.

Even if the Saudi-owned channels stopped broadcasting the programs in question here, what will withhold people from switching to other channels?
Even is all the Arabic TV channels shut down these provocative programs, what will stop the viewers from switching to foreign channels?
What about the internet and its content that is full of indecent material? Who can control that?
Don't people have the right to watch and then judge what they consider worthy?
In a country like Saudi Arabia, where the absence of recreational activities and spaces is being compensated with watching and interacting with entertainment programs on TV, what will people do in their free time once these programs are shut down?
How far should the authorities go in their effort to cleanse what they deem threatening to the community's values?

Bassam Sebati posted an article reflecting his disapproval of this fatwa and possible link to the recent killing of 4 journalist working at a TV show in Iraq:

It seems it was not enough what the Wahabis did since they hijacked Islam and Saudi Arabia, but also they continue to be the source of most of the mayhem across the Middle East. They just don't stop spreading hatred and murder for any reason they find right before their eyes…

…One day after this evil verdict, assassins killed four TV journalists from Iraq's Al-Sharqiyah Satellite TV channel while filming a show about feeding the fasting people in the holy month of Ramadan. The show called, “Breaking Your Fast Is on Us,” is a popular TV show, widely watched by many Iraqis during the holy month. The TV channel picks families who have financial difficulties and make them a huge meal of Iftar, along with other presents like house equipments, including refrigerators, stoves, ovens, TV-sets, etc.

I don't know if the killing of these journalists is linked to what that evil Sheikh issued, but it seems it's not disconnected. It's wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong and should be stopped. published an article that rounds up reports by some major media networks about Al-Laheedan's fatwa.

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