|PRINCE FAISAL BIN SALMAN|
January 23, 2002
Correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth began the interview with a question about Wahhabism, and Prince Faisal said that was not the correct word to use.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is the word I should use rather than Wahhabism and explain why I should use it and what it means.
PRINCE FAISAL: Well, Wahhabism is actually a label. It was attached to a movement to purify the understanding of religion in Central Arabia back in the early part of the 18th century. Its supporters wish to call it Muwahhidun -- unifiers in a sense.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Muwahhidun?
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes. Or Al-Harakah al-Salafiyyah, which means going back to the original understanding of Islam and trying to purify religion from the condition it was in at that period in that part of Arabia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain to us please the relationship between this and the royal family?
PRINCE FAISAL: It starts back in the mid-eighteenth century. You have to understand the historical and social context of Arabia at the time. The Arabian peninsula, especially the central part of the Arabian peninsula, had not been unified under one rule for over a thousand years . Central Arabia was divided into small, what you can call 'city/states,' in a sense. Internal feud existed between these 'city/states.' Tribal wars existed. There was a lack of security. There was a lack of central government and governance, coupled with a misunderstanding of religion and erroneous practices of religion. Within that context emerged a Sheik Mohammed Abdul Wahhab, who traveled widely in the Middle East. He didn't bring anything original or new to the understanding of Islam. He merely tried to get Islam back to its original and pure and simple understanding. He traveled to Egypt, Hijaz (western Saudi Arabia), Iraq, Syria -- which was known then as Asham--Syria didn't exist as a state as we know it now. He communicated with some, many Muslim scholars. He was very much influenced by an imam called Ahmad ibn Hanbal and his understanding or reading of Ahmad ibn Hanbal was very much the main force in his intellectual formation. Mohammed Abdul Wahhab basically interpreted Hanbal to the locals. Mohammed Abdul Wahhab's literature is written in a very simple, plain Arabic. In a language that is understandable and explainable to the people of this particular part of the Arabian peninsula.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I know that this is not a exactly an apt comparison because of the different historical periods. But is he to Islam something like St. Augustine would be to Christianity. He's an interpreter, a theorist, a saint. Not a saint but something like that?
PRINCE FAISAL: No. He's more of a, like a German monk called Martin Luther, I would say.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ah, more the reformer.
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Would you consider yourself Muwahhidun? How would you describe yourself?
PRINCE FAISAL: I would consider myself as a Salafi. Salafis are people who follow the tradition of al Salaf which is the previous, early generation of a Muslim, the generation of the prophet and people who continued the tradition of the prophet. That the main understanding of Islam comes from reading the holy book of Koran, understanding it as it is in plain Arabic and what has been known of the prophet's tradition and the precedents he set in political, social and cultural life. So, Salafi would be really an appropriate label I would put on the way that most people understand religion in Saudi Arabia. But we're not Wahhabis. Remember I told you that Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the main religious authority that Mohammed Abdul Wahhab was influenced by? And the Hanbali tradition in Islam very much objects and resists any acts of defiance of the existing authority, very much emphasizes security and social tranquility. Those who stand up, take arms and rebel against the legitimate government, or any government in fact, are very much condemned by the Hanbalis. Ahmad ibn Hanbal himself was an imam who was imprisoned by the the caliph in those days. He stopped and made sure that his supporters who were very wide-spread at the time refrained from opposing the legitimate power at the time. So anybody who would say 'oh, we can kill anyone' to move our cause forward or were there to try and undermine the political system of a country are very much going against the basic teaching of Ahmad ibn Hanbal and therefore by definition aren't Mohammed Abdul Wahhab.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is the relationship between all this and the royal family and why in your view has it been good for the region?
PRINCE FAISAL: It has been very good for Saudi Arabia. The Islamic message is very much trans-regional and super-tribal. It unified this part of the world which had been divided into small Greek-style city/states since the death of the prophet, over a millennium, basically. It has achieved security, it has achieved stability, it has achieved central governance, it has unified the region and coincidentally it happened to put together the Eastern province with the Western province where we have the holy shrines and combined the oil wealth of the Eastern province with the spiritual wealth of the Western province together, turning this country into the cradle of Islam and the engine for development of this whole part of Arabia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is this what the critics are missing? The people who say that it's just an intolerant and bigoted religion or bigoted part of Islam?
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes. That's right. Well, I think most critics do is go and look for statements by anybody from Saudi Arabia -- or associated with it -- and point to that statement and say, ah, look what the Saudis are saying. But actually if you go around inside Saudi Arabia, as you have been doing, you find that Saudi Arabia, like many countries, it's about lots of people saying lots of things, and your choice to draw your own opinion and version of how the Saudis understand Islam. But to go and actually start off from trying to prove that the Saudis are intolerant, well, you will find statements like that. I mean, you've just come from the West Bank. You will find statements among the Palestinians saying oh, there could never be peace with Israel. We should try and eradicate this state from the map of the Middle East. But the overwhelming majority are for a more, sort of negotiated settlement that would guarantee the security of an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. So if you want to be selective again and go to the U.S. you might find some radical cults that would, you know, say this and that against the U.S. government, against any other government, against any other races, in a sense. So obviously the selective process of trying to actually confirm a view that you've held previously is done everywhere and it's actually easily done. But you'll find the overwhelming majority of people in Saudi Arabia, they might be socially conservative, they might be politically conservative, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they would go and preach intolerance against non-Muslims. Certainly they wouldn't go as far as calling for committing acts of violence against non-Muslims.
|Islamic textbooks and the roots of terrorism|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You've been looking at text books. What is there in the textbooks about the Jews for example.
PRINCE FAISAL: There is one line I found in fourth grade that says basically Jews are -- the Jewish religion is not compatible with the right way that God wished others to follow, the path that people wanted to follow. That God wished people to follow a certain path in their life and Jews did not follow the same path. One line.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Really. And you looked at the high school textbooks, too?
PRINCE FAISAL: Only one line in fourth grade. The first year of high school I found about 10 or 11 pages, which you might find in it something that is hostile to non-Muslims. But that's it. Now, what does that mean in terms of the overall curriculum that children and young men are taught in, at Saudi schools? Less that 1% of what they've been taught, much, much less than 1%. About 10-12 pages are taught in Saudi schools where people might interpret as containing text which is anti-non-Muslim. But if you compare that to over 20,000 pages that students read from day one at school until they graduate, I mean, how does that measure up statistically? It's very little. I mean, I am a university teacher. I have trouble getting my students to remember what I told them two weeks ago, let alone asking students to remember what they might have read about five or six years ago.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: People have read parts of books to us and we're not sure that they're actually textbooks here or they're textbooks certain Muslim groups are using in the States. This was from a book that was called Monotheism. This may be the one you're talking about. I think it's an 11th grade book. "On one of the signs of the day of judgment, the Muslims will fight the Jews just before the day of judgment and the Muslims will destroy the Jews, will kill the Jews until they hide behind the tree." Do you know this one about the tree? Is that the one you're referring to?
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes. That's one of them. But, I mean, that's one page in a whole book. So it goes back to the selective way of actually going and reading the curriculum in Saudi Arabia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're saying that this is such a small amount of the curriculum, it's not producing people who are really bigoted against people who are not Salafi or who are not Islam, Christians, Jews, non-Salafi?
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes. I think, I think to pinpoint the curriculum as a cause for extremism is very much an over-simplification of what's going on.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the key causes are? When you look at the situation and you think that Saudis were involved in the bombing of the embassies, the bombing of the Cole, the bombing of the Khobar towers, and the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, what do you think is causing it?
PRINCE FAISAL: Right. Well, I would like to look at the whole question of terrorism in general, in a very, very theoretical manner. When we try to pinpoint a cause for terrorism and try to actually achieve or try and see if we can correlate that with another cause in a sense -- let's, for argument sake, try and weigh the cause/effect relationship of different variables -- I think we have a mixed answer. If you try and pinpoint schools and education as a cause, well, terrorists exist everywhere in the Middle East and in other countries. The fact that about 80% of those who were on those planes were Saudis does not mean that 80% of al Qaeda recruits are Saudis. They do not reflect that percentage at all. Many terrorists were taught in Egyptian schools, Lebanese schools, in Kuwaiti schools, in Jordanian schools.
If you look at the whole question of the political system, some say, well, you have terrorism because there is a lack of democracy. Well, how do you explain terrorism in Spain or Northern Ireland, for example. If you try and actually say that social poverty is a cause for terrorism, well, that might explain it partly but those Saudis who were actually in those planes do not come from deprived sections of society, they were pretty well-off including Osama bin Laden himself. So let's not try and find a cause that would explain everything. I think the answer will have to be much more complex and much more limited to certain instances and certain individuals at the time. But there is no key factor that would explain everything. There are no specific explanations. The trend of Islamic extremism is all over the Muslim world, unfortunately. Not only in the Muslim world as a geographic entity, but also in pockets of the Muslim worlds in Europe and the United States. It's what certain German thinkers would call the spirit of the age, in a sense. But there is basically no specific cause you can pinpoint. You can argue for one cause or the other, but really if you try and establish a correlation, your argument won't hold water, I'm afraid.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, let me interrupt for one second, let's stay with the Germans for a minute. In the same way as you and I have both studied a lot the role of Herder and Hegel and everything else in producing Nazism, couldn't one say that this particular conservative brand of Islam has given rise to this terrorism?
PRINCE FAISAL: That's right. A certain brand of Islam which dates back to the early years of the rise of Islam, and about a decade or two following the death of the prophet, has emerged. It was basically hostile to the state, to the legitimate power. If you read some of the Islamic history textbooks, you'll find reference to them and they were basically a force of instability throughout the Muslim Empire's time. So, there is a trend.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And that's not at all the Salafi trend, in your view?
PRINCE FAISAL: It's not. It's not the Salafi trend at all, whatsoever, because what the Salafi trend emphasizes, or Ahem ibn Hanbal and therefore Mohammed Abdul Wahhab, is an emphasis on obedience to the legitimate power, very much an emphasis on social tranquility and social order, a belief that the lack of central governance, of authority that could implement law and order would bring more harm to society than actually trying to replace the government with another government in a sense.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But then weren't there people in the Salafi tradition like Sayyid Qutb that began to change that and they were the reformers themselves within the tradition? And has that been influential here?
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes. You're talking about, if you mention Sayyid Qutb, I associate him with the movement of Dahwan Muslimi. And the Dahwan Muslimi tradition came, or was developed in the context of political struggle against the authorities in Egypt at a certain point in time. Said Qutb wrote a very famous book called 'Signs on the Road', if you want to interpret it in English.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sort of the 'What is to be Done'?
PRINCE FAISAL: Yes, the political agenda of radical Islam. That's not what the mainstream or the ulemas in Saudi Arabia believe in. The tradition goes far back in Islam. It doesn't follow that method that Sayyid Qutb proposes. Sayyid Qutb had a certain political agenda to achieve. Conservative Muslim ulemas have a sustained line of thinking over a long period of time on how society and individuals should live their life and how society should function.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you look at the various imams here who have issued fatwas for example which were supportive of bin Laden, or fatwas which said that it would be O.K. to kill Americans because we're infidels? Is that just part of the fringe that is not really influential in this country or how do you see it?
PRINCE FAISAL: One sheik, I believe, who is not considered a religious authority among most people in Saudi Arabia has issued an Internet fatwa, but the overwhelming majority of the ulemas here actually condemned this act of terrorism. The government came very clearly against any acts of violence in general. The grand mufti here, the main mufti in Saudi Arabia came out with a statement which was unequivocal about Islam's condemnation to terrorism. In fact, the mufti of Saudi Arabia came out with a statement about a year ago condemning acts of suicidal bombers in Israel, in fact. It said that Islam doesn't sanction the killing of non-Muslims in a very much a haphazard way, an indiscriminate way. So we've been very consistent on that. If one sheik who is--I mean, I never heard of him until this fatwa came out, says something, of course, you know, he's entitled to his opinion but it does not reflect the overwhelming majority, and, in fact, the consensus among Muslims here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you concerned about the amount of criticism in the U.S. press right now about Saudi Arabia and education here and religion here?
PRINCE FAISAL: I was concerned up until I started reading the British press and its criticism of the treatment of al Qaeda hostages -- or war criminals, whatever you want to call them -- or detainees in Cuba. So I think the press had a story and it has to run it and I don't think that there's anything special against Saudi Arabia but it was a good story to run, and, you know, bashing Saudi Arabia is quite trendy but next week it will be something else. I wasn't ready to take that too seriously.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you concerned that the royal family is in danger here from radical Islam?
PRINCE FAISAL: Not at all. The radical Islam very much exists among a small segment of society. There is a consensus on the role of religion and the role of the royal family within the state. The royal family are the protectors of religion. They were there primarily to insure the implementation of sharia law and maintain the unity of the country. Most of--all the mainstream ulemas or the religious authority agree on that. We don't have a theocratic government. We are not run by clerics and religious figures --
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain, excuse me for interrupting, but explain your relationship. If it's not theocratic, how does it work? How do the religious clerics influence the government? What are the mechanisms?
PRINCE FAISAL: The mechanism is that Islam has set out very broad and basic principles on politics and social affairs. It goes much more into detail when it comes to explaining how you should conduct your prayer, how the marital law works, how the criminal law works. But when it comes to actual politics and economics, it set very broad principles, deliberately, in order that each generation would adapt to its needs at the time, and try and conform within the general guidelines set by Islam. Each generation has to identify the basic goals that it needs to achieve. It has to identify certain values that it wants to live by and they can be compatible with Islam.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But just specifically, how do they influence? How does the royal family; how does the governing body relate to the cleric, the clerical body?
PRINCE FAISAL: You're talking about the basic mechanism?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yeah. I mean, you and I can sit here and we could describe the relationship between the branches of government in the United States. It's pretty easy to do, actually. How about here?
PRINCE FAISAL: It works in two ways. The judicial power is very much run by Muslim ulemas and it's based on sharia law.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ulemas are religious clerics, leaders and sharia --
PRINCE FAISAL: Religious authorities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Authorities. And Sharia is the Islamic law.
PRINCE FAISAL: Islamic law. That's right. So the judiciary institutions are very much run by ulemas who implement sharia law. Executive power, however, is headed by the king and the Council of Ministers. Within the Council of Ministers there are advisors that are members of the cabinet, committees that mushroom through the Council of Ministers that review laws and make sure they're actually compatible with each other and the teaching of Islam.
|The influence of institutions|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To return to an issue we were discussing earlier: Why are you reading the curriculum? Is this part of your work or is it just something you've decided to do?
PRINCE FAISAL: No, Tom Friedman would be the answer. He wrote that article about, going on about the Saudi curriculum to which he addressed the wrong minister who had nothing to do with the curriculum. And there was so much on this issue in the American press that actually, I said, well, I read the curriculum. Why am I not a terrorist? So, I said, let me read it again and see what they've actually found in it. And as I said to you, I found maybe 11 or 12 pages that could be interpreted to be hostile to non-Muslims, but that's a very, very small proportion of what students actually read from day one until they leave school.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I understand there's a move to change even that, though, in the curriculum. Have you heard that?
PRINCE FAISAL: Well, I haven't actually talked to anybody in the Ministry of Education so probably your information is better than mine.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You went through this curriculum. You know what the 15 of the 19 hijackers who were Saudis learned. You know something about them even though they're from different parts of the country than you are and they're not part of the royal family. How do you understand them? What do you think formed them?
PRINCE FAISAL: Well, schools do not form the people's view of the world entirely. There are many influences and there are many sources of information that form opinion in this day and age. There is television, there is the Internet, the flow of information in all sorts of directions, travel, people mixing, so I don't know, I mean, people get their information from different sources. I don't know who these specific people have mixed with. I understand some of them went to Chechnya and some of them went to Afghanistan and so on. So what happens to a particular individual gives you an individual explanation to why this person had come to think this way or that way. That doesn't explain how the whole country thinks.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Your royal highness, thanks for being with us.
PRINCE FAISAL: Thank you. Thank you very much.