Saudi King’s Counter-Terror Event Hosted by Group Accused of Terror-Financing, Promoting Intolerance

By Patrick Goodenough | February 23, 2015 | 4:30 AM EST

Seated on the platform at the Muslim World League-hosted counterterrorism conference in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday are, from left, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, Saudi grand mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, Saudi Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and MWL president Abdullah Al-Turki. (Photo: MWL)

(CNSNews.com) – Saudi Arabia’s new king delivered a speech Sunday, opening a three-day counterterrorism conference in Mecca, hosted at his invitation by an organization that for years has been denying U.S. government charges of associations with terrorism.

The hosting organization, the Muslim World League (MWL), also has a record of religious bigotry and support for the Palestinian “jihad” against Israel.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz’ speech, read on his behalf by another royal, denounced radical Islamists for vilifying Islam through their actions.

The official Saudi Press Agency said the speech “cast light on the negative impacts of practicing terrorism in the name of Islam, giving Islam’s enemies a chance to stab our religion from behind.”

Other speakers on the first day of the high-profile event also raised the notion that “enemies” of Islam are behind the terrorism scourge – or at least benefiting from it.

The grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb – regarded as the top authority in Sunni Islam – spoke of a conspiracy by “new global colonialism allied to world Zionism,” the AFP news agency reported.

Muslim World League president Abdullah Al-Turki, left, meets with the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, on the sidelines of the MWL-hosted counterterrorism conference in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, February 22, 2015. (Photo: MWL)

In the conference program, the MWL portrayed terrorists as misguided young people whose actions were serving the agenda of those who hate Islam.

“Our own children are serving the interests of those who seek to undermine Islam by setting the worst examples,” it said. “These hatemongers have been condemning Islam of the vilest charges without any evidence to support their claim.”

As for those involved in terrorism, the MWL said, “[t]hese juveniles and fool dreamers provided the slanderers with what they have been dreaming of.”

The MWL is a 53-year-old, Mecca-based organization that enjoys observer status in various U.N. bodies and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

In 2006 its charity arm, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) had its branches in Indonesia and the Philippines designated “specially designated global terrorist” entities by the U.S. Treasury Department, which accused them of channeling funds to al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist networks in those countries.

The branches were Indonesia and the Philippines respectively.

Also designated was a Saudi-based IIRO official, Abd Al-Hamid Sulaiman al-Mujil, described as the “million dollar man” for his support for Islamic militant groups.

The department said al-Mujil “personally knew” Osama bin Laden and “established a relationship with” 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The IIRO has consistently denied the charges.

In 2010, IIRO board chairman (and MWL president) Abdullah Al-Turki called the accusations a “bunch of lies,” while the IIRO’s secretary-general said the following year his organization had been “unjustly” associated with terrorism.

The MWL/IIRO has had some success: The U.N. Security Council’s al-Qaeda sanctions committee delisted al-Mujil and 2013 and the two IIRO branch offices last year.

Religious intolerance

The MWL is also accused of spreading the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi brand of Islam, especially intolerant to Shi’ites, through schools and mosques abroad.

Its stated objectives include “the propagation of Islam,” “refutation of dubious statements and false allegations against the religion,” and the “liberation of man from worshiping no deity save Allah.”

Other objectives listed on its website include: “Making all possible efforts to remove conflicts, divisive factors and disputes from within and between Muslim communities,” although the MWL has long been hostile towards non-orthodox forms of Islam.

A MWL fatwa published in 1974 declared that the Ahmadi (aka Ahmadiyya) movement was “subversive,” that Muslim organizations worldwide should declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, “oust” them from the fold, and bar them from visiting holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

They should also be boycotted socially, economically and culturally, not be allowed to marry Muslims, not be entrusted with any position of responsibility in any Muslim country, or be allowed to be buried in Muslim cemeteries, the MWL declared.

The 1974 ruling, still frequently cited today, had a significant impact on Ahmadis, who already faced persecution in some Islamic countries. In September of that same year, Pakistan amended its constitution to declare that an Ahmadi “is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or Law.”

Millions of Ahmadis live in 190 countries, mostly in South Asia and Africa.

More than 200 Ahmadis, listed by name in records compiled by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, have been killed for their beliefs, in Pakistan, Indonesia, India and other countries. One of the more recent victims was a Pakistani-American doctor, gunned down in 2014.

The MWL also has a history of promoting controversial views on subjects like shari’a and terrorism.

After a November 2000 session in Mecca, the MWL’s constitutional council issued a statement – released through the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. – “stressing the importance of applying shari’a in all Muslim countries,” and urging Islamic governments to endow shari’a chairs “at universities worldwide.”

The same statement “called for support of the Palestinian jihad” against Israel and said “Jewish war criminals” should be put on trial.

A MWL conference in 2002 determined that “strict adherence to shari’a” was the foundation of society’s security. According to an official statement, it also “defended the Islamic version of human rights, saying reinforcement of tough penalties against wrongdoers is divinely ordered.” Punishments meted out under shari’a can include the amputation of limbs, stoning to death and beheadings.

In 2004, Saudi Sheikh Abdallah Al-Muslih, chairman of a MWL commission on the Koran, argued that suicide bombings against non-Muslim enemies were permitted under Islamic law.

“Regarding a person who blows himself up, I know this issue is under disagreement among modern clerics and jurisprudents,” he said, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “There is nothing wrong with [martyrdom] if they cause great damage to the enemy.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow