Is ISIS about religion? Yes: 9-19-14
The dinosaurs on Noah's ark: 9-22-14

Saudi leaders speaking out: 9-20/21-14

As I have several times in recent weeks, this weekend I return to the question of Islamist terrorism and the ways in which the world must stand against this distortion of religion.

SaudiarabiaThe other day, Saudi Arabia's highest council of clerics, spoke out in clear and determined words about why terrorism is unacceptable in the Islamic tradition.

This comes after similar statements from the kingdom's grand mufti. In addition, the Saudi foreign minister the other day said the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, should go on for 10 years.

There is no centralized religious hierarchy in Sunni Islam, but as spiritual centers of the faith, Saudi Arabia and its religious leaders have an important role in setting the tone and the rules. So it's important that they speak clearly and without equivocation.

The problem comes when other Saudis with considerable resources ignore the words of their religious leaders and continue to help fund such groups as al-Qaida and ISIS.

Terrorism and Saudi Arabia's relationship to it are complicated subjects. As you may recall, the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia is the home and promoter of the strict Wahabbi form of Sunni Islam, which even many Muslims think of as so rigid as to give space to the kinds of interpretations of the Qur'an and the hadith (the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) that can lead to violent extremism.

Indeed, columnist Tom Friedman this week addressed that very topic in this piece. His money line: "Saudi Arabia cannot continue fighting ISIS and feeding the ideology that nurtures ISIS. It will hurt more and more Muslims."

So anything people outside the kingdom can do to encourage moderation and the kinds of statements recently being heard from Saudi religious and political leaders would be helpful. A good example of what's needed has come from Muslims in Germany.

But, as I've said, this is a battle for the soul of Islam, and it must be won by Muslims.

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The head of the World Jewish Congress, after meeting with Pope Francis, says the pontiff compared today's persecution of Christians in various countries with previous persecution of Jews. All such persecution is wrong, of course, and needs to be condemned. But I think everyone needs to be careful about comparing catastrophes. Each one has different elements and different dynamics, and it's simply misleading to say that oppression of Christians today equals oppression of Jews in the Holocaust (and I'm not suggesting that the pope made that comparison directly).

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P.S.: A Jesuit priest, Fr. Francis X.Clooney, director of Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions, will speak Oct. 17 and 18 in Kansas City, sponsored by the Vedanta Society. The details you need to attend are here.


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