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This interview was published in September 2005 in ash-Sharq al-Awsat and was conducted by Turki al-Suhail. It highlights the methodology used by prominent scholars to reform and re-educate Muslims who have been deceived by the takfiri ideology.
A lengthy section of this interview that contains an explanation of important legal principles has been edited out and will be reproduced as an entirely separate article. Some of the text has been amended with corrections to grammar and formatting.
How does one evaluate ideological modification of wanted suspects, some of whom are imprisoned, and how is this process of thought-purification conducted?
The counseling is conducted through discussions in appropriate settings during which the prisoner talks about his beliefs and the evidence verifying them, which we in turn discuss and modify, explaining the true meaning of the evidence he provides as proof for his beliefs. Many, thank God, change their viewpoints in one session. Afterwards, a report is written stating that counseling and discussion has been conducted. In the report, we include what this person's former ideas were and how they have changed and we then recommend his release. Some have been released and even come to visit me at the mosque every now and then.
Through your discussions with these men, how do you think they were influenced and by whom?
The influence was from both inside and outside the country but particularly from outside and especially from al-Qaeda. The books of Abu Qatada and [Abu Muhammad] Al-Maqdisi were most influential. They depend on their books that contain many errors and are misguiding. Their going astray is also due to the tapes and books that have spread all over Saudi Arabia.
Pardon me, but did those wanted by security, who were advised, go in the past to Afghanistan to fight within the ranks of al-Qaeda there? Or are they a mixture of those who have been influenced at home and those who were marked by the Afghan experience?
Some of them came from Afghanistan, and others, as you kindly pointed out, were influenced by these ideas at home through smuggled books and tape recordings.
What are the aims pursued by those wanted by security?
They think that they are performing jihad for the sake of God, and that they are supporting Islam. This is their mistaken belief.
What about the establishment of the Islamic state, which they keep repeating in their statements and audio recordings?
Naturally, they aspire to do so. They aspire to establish a state that agrees with their opinions.
What are their opinions?
They want permanent fighting against the infidels, they want to kill all non-Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula, and they want a complete boycott of the non-Muslims so that we do not sell oil to them or buy goods from them. All this is based on wrong and superficial opinions. They do not have any depth or understanding of the shariah, the reality, the benefits, or the evils. Many of them have no knowledge. They are deceived youths.
How do you describe their financial and social situation?
The situation of some of them is good. This means that they have not resorted to this path because of poverty or unemployment. On the contrary, most of them were either students or employees.
What about their age?
They are mostly young, their ages range between 16 and 30 years old.
Those who are 16 years old, how were they advised?
Naturally, convincing them was easy, because they are young and deceived. If the evidence became clear to them, most probably would be convinced, express repentance, and retreat from their misguided thinking.
What is the most prominent situation you faced while advising some of those wanted by security?
In fact, we did not receive anything from them except respect and appreciation. We engage in calm discussions. Very few of them show rigidity in their opinions; these are mostly not normal, mentally or psychologically, and their ages range between 25 and 30 years.
Those you referred to in your answer - those with rigid opinions - do they have jurisprudence knowledge to make your mission difficult when you engage in discussions with them?
They rely on smuggled books, particularly the books of Abu Qatada and Al-Maqdisi. They quote from them, and they quote from the books of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwaan al-Muslimoon) and rely on them.
What are the prisons you visited and in which you engaged in discussions with those wanted by security?
I paid a number of visits to the Al-Haer prison in Riyadh, in addition to some of the prisons in Abha, Khamis Mushayt, and Al-Taif.
What is the percentage of response among those wanted by security to the advice sessions, and does the percentage vary from one region to another?
It is more or less the same percentage.
In your opinion, what is the importance of the discussion sessions you carry out in rectifying the thinking of those wanted by security and restoring them to the right path?
There is no doubt that they are mentally ill because they adopt misguided ideas. They have to be treated by means of discussion, dialogue, and giving them evidence, because punishment alone does not work with such people. What benefits them is discussion. In my opinion, punishment alone is not sufficient. It is imperative to treat them by means of discussion and dialogue.
Frankly, if we go back in time a little, an important question will come to the fore: What motivated these people to adopt the misguided takfiri thinking? Did they not find anyone to advise them at that time?
No doubt that there were those who sponsored this thinking at home and abroad. There still are prominent figures that sponsor this takfiri thinking.
Pardon me, but where were our moderate scholars?
They were talking and talking. However, you know, these deceived people were warned against listening to the moderate scholars. Some of those who listened retreated, but those who adhered to the instructions not to listen to the moderate scholars remained in the shadows of the takfiri thinking. I would say: Imprisoning the deceived is the equivalent of putting them in medical quarantine. Some people say that some of those deceived have completed their sentence, but have not been released and they ought to be released, and they also say that some of them have not been put on trial. This happens only to those who committed a crime, and the people are confusing the two situations.
Perhaps I should conclude the interview by asking you an important question: Despite the retreat of the Muslim Brotherhood from their fatwas, and after them the retreat of the symbols of the takfiri tendency in Saudi Arabia - Al-Khudayr, [Nasir] Al-Fahd, and Al-Khalidi - ending with the fatwa of Abu Baseer [Mustafa Haleemah] al-Tartusi, the most prominent theoretician of the takfiri tendency, banning suicide operations, still some of the deceived insist on their takfiri stance. What is your explanation of this?
This is misguidance itself. God Almighty said: "And whoever God guides, none can lead him astray, and whoever God leaves astray, none can guide." Unfortunately, God left these people astray, and their guiding is very difficult, but guidance is in the hands of God Almighty and is not impossible.
Source: Ash-Sharq al-Awsat
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