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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Religious warning to Saudi monarchy
Former US Defense Secretary William Cohen meets King Fahd
Washington and the Saudi monarchy have cultivated close ties
By BBC Islamic affairs specialist Roger Hardy

A senior religious figure in Saudi Arabia has warned the country's ruling Al Saud family against siding with the United States against a Muslim country.

In a series of fatwas - or religious rulings - Sheikh Hamoud bin Oqla al-Shuaibi has declared that those who support the non-believer against Muslims are themselves non-believers.

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The Saudi authorities are reported to have asked him to stop issuing fatwas, but he has refused.

Sheikh Hamoud is a Wahhabi cleric, in his late 70s, who lives in Buraida - a town to the north of the capital, Riyadh, which has long been a centre of religious militancy.

He has been in trouble before. He was imprisoned in 1995, along with other clerics who were critical of the Saudi ruling family for its policies during and after the Gulf war.

Now the senior princes must be wondering whether they are going to face a fresh bout of Islamic dissent.

Saudi nervousness

Since the attacks against America on 11 September, Sheikh Hamoud and at least six other religious figures have issued fatwas warning the authorities not to take the side of a non-Muslim power - in other words, America - against a Muslim country.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair greeted by unidentified official on arrival in Oman
There was no Saudi welcome for Blair during his recent Gulf tour
Some of them have appeared on the internet.

Sheikh Hamoud is the most senior of these figures - and given his religious credentials, the ruling family can't ignore his warnings.

The nervousness of Saudi officials over religious dissent in the kingdom may explain their reluctance to receive British Prime Minister Tony Blair, during his visit to the Gulf this week.

It has been reported that he has twice been called in for questioning by local officials, but has consistently refused to be silenced.

See also:

11 Oct 01 | Americas
New York, one month on
12 Oct 01 | Americas
New York rejects Saudi millions
01 Oct 01 | Middle East
Saudi leaders fear Muslim backlash
12 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia warns of West-Islam split
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