Builder of the ideological groundwork for violent uprisings

Builder of the ideological groundwork for violent uprisings


It is bold to blame Western companies and the oil boom in Saudi Arabia for the 1979 siege of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. Yet apparently, according to this week’s “Preacher of Hate” Nasser Al-Omar, the events of the siege were a warning, not only that the “ship (of Saudi society) had drifted,” but that it was the fault of Western assistance to the Kingdom.

For Al-Omar, such views are par for the course. He gave a fascinating interview to PBS, the US public broadcaster, in 2004, repeating on issue after issue that all of the ills facing Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East were the fault of the West. 

US troops on Saudi soil were, according to him, the “biggest mistake committed by America,” and that removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from Kuwait was “the excuse they gave for their coming.”

Of course, it is perfectly normal for people to oppose the presence of foreign troops on their soil. It happens all over the world, including in the UK, where US military bases are frequently the target of demonstrations. 

But the center of Al-Omar’s complaint was not sovereignty but conspiracy: The West is a persecutor and an oppressor, even when the reality was military assistance at the request of local governments.

Like many radicals, Al-Omar has been described as “moderate” in some quarters over the past year, on the automatic principle that those who oppose the Saudi government must be moderate. 

The problem with that view is that the enemy of one’s enemy is not always one’s friend.


Nasser Al-Omar: The antithesis of modernity

Preachers of Hate: Nasser Al-Omar


Al-Omar has defended Islamist terrorism on the grounds that “Western terrorism” is worse. It is not too much of a stretch to believe that his followers — and he has a great many on social media — might take this as a nod and a wink to resist “Western terrorism” by joining a jihadist group.

This is what he is prepared to say in public. What might he say in private? Yet he is regarded as a moderate.

There is plenty in the published writings and videos of Al-Omar that one can laugh at. He does not like colored contact lenses or foreign travel. 

Mockery is an effective assault on extremist preachers who take themselves terribly seriously. 

But it is not in itself an answer: The UK media used to call Omar Bakri Mohammed the “Tottenham Ayatollah” in mockery, but it was still his followers who went to join Daesh when the time came.

The fact is, even Al-Omar’s laughable positions are potentially dangerous. The corollary of his injunction against travel “especially to infidel lands” is that those who do travel, or worse (in his view) stay there, are not proper Muslims. 

Nasser Al-Omar may not have openly called for a violent uprising against those with whom he disagrees, but his ideas have laid the groundwork for those who do.

Peter Welby

It is this kind of divisive attitude that creates fissures in society — belonging neither here nor there — that can lead to social unrest and violence. 

Daesh and Al-Qaeda agree with Al-Omar that Muslims in the West, even those who live under laws that provide for the five higher principles of Shariah, are not proper Muslims and require the “true Muslims” of the West to fight.

Much of Al-Omar’s poison drips out via his website, almoslim.net. One of the virtues and perils of a world globalized so instantaneously via the internet is choice: If you are not satisfied with a fatwa (religious edict) from a local scholar, then go and get one from further afield. 

If, as is the case with one of Al-Omar’s fatwas, you do not want people from different religions to mix, then go and find a fatwa from a sheikh who will agree with you.

The argument for such choice — the marketplace of ideas — is that what is good will survive and spread, and what is bad will vanish from sight. To an extent this is true, but what is good has more to do with charisma and appeal than ethics or real value.

In practice, violent ideas can gain a following if they appeal to a particular audience’s sense of self-worth. 

It is a common human tendency to seek exclusivity — to find value in being part of a small group that holds on to the truth against the greater forces of falsehood — and ideas that support this tendency will find their followers.

It can be harmless, as when the exclusive group that is greater than its rivals is a football team. 

But when it is accompanied by a demand to fight for the “truth” one supports until the total abasement of its enemies, it becomes supremely dangerous. This is a tendency that Al-Omar belongs to.

He may not have openly called for a violent uprising against those with whom he disagrees, but his ideas have laid the groundwork for those who do.

It is for this reason that he belongs fully within our “Preachers of Hate” series. The fight against extremism is not only against those who preach violence, but also against those who preach ideologies that make it possible.


• Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously, he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion & Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Nasser Al-Omar: The antithesis of modernity

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Nasser Al-Omar
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Nasser Al-Omar
Updated 25 June 2019

Nasser Al-Omar: The antithesis of modernity

  • Saudi preacher has been a vigorous opponent of the influence of modern ideas in the Islamic world
  • Al-Omar said prohibiting girls from marrying before the age of 18 could "lead to many evils"

Detained in August 2018, Saudi hate preacher Nasser Al-Omar was a vigorous opponent of modern ideas in the Islamic world, and of intermingling between Muslims and non-Muslims.

He issued many fatwas (religious edicts) that placed curbs on the rights of women. He is known for his continued affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, a group designated as terrorists by many countries around the world.

Al-Omar is a member of the Muslim Scholars Association, spearheaded by Qatar-based Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, one of the preachers of hate profiled by Arab News.


Nationality: Saudi

Place of Residence: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Occupation: Cleric, member of the Muslim Scholars Association, head of the International Association of Tadabbur Al-Quran

Legal Status: Detained in Saudi Arabia since August 2018

Medium: Twitter, Al-Moslim website, books and interviews

Al-Omar opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

Born and raised in the village of Al-Moraidasiih in the Saudi region of Qassim in 1952, he completed his schooling in Riyadh’s Methodical Institute in 1970 before pursuing a degree from the Shariah faculty at Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh in 1974. He was appointed a lecturer soon after, and pursued his high education from 1979 to 1984.

“It isn’t permissible for Muslims to join the Christians in their festivals with any kind of participation, whether congratulating them, giving gifts to them, attending their celebrations, celebrating them, honoring them or any other form of participation.”

Hate preacher Nasser Al-Omar

He spoke in support of child marriage in an article he wrote in March 2012, titled “About the Marriage of Young Girls.” He said prohibiting girls from marrying before they reach the age of 18 could “lead to many evils because it does not appreciate the situation of girls under this age, who may feel strong passionate desires, and their parents want to protect them by marrying them off.”

Al-Omar added that those against child marriage are “arrogant” and should look at the West, where pregnancies at a young age are “proven and registered, and some of them are in primary school!”

He said: “It is strange that if a 12-year-old girl was divorced in Yemen, they make a lot of fuss … But if a 10-year-old child has a baby in the West … they celebrated the youngest father, and the State provided care and gear!”

Dr. Hani Nasira, an author and expert on ideological movements, said Al-Omar “sometimes reverts to forgery, fabrication, or transmitting false stories and tales.”

Al-Omar has dubbed women’s sports facilities “the greatest means of corruption,” forbidding them “because it leads to many evils that do not compare to the desired benefits.” 

He opposed the rewriting of Saudi religious schoolbooks to remove anti-Western and anti-Jewish teachings.

In 2005, a question was posted on his website after Pope John Paul II’s death, asking if it was permissible to curse him as many Muslims were mourning him. Al-Omar replied: “As for cursing him, it is permissible to curse those who have died as infidels … His service to his religion is the dissemination of infidelity, polytheism and the war against Islam.”

Al-Omar prohibited Muslims from celebrating with or congratulating Christians on their holidays.

“It isn’t permissible for Muslims to join the Christians in their festivals with any kind of participation, whether congratulating them, giving gifts to them, attending their celebrations, celebrating them, honoring them or any other form of participation,” he said.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

While Al-Omar deemed traveling to “infidel” countries for medical treatment, advocacy, relief work and education acceptable, he wrote on his website that “if travel is for tourism, and the traveler thinks that it is likely that he will fall into sin, the journey is prohibited.”

He added: “As for travel to commit sin and visit forbidden places and night clubs, it is forbidden, and this is a sinful journey.” 

Al-Omar said: “I advise not to travel abroad unless it is a travel of obedience, necessity or urgent need, provided there is no danger of temptation, and that there is a determination to stay away from forbidden acts, otherwise his country is better for him (the traveler).”

When asked on his website about Muslims taking a foreign nationality, he said it was “not permissible for Muslims to travel to the land of the infidels to stay there except for a necessity or a pressing need,” and “living amongst the infidels is forbidden.”

He added that “it is also not permissible to obtain the nationality of the infidel countries except for those who are forced to do so.”

Nasira said Al-Omar “only advocates hatred,” and his stances include opposing the liberation of Kuwait, rejecting the idea of citizenship for Shiites in Saudi Arabia, and “his ridiculous fatwas banning honeymoons, or tourism and visits to what he called ‘infidel countries’.”

Al-Omar’s fatwas, published works and videos are available on his website and his personal Twitter account, which has 6 million followers.


‘Juhayman: 40 years on:’ Arab News takes a Deep Dive into Saudi history with a multimedia look at the siege of Makkah's Grand Mosque

Updated 1 min 6 sec ago

‘Juhayman: 40 years on:’ Arab News takes a Deep Dive into Saudi history with a multimedia look at the siege of Makkah's Grand Mosque

  • Featuring interviews with key players such as Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper tells the full story of the unthinkable event that cast a shadow over its society for decades
  • As part of its Deep Dive series online, featuring documentary-style multimedia stories, Arab News looks back at this event in a way no Saudi publication has done before

Forty years ago this week, on Nov. 20, 1979, a group of militants did the unthinkable: They seized the Grand Mosque in Makkah, taking people hostage inside in a two-week standoff with Saudi forces.

Until recently, the crisis remained too painful for Saudis to examine fully for almost four decades. Now Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English-language daily, is looking back at the event in a way that no publication in the Kingdom has done before: with a multimedia Deep Dive story online at arabnews.com/juhayman-40-years-on.

“The 1979 attack on Makkah’s  Grand Mosque halted major social development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, negatively affecting a progressing nation for generations to come,” said Rawan Radwan, the lead reporter on the project, who is based in Jeddah. “At Arab News, we delved deep into the matter to uncover the story of Juhayman, the terrorist who seized the holiest site and shook the Islamic world. It’s a story that for many years struck fear in the hearts of the Saudi people, yet has not been covered in such depth in local or international media — until now.”

Arab News launched its Deep Dive series earlier this year as an engaging new way to showcase its in-depth storytelling on key topics, enlivened by audio, video and animated graphics. Its first story was an in-depth account of the space mission by the first Arab astronaut, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman; the siege of Makkah is another story from the Kingdom’s past that it chose to revisit.

Extensive research was conducted over two months in several cities, including Makkah itself, and involved teams in five of Arab News’ bureaus: Jeddah, Riyadh, Dubai, London and Beirut. The team interviewed key players such as Prince Turki Al-Faisal, then head of the General Intelligence Directorate, and re-created what happened in a series of interactive maps.


Juhayman: 40 years on
On the anniversary of the 1979 attack on Makkah's Grand Mosque, Arab News tells the full story of an unthinkable event that shocked the Islamic world and cast a shadow over Saudi society for decades