Abdul Rahman Ibn Abdul Aziz as-Sudais (Arabic: عَبْدُ ٱلْرَّحْمَان إبْن عَبْدُ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلسُّدَيْس, translit. ʻAbd ar-Rahman ibn ʻAbd al-Aziz as-Sudais; born 10 February 1960 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) is the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia; the President of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques; a renowned qāriʾ (reciter of the Qur'an); and was the Dubai International Holy Qur'an Award's "Islamic Personality Of the Year" in 2005. Al-Sudais is a follower of Hanbali Madhab. Al-Sudais has preached Islam's opposition to "explosions and terrorism", and has called for peaceful inter-faith dialogue, but also been sharply criticized for vilifying non-Muslims and especially Jews in his sermons. He has denounced the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli settlers and the state of Israel, and called for more aid to be sent to Palestinians. He has also been noted for identifying women's un-Islamic behavior as in part responsible for the winter 2006 drought in Saudi Arabia. In 2016, corresponding with 1437 AH, he also led multitude of pilgrims gathered in Arafat, in prayers after delivering the Hajj sermon.
Life and career
Al-Sudais comes from the Anza clan, and he had memorized the Quran by the age of 12. Growing up in Riyadh, Al-Sudais studied at the Al Muthana Bin Harith Elementary School, and afterwards the Riyadh Scientific Institution from which he graduated in 1979 with a grade of excellent. He obtained a degree in Sharia from Riyadh University in 1983, his Master's in Islamic fundamentals from the Sharia College of Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in 1987 and received his Ph.D. in Islamic Sharia from Umm al-Qura University in 1995 while working there as an assistant professor after serving at Riyadh University.
Sudais took up his imamate in 1984, at just 22-years of age, and conducted his first sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca in July 1984, other than this Sheikh Saud Al-Shuraim - has been his partner in Taraweeh Prayers from 1991 till 2006, and again in 2014.
In 2005, Al-Sudais was named by the Dubai International Holy Quran Award (DIHQA) Organising Committee as its 9th annual "Islamic Personality Of the Year" in recognition of his devotion to the Quran and Islam. When accepting his award in Dubai, he said: "The message of Islam and Muslims is modesty, fairness, security, stability, sympathy, harmony and kindness."
From 2010 to 2012 he visited India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Britain. Among his activities has been hosting a seminar at the Higher Institute for Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia in 2011, where he spoke about Islamic civilization against the backdrop of modern challenges.
He was appointed head of the "Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques at the rank of minister" by royal decree on 8 May 2012. He is also a member of the Arabic Language Academy at Mecca.
Abdul Razzaq al-Mahdi, Nabil Al-Awadi, Tariq Abdelhaleem, and Hani al-Sibai who are linked to Al-Qaeda, in addition to others like Adnan al-Aroor, Abd Al-Aziz Al-Fawzan, Mohamad al-Arefe, Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al Shaykh and others were included on a death list by ISIS.
In 2017, Al-Sudais supervised the film One Day In The Haram, a film about the Haram in Makkah, told through the eyes of the workers.
Views, statements, prayers
Conflict resolution among Muslims
In 2003, Sudais stated that he believes that youth need to be taught Islamic law, including the precepts of the prohibition on killing oneself and the prohibition against attacking non-Muslims living in Islamic countries. Sudais has also said that Islamic youth should not "indiscriminately hurl the label of atheism and not to confuse between legitimate jihad and…the terrorizing of peaceable people."
Sudais has said that there is no room for extremism and sectarianism in Islam and that Islam teaches a moderate path. He said the solution to problems that Muslims face in Palestine, Somalia, Iraq, Kashmir and Afghanistan lies in following the teachings of Islam in letter and spirit. He called for resolution of conflicts through dialogue and negotiations taking into consideration the social and economic benefits that can be achieved by resolving these disputes.
Sudais also criticized the Lal Masjid administration during the 2007 Red Mosque crisis in Islamabad, Pakistan. He urged the militants and the government to agree to a peaceful resolution through dialogue and urged both parties to protect peace.
Sudais is also known for his sermons calling on believers to help other Muslims in war-torn regions. He has actively spoken out against the persecution of Palestinians by Israeli settlers and the state of Israel, and has pleaded for medical supplies and food to be sent to the Palestinians.
Sin and drought
In a sermon on November 13, 2006, Al-Sudais preached that the ongoing drought was caused by the proliferation of sin in Saudi society and the behavior of women in the kingdom who allegedly were "unveiling, mingling with men, and being indifferent to the hijab."
Prayers for inter-faith peace
In June 2004, Sudais led a following of 10,000 in prayers for inter-faith peace and harmony in London. Racial Equality Minister Fiona Mactaggart attended Sudais' sermon at the East London Mosque. Prince Charles, who was in Washington, took part by a pre-recorded message Britain's chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, sent a message of support.
Prayers for the destruction of the Jews
On April 19, 2002, in his sermon Al-Aqsa Is Crying Out For Help! Al-Sudais called the Jews "monkeys and pigs," among other invective.
Read the history to know that yesterday's Jews are evil predecessors and today's Jews are worse successors. They an ingrate people, they altered God's words, worshipped calf, killed Messengers and denied their Messages. They are exiled people and the worst of mankind. Allah cursed them and cast His wrath upon them. He turned some of them to monkeys and pigs and worshippers of creatures. They are worst in position and are astray from the right path.…History of Jews is full of deception, trickery, rebellion, oppression, evil and corruption. They always seek to cause mischief on the earth and Allaah loves not the mischief-makers.
He has prayed to God to "terminate" the Jews and has claimed that the Israelis aspired to tear down the al-Aqsa mosque and build their temple upon its ruins.
Call for all-out war against Shiites
On March 31, 2015, an audio recording of al-Sudais was circulated online. The caption on photo accompanying the recording read "Imam of the grand mosque in Mecca calls for all-out war against Shiites." In the recording al-Sudais called for an all-out war against Shias:
Our war with Iran, say that out loud, is a war between Sunnis and Shiites. Our war with Iran...is truly sectarian. If it was not sectarian, we will make it sectarian... The Jews and cross (referring to Christians)... I swear by Allah that they will have their days... The prophet said Rome will be conquered... Our disagreement with Rafidha (another word for Shiites) will not be removed nor our suicide to fight them...as long as they are on the face of the earth...
Views on Donald Trump and the United States
Sudais stated in a TV interview with Saudi channel Al Ekhbariya that Saudi Arabia and the United States are "steering the world and humanity to the ports of security, peace and prosperity". He also claimed that Donald Trump was a "saviour of the world". These views were criticised extensively on social media.
Following his 2002 speech, Al-Sudais has been described as an antisemite for publicly praying to God to ‘terminate’ the Jews, whom he called "the scum of humanity…the rats of the world…prophet killers…pigs and monkeys", and as a result has been barred from conferences in the United States and been refused entry to Canada.
Al-Sudais has been listed as an example of theological anti-Semitism by the Anti-Defamation League, when he called curses down upon Jews and labeled them "scum of the earth" in his sermons.
The International Broadcasting Bureau also has reported the antisemitism of Sudais's April 2002 sermon.
In a May 2003 interview with NBC's Tim Russert, the foreign policy adviser to the Saudi crown prince, Adel al-Jubeir, confirmed al-Sudais's statements, agreed that they were "clearly not right," and stated that he was reprimanded, but was still allowed to preach. He also said that "if he [Sudais] had a choice he would retract these words - he would not have said these words."
Al-Sudais has not only attacked Jews, but other non-Muslims, such as Hindus and Christians. John Ware on the BBC program Panorama entitled "A Question of Leadership" from August 21, 2005, cited Al-Sudais referring disparagingly to Christians as "cross-worshippers" and Hindus as "idol worshippers." Ware pointed out the discrepancy between Sudais's sermons to Saudis with his speech to Western audiences.
The Muslim Council of Britain questioned the veracity of quotes given in the interview, calling them "deliberately garbled" and the program as a whole "deeply unfair." The Council urged caution, and while condemning any form of anti-semitic remarks, requested verification that these words were indeed spoken by Al-Sudais. After a series of exchanges, the BBC's Panorama editor, Mike Robinson, posted a response to each of the Muslim Council's allegations, accusing them of "unwarranted and wildly inaccurate attacks" and "bad faith allegations."
In August 2009, the Board of Deputies of British Jews protested a visit by Al-Sudais to Britain in which he gave lectures at several mosques and attended an event with Tory MP Tony Baldry. Baldry subsequently defended his decision to work with Al-Sudais, stating that "If I had written a text of what a moderate Muslim would say, his would have been a word-perfect example."
On March 31, 2015, an audio recording of al-Sudais was circulated online. The caption on photo accompanying the recording read "Imam of the grand mosque in Mecca calls for all-out war against Shiites." In the recording al-Sudais called for an all-out war against Shias. In view of these statements against Shiites by al-Sudais, Ahmed Abdul Hussein, the editor-in-chief of an Iraqi news agency warned about the Shiite-Sunni conflict, "Remember the date 3/31/2015, the day the Shiite-Sunni war was announced. It will last more than crusade wars."
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MR. RUSSERT: But it went on and on, and you mention imams in Saudi Arabia. This is what a top Saudi Arabian religious leader said, using inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric -- "Pray to Allah to terminate Jews. Urge all Muslims to shun peace with Israel." Shaikh Abdelrahman al-Sudais, one of the top imams in Saudi Arabia, called on Muslims to say farewell to peace initiatives with these people, Jews. He prayed to the Muslim God to terminate the Jews, whom he called the scum of humanity, rats of the world, prophet killers, pigs and monkeys.
MR. AL-JUBEIR: That's also incorrect. And he was reprimanded for this.
MR. RUSSERT: He was reprimanded?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Oh, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Is he still preaching?
MR. AL-JUBEIR: Yes, he is. But he's not -- I think if he had a choice he would retract these words -- he would not have said these words. It's clearly not right. You cannot -- you cannot defile, you cannot malign other people, certainly not when it comes to their faith.
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"Khushi mila nahi hei." (I've never known happiness.)
Such strong words and from a girl who is just 19 years old. At 15, Sahiba was sold by sex traffickers in Assam for Rs 13,000, and later bought by the family of a mentally-handicapped man in Haryana for Rs 70,000 to be his child bride. She was raped and beaten every night.
I looked to my colleague, Ritu. "I feel like crying," I said in English so Sahiba would not understand.
"Don't, na," Ritu replied. "Else she would get sad too."
Sahiba's life story is so dark that it is almost as if she was wearing bright clothes to make up for the sadness in her life. Clad in a blue and white tie dye salwar kameez and a bright green sweater, she rested her hands on a rainbow-coloured bag. Quiet, child-like hands with intricate henna designs. I took a picture with my phone and showed it to her.
She smiled. Fleeting happiness on a face that has seen sadness for so long.
Sahiba's mother died giving birth to her. Ill-treated by her sister-in-law who took over the household, Sahiba decided to run away from home to eke out a living.
Sahiba was then 15. She asked a trusted neighbour where she could get a job, far away, where no one would know her. The neighbour introduced her to a woman who has brought girls to Delhi for "good jobs" and a stable life. It sounded attractive and would give her a steady income, much needed financial independence. She agreed to go with a young man assigned by this woman.
Along the journey, they were joined by an older man. When they reached Haryana, that man raped her. She was then locked up in a house, with her captors, joined by other men, keeping watch. "I could not resist. I could not shout. Who could have helped me?" she said repeatedly. "They were all in it together."
One day, while her captors were away, other people from the village started to come to the house, asking for her hand in marriage. She did not understand Hindi then but in her mind, she thought: better to be raped by one man than many.
So when her captors proposed that she get married, she agreed. But she was raped again by another captor. The next morning, in tears, angry and frustrated, Sahiba asked, "Why have you done this?" He told her, "You will get married and have a good life. I want something back from you in return."
Sahiba thought there would be marriage proceedings and a ceremony. There were none. She moved into Ibrahim's home. "I would not let him touch me. He was crazy," she said, pointing at her head. But she would get beaten up, as punishment. And the more she cried, the more Ibrahim would beat her.
Sahiba's eyes became moist at the memory. She paused, a faraway look in her eyes. Then she seemed to gather herself together, and continued with her story. One day, she overheard a woman villager asking a household member, "How much did you pay for her?" And then it all clicked: she had not been married, she had been bought!
Sahiba was outraged. She made a plan to escape. Sahiba had managed to keep her SIM card; Ibrahim's family had confiscated her phone. But the page on which she had written down her brother's name in Assam had been torn out by Ibrahim. It was a race against time. At a family's wedding in a neighbouring city, Sahiba was finally able to get hold of Ibrahim's sister-in-law's phone. Using her SIM card, she called her brother, pleading for help. She told him where she was.
Together with his aunt, Sahiba's brother immediately went to the police in Assam to file a report but the police officer refused to register an FIR. In despair, he turned to the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. After some investigations and with the help of the police, Sahiba was finally rescued. She now works as a maid in a city.
It has been some two hours since Sahiba started telling her story. Her face was drawn and she looked sad but she didn't seem quite done yet. But she has to go. Her employer is waiting.
I held her hand. We will keep in touch, I said. She nodded, crinkling her eyes at me. We hugged.
And then she was gone.
(*names have been changed to protect Sahiba's identity)
Eirliani volunteers at Bachpan Bachao Andolan and is Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. She can be reached at eirliani[AT]bba[DOT]org[DOT]in