- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s top cleric called on Muslims around the world yesterday to forsake terrorism, saying those who claim to be holy warriors were an affront to the faith.

In a strongly worded sermon delivered at the peak of the annual hajj, Grand Mufti Sheik Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik told 2 million pilgrims that terrorists were giving their enemies an excuse to criticize Muslim nations.

“Is it holy war to shed Muslim blood? Is it holy war to shed the blood of non-Muslims given sanctuary in Muslim lands? Is it holy war to destroy the possession of Muslims?” he said.

A large number of the victims of suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere have been Muslims.

Sheik al-Sheik, who is widely respected in the Arab world as the foremost cleric in the country considered to be the birthplace of Islam, spoke at Namira Mosque, a televised sermon watched by millions of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

The mosque is close to Mount Arafat, where the pilgrims converged yesterday for the climax of their annual trek. This year’s hajj has been carried out amid heightened security after a year of terror attacks in the kingdom.

Sheik al-Sheik also criticized the international community, accusing it of attacking Wahhabism, the sect whose strict interpretation of Islam is followed in Saudi Arabia.

“This country is based on this religion and will remain steadfast on it,” he said.

“Islam forbids all forms of injustice, killing without just cause, treachery … hijacking of planes, boats and transportation means,” he said.

Saudi Arabia came under Western pressure after the September 11 attacks in the United States, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

The Saudi government launched a crackdown on extremist groups after suicide bombings killed 51 persons, including eight Americans, last year. Saudi and U.S. officials blamed the attacks on groups linked to al Qaeda, led by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

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