From Yemen to Palestine, and now Khashoggi, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has shown that ruling within Islamic ethical mores is not his style.
The killing, and alleged dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, violates Islamic laws and norms, an Islamic scholar tells TRT World – and that could turn global Muslim sentiment against the Kingdom.
As the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the royal family and King of Saudi Arabia is in principle expected to comply with Islamic law. The alleged desecration of Khashoggi’s body is forbidden in Islamic jurisprudence.
“The Shariah aims to protect and safeguard the dignity and sanctity of human beings, even after their death. Therefore, the desecration of any corpse, by mutilation, dismembering or any other wrongful interference is categorically forbidden in the Shariah,” says Tariq al Tamimi, an Islamic scholar and doctoral student at SOAS, University of London.
The post-mortem mutilation of Khashoggi’s body is also Islamically and unequivocally prohibited, al Tamimi goes on to say.
The body of Khashoggi has yet to be found, which further compounds the potential violations of Islamic norms.
Normally, the deceased in the Islamic tradition would receive their funeral rights on the same day allowing family, friends and other Muslim worshipers to pray over the body.
Khashoggi has not received that right and with the Saudis refusing to tell Turkish authorities where the body is (though they have admitted to the killing), only adds to the flagrant disregard of the Islamic rights owed to Khashoggi and his family.
“The abominable nature of this despicable act deserves the utmost condemnation of all culpable parties, and due justice must be served to the family of the victim,” al-Tamimi argues.
Does Saudi care what the Muslim world thinks?
Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the next in line to the Saudi throne, one day hopes to become the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Mecca and Medina, the holiest places of Islam.
The title bestows on the ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a veil of religious authority that few Muslim countries possess. It also means that Saudi Arabia—right or wrong—is perceived to have religious authority over large swathes of the global Muslim community.
As Saudi Arabia solidifies closer relationships with Israel and the perceived Islamophobic US President Donald Trump—two issues Muslims hold close to their hearts—it risks moving global Muslim sentiment against the Kingdom.
Muslim sentiment towards Saudi Arabia was already fraught and diverse.
Will the killing of Khashoggi be the last straw in how Muslims view the Kingdom? The gruesome details of how Khashoggi may have been killed, shocked the world, and in particular, Muslims.
Dr Yakoob Ahmed, a lecturer of Islamic history at Istanbul University argues that, “Saudis may have to consider that for the first time since the formation of the Kingdom that possible momentum could fester within the global Muslim community that questions the legitimacy of the Saudi family as apt custodians of the two holy cities in Islam.”
Muslim public opinion has been shifting for some time, could it now experience a tectonic shift.
Saudi Arabia under the stewardship of MBS has moved closer to Israel, a state in the midst of colonising Islam’s third holiest site, Al Aqsa. It has embarked on a war against Yemen, leaving thousands of civilians dead and millions on the brink of starvation.
It has now added to its rap sheet the murder (or the killing depending on who you believe), and alleged dismemberment, of a Muslim man: Jamal Khashoggi.
The environment facilitated by MBS, and the heinous crimes he is accused of, is a situation most Muslims will find abhorrent.
Even Saudi Arabia’s most ardent supporters will increasingly wonder how to square the circle of a ruler with this track record, seeking Islamic legitimacy.
Muslims as custodians
A senior Islamic scholar and jurist, now retired Head of Saudi Arabia’s Higher Judiciary Council, and former student of Abd al Aziz ibn Baz, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti in the 1990s argues that it is not just a question of whether MBS becomes the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques or not.
“We have a serious issue. Can we allow the Kaaba, which is the most sacred place for 1.5 billion Muslims, to be controlled by a single individual?”
Related to questions of who controls the mosque is the criteria by which an individual is qualified to look after the interests of the Two Holy Mosques.
“Who decides that criteria? It should be judged by Muslim scholars all over the world,” he added.
Along with this idea, the senior Islamic scholar not wishing to identify himself raises other poignant questions.
“The Kaaba belongs to 1.5 billion Muslims and it should represent all schools of thought and the diversity of the Muslim ummah. So why is it the case that all the imams are only from one country only, all the imams follow one particular school of thought?”
That these discussions are happening could be a watershed moment given that even within Saudi Arabia the increasingly authoritarian rule of MBS is being felt amongst Islamic scholars that have voiced their opposition to MBS’s policies.
The culmination of issues regarding Palestine, Yemen, arrested scholars, and now Khashoggi’s killing, is bringing to the fore other more profound questions about Saudi Arabia’s custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites.