Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - "Given the dangerous developments in the Muslim world, I would like to warn against the danger of attacking Muslims and those (non-Muslims) under Muslim protection," said Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, in a statement condemning extremism and violence in Muslim countries and against the followers of other religions.
As one of the most authoritative and influential Sunni religious leaders, Saudi Arabia's chief cleric said that extremism has fuelled unjustified violence among Muslims, slamming "Those extremists [who] have invented the pretext of 'takfir' (the charge of apostasy), which makes light of the killing of Muslims and others who are protected".
As grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, the sheikh has the power to issue fatwas, which are legal judgments or learned interpretations. In this capacity, he exercises great influence on the legal system and has a close relationship with the king.
In the past, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh (in office since 1999) made intolerant statements about Christians, claiming that the two religions could not be reconciled, in opposition to what Pope Benedict XVI said in a keynote speech in 2006 in Regensburg, ordering also the destruction of all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula.
As Patriarch Sako told AsiaNews yesterday, for many analysts the resurgence of violence between Shias and Sunnis across the Mideast is the result of the Syrian crisis as well as the confrontation between the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis and the Gulf monarchies.
In recent months, sectarian clashes in Syria have also spilled over into Lebanon and Iraq, causing the highest level of casualties of recent years in those two countries.
In Syria, an estimated 50,000 fighters belong to extremist Islamic groups, representing about half of the forces opposed to the government.