Saudi monarch slams religious extremists in Ramadan speech

‘Islam is religion of unity’

RIYADH, June 29, (Agencies): Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday sharply criticised religious extremists, vowing not to let “a handful of terrorists… terrify Muslims”, in a speech marking the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. Islam is “religion of unity, fraternity and mutual support” but some people “lured in by false calls… are confusing reform with terrorism”, the monarch said, in comments carried by state news agency SPA. “Their goal is to sow discord among Muslims,” he said in an apparent reference to insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The powerful jihadist group has spearheaded an offensive by Sunni militants in Iraq since June 9, wresting control of northern cities and capturing vast swathes of territory. ISIL operates in both Syria and Iraq and aims to establish an Islamic state straddling the border of those two countries, but their lightning advance in Iraq also poses a threat to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The ultra-conservative Sunni Gulf kingdom — home to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites — shares an 814-kilometre (505-mile) border with Iraq. “We will not allow a handful of terrorists, using Islam for personal aims, to terrify Muslims or undermine our country and its inhabitants,” Abdullah said. “We are continuing, with God’s help, to face and tackle this scourge,” he said. The Saudi monarch also wished Muslims “security, prosperity and stability” over Ramadan, which began in most countries on Sunday.

Muslims began observing the holy fasting month of Ramadan on Sunday with Islamic leaders again concerned about entrenched conflicts as jihadists issued threats from Indonesia to Somalia. Ramadan is sacred for the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims because it is during that month that tradition says the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). The faithful fast from dawn to dusk, and abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during that time as they strive to be more pious and charitable. In that spirit the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation launched a joint appeal with the Arab League for a ceasefire in Syria, where a deadly conflict has raged unabated for more than three years. “The appeal is to stop the bloodshed of Syrians and alleviate their suffering and allow relief organisations to carry out their duties and provide urgent humanitarian assistance,” a joint statement said. Meanwhile al-Qaeda -linked Shebab militants warned they would step up attacks during Ramadan in the Somali capital Mogadishu, where officials deployed dozens of heavily armed police to deter violence.

Top commander Sheik Ali Mohamed Hussein said “Mujahedeen fighters will scale up strikes on the enemy” because “jihad must be intensified during the holy month of Ramadan”. Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud said his government has a plan dubbed “break your fast in peace” to deter violence, while the police chief spoke of a “Ramadan security plan”. In Indonesia, home to the world’s biggest Muslim population of about 225 million, hardliners pledged to raid bars that sell alcohol or stay open late. The Islamic Defenders’ Front would “monitor any sinful activities in entertainment places, cafes and bars during Ramadan”, said Salim Alatas, the group’s chief in Jakarta. “If law enforcement officials do nothing about immoral activities, we will do anything we can to stop them, using our own methods.” But the threats did little to deter people in the football-crazy nation, where most practise a moderate form of Islam, from heading out to catch the latest World Cup action. Bars that remained open in Jakarta were packed with locals and expatriates late Saturday and early Sunday. “For me, the fasting does not really affect my enthusiasm to watch the World Cup,” said Intania Permata, a 22, who was watching the Brazil versus Chile nail-biter at a South American bar and restaurant.

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