"Erasing Islamic Faith": Muslim Cleric Flees Saudi Arabia for Safety

A Saudi cleric and religious scholar who went missing after criticizing the kingdom’s rulers for implementing social reforms have reportedly fled the country, reports from the Middle East Monitor and Middle East Eye say.

Emad Al-Moubayed, a prominent religious scholar in Saudi Arabia and the former head of the King Abdulaziz Mosque in Dammam released a video on the first of March through his Twitter account, condemning the recent social changes in the country, including a lifting of the ban on music concerts.

The Twitter video he uploaded was addressed to King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, and Turki Al-Sheikh, the chief of the kingdom’s Authority for Entertainment. Al-Moubayed advised "those in power," referring to the kingdom’s rulers, to "fear God,” saying that the social changes were "erasing the Islamic faith and replacing the identity of Islam with other identities.

But a day after he posted the video, another video was released showing Al-Moubayed reading a piece of paper in front of him, seemingly rescinding the past criticisms he made. Some speculated he was forced to read the paper while in custody. The video was posted with a Tweet saying it was a "clarification" of his previous comments.

After the video supposedly clarifying his criticisms was posted on March 2nd, no one heard from Al-Moubayed. The hashtag #WhereIsEmadMoubayed became trending on Saudi social media, with many Saudi netizens worried about the condition of the cleric.

Authorities fuelled speculation that Al-Moubayed was arrested after police in the eastern Al-Khobar governorate reported that a man was arrested for "violating anti-cybercrime laws by filming and publishing visual content that included false information, which would disrupt public order." They did not name the suspect, starting rumors that Al-Moubayed was detained.

But after days of speculation, a Twitter account linked to Al-Moubayed reported that the cleric left Saudi Arabia and arrived in the United Kingdom.

"By the grace of God, I was able to leave the homeland and reach a safe country, praise be to God," the Tweet said.

The cleric explained that he left the kingdom because "all doors closed for the affirmation of truth and rejection of wrongdoing." He also said migration is part of Islam, possibly referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s departure from Mecca to Medina. He called on other religious scholars and clerics to leave Saudi Arabia.

Although Saudi Arabia opened up and implemented social reforms in the past few years, these reforms were not accompanied by political changes. Human rights organizations called out sporting events and music concerts for still going ahead despite the kingdom’s increasing crackdown on political dissidents and critics.

While Saudi Arabians who criticized the kingdom’s rulers have found refuge in other countries, some were still not safe from their rulers’ wrath. In October 2018, a Saudi journalist and dissident, Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, was assassinated by Saudi Arabian government agents while in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

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