Ministry Fires 353 Imams, Muezzins

RIYADH, 1 June 2003 — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has fired 353 imams and muezzins (prayer callers) while at the same time asking some 1,357 imams and muezzins to attend training courses to improve their performance.

The move to terminate and also to train hundreds of these employees in the Kingdom, however, is part of an on-going process to evaluate services to the public. The move is unrelated to the deadly attacks in Riyadh.

“The decision to sack imams and muezzins has nothing to do with the suicide attacks in Riyadh or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US,” said a senior official at the ministry here yesterday. He strongly criticized the Western media, which has said that the Kingdom has embarked on a campaign to reform the preaching system in mosques following attacks on Western targets in the Kingdom.

“A major program to streamline the affairs of the mosques has been approved by Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh Al-Sheikh,” the senior official said. “The program seeks to monitor performance levels of clerics in the mosques, ensure improvement in the quality of sermons and also facilitate training of those who are less qualified.”

He blasted the Western media which has been putting pressure on the Kingdom to dismantle the so-called “militant ideological infrastructure of Islam” since Sept. 11, 2001.

Referring to the sacking of imams and muezzins, Abdul Aziz Al-Ammar, deputy minister in charge of preachers at the ministry, was quoted yesterday by the BBC as saying that “it was part of an on-going process of evaluating services to the public and it involved only a few hundred clerics.”

Arab News tried to contact Al-Ammar but he was not available.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, according to another official, began this process of firing and training imams and muezzins two years ago. “It is not a new experiment,” said the official, adding that guidelines are regularly issued to preachers in the Kingdom regarding subjects for sermons. Sometimes, however, they react to the local, regional or global situations that affect Muslims. The official also reiterated that there was no link between terrorism and Islam.

The ministry has directed imams and muezzins to adhere to the authentic contents of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). “It is incorrect for preachers or Islamic workers to convey to the faithful political or news reports in the mosques as the preacher is not intended to be a member of the media,” said the ministry which has a supervisory branch in every governorate of the Kingdom.

There are currently 530 mosques under construction in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is carrying out 131 projects, including mosque projects at a cost of SR720,944,000. The ministry has organized inter-religious dialogues to promote global peace.

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