In an interview by Okaz Newspaper, Sheikh Hasan Alsaffar considered insulting Prophet Mohammad's companions and wives as one of the most prohibited taboos, and called for enforcing a charter of honor that recognizes diversity of Islamic sects. He emphasized that this charter must adopts the promotion of mutual respect, and rejects abusing any religiously sacred symbol or public figure that is respected by the other party.
He said that "even if followers of different sects did not agree upon the straightness of the Prophet's companions and former religious leader and scholars as well as in analyzing historical events and facts, that does not allows insulting whoever respected by the other party". He added that what is important is "to reinforce justice and equality between citizens, and refuse any form of discrimination and oppression in the rights of citizenship for sectarian justifications". Alsaffar confirmed that "nation is for all, as it was declared by the Custodian of the Tow Holy Mosques and as it is stated in the Basic Law".
How do you view the concept of coexistence and rapprochement between sects, and do you believe that it is impossible to be implemented?
- Coexistence means to accept others and deal with them as partners of one nation regardless of their religious affiliation. As for rapprochement, it means to promote social relations, focus on the broad area of agreement and carry out dialogue over controversial issues within Islamic principles and manners.
I believe that coexistence and rapprochement are possible in our community because there are different states around the world which deal with such diversity as a lived fact. So, why is it impossible to us to do so? We have to live as others do in their countries disregarding racial and religious diversities.
Protecting Human Rights
You called for enacting a law that criminates hatred inciters and sects' abusers. Through this call, is it possible to restrain insulting prominent public figures in media and different platforms?
- Protecting the rights of citizens is one of the state's main tasks. It must be responsible of stopping and punishing whoever abuses others. This is obvious in terms of financial abuses or physical attacks against an individual or a group; however, what is needed is to include moral abuses which provokes hatred and tribal and sectarian intolerance. All of those are types of aggression that stimulate other types of aggressive behaviors. Recently, the Ministry of Culture and Information made the decision of closing a station of a channel used to incite tribal bias. This action is a step in the right direction which must be implemented over all channels that incite sectarian bias as well as over religious verdicts and speeches in mosques.
The Sunni- Shiite Dispute
In one of your speeches, you mentioned that the Sunni- Shiite dispute will continue, and Shiites are not responsible of ending it. You, also, said that there is a jurisprudential disagreement which must not be developed to a doctrinal one. Do not you think that such a speech may lead to more disputes between followers of both sects, and do you recommend composing a practical rapprochement discourse that unifies reformer of both sects together?
- I said that the Sunni-Shiite dispute in its jurisprudential dimension will continue, and we are not responsible of ending it. By "we are", I meant as callers for rapprochement; not as Shiites, therefore, the title used in some media for this part of my speech did not match with what I had said.
I believe that callers for rapprochement and coexistence are not responsible of addressing jurisprudential disputes between sects. They seek to keep these debates in the intellectual field without letting them develop to conflicts which endanger social stability and national unity.
Praise be to Allah, there are some religious leaders and intellectuals from both sects who pursue coexistence and rapprochement besides the state's encouragement which is represented in national dialogue, and instructions of the political leadership like the last speech of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques at the opening of the new session for the Consultative Council.
But you have criticized some of the National Dialogue proposals and described them as not influential because they did not intervene in the various fields of trends, and did not educate people to accept religious and intellectual pluralism.
- As a slogan or as a project, National dialogue is considered a pioneering step, and it is one of the most significant developmental and reformative projects which were proposed by King Abdullah Al Saud. It was expected that the efforts of National Dialogue Center would be concentrated over strengthening relationships between different Saudi social groups through combating what disturbs peaceful coexistence, holding bilateral meetings between leaders and intellectuals of all sects, and encouraging joint actions that promote communications and cooperation. I criticize the slowness and weakness in planning and activating dialogue programs between different religious and intellectual trends as well as the Dialogue Center concentration over addressing common issues like education, employment and heath care that could be discussed in more appropriate existing institutions.
Do not you think that national dialogue had succeeded in overcoming the state of alienation and wrangles between sects, and the best proof for that is the harmony in the last dialogue which occurred in AlAhssa over the Saudi cultural discourse?
- There are harmony and positive exchange of views in all national dialogue meetings, but this stays within the boarders of official dialogue meetings without being transferred to the public which leads to questioning their benefits.
Some people state that there were some constraints that prevented dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites, but today they are gone due to the establishment of National Dialogue Center. Do you agree with this point of view?
- There is no doubt that national dialogue meetings were effective opportunities for direct communication between followers of different sects and trends; however, it is not for the better to stop at this point. It is important to expand the dimensions of those meetings, and work on a discourse that promotes tolerance, diversity and respect for others views.
Did you note any efforts by Sunni and Shiite religious leaders and intellectuals in regards of standing against radicalism?
- Yes, I am really concerned about what is broadcasted in sectarian satellite channels and websites; whether the Sunni or the Shiite ones. They incite hatred and disputes, and present the dark images of the ancient history and heritage books which mobilize followers of different sects against each other. We can observe their negative impacts in media through which many people follow the sectarian debates and arguments which are discussed in gatherings, workplaces and schools; especially in multi-sects regions.
This type of media must be restrained, and citizens must be educated to prevent them from interacting with it; on the other hand, influential programs that seek spreading the culture of tolerance, coexistence and dialogue must be supported.
Regional and International Greed
Through your speeches and articles, you confirm the necessity of bridging the gaps from outside, how much do you believe that they would negatively affect coexistence and weaken social communications? And does what happens in Iraq, for example, one of the concerns that could delay the coexistence again?
- There is no doubt over the existence of regional and international greed that try to take advantage of such gaps and weaknesses in our nation. Foreign states make use of such opportunities in distorting the nation's reputation which may lead to social instability and insecurity.
Do you approve with carrying out sectarian debates which are sponsored by some satellite channels?
- No, I do not because such debates usually present the differences, and concentrate on attacking other sects and parties.
The required dialogue is what objectively reviews the different viewpoints, and focuses on the similarities.