Controversial Saudi preacher splits opinions during Jordan visit

Controversial Saudi preacher splits opinions during Jordan visit
Blog: Mohammad al-Arifi supports "jihad" in Syria and is perceived as hostile to Shia Muslims.
3 min read
08 Jul, 2015
Mohammad al-Arifi [Twitter]
Mohammad al-Arifi, a Saudi preacher known for his controversial views on anything from "jihad" - including against the regime in Syria - to his reported hostility to Shia Muslims, received official security protection during his visit this week to Jordan.

Arifi was allowed to hold a public lecture at a stadium in Irbid in northern Jordan, with thousands of people flocking to listen to his talk.

Arifi's profile, views, and the timing of his visit to the Hashemite Kingdom - host to millions of Syrian refugees and embroiled in the conflict in Syria and the international war on the Islamic State group in Iraq - have split opinions across social media and in the local and regional press.

Jordanians opposed to the visit - Arifi is banned from entering several Arab and European nations, including Kuwait and Britain - accuse the preacher of spreading extremist views, sectarianism, and violence.

But Arifi has a large number of followers, including in Jordan, many of whom rushed to defend the Saudi preacher - even accusing his detractors of being enemies of Islam, agents of the Syrian regime or Iran.

Arifi himself is a prolific social media personality, posting on Facebook and tweeting on a daily basis to thousands of digital disciples. Apart from preaching the Salafist interpretation of Islam, he is known to regularly weigh in on the social and political issues du jour.

Despite his support for jihad in Syria, Arifi is opposed to IS, which he sees as "too extreme", and is inclined to support other Islamist factions fighting against the regime there. To some analysts, this makes him useful to regional governments such as those of Jordan and Turkey, in their efforts against both the regime in Syria and IS.

Bassam al-Badareen is a journalist based in Amman. There are profound political implications behind the visit, says Badareen, facilitated by the Jordanian government amid tensions between Damascus and Amman.

Badareen said that Arifi's tour of northern areas, home to the bulk of Syrian refugees in the kingdom, is significant given Amman's alleged involvement in southern Syria.

Opponents of Arifi in Jordan used Arabic hashtags including #Not_Welcome to spread their objections. Supporters defended the visit and attacked Arifi's critics describing them as "anti-religion" secularists.

Dr Naseer al-Omari: That thousands came out to see Mohammed Arifi in Jordan raises alarm bells and proves that the education system has failed. We are close to becoming Wahhabis like Saudi Arabians.

Deema Alam Farraj: The hateful discourse between Jordanians is unfortunate. Arifi came and went and we are still fighting? What about the freedom of speech? The country and our unity are more important.

Jihad Helles: A sight that pleases the faithful and spites the hypocrites. Huge crowds listening to Sheikh Arifi's lecture in Jordan. Gaza has missed you!

Ehsan al-Faqih: Can socialist, secularist, and nationalist parties combined gather a crowd of more than 20,000 people in Jordan at Sheikh Harifi's lecture, or even half?