Sermons from the mosques.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt

Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Media coverage of the Middle East has always been deficient in one area: Foreign correspondents have forever ignored the mosque and what the imams are telling their congregations.

Arab government spokesmen speaking excellent English tell correspondents what supposedly they need to know. The Friday mosque sermons are in Arabic and there's nobody around to do instant translations, and so a great source of political opinion remains unreported to Western audiences. It should be remembered that the taped sermons of the exiled Imam Khomeini smuggled into Iran for years finally culminated in a revolution that dethroned the shah in 1979 and transformed a shaky ally into an unswerving enemy.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has just released translations of Friday sermons delivered in the main mosques of Saudi Arabia. These sermons are available on a Saudi-based website www.alminbar.net. (Alminbar means "pulpit" in Arabic.) The Web site, created in July 1999, is reportedly visited weekly by some 3,000 imams from 62 countries and territories.

Too bad amateur diplomats like the New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman didn't see these sermons when he was peddling Saudi "peace" proposals. Reading these Saudi mosque sermons, with their savage attacks on Jews and Christians, helps explain why 15 of the 19 terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center and crashed into the Pentagon were Saudi citizens. These mosques are supported financially by the Saudi government in the name of Wahabism, a highly orthodox version of Islam.

The majority of sermons discuss Christians and Jews concurrently and disparagingly. However, some sermons specifically target Christians and Christianity, especially Pope John Paul II. In a sermon delivered at the Al-Salaam mosque in Al-Unayzah, Sheikh Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Qadhi said: "Today we will talk about one of the distorted religions, about a faith that deviates from the path of righteousness. ... about Christianity, this false faith, and about the people whom Allah described in his book as deviating from the path of righteousness. We will examine their faith, and we will review their history, full of hate, abomination, and wars against Islam and the Muslims."

Appeals for interreligious harmony are a particular target of Friday preachers. Sheikh Adnan Ahmad Siyami in a sermon at a Mecca mosque lashed out at Pope John Paul's recent visit to Syria as an attempt to "facilitate the conversion to Christianity in Muslim lands." He is quoted as saying:

"The call by [the pope] - may Allah punish him as he deserves - to the people of the [different] religions in Syria to live in peaceful coexistence is nothing more than an audacious call for the unification of religions, in accordance with the principle of human religious harmony. ... This pope, the head of the Catholic Church, and those behind him calling for the unification of the religions, are the descendants of the Spanish inquisitors who tortured the Muslims most abominably. ... They are the descendants of those who led the Crusades to the Islamic East, in which thousands of Muslims were killed and their wives taken captive in uncountable numbers. …