During a February 2nd appearance on the ‘Humumuna’ programme on Saudi state television, Maneh Nasser al-Maneh shared his personal experience with ISIL in Syriaand cautioned Saudi youth against joining the group. [Screenshot from Saudi state television]
A well-known Saudi preacher who returned to the kingdom after defecting from the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) has warned Saudi youth against joining terrorist groups in Syria.
Maneh Nasser al-Maneh shared his personal experience with ISIL on Saudi state television on February 2nd.
During an appearance on the ” Humumuna ” (Our Concerns) programme, al-Maneh explained how he fell into a trap of lies, saying what he experienced in Syria was not what he expected, based on the image the group portrayed.
The group exploits the precept of takfir, labeling people as infidel, and accuses all who oppose its views of apostasy, he said.
“What I found was other than I expected,” he said. “Instead of freedom, I found imprisonment, coercion and takfir of whoever they deemed an infidel apostate.”
“I found coercion into living in a tent in a remote part of the desert used as a triage station to treat the injured, while my aim was to preach. I was prohibited from traveling, my passport was seized and I was forced to swear allegiance,” he added.
Al-Maneh surprised his followers on Twitter when he announced his decision to travel to Syria in March 2014, only to turn himself in to the Saudi embassy in Turkey four months later.
In his television interview, al-Maneh said he had traveled to Syria “to preach for God and correct some prevalent misconceptions about the creed and sharia in Syria”.
He chose Syria “on the basis of the first statement issued by the ISIL group, in which they [claimed] that they do not practice takfir in general, and not based on suspicion or assumption”, he said.
He said he went to the combat zones in Syria at his own discretion, without consulting scholars or obtaining permission from authorities.
“My trip to Syria was out of personal diligence,” he said, noting that it had been an error in judgement. “I went in good faith and with good intentions thinking that preaching for God is an individual obligation that does not require permission, and this is the mistake I must emphasize.”
All those he met in the guesthouses were Saudis and Arabs who adhere to the takfiri line, al-Maneh said, adding that he saw disputes among Muslims during his stay in Syria.
An important testimonial
“What al-Maneh said is of great importance because it comes from a preacher with numerous followers among the Saudi, Arab and Gulf youth,” said Abdullah al-Muqrin, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca. “What he says supports official and sharia [scholar] efforts to steer the youth away from the quagmire of dark ideology.”
ISIL’s declaration of takfir against all those who oppose its views, including Saudi rulers and citizens, is what drove al-Maneh to return to Saudi Arabia, he said.
For this same reason, others before him have quit the group and returned to the kingdom, he added.
“The Saudi citizen gives a lot of weight to the authority of his [ruler] and it is a red line that should not be crossed. Furthermore, the takfir fatwa [issued by ISIL] labels everyone in the kingdom as an apostate”, he said, and Saudis reject this.
The professor stressed the importance of al-Maneh’s testimonial.
It is an “insider’s testimonial that exposes the falsity of this terrorist group’s claims and reveals its true face, especially that al-Maneh admitted that he himself fell into the trap, and that when he tried to correct some of the popular notions among the group’s [fighters] he was punished with detention, threats and exile to the desert”, he said.
He noted that al-Maneh’s main desire was to advocate for the Syrians, saying this is what motivates many youths to travel to Syria.
“However, they are [soon] forced to pledge allegiance and fight alongside the group, otherwise they are labeled as apostates,” al-Muqrin said.
A warning to Saudi youth
“Al-Maneh’s testimonial is one of the most important messages [that can be] directed at youths who fall into ISIL’s trap, because this terrorist group deludes many into thinking it is an Islamic state and calls for jihad, while in reality the opposite is true,” said Adel al-Usaimi, the imam of al-Khair mosque in Riyadh.
Al-Maneh’s testimonial “is a call to the youth to refer to senior official scholars, who do not issue fatwas point blank, but rather after consultation and research, so as not to fall into the mistake of rushing into decisions,” he told Al-Shorfa.
“It is very good that a preacher admits to making a mistake and rushing into a decision, and saying, having experienced the reality [in Syria], that there is nothing there but conflicts between the various armed factions, and revealing that while the group claims to promote personal freedom and freedom of faith in its propaganda, the reality is imprisonment, suppression of freedoms, coercion into pledging allegiance to it and declaration of takfir against all who oppose its views,” the imam said.
ISIL’s propaganda has entrapped many young Saudis, said Naif al-Shammari, a student at King Saud University’s faculty of business administration.
“The most important aspect of al-Maneh’s testimonial is his assertion that Syria is not a jihad zone, but rather a conflict zone,” he told Al-Shorfa.
Al-Maneh’s words come as a call to Saudi youth to listen only to the Council of Senior Scholars when it comes to serious matters, as it is the supreme religious authority in the kingdom and represents the true path, he said.