Sheikh ‘Aadel Al-Kalbani, former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca has announced that ISIS is the result of the Salafi version of Islam, and therefore there needs to be changes within the Salafi sect itself.
“ISIS is a true product of Salafism, and we must deal with it with full transparency.” This statement was made not by liberal Muslim elements, who regularly criticize Salafism, but by Sheikh ‘Aadel Al-Kalbani, former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and a Salafi himself, hence its importance. Al-Kalbani is not the first Salafi to come out against ISIS – other Saudis have condemned the organization’s conduct and operations – but Al-Kalbani has gone farther in his criticism: he has come out against the principles of the Salafi perception from which ISIS and its ilk draw, and has called for a rationalistic approach to Islam’s distant past and what it means for Islam today instead of a blind reenactment of it.
In two articles in the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, Al-Kalbani criticized elements in the Salafi stream for appropriating the truth and Islam and for permitting the killing of their opponents, and likewise criticized clerics and society that dared not come out against them. He stated that the call to blindly reenact the path of the Prophet Muhammad and of the forefathers of Islam stems from a faulty grasp of the essence of this path, and that Muhammad himself had rejected blind adoption of the perceptions of the past and blind following of the path of his predecessors, choosing instead a rationalistic approach appropriate for a changing reality. Al-Kalbani stated that clerics must take their heads out of the sand and move with the spirit of the times instead of rejecting and condemning any new idea.
This is not the first time that Al-Kalbani has challenged the mainstream Saudi clerics. He has harshly attacked suicide bombings,  published a fatwa permitting poetry, and called for allowing women to drive cars.
The following are translated excerpts from his two recent articles in Al-Riyadh:
“ISIS Is A True Product Of Salafism And We Must Deal With It With Full Transparency”
On August 15, 2014, Sheikh Al-Kalbani tweeted (@abuabdelelah): “ISIS is a true product of Salafism and we must deal with it with full transparency.” DIRECT LINK TO TWEET HERE.
This statement sparked reactions across the social networks, and 10 days later, on August 24, Al-Kalbani wrote in an Al-Riyadh article titled “Is Terrorism A Salafi Product?”: “Every time we see the fitna network sweeping up young people from among our sons… [and pitching them into] to a very deep abyss from which they will emerge only by means of idioms that drip blood, our conscience torments us and we wonder: From whence has this come upon us? How have they fallen into this? As if we could not do a thing before then.
“But the opposite is true: The main reason for their deviation is our neglect – and by ‘our’ neglect I mean the [neglect of the] generation of the parents, and of the honorable members of society among the clerics, teachers, preachers, jurisprudents, and sociologists who are linked directly to that society. The words, the books, the sermons, the dramas, and all the artistic creativity and the essential link [to the audience] that these people present in all the media, whether print, radio, or television, [allow them] to monitor the ideas of the young people and to participate in balancing them. I exclude [of course] that tiniest of minorities whose throat is parched from warning about the extremism of theSalafis.
“Yes, this is the plant that has sprouted in the garbage dump of those who excessively pass judgment on others and pretend to represent Salafism. How gravely they have accused others of apostasy, of deviating from the right path, of heresy, and of licentiousness – as if the arena lies open before them and there is nobody to condemn them and no judge to punish them. Furthermore, they are received with feigned respect and admiration, and opportunities have been opened to them to plant in the minds of our young people that this one has gone astray and that one is an infidel and the other one is lax in religion. Even the greatest of clerics, past and present, are not spared their arrows. They spread the principles of Islam in a twisted manner that makes them incomprehensible or distorted, and preserve things that negate Islam. They measure the judge, the educated, and the student, and even the simple folk by what they [i.e. these extremists] have learned by heart [but] do not understand, and think that they are entitled to rule that the above mentioned are apostates and to call down upon them the punishments of Allah that are no longer implemented and [by so doing, they think that they will] restore the glory and splendor of monotheism.
“This group thinks that no one but itself and its supporters are the source of good and the defenders of monotheism – because [its members] imbibed with their mothers’ milk [the view] that all Muslims worldwide do not understand [monotheism] and that they are not worshipping only Allah but are polytheists who worship graves… and that there are no just clerics besides their own clerics and their disciples. [They think that] only a cleric whom they love, whom they heed and obey, and on whose say they reject or validate [others] – only he holds the truth and acts in accordance with the ways of[Islam’s] just forefathers… They spread out and multiply, and publicly call for following in the footsteps of some sheikh and for accepting his words in full. They have begun to classify people, preachers, and clerics – [for example,] this sheikh shouldn’t be listened to because he is more loathsome than the Jews and the Christians, and that fatwa deviates [from the right path], so it is forbidden to pray behind anyone who adopts it, or to sit with him, eat with him or respect him. They have begun… to separate the young people from the clerics who understand the result of [this activity by them] and what difficulties they are going to cause the nation.
“Actually, there is no connection between the path of these extremists and the [true] path of the Salafis – which is tolerance, compassion, and gentleness, and in which there is no place for extremism and [religious] fanaticism. [Salafism] is a path that spreads love, brotherhood, and acceptance of the other among Muslims and coexistence with non-Muslims. But the thing is to understand it and to implement it – and not [just to] pretend [to do so] – in a way that is compatible with the deep roots of the past and with the demands of the present.
“[However,] what is needed is a perception for reforming ideas, not admonitions, reproof, reactions and word-sparing that deal with the symptom and ignore the disease! There is still enough time to rehabilitate [these ideas], ideologically and practically, and to prevent society from splitting into sects and groups that throng after dignitaries who are enveloped in an aura of immunity [to sin and error] and sanctity, with each group thinking that it has the right to guide the nation and recruit its young people.
“A plant is always like its roots. If we want a good, fruitful plant, it is incumbent upon everyone to care for its roots, its wate
r sources, the spread of its branches, and the fertility of the earth [from which it grows], and to protect it from ideas and viruses that turn its fruit and seeds to poison from which the generations sip and on which the young people grow up; from [these seeds] sprouts a plant that has in it no place for compassion and to whom love and friendship are totally alien.”
“We Remain Trapped In The Dungeons Of The Very Distant Past”; We Should “Rely On The Past As A Foundation” For Building The Present And Future, Not Destroying Them
On August 31, 2014, Al-Kalbani published another article, “The Chains of the Past,” in which he criticized the Salafism that advocates uncritical reliance on Islam’s past, and called for a rationalistic critical approach. He wrote: “We never stop elevating the past at any cost, so much so that it has taken over our lives and thwarted our management of our present, and I do not know what it will do to our future. We claim that the past is the perception, the deeds, and the outlook of the forefathers [of Islam], to the point where if a catastrophe happens to one of us, he hastens to seek a solution for his catastrophe in a book written hundreds of years ago! And then we shout loudly, ‘Islam is compatible with every time and every place[!]’
“What is very strange is that we remain trapped in the dungeons of the very distant past, chewing over the words of Malik [bin Anas], may the peace of Allah be upon him, ‘The last of this ummah will not be successful unless they follow the same [pattern] that was successful in the hands of its first ones,’ and think that what it means is that we must remain in the first century of the era of the mission [of the Prophet Muhammad], in the same style of life, and in the same patterns and knowledge that he had.
“From these words [of Malik bin Anas] I do not understand that our past [must] control our present and constrain our future; rather, I understand that [the past] is what caused the Prophet’s honorable Companions to change their perception, and brought about their wonderful transition from the caves of darkness and straying into the light of truth… What improved the situation of the first generation [of Islam] was not preserving the heritage of the forefathers and the ideas of the previous generations, but the complete opposite. The first generation [of Islam] abandoned the [pattern] of blind imitation, and with the descent [of Koran 96:1] ‘Recite in the name of your Lord,’ the use of the mind began, after it was neglected for many centuries; the wagon of change began to move and to shift the bitter reality full of oppression, backwardness, and idolatry with lofty and clear rational truths. They [the members of the first generation] opened their eyes to what had [always] been in front of them, but which the fog of imitating what their forefathers did had prevented them from seeing… until the honored Koran arrived and removed this fog and enabled them to see what they had been blind to, and to distinguish what they had not noticed [before].
“In the same spirit, I want the past to free us from the yoke of the backwards present – not drag us towards it. I want our past to make us see reality as it is, and for us to rely on it in the areas of development and culture, and for us to emerge from it with momentum towards the horizons of the future and with an enlightened perception. This [should be done] under the direction of the two revelations [the Koran and the Sunna] – and not by means of the opinions of people who have invested most of their efforts in studying that era [of early Islam].
“We should rely on the past as a foundation from which we head out to the future and to the building of the present; this is better than turning the past into [something] that binds our hands and arouses among us rivalry, conflict, and opinions for which we fight and as a result of which we weaken and splinter. Had we done this [from the outset], we would be sitting on the throne of the pinnacle of culture.
“We must acknowledge that our past contains things that are not compatible with our present. The religious collapse of the West happened only after it became fully aware of the depth of the yawning chasm between the scientific knowledge that serves the culture that the human mind has attained and the religious beliefs and laws set out by the church, which included beliefs that had been distorted or misunderstood, or were not appropriate for every time.
“From among those who call for absolute adherence to the past there has emerged a young generation that defends and fights for opinions and ways that are devoid of the [the correct] Islamic concepts and religious views that can guide the ummah in the right direction. This gang, that has granted itself the right to banish minds, has not grasped the situation of the ummah, and has not managed to adapt to [today’s reality]; therefore its path is to subdue the other or to accuse him of apostasy and of deviating from the right path. [These people] can be found in all walks of life, preventing men of insight from advancing and catching up to the present, and anyone who criticizes them and points out their mistakes is accused of being Khawarij – an accusation tailored for such [critics]. Anyone who talks about women’s rights is deviating from the right path and is loathsome and is lax in religion. Anyone who expresses a wise opinion that has been covered up and ignored because it contradicts their Salafism, is going against the vast majority of the people… and so on…
“What is strange is that these radical extremists who accuse their opponents of heresy and of apostasy acknowledge neither the stagnation of their own perception and ideas nor the worthlessness of their religious law, and thus do not recognize that they have left seeds that are today inflicting suffering and torment on the ummah.”
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3728, Saudi Sheikh: One Who Kills Himself and Others in Order to Win the Virgins of Paradise Is Not a Martyr but a Suicide; Only the Truly Virtuous Will Gain Paradise, April 1, 2011.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 4215, Political Poem By Saudi Prince Triggers Public Debate In Kingdom, March 5, 2013.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1029, Saudi Activists Renew Campaign For Women’s Driving, October 23, 2013.
 Cleric (d. 795) and the founder of the Maliki school of thought, one of the four in Sunni Islam.
 Derogatory term referring to a rebel cult in early Islam that split off from the army of Ali ibn Abi Talib at the Battle of Siffin in 657.