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A blind eye to some victims

Arab leaders are silent about Muslims suffering at the hands of other Muslims


Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during a meeting about Gaza hosted by Russia on Nov. 21. Associated Press/Photo by Evgenia Novozhenina

A blind eye to <em>some</em> victims
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In the Arab world, where I was born, we have a self-critical saying that comes to mind as Arab nations react to the Israel-Hamas war: “We Arabs are an audio phenomenon—all talk and no action.” The saying indicates that Arabs generally are good at giving announcements of rejection, quick to form slogans of denunciation, and swift to issue statements of condemnation, but less so at taking concrete actions.

This is precisely what happened recently at a summit of leaders from more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. All the leaders strongly condemned Israel in its response to the massacre Hamas initiated on Oct. 7. Without any condemnation of Hamas’ militant attacks against Israeli civilians, these Muslim leaders passionately gave speeches, conveying how Muslims are one body worldwide and that the pain of the Palestinians is felt by the global Muslim community. They demanded a ceasefire and an immediate end to Israeli military action against Gaza, promising humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

However, not a single nation—not even one—showed interest or a willingness to take in Palestinian refugees from Gaza. For these Arab Muslim leaders, it seems expected that the West—especially the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, among others—is where these displaced Palestinian refugees should go, but not to Muslim countries.

Despite all the sweet talk about how Muslims feel for each other, no Arab nation wants to take in Palestinians due to economic pressures and legitimate fears of radical Islamic groups.

This is clear in how Egypt and Jordan openly rejected any suggestion to receive Palestinians, and framed it creatively as a “concern” that Palestinians should remain in their lands in order not to “eliminate the Palestinian cause.” However, it appears more plausible that these Muslim nations are concerned about receiving Palestinians since this might bring Hamas sympathizers and Palestinian jihadi militants into their lands.

The wealthier Muslim nations—such as Saudi Arabia and UAE—remained silent on the matter, even with news of 1.5 million Palestinian civilians currently internally displaced in southern Gaza. Worse, Qatar is clearly satisfied with sheltering the Islamist Hamas leaders in its midst, but not so much welcoming the displaced Palestinians themselves.

Clearly, Arab Muslim leaders seem good at talking and issuing statements to signal condemnation of Israel and sympathy for Gazans, but they know very well that receiving Palestinians—even temporarily—will be a significant burden they don’t want to bear.

If these Muslim leaders genuinely feel the pain of Palestinians and condemn Israel, what about the war in Muslim-majority Yemen?

But there is a deeper problem: These Arab Muslim leaders are only good at condemning Israel and its allies. They don’t condemn Muslim aggression against Muslims. If these Muslim leaders genuinely feel the pain of Palestinians and condemn Israel, what about the war in Muslim-majority Yemen?

For almost a decade now the Yemeni war has been raging and everyone knows that Saudi Arabia—another Muslim nation—is deeply involved against the Yemeni Houthis. This is a Muslim-Muslim war that has claimed more than 200,000 Muslim lives.

Where are the Arab leaders in condemning this atrocity? Don’t Muslims worldwide feel the pain of Yemenis, too? The reality is that Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of over seven Arab Muslim nations against Yemen.

Thus, Arab leaders seem quick to condemn Israel, but not themselves. After all, blaming the Jews and their Jewish state is always welcomed among Muslims, as it fits Islamic rhetoric against the infidels.

What about China’s persecution of Muslim Uyghurs? Many Western nations rightly declared it a genocide, while some Muslim countries—including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt—have actually praised China for its “efforts” to control radical Muslims and restore “safety and security.” Furthermore, none of the Arab countries have condemned Hamas in its assault against Israel. It is clear that the benefits and interests of these Muslim nations dictate their rhetoric.

The same can go for the horrific civil wars in Muslim-majority Syria and Sudan. In both of these, Muslims have been dying because of greed and lust for power by self-identified Muslim leaders. No one saw a Muslim leader allowing demonstrations to take to the streets to condemn the Muslim regimes.

But there is worse! The Arab Muslim world is silent about the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from the region. Has anyone asked about the disappearance of Jews from most of the Arab Muslim countries? Countries like Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen had substantial Jewish communities in the first half of the 19th century—now nearly no Jews exist in them. What happened? They fled persecution to the West or to Israel.

Next time you hear of a summit of Arab leaders, don’t raise your hopes. Remember that it is mostly an audio phenomenon.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.


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