Fifty two Saudi academics and scholars have called on the public to “hurry” to Syria to fight Russian forces, Al Arabiya reports.
The clerics, some of whom are members of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (which is based in Qatar and headed by Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradhawi), called on “all those who are able, and outside of Saudi Arabia, to answer the calls of jihad” and to fight alongside one of the groups facing Russian forces.
According to experts, by issuing this statement they seek to encourage Saudi, Gulf, and Muslim youths to fight against Russian forces, similar to the recruitment of young fighters during the Afghan-Soviet war.
The statement also called for Syrian opposition fighters to “unify their front” and urged those with capabilities to fight, and with expertise to remain in Syria and not leave.
The invitation to join the conflict contradicts a fatwa issued from Saudi scholars in March 2014, which listed ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, among others, as “extremist groups”. The decree also criminalised taking part in combat outside of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported that some of the clerics who signed the statement have previously issued fatwas on the events in Syria, and had provided guidance to fighters.
It is thought that Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars in an attempt to bring down the regime of Bashar al Assad, which has included sponsoring some of the groups fighting him, namely “Jaysh al-Islam”.
However, the Kingdom is also concerned about the threat that “radical Islamists” pose internally so has cracked down on its citizens going to fight in Syria.