A prominent Saudi cleric is being labeled a “Grinch” online for telling Muslims around the world that they shouldn’t celebrate Christmas with Christian friends. Mohammad al-Arefe, who espouses the conservative Wahhabi strain of Islam, directed his condemnation of Christmas mainly towards Muslims living in Europe.
“To my people, my sons and daughters in Europe and elsewhere. It is forbidden to attend the celebrations of Christmas and New Year, as they include alcohol, dancing, drunkenness and the mixing of genders,” al-Arefe wrote in a post on Facebook, where has nearly 20 million fans on Facebook. As of the publication of this article, the post had been liked more than 60,000 times and been shared almost 6,000 times, but it also drew a backlash from people who accused al-Arefe of trying to stoke tensions between Christians and Muslims, with some saying he belonged to the same “school as ISIS.”
Al-Arefe’s edicts carry no real official heft, but they are likely to be influential anyway as he has millions of followers who watch his sermons. He has a history of making controversial statements, including saying he supported jihad in Syria and defending al-Qaeda on-air. (He later denied ever making such statements.) He has been banned from traveling to the U.K. and has been arrested and jailed by Saudi authorities in the past for some of his statements.
This statement, too, has proven to be controversial online…