Shaikh Salman al-Awdah (Marwan Almuraisy/Flickr)
He was Osama bin Laden’s mentor. The Saudi government imprisoned him for five years in the 1990s to stop him from reaching the millions of young Saudis that were inspired by his fiery messages of anti-American hatred and demands for change within Saudi Arabia. And yet Shaikh Salman al-Awdah continued to command the lives of a whole generation of Saudis. Osama bin Laden specifically mentioned Shaikh Salman’s imprisonment to justify his declaration of war against the West and Saudi Arabia. So what happened to the angry, radical, and confrontational Shaikh Salman?
Today, he is the Saudi with the highest number of followers on Twitter. On Facebook, he has over five hundred thousand followers. I follow Shaikh Salman on Arabic Twitter, and gone is the man who cites chapter and verse to incite young minds towards agitation. Now in his fifties, he is mild and mature. He tweets contemplative questions about love, compassion, spirituality, forgiveness, and humanity. He remains a vastly popular preacher on more than ten regional Arabic television channels, as well as through his website and writing.
Recently, he was the talk of the town across Saudi Arabia because he was suddenly banned from traveling. What did the Saudi government know that others did not? In subsequent television interviews, he maintained his calmness and did not provoke action against the regime. Unlike other Saudi clerics, Shaikh Salman is not employed by the government. His independence only adds to his popularity and unrivaled credibility inside the Kingdom, and within the broader Middle East. Read more »