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Saudi Arabia creates global body of religious scholars to fight extremism

King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, announced Wednesday the formation of a religious authority of Islamic scholars from around the world that would vet the use of "hadiths" — the accounts of the life, doings, and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hadiths are used by preachers, scholars, and Islamic jurists to teach different interpretations of Islam. Terrorist groups like the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Taliban have all used different hadiths to justify their own ideologies and actions, as there are thousands of versions. Saudi Arabia's Culture and Information Ministry said Wednesday that the establishment of this religious authority would "eliminate fake and extremist texts and any texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders, and terrorist acts."

Saudi Arabia has long subsidized the international exportation of madrassas, or Islamic religious schools, that teach Wahhabism, a rigid and puritanical Sunni interpretation of Islam. In a leaked email from 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to Saudi donors as "the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." In September, Saudi authorities arrested more than 20 clerics and intellectuals for their connections to "external entities, including the Muslim Brotherhood."

It is estimated that approximately 10 to 15 percent of Saudi Arabia's population practices Shia Islam, a branch of the religion that expressly contradicts many of the beliefs of Sunni Islam. Shiites in Saudi Arabia have long been targets of harassment and discrimination; in August, Saudi Arabia drew fierce criticism from the U.S. and Europe when it executed 14 Shiites who had been arrested for demonstrating in 2011 and 2012.