Here's a story about a radical Saudi cleric's personal evolution via the Christian Science Monitor:
In his youth, Abdullah Bejad al-Oteibi was devoted to a doctrinaire version of Islam. He regarded those who disagreed with him as unworthy Muslims.
But he's now grown up and writes articles that extol a more tolerant version of faith. Recently, one of his former fellow radicals called for his death:
[declaring] that Oteibi's "heretical" ideas meant that he should be brought to court and asked to recant. If he refused, Sheikh Barrak said, he should be put to death – an outcome, he added, that no Muslim would mourn.
The controversial fatwa and the swift condemnation it drew from Saudi and other Arab intellectuals offer a look into the shifting balance between extremist and moderate versions of Islam in Saudi society today...[coming] at a time when the government is taking steps to demonstrate its commitment to a moderate, nonviolent form of Islam. Last month, King Abdullah called for an interfaith conference among Muslims, Jews, and Christians, saying that Saudi clerics support the idea. And university officials have announced plans for an international conference of scholars next year to discuss moderation as an Islamic value.
As one commentator said:
"These kinds of fatwas are going out [of style]," Toraifi said of Barrak's declaration. "You don't see a rallying [around it]; it's not like in the '80s and '90s."
Oteibi himself said the fatwa was a sign of the extremist camp's panick "that its domination of [Saudi] society has subsided." As the Monitor report continued:
Aba Al Kheil [who was also targeted in the fatwa said the response] "shows that 'there are a lot of moderate people and thinkers out there who are against' clerics labeling their intellectual opponents as apostates, a capital crime under strictly applied interpretations of Islamic law."
The writer was referring to statements denouncing the fatwa from more than 90 Saudi intellectuals and almost 100 other Arab thinkers in Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. "[T]his fatwa is nothing but dark intellectual terrorism" by those who "think that Islam is exclusive to them and that they should be allowed to kill others," the Arab writers' statement said.
"We are trying our best," it added, "to make people understand the difference between Islam ... and some actions of some Muslims who give Islam a bad name."
And both men plan to continue calling for a moderate Islam.
As for the official reaction:
The [Saudi] government did not comment publicly. But Saudi Arabia's most senior religious leader, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, extolled "the middle way" in Islam during remarks at a recent university seminar.
The mufti warned against "preachers of darkness" and said that "fanatical zeal cannot be considered part of religion, even if they [extremists] falsely pretend to be devout," Asharq Al Awsat newspaper reported.
The impact of Barrak's declaration was muted by the fact that he holds no official position in the Saudi religious establishment and is viewed by many as a marginal leader.