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Safar al-Hawali received his doctorate in Islamic theology from Umm al-Qura University, Mecca in 1986. During the 1990s, he was arrested for a period of time by the Saudi authorities for his criticism of the government when he distributed sermons on cassette tapes to incite militants to overthrow the government. Along with another preacher Salman al-Ouda, al-Hawali is said to have led the sahwa or "awakening" movement in Saudi Arabia, a form of salafism.
Safar al-Hawali was one of the leaders of The Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) that was a Saudi dissident group created in 1993 and was the first ever opposition organization in the Kingdom openly challenging the monarchy, accusing the government and senior ulama of not doing enough to protect the legitimate Islamic rights of the Muslims.
In September 1994, two leaders of the Committee, Salman al-Ouda and Safar al-Hawali were arrested together with a large number of their followers in the city of Burayda, Qasim region. Moreover, Sheikh Abd al-Aziz Ibn Baz issued a fatwa, that unless al-Quda and al-Hawali repented their former conduct, they would be banned from lecturing, meetings and cassette-recording. In 1999, he and other two ulemas arrested with him were released without any charge.
He is mentioned in Osama bin Laden's fatwa as a sheikh unjustly arrested allegedly "by orders from the USA." Like bin Laden, al-Hawali and another preacher Salman al-Ouda opposed the presence of US troops on the Arabian peninsula. In 1991, al-Hawali delivered a sermon stating: "What is happening in the [Persian] Gulf is part of a larger Western design to dominate the whole Arab and Muslim world." Bin Laden is said to often cite al-Hawali and al-Oada "to justify his own pronouncements against the United States." 
Some argue that it is completely not fair to associate Al-Hawali with Osama Bin Laden. Some have said to refer to his messages that was sent to the Bin Laden's camp, which indicates that he opposes Osama bin Laden's work, and that there is no relation between him and Osama bin laden, "They are not in the same line they are opposite each other." Hawali's pro-terrorism fatwas include an endorsement of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Hawali is a close associate of Salman al-Ouda, q.v.
Safar Al-Hawali wrote a book on secularism as part of his master thesis at Umm Al-Qura. This research was supervised by Muhammad Qutb, the brother of Sayyid Qutb. Here Al-Hawali traced the history of the separation between the church and state and how the idea was imported to the Muslim world. In his Ph.D. research, Al-Hawali made an analysis of the separation between the claim of faith and deeds of worship.
In the year 2000, he wrote a treatise on the Second Intifada, entitled The Day of Wrath. He argued that the Biblical prophecies used by Christian fundamentalists to support the state of Israel actually predict its destruction. The treatise was subsequently translated into Hebrew by the Anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group.
When 60 American intellectuals issued an article justifying America's war in Iraq, Al-Hawali wrote a counter-article, rebutting their claims and pointing to the history of US foreign policy.
Samuel P. Huntington included Al-Hawali in his famous Clash of Civilizations article. "It is not the world against Iraq," as Safar Al-Hawali, dean of Islamic Studies at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, put it in a widely circulated tape. "It is the West against Islam."
Al-Hawali wrote an article in Al-Bayan magazine on unitarianism among Christians. He traced the history of those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity, and believe in One Supreme God. He claimed that monotheists had been subject to great persecution, by both Catholics and Protestants; and that five among the US presidents had been Unitarians.
- Suicide Bombers in Iraq By Mohammed M. Hafez
- Kapiszewski, Andrzej (2006). "Saudi Arabia: Steps Toward Democratization or Reconfiguration of Authoritarianism?". Journal of Asian and African Studies 41 (5-6): 459–482. doi:10.1177/0021909606067407. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
- Alshamsi, Mansoor Jassem (2011). Islam and Political Reform in Saudi Arabia: The Quest for Political Change and Reform. New York: Routledge. p. 132.
- 1996 fatwa from bin Laden, English translation by PBS
- Holy War, Inc. By Peter L Bergen, Rachel Klayman, C-SPAN
- News article about an Arab petition to the UN against terrorist fatwas, Middle East Transparent, 24 October 2004
- MEMRI article about that petition, MEMRI, 8 November 2004
- Militant Ideology Atlas, p. 344, United States Military Academy
- An Open Letter to President Bush (www.sunnahonline.com)