By Javed Anand, word for peace,
But it is not yet clear if the headline-grabbing decrees will add up to reform or mirage
Has the Saudi monarchy gained enlightenment overnight? Is that why it is unleashing a religion-cultural revolution in the desert kingdom? Or are we witnessing the spectacle of a state-sponsored mirage? Judging by the headline-grabbing royal decrees and pronouncements in the last 30 days, it appears the Saudis are at last on the move. But a closer look suggests that what we are seeing is not quite what we are likely to get.
On September 26, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issues a royal firman granting Saudi women the license to drive beginning June next. What follows barely three weeks later — October 17 — is breath-taking. A royal order announces the formation of a global body of elite Islamic scholars to vet the entire Hadith corpus (purported sayings of Prophet Mohammed) in order to “eliminate fake and extremist texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders and terrorist acts which have no place in Islam, the religion of peace”. A statement from the Saudi ministry of culture and information describes the decree as an “unprecedented initiative”. It is unprecedented no doubt, considering how over-sensitive the Muslim clergy is to any talk of picking and choosing from what are believed to be authentic (sahih) collections of the sayings of the Prophet.
Hold your breath again as the crown prince, heir to the Saudi throne, takes over from the king. Even as the world chews on the implications of the royal decree concerning the vetting of Hadith collections, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman makes a grand declaration-cum-confession at an investment conference in Riyadh. Admitting that his country has “not been normal” in the last 30 years, he promises to “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, open to the world and all religions.” What’s more, “We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas; we will destroy them today”.
For a world plagued by extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam, what could be better news than this? But within hours of the declaration of grand intent, Prince Mohammed gives the game away. In an interview to the Guardian, he blames Shia Iran for all the ills of the overwhelmingly Sunni, Arab world. “What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries; one of them is Saudi Arabia… Now is the time to get rid of it.”
What, pray, is the real agenda then? Radical reform in Saudi Arabia, more Shia-Sunni conflict, or simply a come-hither gesture to global investors the Saudi economy desperately needs?
Are we to believe the grand US-Saudi-Pakistan alliance in the 1980s — which turned Afghanistan into a laboratory of jihad — was inspired by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini? Is Iran to be blamed for US-Saudi support to the “good terrorists” in Syria in their desperate bid to dislodge the Bashar al-Assad regime which culminated in the emergence of the ISIS monster? Could someone explain how the Iranian revolution inspired Sunni jihadism a lot more than the Shia variety?
Or, what prompted the Saudi government’s decision in 2015 to bestow its highest civilian award on the Indian televangelist Zakir Naik, who sows the seeds of hatred of other religions in Muslim minds?
Prince Salman vows to “return” Saudi Arabia from its “not normal” state of the last 30 years back to “moderate Islam”. May we ask: Just how “moderate” was Saudi Arabian Islam before the Iranian Revolution in 1979? Or going forward, the heir to the throne can perhaps give us a glimpse of what his moderate Islam of tomorrow will look like.
As of today, Saudi women need a male “guardian’s” permission to pursue higher studies, find a job, receive medical treatment, open bank accounts, apply for a passport, own and run a business. And they must cover themselves from head-to-toe when in a public space. Is any of this likely to change anytime soon?
Since the early 1970s, Saudi Arabia has poured billions into funding mosques and madrasas to spread its brand of a puritanical, misogynist, supremacist, intolerant Islam across the globe. Will the prince stop funding them?
Even as it continues to fund mosques across the globe, no one is allowed to build a church, temple, gurudwara or synagogue in Saudi Arabia. Will this double-standard end?
If the Soviet Union could produce a Mikhail Gorbachev why can’t a Mohammed bin Salman be born in Saudi Arabia? But for the miracle to happen, instead of pointing fingers at Iran, the Saudi crown prince needs to face the mirror.
Far from having ever been moderate, Arabia was transformed into “Saudi Arabia” by his own forefathers through the theology and practice of an aggressively intolerant, extremist and violent version of Islam.
Has Prince Mohammed never heard of the 18thcentury preacher Abdul Wahhab from the Najd region of Arabia? Wahhab subscribed to a theology that denounced any and every Muslim unwilling to accept his arid version of Islam as grave worshipper, idolater and apostate. According to him, all such Muslims should be killed, their women violated (sex slaves) and their possessions confiscated. As for people of other faiths, they should be humiliated or decimated.
Unfortunately for Islam and Muslims, this puritan who was shunned for his extremist views by fellow Muslims, including his own family members, found support from Prince Salman’s forefather, Muhammad ibn Saud. An alliance was forged between Ibn Saud, the power hungry, and Abdul Wahhab, the fanatic. Wahhabism would provide religious legitimacy to the House of Saud while the latter would use state power to impose Wahhab’s brand of “true Islam” on Muslims.
There is abundant historical evidence of the viciousness and violence which the Wahhab-Saud alliance unleashed on fellow Muslims across the Arabian peninsula in the late 18th and early 19th century before being crushed by the Ottoman rulers, only to resurface in the early 20th century with the blessings of the British Empire.
On his way to founding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, dictates of modern-day politics forced King Abdul Aziz ‘Ibn Saud’, Prince Mohammed’s grandfather, to suppress the violent strain within Wahhabism. What we were left with was Wahhabism-minus-violence and that is till date the official creed of the Saudi kingdom.
Is the crown prince telling us Wahhabism-minus-violence equals “moderate Islam”?
The lifting of the ban on women driving is a welcome step. But a Wahhabi mindset will be of little help either in separating the good from the bad in the Hadith collections, or in steering Saudi Arabia towards a genuinely moderate Islam. With the ISIS now on the defensive, it’s a good time for Saudi Arabia to repent, cease and desist from ever again extending state patronage to the noxious doctrine which laid the foundation for the Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism of the future.
The writer is convener, Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy and Co-editor, ‘SabrangIndia’
Source: The Indian Express