Signs of Saudi shift to ‘moderate’ Islam emerging at home and abroad

ss13LONDON – Saudi Arabia is increasing efforts to promote a “moderate” form of Islam, a promise made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz to help move the kingdom into the modern era.

A member of the kingdom’s Council of Senior Scholars, considered the country’s chief religious body, recently stated that women were not under religious obligation to wear the abaya, the traditional loose-fitting black robe worn by Muslim women in the Gulf region.

During a question-and-answer session on a Mecca radio station, Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq said Muslim women should dress modestly but that the abaya was not a religious requirement.

“More than 90% of committed Muslim women in the Islamic world do not wear the abaya,” Mutlaq said. “We see them in Mecca and Medina. They are women who, may God bless them, are committed and memorise the Quran and preach for God but they do not wear abayas. For this reason, my friends, we do not oblige [women] to wear abaya.”

On the same programme, Mutlaq said long fingernails were frowned upon in Islam.

Mutlaq’s comments, which carry significant weight in religious circles, led to fierce debates and the creation of the Twitter hashtag #Al-Mutlaq_theabaya_not necessary.

“Those who trade in religion know that the life the Muslim Brotherhood has grown accustomed to in the past 40 years is over and these hypocrites must a find a different path instead of using religion to control people’s lives,” wrote Twitter user @OmrRian.

Other reactions were less supportive.

“Even if 100 fatwas have been issued, I swear to God I will never leave my abaya. Over my dead body. Girls, do not listen to the fatwas,” wrote Twitter user @Kooshe90.

As home to two of Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia has long been defined culturally by its role and place in the religion. However, in a post 9/11 world, the kingdom has also been accused of supporting an intolerant form of Islam.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARAB NEWS

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Saudis dedicated to enhancing role of dialogue to combat violence in name of religion

1098101-1650648600JEDDAH: The Secretary-General of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muammar, affirmed the center’s commitment to enhancing the role of dialogue in combating violence in the name of religion.

Muammar was addressing an audience at the International Conference on “Tackling Violence in the Name of Religion” held in Rome on Saturday, in the presence of a number of religious, political and intellectual leaders from around the world to discuss best practices to activate the role of individuals, leaders and religious institutions in this field.

He pointed to the importance of the Vienna Conference, which was organized by the center under the title “United against violence in the name of religion,” explaining that the outcomes of that conference were the basis of the center’s future strategy and played an important role in the formulation of the United Nations Plan of Action for the year 2015 to combat violent extremism leading to genocide.

Mummar added that the center’s strategy of activating the role of religious individuals, leaders and institutions is based on making them key partners, working side by side with policy makers in effectively addressing the multiple threats to peaceful coexistence and tolerance that extremist groups are involved in.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARAB NEWS

Mohammed bin Salman’s Next Saudi Challenge: Curtailing Ultraconservative Islam

saudiCrown prince’s overhaul includes a crackdown on religious fundamentalists who exercised rigid control; female drivers and music concerts

ABHA, Saudi Arabia—Arwa Alneami wanted to be an artist ever since she was a child. But growing up in the conservative region of Asir, she was constrained by a rigid strain of Sunni Islam that has long defined life in Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s image to the outside world. When she drew a bird, Ms. Alneami recalls, teachers would scold her and cross off its head, saying only God can create life.

Now that religious control is coming under its sharpest challenge in modern times. Saudi leaders, spurred by the need to diversify the oil-dependent economy, are moving faster than any of their predecessors to unravel the legacy of Islamic conservatism that had taken hold of the country four decades ago and shaped the education of generations.

Spearheading the transformation is 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who sees social liberalization as a vital part of his radical economic modernization plan and has vowed to return his country to a more tolerant form of Islam.

“We are only going back to how we were: to the tolerant, moderate Islam that is open to the world, to all the religions and traditions of its people,” Prince Mohammed said during an investment conference in Riyadh in October.

Ms. Alneami, 32, today is a rising star of the kingdom’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. “Before, I had a love-hate relationship with Saudi Arabia,” she says. “I used to think a lot about leaving the country. I wanted to go somewhere where I could have a normal life. Now, normal is coming to us.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Game of Thrones Christians Should Be Watching

79795Before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia stunned the world with his sudden arrest of dozens of fellow princes and millionaires on corruption charges, he stunned many Christians with his stated desire to moderate its version of Islam, commonly dubbed Wahhabism.

 Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 as an alliance between Bedouin warriors of the al-Saud tribe and strict Salafi Muslim scholars following Mohamed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Discovering oil six years later, it also became one of the Muslim world’s wealthiest nations. The combination has led many religious freedom advocates to blame Saudi petrodollars for funding a worldwide rise in Islamist extremism.

But last month, Mohammad bin Salman said his conservative Muslim country would return to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.”

Extremist ideas would be destroyed, the crown prince proclaimed, blaming Iran for sparking Saudi Arabia’s notoriously tight religious control. He pledges now to reverse this and stamp out extremism.

“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia,” bin Salman said. “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. We didn’t know how to deal with it.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Saudi Arabia scholar issues fatwa, says Muslims may pray in churches and synagogues

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A top scholar from Saudi Arabia has said that Islam is a religion of tolerance and mercy and that Muslims should spread true Islam and should be tolerant in their treatment of people from different religions.

Abdullah bin Sulaiman Al-Manea, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said that Islam does not support violence, intolerance or terror. Al-Manea gave a fatwa (religious advisory opinion), stating that Muslims may pray in Shiite or Sufi mosques, churches or synagogues, according to reports by Al-Anba’ Kuwaiti newspaper.

He added that all the land belong to God and cited the Prophet’s words:  “The earth has been made a place of prostration and a means of purification for me.”

The Saudi scholar said that Islam is a religion of tolerance that Muslims cannot have differences in the basic principles of Aqidah (creed) of Islam, but they may differ in the branches, according to Arab News reports.

Citing an occasion where the Prophet received a delegation of Christians from Najran in his mosques, and allowed them to perform their own prayers, Al-Manea said that this is how non-Muslims should be treated by followers of Islam. He also cited several other sayings of the Prophet which reflected his kindness and mercy on non-Muslims.

The scholar said that Islam spread in several countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, because of the good manners of Muslim merchants. He said the behaviour of the merchants attracted the citizens of these countries to embrace the religion.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES 

What was Trump’s speech on Islam missing? American Muslims.

1060x600-93172dac1665d855104936ea9bdb1b0ePresident Trump, like his predecessors before him, has discovered the potent language of religious tolerance and interfaith unity when discussing Islam, as he demonstrated in his speech in Saudi Arabia to leaders of some 50 Muslim nations. But unlike previous presidents, he has not linked that rhetoric with recognition of the large, vibrant Muslim community in the United States.

As a historian who has studied efforts in the past to build acceptance of religious pluralism in the United States, I am concerned by Trump’s departure from historical precedent.

Can a message of tolerance to Islam abroad be persuasive without a corresponding affirmation of American Muslims at home?

In his widely anticipated remarks on Islam and terrorism,  Trump avoided many of the missteps his critics feared. He notably abandoned the harsh rhetoric that characterized descriptions of Islam during his 2016 campaign. Trump has set aside his insistence on the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” He has also rejected the broad generalizations of Islam that marked his demand for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration because their hatred was “beyond comprehension.”

With the exception of one apparent reference to “Islamic terror” — present in his spoken words but not in the written text of the speech — Trump struck a tolerant, inclusive tone. In his declaration that he was “not here to lecture” was the promise that the United States would not tell others “how to worship.”

More notable than the language of tolerance was Trump’s new emphasis on interfaith commonality. He declared the campaign against terrorism not “a battle between different faiths” but rather a fight that encompassed them all. He noted that a terrorist who “falsely invokes the name of God” should be considered “an insult to every person of faith.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

Trump’s new tune on Islam unconvincing, experts in Mideast say

usa-trump-saudi(CNN) President Donald Trump’s speech Sunday will likely be met with skepticism and frustration in the Muslim world, according to experts in the Middle East who said his sudden shift in tone on Islam was unconvincing.

Trump gave his speech in Saudi Arabia, where he ditched his hard-line rhetoric from the 2016 election campaign and instead called Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”
Here’s what experts in three Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East thought of the speech.
 Jordan
Former Jordanian Justice Minister Ibrahim Aljazy said Trump’s shift in tone towards Muslims was notable.
Trump to Muslim world: Drive out terrorists
But Aljazy said that Jordanians and others in the Muslim world had hoped Trump would deliver clearer answers on American policy in the region.
“I would not call it a constructive tone since that people in the region, particularly Jordanians, are looking for a more clear approach to the Israeli policies and an end to settlements, which may pave the way for a true two-state solution and end of occupation,” he said.
“Referencing ‘Islamic’ terrorist organizations only will not be appreciated by the vast majority of people in the region when other forces are carrying out acts of aggression, especially as Arabs and Muslims are the prime victims of these organizations,” he said.
Trump also failed to acknowledge the importance of democracy and the rule of law in putting an end to the root causes of terrorism, Aljazy said.