There can be no doubt that these reforms signal a major theological shift, and if implemented successfully, will prove to be a watershed moment in the history of Sunni Islam.
It would appear from recent reports that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is making good on his 2017 promise that he would return the country to a moderate Islam and “eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts.” Last month, The Washington Post disclosed that the kingdom had started purging its textbooks of anti-Semitic and misogynistic content, and this month Reuters revealed that four new laws — the personal status law, the civil transactions law, the penal code of discretionary sanctions and the law of evidence — are being finalised with the ultimate aim of codifying the entire Muslim law in consonance with the principles of shariah and best international practices. Saudi women have welcomed the move, with lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif expressing the hope that it will empower both women and society in general.
There can be no doubt that these reforms signal a major theological shift, and if implemented successfully, will prove to be a watershed moment in the history of Sunni Islam. The crown prince’s announcement is also a courageous attempt to break the state-ulema nexus that has been the cause of Muslim intellectual and economic backwardness for centuries — a fact convincingly exposed by scholar Ahmet T Kuru in his new book Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment. It was this nexus that buttressed the post-Prophetic Muslim expansionism started by Muawiya in 661 CE with the launch of the Umayyad Caliphate. Questionable traditions (hadiths) were fabricated in the name of the Prophet to scripturally entrench the dynastic ambitions of the ruling family. These hadiths otherised rival tribes and communities, and marginalised women.
BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia has been sharply criticized over the decades for school textbooks that preach women’s subservience to men, anti-Semitism and a general enmity toward religions other than Islam. But those textbooks have been slowly scrubbed of much of this objectionable content, with particularly significant revisions made in the fall.
Gone is a section on sodomy that was supportive of capital punishment for homosexual relations. Gone are most adulations of extremist martyrdom and its characterization as the highest aspiration of Islam. Anti-Semitic references and calls to “fight Jews” are now far fewer, with the latest edition of a 10th-grade textbook having removed a passage quoting the prophet Muhammad as saying, “The [Day of Judgement] will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them [all].”
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), an Israel-based group that monitors school curriculums, welcomed the changes. The group’s chief executive, Marcus Sheff, called them “quite astonishing.”
When Chinese diplomat Tan Banglin defended his country’s treatment of Muslims amid an international outcry, his comments were less remarkable than where he made them.
In a column last July for one of the most widely read newspapers in Saudi Arabia—the traditional protector of Muslims worldwide—Tan talked about how the Communist Party had united with people in Xinjiang province, leading to “great” changes. That’s as nations including the U.S. were accusing China of putting Uighurs into detention camps.
The voice given to China’s consul general in Jeddah, less than 70 kilometers from Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, reflects the new political reckoning under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he prioritizes more secular national interests at a critical juncture for the kingdom. And it’s one that may serve him well as the administration changes in Washington, despite U.S. opposition to Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang.
The Saudi world view is being shaped more by hard-nosed business calculations, shifting geopolitical realities and the emergence of clean energy as a competitor to oil while facing a challenge from Turkey for leadership of the Sunni Muslim sphere.
The end of oil, the Abraham Accords and Turkey are forcing Gulf states to renegotiate the role of religion in their societies. Talking up openness and moderation, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha have different playbooks – but share a common aim
It wasn’t long ago that Gulf states were actively promoting ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam, and didn’t shy away from cultivating political Islam either. The U.S. National Intelligence Assessment from April 1970 judged Riyadh as “likely to support conservative non-governmental groups in the Arab world, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”
But times are changing. Gulf states are being forced into a comprehensive rethink of their religious, political and economic systems, triggered by, most immediately, the prospect of drastically declining oil revenues as global demand shifts away from dependence on hydrocarbons.
Small gestures have hinted at the development of a closer affinity between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but an academic article on the Prophet Muhammad confirms it further.
As Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Israel warms up, its people-to-people ties are supplementing its diplomatic gestures. Now, for the first time in history a Saudi academic has published a paper in an Israeli journal, with the aim to ‘bring the two nations closer’.
Professor Mohammed Ibrahim Alghbban from King Saud University in Riyadh, published a Hebrew article in Kesher, the journal of the Shalom Rosenfeld Institute for Research of Jewish Media and Communication, at Tel Aviv University.
Professor Raanan Rein, head of the Shalom Rosenfeld Institute, said the move was unprecedented and was driven by Alghbban’s aim to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The Jerusalem post writes, “The Saudi professor said he wrote the article to improve Muhammad’s image among Israelis.”
BEIRUT, Lebanon — For much of his life, Abdul-Halim al-Akoum stashed away cash in hopes of one day traveling from his Lebanese mountain village to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims who can are obliged to make once in their lives.He was all set to go this year until the coronavirus pandemic forced Saudi Arabia to effectively cancel the hajj for what some scholars say may be the first time in history.
“It is the dream of every Muslim believer to visit Mecca and do the hajj,” said Mr. al-Akoum, 61, a village official. “But the pandemic came with no warning and took away that dream.”
The Saudi announcement sent shock waves of sadness and disappointment across the Muslim world, upending the plans of millions of believers to make a trip that many look forward to their whole lives and which, for many, marks a profound spiritual awakening.
A 72-year-old retired port worker in Pakistan will stay home, despite his six children having pooled their money to finance his trip. A mother in Kenya will forgo visiting sites she has long dreamed of seeing. An Egyptian school administrator named Zeinab Ibrahim burst into tears.
“It was my only wish,” Ms. Ibrahim said. “To cancel it completely is such a shame. May God relieve us of this burden.”
DUBAI – A Saudi official said Tuesday that the hajj pilgrimage, which usually draws up to 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world, will only see at the most a few thousand pilgrims next month due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
The kingdom’s Hajj Minister Muhammad Benten said a “small and very limited” number of people — even as low as just 1,000 from inside the kingdom — will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage to ensure social distancing and crowd control amid the global virus outbreak.
“The number, God willing, may be in the thousands. We are in the process of reviewing so it could be 1,000 or less, or a little more,” Benten said in a virtual press conference.
While the decision to drastically curb this year’s hajj was largely expected, it remains unprecedented in Saudi Arabia’s nearly 90-year history and effectively bars all Muslims from outside the kingdom from travelling there to performing the pilgrimage.
The Saudi government waited until just five weeks before the hajj to announce its decision. The timing indicates the sensitivity around major decisions concerning the hajj that affect Muslims around the world.
“This is a very sensitive operation and we are working with experts at the Health Ministry,” Benten said, stressing the importance of protecting the lives and health of pilgrims.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — In a mud-walled village in the Persian Gulf, a Christian woman sheds tears of love for a Muslim merchant. But he is stuck in a miserable marriage to a woman who longs for another Muslim man. But she can’t have him, because he is crazy about the local rabbi’s daughter.
These tangles of interreligious intrigue unspool in a new blockbuster television series that has set off heated debates across the Arab world about the region’s historical relationships with Jewish communities and the shifting stances of some of its current leaders toward Israel.
Fans laud the program, set in the 1940s and 1950s, for highlighting an often overlooked aspect of the region’s past — Jewish communities in the Persian Gulf — while providing a much-needed example of coexistence among different faiths.
But critics have blasted it as a blatant effort to reshape Arab views of Israel to pave the way for formal relations, or what many in the Arab world call “normalization.”
But the virus’s effect on the Islamic holy month is just one aspect that will be long remembered, a prominent Palestinian journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan, wrote this week.
The other reason this Ramadan won’t soon be forgotten is because “it witnessed the largest normalization campaign, driven by the Saudi media, with help from the government, and coordinated with the Israeli occupation state,” Mr. Atwan said.
Suspicions that the historical TV drama, “Um Haroun,” or “Mother of Aaron,” is part of a state-sponsored push to sway opinions are widespread. The show airs on MBC, the Arab world’s largest private broadcaster, but one ultimately controlled by the Saudi state.
Understanding the events of 1979 is crucial for those trying to figure out a better future for today’s Middle East.
What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world. We repeat it like a mantra. You will hear it from Iran to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and in my own country, Lebanon. For us, the past is a different country, one not mired in the horrors of sectarian killings. It is a more vibrant place, without the crushing intolerance of religious zealots and seemingly endless, amorphous wars.
Though the past had coups and wars too, they were contained in time and space, and the future still held much promise. What happened to us? The question may not occur to those too young to remember a different world, whose parents did not tell them of a youth spent reciting poetry in Peshawar, debating Marxism in the bars of Beirut, or riding bicycles on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. The question may surprise those in the West who assume that the extremism and bloodletting of today have always been the norm.
Without an understanding of what was lost and how it happened—and, crucially, why the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran played such a crucial role in this unraveling—a better future will remain elusive, and the world’s understanding of the Middle East will remain incomplete.
There are many turning points in the region’s modern history that could explain how we ended up in these depths of despair—from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. None, on its own, paints a complete picture. Instead, I look to 1979, when three major events took place: the Iranian Revolution, which culminated in the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran in February; the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca by Saudi zealots in November; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, the first battleground for jihad in modern times and an effort supported by the United States. These acts occurred almost independently of one another, but the combination of all three was toxic, and nothing was ever the same again. From this noxious brew was born the Saudi-Iran rivalry.