Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulrahman narrated in his book “Saudi Arabia: Heritage and Future” the story of a young Saudi princess who had heard and asked about the founder of the second Saudi state, Imam Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed, and his sword.
The sword is best known in a poem, and re-emerged as a matter of interest a few years ago when Bahrain’s king returned it as a gift to the late Saudi King Abdullah during a huge ceremony. The young princess – who, like the late king and the author of the book, is a grandchild of the imam – asked how she was related to him!
Prince Turki depended on this ironic incident to begin his book, which was recently published. I consider it the second most important book to tackle the crisis of Saudi identity and alienation after Egyptian researcher and journalist Mohammed Jalal Kishk’s book “The Saudis and the Islamic Solution.”
This book was published more than 30 years ago, when the question of an Islamic solution emerged with the return of political Islam and the victory of its sectarian version in Iran. It is time to put this book back on school shelves, so the current generation learns and feels proud of the work of a critical mind that addressed the history of their country and the Islamic project that created it.
Prince Turki depended on the story of the young princess to signify a worrying situation and write an introduction to his important book. The worrying situation is the disconnect of the current Saudi generation from “their ancestors and what they have achieved and left as a heritage, and which can go as far as doubting [the latter] or even destroying it.”
I think this is due to many reasons. The most important are decades of dependence on oil affluence, and the collapse of the old Arab system that was formed during the same period as the current Saudi state. The collapse was accompanied by a rise in violence that was unjustly associated with Islam and the inherited principles on which the kingdom was formed.
The book comes as an outcry from a Saudi prince calling for an awakening that revives what was inherited from our grandparents, takes pride in it and seeks to live according to it. This legacy is what succeeded in building a state that overcame the challenges of a cruel era, and united all the people of the Arabian Peninsula under one nation and identity.
More importantly for him, it protected and kept Islamic sharia as a basis for governance. He thinks this is the most important achievement and legacy for Saudis, who have “until now managed to at least reverse the direction of the current” that uprooted or confused the principle of resorting to sharia in most Islamic countries.
He notes that what is left of sharia in some countries is what is left of the sharia that the Ottoman state resorted to when it was first established, but then under pressure from modernization and superpowers, decreased it and separated it from governance and politics. What was left is what Arab countries inherited. These countries were liberated from Ottoman rule only to become Western colonies.
Today’s generation needs something that reminds them of their ancestors and revives their valuesJamal Khashoggi
The Saudi project survived this, as it went back to the origins and legacy of sharia. Although it has not achieved this perfectly yet, it is still the only state able to balance between sharia and modernization. To build on this requires a new revival.
Prince Turki does not want to return to values as theoretical ideas but as practices. He complains that “these values’ influence in society has begun to vanish and shake in the past decades. We have begun to lose the glow of our legacy, and this has gone as far as [affecting our] behaviors and practices [to the point where] they contradict with our legacy and morals.”
In his book, he talks about discrimination, corruption, lack of transparency, and the loss of the culture of work. What worries him most is the attack on the most important legacy, sharia, which is responsible for the kingdom’s survival and success. He believes no country can succeed without a basic law, regardless of the nature of the law. Saudi’ fate is that sharia is our ruling law.
We are in a strange situation as the inherited is under unreasonable - if not ill-intentioned - attack by some. We face an enemy targeting us with its ideology, violence and murder. It was formed in the shape of Al-Qaeda, and is now in the shape of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It adopts extremist rhetoric that uses the same legacy and symbols that the prince defends.
Some direct accusations against political Islam, ignoring the idea that there is no non-political Islam, and that the Saudi Kingdom is the mother and father of political Islam, giving Muslims hope in the power of the religion, and protecting the idea of governing via Islam at a time of secular domination and separation of religion and state.
If this attack succeeds, Saudi Arabia will lose the legacy that made it. If it does so, unity will be threatened as it was achieved by that legacy. The nation will no longer exist. Today’s generation needs something that reminds them of their ancestors and revives their values.
The first step is knowledge and appreciation of the legacy, efforts and sacrifices that everyone made. All generations must be loyal to this legacy and proud of it, because it is ours and we produced it. This legacy is not for a specific group or certain individuals. It was established with the participation of everyone’s ancestors.
This article first appeared in Al Hayat on July 16, 2016.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi