Entertainment in the Saudi kingdom has a history which extends across four decades or more. Movies were played by sports clubs in most Saudi cities and music concerts have also been common. For instance, singer Mohammed Abdu held a concert in 1401 AH in Qassim’s Buraidah. Saudi singer Abdullah al-Suraikh held a concert at the Tuwaiq Club in Al-Zulfi in 1402 AH.
A group of Saudi artists headed by Abdu and late artist Salama al-Abdullah held a concert in 1405 AH in Hail. Back then, Rashed al-Majed who was still a rising star, participated in the event. As for Abha, it resisted extremists for decades and until recent times, many art events were held at the Muftaha Theatre during the summer. These events were held there even after the so-called Islamized awakening.
This phase of awakening witnessed extremism which spread in all Saudi cities and rural areas. This changed the scene as extremism and excessive zeal became the common orientation dominating over forms of piousness. Tolerance was no more and events involving entertainment were cancelled, as if they were the work of the devil and must be fought. Which led to demise of people’s smiles.
If there is an opinion they like and agree with, they elevate it as if it has everyone’s approval, and they do so even if many religious scholars do not agree with itMohammed Al Shaikh
In addition to the spread of extremism, the authority of those representing it increased and most of them took charge of preaching affairs and of the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice. Restraints became a habit and tolerance was viewed as negligence. Many doctrinal issues which stirred controversy among sects turned into issues which they claimed were unanimous. The most famous of these entertainment-related affairs was singing and music.
Islamic experts have disagreed over this matter as some permitted it, some said it was unfavorable and others prohibited it. However, one of the principles of the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice is not to prohibit a vice where there is a controversy among Ahl al-Sunnah experts. However, the extremists as they’re known, and from whom we’ve suffered in the Saudi kingdom, do not care about controversial matters. If there is an opinion they like and agree with, they elevate it as if it has everyone’s approval, and they do so even if many religious scholars do not agree with it.
They intentionally restrain others as much as they can, either to obstruct others’ opinions or to follow a jurist who’s well-known for his extremism. According to their standards, the more tolerance there is, the less their control over people and the less their influence. The opposite is true. Most of those who rode the wave of awakening care about power, influence and tutelage over society. They care about expanding prohibitions in order to practice their authority. They strongly fight and oppose any argument that may, through more tolerance and leniency, decrease their powers.
After all these givens, it’s clear that entertainment, in all its forms, was strongly present in the past. Restraints and besieging happiness are just an occurrence during our times.
This was first featured on Al Jazirah on March 7, 2017
Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd.