“I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young. We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era. That age is over.” This is what Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post during an interview with David Ignatius.
The Deputy Crown Prince revealed the path of transformation on social, intellectual and cultural levels, for the welfare of the society, and improving the quality of life.
During the past three decades, Saudi society was controlled by need-of-the -hour thinking and wasn’t in a position to respond to the developments in the region. It entered into a phase of recession following the Khomeini revolution and following the practices of the Salafist group led by Juhayman al-Otaybi.
Ideological sensitivities thus surfaced and unilateral movements that attack anyone who disagrees with them took control of religious platforms. Back then, symbols of the sahwa (Islamic awakening) as well as the leftists were impressed by the Khomeini revolution.
The prince believes that the essential condition for reform lies in the people’s desire to achieve change. “The most concerning thing is if the Saudi people are not convinced. If the Saudi people are convinced, the sky is the limit,” he said.
Change is a trade-off between politicians and society. If we take a look at social transformations and changes in Saudi Arabia during the past two years, we will be amazed. People have voiced their interest in entertainment and love for music leading to concerts being organized. A Japanese orchestra even performed an opera event.
The practices of extremists intervening in the private lives of others have been limited. Two years ago, a man could not reassuringly sit with his family in a café or restaurant or mall or shop comfortably. Social change is not something that’s drastically noticed as societies which transform do not know the extent of their change. It’s a different era and a historic turnaround.
All societies go through phases of light and darkness. Even Europe passed through religious and civil wars. Europe was captive to the Church during the Dark Ages. They suffered from Christian extremism and had inspection courtsTurki Aldakhil
Prince Mohammed has played a major role in this change, harmonizing religious traditions and Islamic Shariah. This change serves Shariah and its principles and concepts and responds to religious guidance.
In the Washington Post article, Ignatius wrote that the prince “argues that extreme religious conservatism in Saudi Arabia is a relatively recent phenomenon, born in reaction to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Sunni radicals later that year.”
This is in fact true. For example, during our parents’ times, the Saudi society did not differentiate between Sunnis and Shiites. There used to be Sunni-Shiite marriages. People worked and traveled together without any hard feelings. No one felt this was wrong or felt guilty about it.
Spread of extremism
What further proves that the Iranian revolution played a role in spreading extremism is the fact that the generation of the 1970s joined Islamist groups. Back then, it was rare for someone not to join the Muslim Brotherhood or the Arab Afghans. The Iranian revolution created “the crisis circumstances” which the Muslim world lives through today.
The Saudi state’s age is 300 years and its values have not negatively affected the Islamic world. This transformation, however, rather happened with the Khomeini revolution.
All societies go through phases of light and darkness. Even Europe passed through religious and civil wars. Europe was captive to the Church during the Dark Ages. They suffered from Christian extremism and had inspection courts.
Intellectuals were persecuted, philosophers were burnt alive and inventors were executed. They were pursued and murdered. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel and people made it out of this darkness.
It’s a rough path but with men’s will and determination, and owing to the efforts of the society and experts, they could achieve the impossible.
The article was first published in Al Sharq al-Awsat on April 25, 2016.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.
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