If the relations between the countries of the region were to reflect sectarian strife, the people would certainly die as a result of war. Therefore, it is necessary to realize that the geographical borders are a constant and a destiny that can’t be escaped by building bars. Thus, we ought to highlight the common denominator. History between Saudi Arabia and Iraq was not all rivalry and brusqueness. Anyone who understands the chaos of sectarian discourse and the magnitude of the poisonous atmosphere will not be surprised by what was said in light of Moqtada al-Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia. In fact, during the Friday sermon on August 4, 2017, al Sadr speculated on his own assassination saying: “If my life were to end, it would be because my last steps bothered so many,” in reference to his visit to Saudi Arabia.
This visit came after that of the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister. The President of the Republic has also participated in the American Islamic Summit on the 20th-21st of May, 2017. Saudi officials from the Foreign Minister and military delegations have also visited Iraq. It seems that there are sincere intentions by the two parties to improve the relationship; a vigorous pursuit of good neighborliness, and a keen will to find mutual points in favor of both countries and peoples. The relationship between Baghdad and Riyadh has unfortunately been greatly affected by the chaos of the sectarian rhetoric, hate speech and generalizations. Such rhetoric drains the countries and strengthens the sting of terrorism. Al-Jurjani (died in 471 H) says: “If any matter is treated by intruders and looked after by strangers then it will grow in importance and causes infliction” Dala'il al-I'jaz (Intimations of Inimitability).
It is not reasonable that Saudi Arabia, with 28 million people and two million square kilometers of land, is full of hatred for Iraqis, as if the country does not have any intellectuals who fight sectarianism and face sectarian anger as a result. We all recall how Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published the proposal for the Nobel Prize award to Ayatollah Sistani (21/3/2005). Jamal al-Khashoggi (editor-in-chief of Al Watan newspaper) also called to grant him the award for “the service of Islam, not just Nobel.”
When one of the Sahouiyin criticized al-Sistani, Abdul Rahman al Rached wrote: "He is among the thousands of preachers who have engaged in sectarian strife, who know nothing about politics and believe in nonsense" (al Sharq al Awsat 21/1/2010). On the same issue, Turki al-Dakhil wrote: “Being a Sunni does not mean that I am lining up against another Saudi who is my partner in citizenship” (Al-Watan, January 17th 2010), referring to the imitative of Sistani from the Saudi Shiites.
It is not reasonable that Saudi Arabia, with 28 million people and two million square kilometers of land, is full of hatred for Iraqis, as if the country does not have any intellectuals who fight sectarianism and face sectarian anger as a resultRasheed al-Khayoun
Al Sadr’s Iraqi turban was not the first non-Hajj visit to Saudi Arabia. In the 19th century Muhammad Sa'id al-Habboubi (died 1915) frequently visited Najd (al-Khakani, the poets of al-Ghari), and wrote: “Your country is the soul and the lover is an Iraqi whose only hope is a meeting,” (Al-Diwan) the interpreter of al Diwan did not clarify whether the poet was talking to his beloved woman from Najd or a friend. This was written during the time that Wahhabism was common there.
In 1963, Sheikh Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah went to Hajj (died in 1979) and wrote: “I met with some of the scholars of Wahhabism. We discussed the concept of Islam and the reality of polytheism. Some were hardliners, keen to block any window of rapprochement and brotherhood, while others well full of humility and tolerance in all differences except in the reconstruction of graves and the construction of domes above it "(Mughniyah, this is Wahhabism). This is the doctrine of most Hanbali and it is not directed against a particular sect. The first dome which was removed in Najd was that of Sahabah Zaid, the brother of Omar ibn al-Khattab, who was killed in the war of al-Yamamah (11/12 AH).
Opportunities for agreement rather than separation
Those who were described as hardliners by Mughniyah became the subject of great debate by some of the successor of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab himself (died in 1792). The world has changed and those who live in the past will stay there. Let the prays be for the people promoting modesty between the two countries, and they are not few if we were to leave all generalizations behind. They will eventually contribute to normalizing the atmosphere and establishing equal relations through seven hundred kilometers, so as to ensure mutual benefits.
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (killed in 2003) also visited Saudi Arabia, followed by an official visit by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (died in 2009) along with leaders of the turbans and the effendis of the Islamic Dawa Party, who worked in Saudi universities during the 1980s. Political agreements were drawn with them in the 1990s. There is also the memory of Ali Jawad al-Tahir (died in 1996) and Mahdi al-Makhzoumi (died in 1993) and dozens of other senior Iraqi academics. The latter’s portrait is still hanging in the entrance hall of the university. Not to mention the facilities and the welcome that the authorities of the great Najaf receive during Hajj and Umrah. In fact, Hussein al-Sadr, the nephew of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (executed in 1980), greeted the former Saudi ambassador in Baghdad with great enthusiasm in an attempt to soften the atmosphere between the two countries.
I see opportunities for agreement rather than separation. The existence of thousands of survivors, who were born and raised on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and have been flooded with passion for everything that is Iraqi, regardless of the doctrine of the poetry, singing, science and sweet neighborhood is a living proof. Politics is a game based on interests, and these interests can only be implemented through close ties of friendship and a separation between the sectarian and the national, the religious and the political.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Rasheed al-Khayoun, an Iraqi scholar and lecturer in Islamic philosophy, religion, and history. He is the author of Religions and Sects in Iraq(“Al-Adyan wa ‘l-Madhahib fi ‘l-Iraq”) (Berlin: Dar al-Kamel, 2003) and The Mu’tazili Sect: From Theology to Philosophy(“Madh’hab al-Mu’tazila Min al-Kalam ila ‘l-Falsafa”) (Beirut: Dal al-Nubugh, 1994), among numerous other books and monographs. Holding a PhD in Islamic Philosophy from Sofia University in Bulgaria and a BA from Aden University in Yemen, Dr. Al-Khayoun travels and lectures across the Arab region. As a voice on contemporary politics and culture, he pens a weekly column for the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat and UAE daily Al-Ittihad, in addition to articles in dozens of other newspapers and magazines. He has also been a featured guest on the BBC World Service, among other international and pan-Arab broadcasts. Khayoun is also a member of the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies in Beirut.