The last three decades proved to be quite difficult for the Saudi people. To begin with, a wave of radicalism struck the Islamic world after Khomeini’s revolution cast its dark shadow over all aspects of life. There was a surge in sentiments of hostilities and retribution, along with the desire to be contrite and to repent for one’s sins.
At this time, the average household was targeted by a barrage of proselytizing tapes and brochures. People stopped taking photographs, and even listening to a song on the radio started rousing feelings of guilt.
All things that brought joy were being denied, except for what the preachers approved of. It seemed that the whole society had been taken hostage, as the indoctrination swept through all spheres of life.
Good and evil became concepts for the radicals to determine. Life as we knew it completely changed. A few intellectuals and writers challenged these new concepts through literature — books, novels and newspapers. They led a resistance against the new armies of hatred. As a result, they were cast away, vilified and some eliminated.
Prince a blessing
There is a great Hadith attributed to the Pious Caliphs Umar and Uthman (may Allah be pleased with them) that says: “A person is more keen to respect the laws issued by the ruler than the laws stated in the Quran.”
This saying has been proven right throughout history. The most powerful methods of change in the history of societies come when rulers believe in a mission for their people, and establish systems and legal foundations to guard it. God has destined Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to put an end to this hijacking of Saudi society.
The last three decades will not continue in the years ahead. The Prince has reiterated this point in many interviews, most notably in his NEOM statement. Prince Mohammed has vowed to destroy extremism immediately because that page has been turned. The symbols of obscurantism, the advocates of hatred and leaders of gloom and doom have to retire.
The comprehensive development plan through which society is changing has involved the sectors of economy, sports, media and entertainmentFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Unless they formulate new ideas, bring about intellectual transformations, and initiate revisions that make them part of the ‘normal life’ as described by the Emir, their time is up. Heraclitus had said, “No man ever steps into the same river twice”, and so life is in constant state of flux.
Another important speech in this respect was made by Turki Al-Sheikh, an advisor to the Royal Court and head of the Saudi Sports Authority. At a press conference called for allowing the entry of players’ families in the sporting arena, he stressed: “The King and Crown Prince are strict in eradicating the religiously prohibited as well as in preserving the permissible. This idea is now clear.”
For the radicals end-time theories became a popular theme in their tapes and brochures of indoctrination. Their aim was to develop in people a herd-like mentality, who need not enjoy any delights of this world.
The Juhayman precedent
One of the important factors that facilitated this way of thinking was the Juhayman uprising of November 20, 1979. While it is true that the organization was struck down by the Saudi forces, its sympathizers were not completely eradicated, unlike the Battle of Sabilla led by King Abdulaziz on March 30, 1929.
In the absence of a strong political will to rip the movement from its roots, some of its ideas continued to spread, spawning new followers. The mistake was augmented when preachers of this ideology were given freedom.
With the exception of the events of 1994, when extremists were arrested and imprisoned, there was no real official effort toward addressing the issue and from taking action against the preachers.
Theories on permissibility
The most potent weapon in the arsenal of the radicals has been their imposition of restrictions even on the permissible. Although, things that are forbidden by religion are authenticated by clear evidence. Most of the prohibitions that these radicals tried to introduce in society are permissible in Islam.
Thus, the Qur'anic verse explicitly states: “Who can forbid Allah’s favors which He has produced for His servants, along with the joys of livelihood?” This war was conducted with the aid of cassettes, pamphlets and sermons in order to target the sensitive conscience of society, by creating its many doubts. They made society believe that the punishment of God can be avoided only by following the preacher and obeying the teachings of the ‘Sheikh’.
Also read: Saudi Arabia, before 1979 and after 2017
However, we are today living in a different situation. Things have returned to normal and all the decisions taken by Saudi Arabia — such as sanctifying the permissible again — marks the beginning of change.
However, we must be mindful of the 30 years of strife and destruction that society experienced as part of its history. The comprehensive development plan through which society is changing has involved the sectors of economy, sports, media and entertainment.
In fact, entertainment is a human right and not a luxury, even if some might contest this. It is not a time of awakening (Sahwa), nor is it the time of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the time for development and the victory of human existence.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.