On 7 October 1993, a royal decree was issued for the establishment of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Saudi Arabia, with its full nomenclature being The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance.
From its preamble, we come to know that Sheikh Mufti General Abdul Aziz bin Baz had adjudged “the need to establish the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and guidance and advocacy to God Almighty, and our support for it”. At that time, the state of Islamic understanding in the region was characterized by agitation and impulsiveness.
Its rhetoric opposed the Gulf War, the deployment of American forces, and there was a rise in ‘jihadist literature’ after the Afghan-Soviet war. All these developments made governments more interested than ever in monitoring the religious discourse, and controlling any potential political fallout.
Before the establishment of the Ministry, anyone could deliver a lecture in any mosque or distribute political flyers in any shop or mosque. The government had to find a formula for institutionalizing the religious discourse against any politicization of any religious interpretation of the time.
The implementation of the royal decree in mid-1994 helped extinguish the fires. The symbols of the so-called ‘Sahwa’ or ‘awakening’ were seized before things could get out of hand.
A few days ago, Dr. Tewfik al-Sudairi, deputy minister of Islamic affairs, published a book entitled Diagnosing the Sahwa - Analysis and Recollections, in which he recalls the different trends of the times.
The author admits that the current situation allows him to write such a book and bring out memories out of the drawer and in to the printing press.
Muslim Brotherhood developed its own strategies for garnering leadership, while the Sahwa sought to spread its influence through propaganda and control over mosquesFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Al-Sudairi is known for his moderate views – both in the administrative and intellectual realms. He has been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sahwa movement since his early years, although his criticism was not abrasive because of the circumstances of the past. The ministry, since its establishment, could not stay away from all the confusion of various Islamic currents.
On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood developed its own strategies for garnering leadership, while the Sahwa sought to spread its influence through propaganda and through its control over mosques.
These two trends opposed al-Madinah Salafism, what is currently known as al-Jamiyya. However, the ministry now has more than 90,000 mosques, but still these currents wish to dominate them.
A guiding light
In the book Dr. Tewfik al-Sudairi says: “My generation witnessed the refraction of the national left, and the beginning of the glow of Islamic thought, or what can be called the thought of the lucrative interpretation and the employment of religion specifically with a political interest. I was aware of this new wave and I followed the intellectual movement of my predecessors which took full form before the 1967 war. But I have not fully witnessed it because of my age.”
“I also grew up in a conservative and religious environment that is deeply loyal to the identity of the Saudi state, and therefore I cannot write about that period as I write about the Islamic political dynamic movement since I witnessed it in school, mosques, the university, the cultural activities and the different walks of life.”
Dr. Tewfik al-Sudairi discusses in the book the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Juhayman incident and the effects of the Sahwa. Saudi newspapers have published several reviews of the book, according importance to this book, given the position and the eminence of the writer.
The book can be turned into a guide at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, in order to immunize the workers from the radical ideas of various Islamist movements. This is not difficult, as this lies at the core of the ministry's work. I recall that one of the main objectives and policies of the Ministry, specifically its second objective, refers to the subject of “qualified preachers”.
The book could prove useful in refining the qualification of those responsible for religious discourse. Al-Sudairi is not far from drawing policies and adapting to the great Saudi shift against the outlook of the past 30 years that destroyed, exhausted and ruined both society and government.
Let the experience be a lesson to us; vital institutions lead societies to change, especially since there is a political desire to bridge the gap and overcome the old discourse. It is a difficult and necessary task so as not to witness turmoil once or twice every year, leaving behind many who neither repent nor remember.
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.
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