Islam: One giant leap forward and one small step backwards

The giant leap forward …

is the promise by Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, to return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam.

Having lived in Saudi Arabia I know that his is a very big deal. The Saudi monarchy is surrounded by a circle of ideologically-strong imams and normally any reformist Saudi monarch is restricted in how far they can go with a reformist agenda. However, this balance of power between the state and religious authorities now seems to be changing.

In an interview with the Guardian, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne said the ultra-conservative state had been “not normal” for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”.

He also said in the interview:

“We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.”

Now, to hear this from a Saudi monarch speaking in public is a huge sea change. This young, dynamic incumbent monarch is moving to consolidate his authority and as such, according to the Guardian article, ‘seems to be sidelining those clerics whom he believes have failed to support him and demanding unquestioning loyalty from senior officials whom he has entrusted to drive a 15-year reform programme that aims to overhaul most aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

Central to the reforms has been the breaking of an alliance between hardline clerics who have long defined the national character and the House of Saud, which has run affairs of state. The changes have tackled head-on societal taboos such as the recently rescinded ban on women driving, as well as scaling back guardianship laws that restrict women’s roles and establishing an Islamic centre tasked with certifying the sayings of the prophet Muhammed.’

The Saudi leadership is well aware that economic transformation goes hand in hand with social transformation and that one cannot be achieved without the other. What they have to manage is the speed of the social transformation so that they do not face a backlash from the deeply conservative base – particularly outside the main cities – that may oppose what is effectively a cultural revolution.

In my opinion, the new generation of young Saudis – ones who I taught when I was in Saudi Arabia – are very different to their parent’s generation, having daily access to the internet, social media and satellite TV. As the article confirms, ‘Prince Mohammed had repeatedly insisted that without establishing a new social contract between citizen and state, economic rehabilitation would fail. “This is about giving kids a social life,” said a senior Saudi royal figure. “Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that – except the people in small towns. But they will learn.”

Full article here

The small step back…

is Quebec softening its face-covering ban amid criticism it targets Muslims.

Quebec’s Liberal government last week voted in the law – described by Quebec’s Justice Minister, Stéphanie Vallée, as the first of its kind in North America – barring public workers from covering their faces and obliging citizens to unveil when receiving services from government departments, municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities.

According to another article in the Guardian, ‘The move was blasted by critics who worried that it deliberately targets Muslims women and could potentially exclude women who wear the niqab or burqa from accessing health services, sitting for school exams or riding the bus. Others expressed concerns that the enforcement of the law would fall to public workers such as bus drivers and librarians, while legal analysts doubted that the legislation could withstand a court challenge.’

The article goes on to quote Vallée as saying, ‘”People would have to uncover their faces in order to ask a question of library staff or register at a medical clinic or hospital, but could leave their faces covered while browsing bookshelves or sitting in the waiting room. The ban would extend to public services such as attending university classes, seeking court documents from a clerk or picking up children from a public daycare.”‘

Now, I wrote a blog yesterday that quoted Milos Zeman, the President of Czech, who has described political correctness as “a euphemism for political cowardice”. The Quebec government seems to have subscribed to this with these recent statements; however, they are still showing more fortitude on Islamisation than the wet pro-immigrant, pro-fossil fuels Liberal Party leader and Prime Minster of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

Full article here