Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - REUTERS
CAIRO: 28 September 2017: Saudi Arabia has witnessed huge unprecedented changes since 2016, including paving the way towards a more moderate Islam, which were met by national and international acceptance and support.
“I’m not sure the world has understood the importance of what is happening in Saudi. This is like a tsunami,” Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France said during the Future Investment Initiative conference on October 24.
In an interview during the conference, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “We are returning to where we were; to a moderate Islam that is open-minded to the world, all religions, all traditions and people.”
Asked about latest decisions, including allowing Saudi women to drive for the first time in the history of the country, Salman said that the Islamic “revival project” started in Saudi Arabia and the entire region after 1979.
Juhaiman Al-Otaibi – File photo
In 1979, Saudi Arabia was victim to a terrorist attack when Juhaiman Al-Otaibi, who was a soldier in the Saudi Arabian National Guard Forces (SANG), led an armed attack on Mecca. Together with Mohammed Abdullah Al-Qahtany and a number of militants from several countries, terrorists captured worshippers inside the Great Mosque of Mecca as hostages.
The militants claimed they were defending Islam and fulfilling an Islamic duty. Days later, Saudi forces attacked the Great Mosque, after a number of Islamic scholars supported the use of force in such a holy place for this situation. A number of militants were killed including Al-Qahtany. Others including Al-Otaiby were executed in public squares.
“We will not waste thirty years of our lives dealing with extreme ideas. We will eradicate them immediately,” said Salman.
Commenting on Salman’s speech about moderate Islam, Saudi journalist and author Jamal Khashoggi wrote on twitter: the speech of the crown prince came at the right time. The kingdom wasted decades following a narrow-minded Salafist ideology. It’s time to allow the freedom of Islam with the pluralism and opinions it holds.
In an Interview with CNN, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Saudi Minister of Finance said: “I think there is a direct relation between Islamic moderation, welcoming investments, economic development, and going to the next level. I think moderate Islam is our faith, our culture, our social fabric.”
Simon Henderson, the director of the Institute's Gulf and Energy Policy Program described the Salman’s speech about Islamic moderation as unusual. However, he said in an interview with CNN that the challenge is how to achieve it. “There is a possibility that an opposition would emerge from imams (Islamic scholars) in Saudi Arabia who were considered politically important. They are less important now but are still needed to support this project.”
Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz, former Grand mufti of Saudi Arabia (1993 – 1999) and other famous Saudi scholars issued fatwas (Islamic opinions) prohibiting women from driving.
In 2013, Abdul Latif bin Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, head of Saudi Arabia's religious police told Reuters that Sharia (Islamic law) doesn’t prohibit women from driving and that his position does not enable him to change laws. Saudi Arabia has been the only country where women were not allowed to drive until King Salman issued a decree on September 26, 2017, allowing women to drive. The matter that has arguably changed the path of history.
In April 2016, the Saudi Council of Ministers decided to limit the role of the General Presidency of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a religious government agency that has strict Islamic duties, including separation between men and women, forcing dress-codes like the Niqab for women, and ensuring that Muslims pray during prayer times. After the ministerial decree was issued, the members of the agency lost the right to stop people, detain or chase them, or asking people for their IDs.