Saudi Crown Prince Vows to Restore 'Moderate, Open' Islam and End Extremism

Published October 25th, 2017 - 08:09 GMT
Saudi Arabia has recently started to loosen its ultra-conservative rules, including allowing women to drive and hosting a mixed-gender national day (AFP/File)
Saudi Arabia has recently started to loosen its ultra-conservative rules, including allowing women to drive and hosting a mixed-gender national day (AFP/File)

 

  • Mohammed bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia will "end extremism very soon"
  • He said Saudi Arabia shouldn't spend decades dealing with "destructive ideas"
  • The powerful Crown Prince has pushed reforms since his June 21 appointment 
  • He's regarded as being the force behind lifting country's driving ban for women

 

Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince on Tuesday vowed to restore "moderate, open" Islam, breaking with ultra-conservative clerics in favor of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth.

"We are returning to what we were before - a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world," Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said at an economic forum in Riyadh.

"We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today," the 32-year-old, who was appointed Crown Prince in June, added. "We will end extremism very soon."

Saudi Arabia has recently started to loosen its ultra-conservative rules, including allowing women to drive and hosting a mixed-gender national day. But it has long been blamed for backing terror organizations around the world.

It was claimed last year that the Saudi Arabian government had links to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000. 15 of the 19 men involved in the attacks were from Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia is home to more jihadis who have returned from the war in Syria than almost all other countries, figures revealed this week.

Only Turkey and Tunisia are home to more people who traveled to fight for ISIS with some 760 having returned to their homeland, according to a report written by Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6.

And the kingdom is 'at the top of the list' of countries exporting extremist Islam to the U.K., a report from earlier this year revealed.

 

 

Today, Prince Mohammed said he would see to it his country "moved past 1979," a reference to the rise of political Islam in the years following the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.

The early 1970s had ushered major change into the oil-rich kingdom, including the introduction of television and schools for girls.

But that came to a halt as the Al-Sheikh family, which controls religious and social regulation in the kingdom, and the ruling Al-Saud family slowly reinforced the conservative policies Riyadh is known for.

"We are returning to what we were before - a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions, and people around the globe," he said.

The crown prince's statement is the most direct attack by a top official on the Gulf country's influential conservative religious establishment.

While the Saudi government continues to draw criticism from international rights groups, Prince Mohammed has pushed ahead with reforms since his sudden appointment on June 21.

He is widely regarded as being the force behind King Salman's decision last month to lift a long-standing ban on women driving.

He has vowed to modernize certain sectors in the kingdom, hinting that long-banned cinemas would soon be permitted as part of ambitious reforms for a post-oil era that could shake up the austere kingdom's cultural scene.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has organized concerts, a Comic-Con pop culture festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

Saudi Arabia has also made efforts to diversify its revenue streams and overhaul its oil-dependent economy and conservative society.

 

 

Earlier Tuesday, Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund announced the launch of an independent economic zone along the kingdom's northwestern coastline.

The £380billion ($500 billion) project, dubbed NEOM, will operate under regulations separate from those that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia.

The 26,500 square km (10,230 square miles) zone, known as NEOM, will focus on industries including energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment, Crown Prince Mohammed said.

And despite developing a city based on alternative energy, Prince Mohammed said that he still expects oil prices to rise.

Crown Prince Mohammed has rocketed to the pinnacle of power in the kingdom, pushing a reform agenda called Vision 2030 which is aimed at weaning the country off oil and introducing social reforms.

But critics say Prince Mohammed is not doing enough to liberalize politics in a country where the king enjoys absolute authority.

Monitors, including Amnesty International, say Saudi Arabia has in parallel stepped up its repression of peaceful rights activists.

Saudi authorities last month arrested dozens of activists, including clerics, without disclosing any charges against them.

Still, however, the United States and U.K. continued to sell arms to the country.

Saudi Arabia has been buying arms from the U.K. since the 1960s. British sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia topped £1.1billion ($1.4 billion) for the first half of 2017.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a $350billion (£266 billion) arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

 

 

The kingdom has engaged in a 60-year, multi-million dollar campaign to advance its extremist brand of Wahhabi Islam in British Muslim communities, according to a study by the Henry Jackson Society.

This has been achieved through endowment grants to mosques, the funding of Islamic education institutions and the training of imams, the report authors said.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, said earlier this month that it would monitor interpretations of the Prophet Mohammad's teachings to prevent them being used to justify violence or terrorism, the Culture and Information Ministry has said.

In a decree, King Salman ordered the establishment of an authority to scrutinize uses of the 'hadith' - accounts of the sayings, actions or habits of the Prophet that are used by preachers and jurists to support teachings and edicts on all aspects of life.

The ministry said late on Tuesday that the body's aim would be to "eliminate fake and extremist texts and any texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders, and terrorist acts".

Islamist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda have used interpretations of hadiths - numbered in the thousands and pored over by scholars for centuries - to justify violence and to urge supporters to carry out attacks.

Saudi Arabia's approach to religious doctrine is important because of its symbolic position as the birthplace of Islam, while its oil exports allow it to fund mosques abroad.

 

 

Its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy has been close to the Al Saud dynasty since the mid-18th century, offering it Islamic legitimacy in return for control over mosques and universities.

The traditional Wahhabi doctrine favors a strict version of Islamic law and a return to early Muslim practices and views Shi'ites as heretics.

But senior clergy denounced militant Islamist doctrines such as those of al Qaeda or ISIS, while the government, which vets clerics in Saudi Arabia´s 70,000 mosques, has sacked many for encouraging violence or sedition.

The government has begun to promote an alternative narrative of Saudi identity that keeps Wahhabism as a central focus but still allows secular themes such as nationalism and cultural heritage that predates Islam to shine through.

Saudi Arabia also has growing tensions with Qatar over its alleged support of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is listed by Riyadh as a terrorist organization - charges that Doha denies.

The Muslim Brotherhood represents an ideological threat to Riyadh's dynastic system of rule.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June over its alleged support for Islamists including the Brotherhood.

The government toughened its stance following the Arab Spring after it averted unrest by increasing salaries and other state spending but the Brotherhood gained power elsewhere in the region.

 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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