Saudi Arabia’s approach towards religious reform

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Time: April 28, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statements and interviews enunciate Saudi Arabia’s current strategy to get the region out of its several crises and shortcomings which have pulled it down since the Iranian revolution started exporting its ideology and following the impact of the two Gulf Wars, the War on Iraq and the unrest that ensued in their wake.

Generation of extremists

These developments produced generations of extremists and a lot of enraged and disgruntled people who incited wars and rebellion. It’s well-known that the unrest in Iraq had a disastrous impact on the region as it revived the Zarqawi version of al-Qaeda, under which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi established ISIS. These were all the products of ideologies which were overlooked and not addressed. Some of these ideologies were criminalized and some of their symbols were held accountable. However, not addressing these issues properly and giving them a free rein was not a wise decision at all.

Saudi Arabia, as stated by the Crown Prince, deems the Brotherhood and its offshoot Sururism — and by extension “the Sahwa phenomenon” — as the basis for the revival of violence. A decisive and firm stance was thus essential for eliminating this terrorist phenomenon. Several approaches have been devised for achieving this aim. Foreign confrontation against terrorism began with participating in an international alliance against ISIS and then by launching a war against the Houthis who staged a coup in Yemen. This latter war became one of the foundations for fortifying the kingdom from violence and terrorist ideology. The alliance led by Saudi Arabia does not only fight the Houthis but also continuously targets al-Qaeda in Yemen.

There is no contradiction between fighting a war in Yemen, developing entertainment in Saudi Arabia, changing religious rhetoric and leading educational reform. This is how we fight and defeat major challenges.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Iran and Muslim Brotherhood

The kingdom then froze relations with Iran, considering it’s a sponsor of international terrorism and an incubator for al-Qaeda commanders. Sanctions then expanded to include Qatar, the biggest supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which hosts the media outlets that support al-Qaeda and airs videotapes of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and which supports all separatist activities in the region, from the Houthis to Hezbollah, and to al-Qaeda and Hamas and Taliban. This decision on Doha capped efforts for strengthening Saudi Arabia and moderate countries from terrorism.

In addition to combating extremism at the foreign level, the kingdom addressed the work of Dawah institutions inside the country to amend their role and change the pattern of their activities so that they harmonize with the new Saudi course as represented by Vision 2030. These approaches include using guidance and formulating curricula that promote tolerance and co-existence. This was carried out based on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directions that voice the importance of producing generations that co-exist with different religions, sects and cultures. This is the role of Dawah and its institutions as they manage more than 100,000 mosques which urge good practices, co-existence and understanding of sharia and pluralism in jurisprudential choices and intellectual orientations.

Educational reforms

The field of education is witnessing the most momentum these days as several amendments will be introduced to it. Saudi Minister of Education Ahmed Al-Issa has spoken about the Brotherhood’s domination over education during a certain phase and the role they played in writing curricula and their influence on the education system. On April 19, he made two significant statements. One of them voiced the importance of adding material that promotes dialogue and respects the other opinion to the education curricula. He also directed teachers to avoid intellectual conflicts and focus on teaching and on committing to the content of the curricula. His directions particularly addressed some teachers who stir trouble on social media networks and perform roles that have nothing to do with the tasks assigned to them.

This is all fine. However, the organized and comprehensive fight against the Brotherhood ideology and its Sururist and Sahwa versions is of extreme importance and requires forming committees the evaluate teachers’ power to influence students’ minds and review educational curricula. Observers from security, intellectual, educational and political institutions can be appointed to amend these curricula or change some of them in order to end the period of Muslim Brotherhood’s domination, which the minister highlighted.

We are thus confronting an existential threat. We must carry out this change on the domestic and foreign levels. This corrective project is balanced and whole. There is no contradiction between fighting a war in Yemen, developing entertainment in Saudi Arabia, changing religious rhetoric and leading educational reform. This is how we fight and defeat major challenges.

This article was first published Al Arabiya English

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