Mohammed bin Salman is breaking the chains of a ‘regressive’ society – will the rest of the Muslim world follow?

Published: March 23, 2018
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

During his recent visit to the US, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), sat down with CBS news for what can only be termed as a remarkable interview. Many interesting statements were made, but what was most shocking was undoubtedly his criticism of the law in Saudi Arabia.

According to him, the unisectarian implementation of Shariah in Saudi Arabia since 1979 is to blame for what the country has become over the years, and its radical laws are the reason his generation has suffered the most.

He further elaborated that according to Shariah, there are no pre-defined garments for women, such as the abaya. It is entirely up to women to decide which attire best allows them to be comfortable, while conforming to the commandments of decency. He also spoke against the so-called “extremists” in his country who forbid the mixing of the two sexes – socially, and at the workplace – and gave the example of the way of life during the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Caliphs to support his point.

With these words, and without facing any notable backlash from the religious circles, MBS has given a clear message to the ongoing religious movements across the globe. He has stood up to those who seek to curb the rights of women and institute inequality in the name of Shariah. It is evident from his interview that the people of Saudi Arabia, including the ruling class, have had enough of the selective, yet extreme application of Shariah in their country.

This selective application comes as no surprise for many of us in Pakistan, as time and again, various reformist religious clerics have delivered statements similar to those made by MBS, but in turn received harsh criticism from the pan-Saudi clerics.

When it comes to women, compared to other Muslims countries, women in Pakistan enjoy much more freedom, especially in the context of work and other social activities. However, for Saudi women, simple acts like shopping or taking their kids to school had become a taboo. Needing male guardianship for every activity of their daily lives literally demoted women to second-class citizens, which is contradictory to the basic teachings of Islam.

Thus, for Saudi women, MBS has come as a blessing from God, as no power on Earth seemed to be able to shake the strict Saudi stance regarding women, until now. Credit should be given to MBS for openly refuting the conditioning of Shariah by the Saudi clergy, because only he is in the position to reform the misconceptions that have spread across the kingdom since 1979.

It appears as if all of a sudden the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, a man who once stated that allowing women to drive “exposes them to evil”, no longer has opinions contradictory to the Crown Prince. Additionally, despite Saudi Arabia’s influence in Pakistan, no right-wing clerics here have openly condemned Saudi reforms

It is a fact that proponents of unisectarian Shariah – be it the clergy in Pakistan, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or other religious-movements in the far east and South Asia – have looked up to Saudi Arabia as a role model since 1979. However, since it is fairly difficult to achieve a state like Saudi Arabia in Pakistan or Afghanistan – a lack of funds, of course, along with the existential deficiency of not having the two Holy Mosques – is why Saudi law has not yet been applied to any other Islamic Republic. Obviously, there are movements far and wide, but with the advent of reforms in the hub of Islam itself, the ultimate goal of replicating Saudi public policy seems to be fading.

There is no doubt Saudi Arabia holds a vital importance in the Islamic world. Due to the presence of the two Holy Mosques, Muslim countries across the globe, whether implicitly or explicitly, have historically come together to support the strict Saudi legal system and social policy. Millions of pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia and idealise it as a landmark state, while condemning the liberal legal system at home. However, the pilgrims will now experience the greatest religio-cultural shock, once they witness public entertainment centres as women drive around and join the workforce alongside men.

In my opinion, though controversial on many fronts, MBS might be the only hope for reform in Muslim countries, especially states like Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is particularly the case when it comes to re-visiting the religious narrative promoted for statehood and public policy. With Saudi Arabia adopting a more liberal and humanistic outlook, and giving freedom of entertainment and relatively more rights to women, the movements calling for the imposition of Shariah in many Muslim countries are now likely to be left without their living idol.

The main reason for this radio silence amidst the Muslim community is entirely because it is not as easy for a Pakistani, or even a Saudi cleric, to denounce the future Saudi King. The King of Saudi Arabia has impunity; he could either liberate his people entirely, or further reduce their basic human rights, and easily get away with either.

The changes MBS is introducing, however, are progressive, and take Saudi Arabia on its way to modernisation. This is a healthy change in the Islamic world, and though I am against Saudi aggression in Yemen and other parts of the Middle-East, I do believe MBS is the only person in the world who can address the regressive mentality of millions of Muslims. After all, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what other Muslim countries do with the vacuum, after the emergence of a “modern” Saudi Arabia? They might follow a similar path of progression into the future, or they might just end up crowning a new ringleader.

Qamber Awan

Qamber Awan

The author a social critic and a contributor of Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sami Thinker

    I think one must not break ones head by seeing others doing it. Arab world is going totally out of order.Recommend

  • raion

    This guy is funding terrorism all around the globe with USA UK and Israel in Syria Yemen and so on. Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    He’s doing no favors. It’s in the personal interest of MBS to de-radicalize his kingdom; for the sake of his own throne.

    Recommend

  • rumi52

    “It appears as if all of a sudden the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, a man who once stated that allowing women to drive “exposes them to evil”, no longer has opinions contradictory to the Crown Prince.”

    This sentence poses a big problem for me as a Muslim. The Grand Mufti I assume is a learned scholar. A year ago his interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence made him come to the conclusion that driving is bad for women. Today suddenly he does not oppose women driving. How can we trust scholars who base their interpretation of Islam on political considerations? In Pakistan we have scholars who base their interpretation of Islam on their own patriarchal world view. At the other end we have liberal scholars who interpret Islam to fit in with a liberal secular world. Its all about interpretation at the end of the day and who has the political (& military) might to impose their interpretation. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has the political power to impose his will so who at the end of day who cares about the scholars.Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    It would depend how much Saudi Society changes and how much he funnel money outside to those who have been living on Saudi money and singing to the tunes made in Saudi Arabia. They will not work for free.Recommend

  • Abdullah Feroz

    Will we also jump into the Well when Saudis jump into the Well?Recommend

  • John, London

    This is good news that Mohammed bin Salman has taken these bold steps, I don’t know about the Muslim world will be changed but if Pakistan hire him for 2 days he can change Pakistan, because no clerics will protest or argue in his presence. Good articleRecommend

  • Yara

    Liberal Desis love dictators when it suits their agenda. Luckily Pakistan is a democracy and a liberal authoritarian wannabe leader can not force his liberalism down the public’s throat. Most educated Pakistanis know about the lavish hypocritical life style of the Saudi Royals and our religious views are not dependent on the politics of the al Saud family.Recommend

  • syed Imam

    Wrong heading. In fact rest of the world is way ahead of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is now catching up with the rest of the world and has a long way to go.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Good article with good analytical points!
    Recommend

  • Joji Cherian

    Mohammed bin Salman is breaking the chains of a ‘regressive’ society. Maybe. But he is betraying the Palestinians, and in a way the entire Muslim world by aligning with Israel and America. Shameless man who touts his connections with Jared Kushner as if it is medal of honor.. In time he will realise Kushner has his own motives in befriending himRecommend

  • Parvez

    Its not a secret that the KSA has, using its oil and money, exported a very radical brand of Islam to much of the Islamic word. If today they wish to correct past wrongs its a good step in the right direction….. trying to predict the future is futile at this stage.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    After all, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what other Muslim countries
    do with the vacuum, after the emergence of a “modern” Saudi Arabia?

    It would indeed be of interest to see how the house of Saud will abandon the regressive Wahabi ideology which it us nurtured for too long?
    Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    Prince Mohammad bin Salman, can you tell all this to our clerics in Pakistan also.Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    It will take many many generations till the Saudi Arab society would get rid of these chains of suppression “from their ultra-conservative minds!” And then perhaps they would choose a woman monarch!!!Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I would not get over exited. we are now living in a fake world not world of facts but simply interpretations. he is trying to adapt to this role even defying his family wahabi line calling it the west response to communism.

    Rex MnorRecommend