Moderate Islam – Is the vision of Saudi Crown Prince Worthy of Optimism?

By Sinwan Basharat

Last week Pulitzer prize winner and New York Times columnist, Thomas Freidman, wrote about his great optimism in Saudi Arabia due to the rising prominence of its 32-year old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (M.B.S. for short), and his vision for a progressive Saudi Arabia (1). Many across the world, and especially on Twitter (2) have challenged Freidman’s perspective of reform merely continuing New York Times’s tradition in referring to political changes in the long-standing Saudi Royal Family as ‘reform’.M.B.S. successfully impressed upon Friedman that he will bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century by restoring the country and Islam back to its roots of being moderate. As an Ahmadi Muslim, I fully agree with M.B.S. that Islam is a moderate religion, however. Unlike Freidman, I am not so easily convinced that either M.B.S. will bring about lasting progressive reforms or that even he fully understands how Islam is a moderate religion.

Unlike, political leaders or political ‘royal families’ who may change their policies to appease different world powers at different times, Islam claims it is a religion that is for all-time and for all-peoples. “…This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion…”(3). Moreover, The Prophet (peace be upon him) has been called as a ‘Mercy for All Mankind’ (4). According to non-Muslim historians, his words and entire life stand as a testament, that he stood up for the rights of Jews and Christians, for the poor and orphaned, and for people of all different ethnicities (5)

Islam is a religion that stands on clear principles, but offers flexibility and is not overtly rigid. In its social, economic, and political injunctions, it emphasises the important of context. For instance, fasting is a key practice obligatory upon all adults. However, as soon as the commandment for fasting is given in the Quran, the immediate phrase following it states, “…but whoso among you is sick or is on a journey shall fast the same number of other days; and for those who are able to fast only with great difficulty is an expiation — the feeding of a poor man” (6). Meaning, that yes, it is mandatory to fast, except for those who are unwell or are travelling. And those people who physically can’t fast, can fulfill their religious obligation by offering a meal to a poor person.

Take another example, of clothing. Islam does advocate for a modest form of dress. However, it is moderate in this teaching and allows flexibility based on different cultures and climates. Today, we can see this most clearly in the diversity of styles of Hijab worn by Muslim women in Indonesia-the country with the largest Muslim population, Iran-largely Shia, and Nigeria-largest Muslim population in Africa. Here in London, at my local mosque, I as a Canadian who’s parents are from Pakistan, often like to wear a British flat-cap for prayer.

Likewise, in its economic teachings, Islam provides instructions for establishing social welfare for those less fortunate members of society. Yet, it doesn’t promote a complete socialistic re-distribution of wealth nor a completely unregulated free-market. It aims to strike a balance between individual freedom and state intervention in economic policies.

However, the most critical aspect of moderation in Islam, that I believe Saudi Crown Prince M.B.S. has failed to understand, is the unwavering, prominent emphasis in Islam to act with justice. To not be influenced by personal relations that might shift viewpoints, but to always adhere to the principles of truth, fairness, and justice. The Quran emphatically declares, “O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore, follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably.” (7)

The Crown Prince’s effort to address widespread corruption, if sincere, is a very positive step forward. However, when it comes to Yemen, it is clear that the sanctity of life, particularly of the innocent women and children, has not been guaranteed and is not at the forefront of the Gulf coalition agenda (9)

True reform can only occur when M.B.S. or any other political leader in Saudi Arabia, takes a stand against injustice, and establishes policies the reduce instability in the region. The Crown Prince is all-too eager to share his views on allowing for concerts, but remains staunch for the assault on Yemen.

If M.B.S. truly wants to restore Islamic values, he should begin with the fundaments that were taught by Islam, and in fact by all other religions. He should uphold principles of honesty, justice, and empathy. The Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, in an address in 2016 stated,

“If we truly want peace in our time then we must act with justice. We must value equality and fairness. As the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) so beautifully stated, we must love for others, what we love for ourselves. We must pursue the rights of others with the same zeal and determination that we pursue our own rights. We should broaden our horizons and look at what is right for the world, rather than what is only right for us. These are the means for peace in our age (10)

If the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia exemplifies with his words and his actions that he can uphold this standard of ‘moderation’ as taught by Islam, then I could share the same optimism of Friedman. Till then, I think the future of the Saudi Arabia, and the region remains bleak. Where reform is just a mantra for the status-quo, and injustice remains prevalent.

 

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