The assassination attempt on Prince Mohammed Thursday shocked everyone and exposed the new direction that Al Qaeda is taking. Fortunately the only fatality was the terrorist himself.
Since the news got out there has been this outpour at not only the political but also at the cultural and social level. On Facebook, one Saudi suggests that all men dressed like muttawa should be stopped and questioned. On a more serious level, major newspapers include articles that only begin with the assassination attempt and from there the authors and comment posters criticize the whole religious fundamentalist movement within the country concerning education, human rights and domestic tourism.
In Al-Watan today, Abdulla Al Fowzan, has an article in which he respectfully tells off the Grand Mofti, (the highest rank in sheikhdom) for saying in a speech he gave last month that the monarchy and sheikhs are in an exclusive partnership in leading the country. Al Fowzan basically analyzes the comment and rejects it. He criticizes the religious leaders for being stagnant in keeping up with the needs of the people and times. He ends the article with the opinion that sheikhs are only one small facet of our leadership and other facets should include all other factions of our society. I’m writing this at 8 am so the article has only been online a few hours and yet people are posting their comments. Two so far linked fundamentalists to the ban on women selling lingerie. And of course you have a few of sheikhs’ supporters who predictably accuse Al Fowzan of going against Islam.
Since March the religious puritans have been getting louder and more powerful; more muttawa raids in malls, cancellations of plays and festivals, and even statements by high-ranking officials that were obviously made only to appease these fundamentalists. The assassination attempt has empowered people to speak out. And so has apparently turned the tide in favor of the average Saudi, even if only temporarily.
In Al Madina newspaper yesterday there was an interview with the dean of the high institute of the prevention of vice and promotion of virtue (PVPV), Khalid Al Shammrani, PhD. This is the guy who teaches muttawas how to do it professionally and let me tell you it is not pretty. The institute was established in 2004 in order to assist in countering the bad behavior of the PVPVs in dealing with people. It’s where a muttawa can get a one year postgraduate diploma in telling people how to live their lives. Dean Khalid put it beautifully when he was asked about what they train muttawas to do, he said a muttawa is trained to handle “the person of sin” as a doctor handles a patient; sometimes a doctor has to be tough on his patient to ensure healing and so does a muttawa with a person of sin has to resort to Islamically sanctioned means to heal sin and then have the offender reprimanded by the courts.
In the interview published yesterday, dean Khalid expressed his frustration with the ministry of labour because they have been trying to provide jobs for Saudi women. He stated that this is not an area for the ministry to delve in and that it is unacceptable. He moved on to say that the gap that is growing between the people and the PVPV is artificially created by the media. He accused the media of purposely misleading public opinion by giving the PVPV bad publicity and not being objective in its reporting. He backs this up with a claim that opinion polls show that Saudis want the PVPV. Dean Khalid believes that all this demand for more rights and jobs for women is due to western influence. He also announced the founding of a new charity and organization for the study of the importance of the PVPV in Islam and to modernize the PVPV so that it is better able to face today’s kinds of sins. And so on and so forth.
In all his interviews he calls what the PVPV is doing accountability and the muttawas are the ones who make sure that people are accountable for their “sins”. What first caught my attention was of course his take on employing women and I am not alone on this because the newspaper put it as the headline of the article. So the ministry of labour has infringed its area by attempting to encourage the employment of Saudi women and the PVPV are here to put Al Qosaibi in his place and rescue women back to poverty and objectification. I bet that dean Khalid thought that the headline was going to be about the new organization.
Even though I live it, I am constantly shocked by how these muttawas dismiss women as infant-like and not deserving of the most basic rights. But above all I hate Saudi women for lying down and taking it, myself included.
Sheikh bin Othaimeen was born in Onaiza, Al Qaseem region in 1929 and passed away in January of 2001. Qaseem is north of the capital and one of the most conservative parts of Saudi Arabia. It is said that his grandfather had a vision of receiving a torch from Bin Taimia, a foremost Islamic scholar, and the vision was interpreted that he would have a son or grandson that would be a great Islamic scholar too. I would just like to note here that Bin Taimia came before Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulalwahab and so even then the latter was not in the equation.
Sheikh bin Othaimeen is, to the highest degree, a respected Sunni Muslim scholar. So much so that whenever I am in a discussion about an issue with a fellow Saudi, many of them treat the Sheikh’s word on the topic almost the same as if it was the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH). Saudis and other Muslims reading this will take offence but it is nevertheless true. It is easy to understand why though because Bin Othaimeen was genuine. He didn’t care about money or fame, he truly was devoted to teaching and studying Islam. So much so that while his own family lived in a simple house built the traditional Saudi way out of mud, he hosted a school of students who came from all over the world and paid them stipends. All that was expected of them was to learn the shiekh’s version of Islam.
His overall influence on Saudi legislation and day to day lifestyle is immense, especially in the central, north and south regions. Although other sheikhs were coming to the same conclusions that he made or at least agreed with him, he was the foundation for an Islam that is based strongly on pre-Islamic regional customs and traditions. He was so popular that the kings of Saudi Arabia visited him at his home.
Another major trend that he helped set is the whole “the infidels are out to get us” ideology; a Western ambiguous “they” whose mission in life is to corrupt us and move us away from our Islamic lifestyle. I never could wrap my mind around this one because if I were a foreign government with interests in another country, I would rather have that country’s people living like monks or nomads and uninterested rather than aware and educated. That way the people won’t interfere with what the foreign governments are getting out of their fields. But to Sheikh Othaimeen our country’s resources were not as big an issue as the puritanical social and moral fabric of our society. Maintaining the status quo became a religious duty. Learning English was not to educate ourselves but to guard ourselves from the “they” infidels and to help us occasionally preach to the ignorant semi-Muslims and infidels.
According to the Shiekh, anything that would look like an imitation of the West should be religiously prohibited, including clothing and general lifestyle choices. His ideology is the real reason why women are banned from driving. And his fatwas were among the first to use the gender mixing argument. Whether we like it or not his teachings still have a deadlock on our society. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that we remain stable for at least a decade while still being exposed to the world through all these new forms of media. Once society gets it through its head that there are no evil “they” out to get their religion, then they’ll be able to see the rest of the world with compassion and be open to taking their place within a more inclusive view of the world.
The Saudi woman cartoon: Please insert one riyal + a letter of permission from your male guardian authenticated by a stamp from his office of employment + 2 photocopies of the family registration card + a certificate of commendable conduct authenticated by the protection of fungal life association + an aerial photo of your house that proves that there is a male guardian living with you + an x-ray of your primary teeth + your Jinn qareen’s birth certificate + the original copy of the bible + 3 feathers from the wings of a gray rooster on the condition that it’s the youngest of it’s siblings + 2 ground cloves (be careful that it’s only 2 … Once you insert the above requirements please be aware that for your OWN BENEFIT a drink will be randomly chosen for your because you could be OVERLY EMOTIONAL in your selection.
The Saudi man cartoon: please insert your riyal and select your drink.
This cartoon has been making the rounds on Email. I have recieved it twice from two different people. I don’t know where it was originally published.