Whenever I’m talking to other Arabs and even fellow Saudis about Saudi Arabia, occasionally the question why is Saudi Arabia called Saudi comes up. And of course the question is not asked for a real answer but rather in a condescending manner. As though it somehow hurts our dignity to be called after the person who unified us. My view is so what? It has always been so in the Middle East. Ottoman Empire is actually the name of the ruler who first unified it and before that Al Umwyeen who reached Spain and the list goes on…etc.
King Abdul-aziz al Saud dedicated his life to realize the largest country in the Arabian Gulf and that was before oil and all its riches. To have the country named after him is only natural, especially considering that that was the way it was back then.
Yes there is corruption and yes we have issues as does every other place on Earth. However when you consider the alternative, we could have done a lot worse. We were a people in the middle of a desert in which even the Turks were not interested, let alone Western colonist who at that time were grabbing land left and right. The majority was illiterate and each region was ruled by a different family. And then in 1902 came along King Abdulaziz who had a vision of a country that he fought for and eventually won in 1932. And that makes this September Saudi Arabia’s 77th birthday. For a 77 year old we have come a long way. In 77 years we have turned this desert into a beautiful and modern country. And that is an accomplishment that I’m proud of.
And if you are one of the run of the mill Saudi-bashers, please respect this occasion and refrain from commenting.
Barack Obama will be the next president of the USA. I know most people around the world are tired of the American elections and there is a sense of weariness because we all thought that it would be like four years ago when the world set their hopes on John Kerry (anyone but Bush thing) and Americans let them down. When I woke up this morning and turned the TV on just when they were announcing Obama coming out on the stage as president-elect, I was shocked and elated. This is definitely going to be a good day. Besides what it means politically both for Americans and the world, this has cultural and ideological meaning for everyone. In Saudi Arabia, people look to the USA as a center of education and progress so when President Clinton got caught with Lewinsky, it had a ripple effect here. People got the message that after all that education and power it all came down to sex. And there was a this wave of womanizing and I believe many upper-middle class men took on second wives because of that negative influence. Then when Bush got elected for a second term after his foreign policy failures, many here thought well the west is definitely just a bunch of racist colonialist crusaders at heart. By voting for Bush they sent the message that there was no remorse for all those tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, for the unAmericanness of Guantanamo Bay and all those dead Iraqi women and children. Some put it down to that lives that are non-white and non Christian had little value to the US. And a sense of bitterness and disappointment in the so-called American values and principles unfurled and suffocated any popularity that the US had pre-Iraq.
Now with Obama elected, no matter what he does in the future I know that racial tensions everywhere have been subdued a little. His background; the time he spent in Muslim Indonesia as a child and his Islamic heritage on his father’s side coupled with his mixed race and his choice of an African American as a spouse is beautiful. Him winning tells humanity that dignity, self-respect, hard-work and qualifications still count and that even though the bumbling fool Bush dubiously won in the beginning, he definitely is not better off for it.
As for what it means for Saudis, it is a cultural shift in the right direction. Saudi did not really believe in the American version of democracy. How could they when all the presidents of the so-called” melting pot” were Anglo. Now they are rubbing their eyes in disbelief rethinking the concept in a way that hopefully will move them out of their passiveness and no point attitude. Tribal differences will matter a little less now. Yes that is how much weight American elections have around the world.
According to the outside world and media, it is a form or sect of Islam that goes back to Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulawahab. But to Saudis, especially the central region it is a sub-tribe of the Tameem tribe which coincidentally Sheikh Mohamed and I both belong to.
To set the record straight, no Saudi calls himself Wahbi unless they belong to the sub-tribe I mentioned above. To us Sheikh Mohamed was just another famous big sheikh who also happened to be into politics. He did not start a new Islamic sect. What he did do was educate people in the central region. The central region is practically an out of the way desert. Sheikh Mohamed was born here in Al Uyyanah, not far from Riyadh. He travelled to Makkah, Medina and Iraq to study Islam and then he came back and taught his people. At that time, people here were illiterate, superstitious and many had forgotten or never learned the basics of Islam. There are even stories about paganism and idol worshipping. So he came back to teach people. And he also made a pact with an ancestor of Al Saud, that he would take care of the religion and Al Saud would take care of bringing unity and government to our people.
Sheikh Mohamed, contrary to popular western belief, was not an ultra conservative hell bent against women and human rights. He barely delved into these issues. He had religiously bigger issues to take care of with wiping out paganism and the worship of saints and reeducating people on how to pray! He was also busy stifling the spread of Shiaism. His main focus was to resume the monotheism condition of Islam. He did such a great job that by the time he was through, the region had all the basics of Sunni Islam down. So much so that for the next two centuries, many many so-called sheikhs sadly had nothing better to do but twiddle their thumbs and create petty fatwas. For example, one that I came across written in the late eighties, early nineties that women should be discouraged from watching soccer matches on TV because the excitement of seeing men in shorts running around is too much for her fragile emotional health. That was a FATWA!
I digress, back to the term Wahabi. This is definitely an outsider’s term. And to those who the term refers to, it is meaningless. It isn’t even derogatory. It has no meaning outside of lineage and tribal names. There is no Islamic sect called Wahabi and Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulawahab did not create a new Islamic perspective. He was just a famous and notable figure in Saudi Arabian history.
So what Islamic sect does the central region and the government follow? It is Sunni and we strictly follow Sheikh Ahmed bin Hanbil and Ibn Taiymiah, both of whom came long before Mohamed bin Abdulwahab. Religiously speaking we call our selves Hanabillah. The next time you hear someone say “those crazy Wahabis” please correct them and say “they’re actually crazy Hanabillahs”.
Call me naïve but I don’t get it. I read through the statement he was jailed for and I honestly don’t see any serious threat to the government, mainly for two reasons:
- The statement is about the poor state of a prison in Qaseem. Is that unpatriotic to publicize? We’re a rich country. Why not just make plans for a bigger and better prison and have newspapers write about it?
- Or better yet, just ignore the statement because in and of itself not that many people care, especially Saudis. For the general public at the ground level surrounding me, his name mostly doesn’t even register. And sadly when it does, it is definitely with wonder at his stupidity. Questions like: hasn’t he learned his lesson by now? Or Why does he keep putting himself through this? And I even got a comment that he must be missing his friend so he wrote that so that the government could reunite them in the jail he wrote about.
Yesterday 137 Saudis sent a petition to the King asking for the release of Al Faleh. If you look at the list, they’re all intellectuals; writers, journalists and professors. He’s been jailed since the 19th of May and he has started a hunger strike. Out of about 22 million Saudis all we could muster is 137 individuals to ask for his release!
When you look at the big picture, this is a wonderful country and I’m proud to be part of it. My grandparents’ generation was illiterate and now the majority of the population is relatively educated. That is a lot of progress for just one hundred years. I’m not an apologist, but I dare you to show me where in the world has there ever been a one hundred year old country that respects/ed human rights. We are going through a lot of growing pains, especially considering the local culture and how different it is from global cultures. Eventually the right decision gets made. That was the case with the Qateef girl and I hope it will be the same for Al Faleh.