Saudi Arabia. Ask anyone to name an Islamic country and you’ll receive this reply most of the time. Its flag even contain the words ‘There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God’ proclaiming the shahada, a belief shared by every Muslim on the face of this earth. It represents the land where the Qur’an was revealed, where the Prophet of this religion was born, where he grew, where he’s buried; where the religion was born, where the religion grew, and arguably, where the religion is facing being ‘buried’ by a sadistic, unrepresentative and tyrannical regime: the House of Saud.
A brief history: The House of Saud is the royal family governing Saudi Arabia, a lineage descending since around the 1450s. A monarchy is not something advocated in Islam, nor was it done in the Prophet’s time. By conquering lands, they were able to self-proclaim their royalty, and used a certain religious doctrine to bring in many supporters: Wahhabism. Muhammed ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, in the 1700s, worked to spread the idea of a monotheistic religion devoid of any intercessions between man and God. Wahhabism promotes the idea that all other forms of Islam (which have prospered for over 1000 years before the birth of Al-Wahhab) are deviations from the true message of Islam. Their control over Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam, have helped to influence Islamic culture and, combined with the discovery of liquid gold, has allowed the extreme-orthodox doctrine based state to develop at an alarmingly fast rate, leading to a mass expansion of books and mosques preaching their teachings, and rewarding academics who follow their beliefs.
Religious freedom therefore has been a big problem in Saudi Arabia for a long time. Fellow Islamic schools of faith have been suppressed in their preaching, most notably the Shia of whom a majority occupy the east of Saudi Arabia. One current example of this is the case of Sheikh Nimr; A cleric whose trial has been flawed, a man who has been shot, tortured, denied treatment and been sentenced to death by crucifixion. For what? Would you believe me if I said it was simply for his criticism of policies on sectarian discrimination against Shias in Saudi Arabia and for his call for reform and equality? I know a lot of you won’t, but those were not my words; rather information from the Arabic network for human rights.
In the way Mandela fought to eradicate racial apartheid, Nimr sits in the desert preaching to eradicate religious apartheid. To all critics who claim Muslims do not do enough to eradicate, or at least speak out, against the oppression in the Middle East, is this Sheikh not proof that, not that there aren’t a group of Muslims dedicated to doing that exactly, but that there is a much more sinister movement to keep people like him under wraps, to not convey his message and ultimately the true message of Islam on tolerance to the world?
Take a look at Christianity; a religion that was present since the time of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic Arabia). Islam allowed Christians to continue to practise their faith as long as a ‘tax’ was paid and it did not interfere with the preaching of Islam (not ‘tolerant’ to us 21st century humans, but then we are talking about a time 1400 years ago). Take the event of Mubahala, where a group of Christians came to debate with the Prophet. It is commonly reported that the Christians did not participate in the debate, and the Prophet gave them two options, to convert or to pay the tax and continue to live in the presence and protection of the Muslims. If the Prophet, 1400 years ago, can be so tolerant, what gives the regime of today the right to preach what they say? Christians there today are made to practise quietly in their homes, and God forbid a bible or a church be found. This is not Islamic.
Women not driving cars, being oppressed, religious intolerance and the destruction of holy sites amongst other things, are all culturally driven problems in KSA, views that are not representative of the main views shared by the main schools of faith within Islam. Take the issue of women; Islam offers women a great deal of power and respect; women like Khadija and Fatima (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them) have led Islam through its early stages, and have been considered by Islam as women of greatness. We’re talking about a religion that, not only preached the abolishment of racial divisions, but was led in its earliest period by people of different colour; would it not cater the same for women? Would it not deliver the same respect for women? It does. The religion that says that Heaven lies under the feet of your mother is not one to hide that same mother under an oppressive regime with no rights.
So what now?
My plea for change is to you, the reader. All I’m asking is for you to open your eyes. Look at the oppression to Sheikh Nimr. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Did we not learn from Mandela and Ghandi about the fight for freedom? Is that not what this man is trying to conduct? Look at the destruction of graves, holy sites and ones of heritage by the regime. The house of Saud un-Islamically has destroyed many tombs revered not only by hundreds of millions but also by our history books. Save Muslim Heritage is an excellent site to learn more about this. And for anyone who may think this is simply an issue for the Muslims, this matter has been discussed by a variety of scholars and intellectuals, including Rabbi Bleich and Candida Moss.
As one Islamic lecturer put it, “Saudi Arabia is non-existent. There is only Saudi-occupied Arabia.”