Understanding Saudi Arabia’s Identity

Understanding Saudi Arabia’s Identity
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By Muhammad Rafi Bhat

Identity of an individual as well as of a nation is very crucial. Identities are formed on the basis of gender, ethnicity, language, region or religion. According to Richard Jenkins, social identity is “our understanding of who we are and of who other people are, and reciprocally others peoples understanding of themselves and of others”. Identity is an integral part of social life. It is only by distinguishing the identities of different groups that people are able to relate to other people. An awareness of different identities provides some indication of what sort of person you might be dealing with and therefore how you can relate to them.
Talking about the identity, in view of Jenkins, people across the world especially Muslims have an identity of Saudi Arabia purely determined by religion of Islam. The master identity of Saudi Arabia is based on the religion of Islam as they are the guardians of Mecca and Medina, the most sacred places to Muslim world. The other part of identity of Saudi Arabia being a nation-state has been taken for granted by the Muslims who both criticize and eulogize the Saudi Arabia. Both critics and eulogists take forgranted that Saudi Arabia is a nation-state and has its interests which it has to fulfill so as to remain a nation state.
But critics mostly from Muslim world criticize that Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation, a guardian of holy cities, they have to follow the model as left to us by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) in every aspect. They mostly highlight the issue of monarchy and royal family’s lavish lives. Every time they criticize Saudi Arabia government, they criticize it in respect of being Muslim nation, and, in a similar vein, there are eulogists of Saudi Arabia who try to justify their every deed whether right or wrong of Saudi government. Only because they think it is mandatory as Saudi government is the guardian of holy cities and only true representatives of Islam.
This misunderstood dual identity of Saudi Arabia has led to confusion especially among the Muslims of Kashmir who are caught in dilemma of single identity resulting in criticizing and eulogizing of Saudi doings. The problem lies in the mistaken identity of Saudi Arabia by the Muslims across the globe especially in Kashmir where we find heated and full of hatred arguments from pulpits of masjids to social networking sites; both in defense and against the Saudi government. This debate about the Saudi Arabia has very disruptive effect on local level in Kashmir.
The better way to resolve the issue is to understand Saudi Arabia’s identity and the best way is to understand it as a nation-state wherein the holy cities if Mecca and Medina fall within this nation state. That will make it easy for both the eulogists and critics of Saudi Arabia to focus on the issues and debates regarding Saudi Arabia at local levels. For instance, the Saudi government makes all the arrangements in the best possible way to conduct the holy pilgrimage of Hajj and Umrah and simultaneously has set universities wherein Quran and Sunnah are taught. These are related to their issue of identity of being muslin nation. But on the other hand the same Saudi government honors Barack Obama and Narendra Modi with highest civilian awards.
As a nation state Saudi Arabia has its interests in different countries across the globe- be these economic, political, diplomatic and regional. These they do as a nation state and not being a true Islamic state. There are many instances which reflect the true identity of Saudi Arabia as a nation state like war in Yemen, support to Abdul Fateh Sisi, excluding Qatar in the gulf region, expelling Osama from Saudi and so on and so forth.
To conclude, in order to avoid confrontation at the local level in Kashmir, both the critics and eulogists should know and understand the dual identity of Saudi Arabia of being Muslim nation and of being a nation- state like that of Pakistan and other Muslim countries. Only then the debate will end and the local indoctrinated social site users/Moulanas will be free from defending and criticizing Saudi Arabia. Better to understand that there are no more purely Islamic countries but a bunch of nation states in operation having Muslims as majority.

—The author is a Research scholar in Sociology at the University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: mohmmadrafi14@gmail.com

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