Saudi Arabia is the most prominent Muslim country in the world. Since the time of Ibrahim’s first visit to Hejaz, it has global fame. The very place of Hejaz came into existence and people began to reside there only after Prophet Ibrahim left his wife and son there, by the order of Allah. For his kin, Prophet Ibrahim used to come there again and again. As per historical sources, during his fourth visit, he along with his son Ishmael re-built the edifice of Allah’s house called Ka’bah. By the order of Allah, Ibrahim made a call to people of the world to come and make Tawaaf of Ka’bah. People from different corners of the world began to visit there. During the time of Prophet Muhammad—the last in the line of Prophets—in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula the two cities of Makkah and Medina achieved prominence. After the conquest of Makkah in 630 CE, the Ka’bah was purified of the idols that were inside it during the entire period called Jahiliya (Age of Ignorance). Since then, Muslims began to come from all corners of the world to perform their religious obligation called Hajj and Umrah.
In 1932, when King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud came to political power, the whole province of Arabia got transformed and began to be known by the name of Saudi Arabia. The king was succeeded by a number of sons. After the death of his half-brother King Abdullah, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz ascended the throne in January 2015. In what’s being described as a big shake-up, King Salman made his son Mohammed bin Salman first in line to the throne in June 2017.
Since the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the royal family has derived its power primarily from the country’s enormous oil wealth. With the country now experiencing an acute economic challenge due to low oil prices, the royal family has generated a new blueprint, known as “Vision 2030,” outlining its plan to modernise its economy and society while allowing it to maintain its hold on power. The ongoing reforms are part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan which aims to build an economy which is not singularly dependent on oil and emphasises on growth in tourism and entertainment sectors.
Mohammad Bin Salman (called MBS), the contemporary king of Saudi Arabia, for the first time after 1979 (Iranian Revolution) has proceeded to reform the Arabian society and to lead it among the G20 countries (the biggest world economies). He commented upon his vision 2030 as: “We are in the middle of three continents. Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world. So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone.”
Regarding the reformative points, he, in an interview with The Guardian, said that the ultra-conservative state had been “not normal” for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”. During this, he, perhaps for the first time, sidelined the clerics whom he believes have failed to support him and demanded unquestioning loyalty from senior officials whom he has entrusted with a 15-year reform programme that aims to overhaul most aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.
In his Vision 2030, MBS has initiated promotion of the tourism industry. For this, he has encouraged the opening of cinemas and use of internet for entertainment. Central to the reforms has been the breaking of an alliance between hardline clerics who have long defined the national character and the House of Saud, which has run affairs of the state. The changes have tackled head-on societal taboos such as the recently rescinded ban on women driving and cinemas, as well as scaling back guardianship laws that restrict women’s roles and establishing an Islamic centre tasked with certifying the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).
Besides this, very recently, Saudi women were allowed inside the national stadium, for the first time, to join celebrations in marking the Kingdom’s 87th National Day. Hundreds of female spectators were seated with their families, away from single men during the music event inside the King Fahd stadium which usually sees all-male crowds for football matches, in the country’s capital Riyadh.
While commenting upon his reforms, MBS stated: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam, open to the world and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30. Honestly, we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts; we will destroy them now and immediately.”
It is because of this reformation programme that Saudi Arabia is being discussed everywhere on the globe. From the common masses to the think tanks of the world, everyone is following the future of Muslims, particularly of Saudis. What is Islam and what is moderate and extremist Islam, what is the current status of Saudi Arabia in the whole Muslim world, where is the place of entertainment in Islam, whether Islam permits women to drive or not, what Islam says about the opening of cinemas, etc, are questions now being posed everywhere in the Muslim world. We also observe a division of Muslims on the lines of “support” and “opposition” to “Vision 2030”. The whole world is interested in the future of Arabia in particular and Muslims of the world in general.
The writer is Assistant Professor at Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri. His field of research is ‘Tourism in Islamic Perspective’. [email protected]