This is a guest post by Shaaz Mahboob of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD)
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia appears to be at a crossroads today. For decades the alliance between its powerful clergy and the royal family has proved to be one of the most stable and blissful. However, King Abdullahâ€™s recent flirtation with modernity appears to have backfired. Cracks are now visible in this alliance that has up until now successfully acted as a vanguard against attempts to democratise the oil-rich state or to bring any progressive reforms to its society.
The ‘King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’ (KAUST) is indeed a welcome step by the King, who has experimented with putting men and women together in a learning environment, never seen or heard before in a country governed under strict ultra-orthodox Wahabi variant of Islam. Not only has this initiative been well received by the Saudi public, the King has to be credited for his boldness in crushing any dissent by the clergy who are disdainful of this attempt to change the fundamental structure of Saudi society. They are not only taken aback by this blatant liberalism allowing gender-mixing, but also by the scientific elements that are being taught at the university, such as evolution and other aspects of modern technology. It is indeed ironic that such clerics in Saudi Arabia and across the world shun topics like the theory of evolution as â€œblasphemousâ€ yet are equally comfortable using the wonders of science such as mobile telephones, internet and the good old television to spread sectarianism, inequality of men and women as well as hatred for all those who do not adhere to their version of Wahabi Islam.
They attempted to counter the Kingâ€™s initiative using their age-old tactic, the infamous â€œWahabi Fatwaâ€ (religious edict), which criminalises anything and almost everything enjoyable from gender-mixing to music, hearty laughter to befriending the non-believers, Jews in particular.
In a latest of such endeavours to undermine the King and his unholy university, a leading member of the Saudi religious establishment Abdul Rehman al-Barrak has gone too far this time. His Fatwa denounces all those who â€œpromoteâ€ gender-mixing, be it in educational institutions or workplaces. This rhetoric not only lashes out at the King, but it will also have serious repercussions on Muslim communities living in relatively liberal societies such as those in France, North America and Britain. His choice of punishment for parents who send their children to mixed-gender schools and universities is simply to put them to death. The fact that such Fatwas are taken rather seriously by extremist and other conservative minded Muslims across the world is alarming. His views on the role of women in a Muslim household is questionable but what is far more disturbing is how it is being used by Muslims who blindly follow and spread such edits without giving it a second thought.
Alarmed at the seriousness of this Fatwa, British Muslims for Secular Democracy has written an open letter to the Saudi government via its Embassy in London. BMSD has called upon the Saudi Government to hold Mr Abdul Rehman al-Barrak to account and issue a public statement stating the position on his fatwa. Furthermore BMSD seeks greater monitoring of the statements and actions of clerics in Saudi Arabia, particularly when they contradict the principles of equality and fairness that underpin progressive initiatives.
There should have been a collective outcry from all Muslim organisations in response to Barrakâ€™s Fatwa, but instead there is criminal silence in particular from the likes of Muslim Council of Britain who claim to be a Muslim-representative umbrella body. In their recent press releases they have repeatedly raised alarm at anti-Muslim violence in the UK, yet have chosen to ignore this threat of physical harm against the vast majority of Muslims, who could be targeted as a direct result of this irresponsible Fatwa. Muslims have the right to protect themselves from any threats, be it the far-right or the religious extremists from within. BMSD and its allies are responding to one such threat, and hope that the Saudi government will play its due part in safeguarding the lives and lifestyles of fellow Muslims here in Britain and elsewhere.
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Filed in: Moral police,Muslim,Religion,Sex equality