The reforms that are Introduced in Saudi Arabia are attracting attention of the entire world. The recognition to Yoga as sports recently in a controversial case is the latest addition to it. Will the winds of change in the kingdom also change the Indian Muslims?
The world is watching every move of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Is he proving to be another Mikhail Gorbachev? Certainly. Saudi Arabia, which is arguably the most important country in the Islamic world, is shedding its image of hard-core fundamentalist country. And what is going on in Saudi Arab has a very significant message for Indian Muslims too. Will they change too and reform themselves?
While the Crown prince is strongly pitching for “moderate Islam”, it is a matter of great relief for the world as this very kingdom has long been known and notorious for giving all possible help to jehadi groups.
The young prince is also opening the economy of his country in a big way. His message is clear: The once-insular Saudi Arab is now open to business. What Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is doing in his kingdom was something nobody had thought of in their wildest dreams. The crown prince has made some remarkable social changes, including promising women the right to drive and curtailing the powers of the religious police. Will he allow temple, churches, gurudwaras in oil-rich kingdom too?
It is still early days and one has to wait some more time to see to what extent top-down decrees and announcements will spur meaningful change in a society long characterized by deep religious conservatism. However, the world must support the price at this crucial juncture. The good thing is that many people are taking the new push more seriously than previous efforts.
Perhaps outside world is not aware of the fact that Saudi Arab is witnessing huge unemployment issue. Jobs are not enough for all. Hence, Prince Mohammed has proposed a range of changes under the banner of Saudi Vision 2030 that would have been unthinkable: increasing the number of Saudis in private employment, including women; soliciting foreign investment; and selling shares of Saudi Aramco, the state oil monopoly, to raise capital to invest elsewhere.
Once known for rank-anti women attitude, Saudi Arabia, in a landmark decision, is giving women opportunities to make their presence felt. It has finally allowed women to drive cars. While the change does not come into effect until next June, the announcement was so abrupt that it stunned the country. A Delhi based Arab watcher and writer Arun Kumar called the change “one step closer to being a full citizen.” For the last many decades, the issue of women driving has been a key battlefield for a fight over the nature of the Saudi state and its future. ” I feel the driving ban on women was a blot on the national brand that hampered modernisation and weakened the economy,” says Arun Kumar.
The recent addition to this is the recognition to Yoga as sports activity. The Saudi Ministry of Trade and Industry has listed Yoga under “sports activities”, which allows any Saudi citizen to practice or propagate it by getting a licence from the government. Born in 1980 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Nouf Bint Mohammad Al Marwaai is an inspiring personality in many ways.
As an influential Saudi entrepreneur, she pioneered the practice of Yoga and Ayurveda in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other West Asian countries which were not exposed to the world of India’s great gifts to humankind till then.
Nouf perhaps the first Saudi professional lady to visit India to study Yoga and Ayurveda is the founder of Arab Yoga Foundation, the key organiser of International Yoga Day celebrations in Saudi Arabia. This initiative put her in trouble. In August 2017, while talking to Organiser she said, “Yoga is a holistic physiotherapy system”.
In a country like Saudi Arabia, Yoga was considered as a deviant behavior, as it is not in tune with Islam.
Now after persistent struggle and conviction, finally, Yoga is recognised as a sports activity. This is a fundamental transformation that will inspire the entire Islamic
world. Will the Muslims of India also learn a lesson or two from this is a key question.
Awakening in Kingdom
Practically, the Saudis’ plans for transformation are ambitious, designed to diversify the economy, end over-reliance on oil, keep capital in the country for domestic investment, and foster, both, transparency and accountability. “Transparency” and “accountability” are not terms one would have used in the past to describe Saudi Arabia.
But plans to take a small part of Aramco public which will require opening the books of the giant Saudi oil corporation.
Indeed there is an awakening underway in Saudi Arabia, which has been funding madrassas internationally and has contributed to the spread of a highly intolerant strain of Islam. Saudi Arabia has poured billions into funding mosques and madrasas to spread intolerant Islam across the globe since 70s.
Will the prince stop it now? If the Soviet Union could produce a Mikhail Gorbachev why can’t a Mohammed bin Salman be born in Saudi Arabia?
So, one hopes that crown prince would change his country for better.
Lessons for Indian Muslims
Meanwhile, the huge population of Muslims in India can and should learn a lesson or two from the recent developments in Saudi Arab. Compared to other minorities, Muslims lag behind in economic, social and educations fields. While others are making rapid progress in women empowerment to education, Muslims still live on the edge. For their plight, the clerics have done a great disservice. They are not leading their community in a right direction. For instance, on the issue of triple talaq, a large number of Muslims across India were not ready to give a fair deal to women. It is a different matter that the women got their due finally thanks to landmark Supreme Court judgement.
It goes without saying that education is the answer for any society to touch dizzy heights. Sadly, Indian Muslims still consider madrasa as great temple of learning. Forget imparting education, many of these madrasas have produced Jihadis. Who can deny the fact that if the Indian Muslims are languishing; their clerics have to be blamed to great extent. They have never accepted the reforms. They are rank-anti women. They never speak for the rights of women. Now as Saudi Arab is changing and reforming itself fast, it is high time that Muslims in India too realize the importance of modern education. They must give fair and just rights to their women. They must introspect that as to why they are lagging behind in areas like education?
(The writer is Former Information
officer, UAE Embassy)