Saudi Arabia – the Land of Tawheed?

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Guest Post: By Uthman Ahmad

There are few issues which are more contentious and divisive to Muslims than the role of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world. This nation has polarised opinion amongst religious scholars, Islamic thinkers, political activists, pilgrims and even non-Muslims. In an Arab world dominated by ruling dynasties, the Saudi regime is perfectly consistent with its neighbours, but no other regime can simultaneously evoke such feelings of loyalty and detest from across the Muslims world.

The ‘Land of Tawheed’ is a phrase affectionately used to describe Saudi Arabia as a bastion of monotheism. It is after all the birth place of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Salutations be upon him) and his place of final rest. And within this peninsula is the Sacred House of God, the Ka’bah in Mecca, and the Prophet’s Sacred Mosque in Medina. Every year millions of Muslims make pilgrimage to the holy sanctuary to renew their faith while chanting the ‘talbiyyah’ which is a profound statement of the Oness of God. The scenes of countless Muslims making ‘tawaaf’ around the ka’bah are perhaps the most iconic symbols of Muslim unity and spirituality known across the globe, but consider this: Over the years the Makkan skyline has increasingly become dominated by exclusive hotels and shopping malls generating obscene sums of wealth for Saudi princes . They tower over the ka’bah physically and metaphorically as poorer pilgrims are driven further and further away to the outskirts of Makkah. The House of God, once accessible to all, seems increasingly accessible only to those who can afford it. Also coupled with the fact that the pilgrimage is the second largest source of income for Saudi Arabia after oil, it does bring into sharper focus the opinion of some scholars that profiteering at the expense of pilgrims is prohibited. Even the pre-Islam pagans of Makkah prided themselves on the altruistic service of pilgrims without charge.

Perhaps the term, ‘Land of Tawheed’ is a reference to Saudi Arabia as the ideological home of orthodox Islam. No other country in the modern era has so vigorously promoted the orthodox Islamic creed. Saudi Arabian scholars have not only provided a marvellous service to Islamic scholarship through their books, lectures and religious verdicts, but their conduct, character and wide acceptance across the Muslim world have entered some of them into the annals of Muslim history as the pious predecessors of their era. Saudi Arabia has been in the modern era the biggest exporter of the orthodox Islamic creed through financial support of Muslim institutions across the world and through the establishment of free Islamic universities in its own borders that Muslim students from across the world flock to.

Perhaps the term, ‘Land of Tawheed’ is a reference to Saudi Arabian society itself and its outwardly conservative Islamic culture. On every corner you will find a well built, spacious mosque where all local men are expected to perform their prayers. Shops will be expected to close at prayer time and cease trading – a most perfect response to the ‘athan’ or call to prayer. Women are expected to observe the face veil which classical Islamic scholars have consensus is either obligatory or highly recommended. Outward displays of affection or obscenity are frowned upon and rarely seen in public. Of course the debate has always been that religion imposed in this way lacks heart and soul, but surely any authority can only interact with its people on the basis of their outward actions. The extent of people’s truthfulness and sincerity before God is an entirely private matter between them and God.

So perhaps the real question is not whether Saudi Arabia is the ‘Land of Tawheed’ or not, but the real question is, what is Tawheed? Is it simplify to purge personal worship from polytheism of every kind and to establish the ritual acts of worship related to prayer and clothing? Or are these essential tenants of faith only part of the picture?

In Surah al-Anam, Allah asked three rhetorical questions pivotal to our belief in Tawheed:

‘Say, “Is it other than Allah I should take as a protector, Creator of the heavens and the earth, while it is He who feeds and is not fed?”…’[1]

[Say], “Then is it other than Allah I should seek as judge while it is He who has revealed to you the Book explained in detail?”[2]

‘Say, “Is it other than Allah I should desire as a lord while He is the Lord of all things?…[3]

Imam Ash-Shawkani while explaining these verses stated that Tawheed revolves around unity of worship, allegiance to the Muslims and establishing the legislation of Allah. Hence ‘walayah’ or allegiance to the Muslims is an essential part of Tawheed. It is a theme so recurrent in the Quran that ignoring it would be ignoring the patently obvious. The ideological and spiritual forefather of Saudi Arabia, Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab (May Allah have Mercy upon him) in his classical work, ‘Kitaab ut Tawheed’ explained the essence of Tawheed to be allegiance to the Muslims. Using the perfect example of the forefather of the Prophets, the Prophet Ibraheem (Peace be upon him), under the chapter heading, ‘An Explanation of Tawheed and the Testimony of Faith’, he brings the verse:

And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his father and his people, “Indeed, I am disassociated from that which you worship. Except for He who created me; and indeed, He will guide me.”[4]

In fact in his seminal work, ‘the Nullifiers of Islam’, Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab (May Allah have Mercy upon him) describes the ten fatal sins that would take a person outside the fold of Islam, with number eight being taking allegiance with the disbelievers against the Muslims. So any attempt to relegate Tawheed to private acts of devotion with no connection to allegiance with the Muslims is completely rejected.

Which moves us swiftly to the military coupe in Egypt: A coupe which involved the usurping of authority from a legitimately elected civilian government by its own fiercely secular military. A military which then turned its weapons on its own people with atrocities such as the storming of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque which according to the Egyptian military itself lead to 638 deaths, and the targeted assassinations of senior Muslim brotherhood figures and their children including 17-year-old daughter of Mohamed al-Baltagy, and culminating with the ludicrous sentencing of 528 Morsi supporters to death without their defence lawyers being given access to the proceedings. So what has been the role of Saudi Arabia in this coupe? A recent announcement by a senior source at the Egyptian interim government made a statement that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were committed to investing up to $160 billion dollars in three major infrastructure projects in Egypt on condition that Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi wins the coming presidential elections[5]! Has there ever been such an obscene use of financial incentives and bribery to dictate the outcome of an election in a sovereign state? In recent months, the UAE went as far as to sentence 30 Emiratis and Egyptians to prison terms ranging from three months to five years for links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The world has indeed been in uproar over Putin’s interference in the Crimea and the attempt of the Crimea to break away from the Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. European Union and US sanctions have quickly followed against Russia along with asset freezes and travel bans for key personnel close to Putin. This is despite the fact that the majority of people in the Crimea did vote in favour of independence during the make shift referendum of March 2014, effectively signalling the first and most important step in assimilation with the Russian Federation. So where is the condemnation of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait? These oil rich states are pouring billions into a military regime that is actively exterminating its main political rivals and perpetuating civil strife. Military support has also been provided by the UAE with joint military exercises. Putin simply does not come close to the hostilities being perpetrated by these gulf states. There is a moral imperative here to condemn the actions of these states, issue sanctions, and target key personnel with travel bans and asset freezes.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the relative merits of the Muslim brotherhood or to critically evaluate the short lived presidency of Morsi. There are many political commentators who point to fatal errors of judgement which accelerated the downfall of Morsi. The Muslim brotherhood have, however, consistently occupied the moral high ground during the crisis in Egypt. They have not resorted to armed conflict, even at extreme provocation, as this would have lead to Egypt imploding and civil war spreading across the region. They have remained true to their core Islamic principles and combined a grass roots approach to social welfare with political activism and a conviction that Islam can be expressed in the modern political arena. Compare this to an elite of incredibly wealthy and powerful ruling dynasties which invoke a divine right of kings resembling the monarchs of medieval Europe. It is precisely this reason that the gulf states are prepared to invest every resource at their disposal to see that Sisi succeeds to become the new Egyptian president.

Perhaps more troubling than the unqualified support for Sisi by the gulf states has been the incredibly naïve stances taken by some scholars and bearers of the Quran in supporting the military regime in Egypt under the guise of unity and maintaining peace between the Muslims. The scholars of Islam enjoy the most privileged positions with the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Salutations be upon him) informing that, “Allah and His angels, and even the ant in its stone, and the fish in the sea, pray for the one who teaches the people good.”[6] But, with great privilege comes great responsibility. It is incumbent upon the scholars to speak out against oppression in all its forms, especially when it is inflicted upon Muslims standing true to their faith, and especially when this oppression undermines the essence of Tawheed. In a famous sermon delivered by Abu Bakr As-Siddique (May Allah be pleased with him), he stood up and declared, “I heard the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) say:

“Verily when the people see the wrong-doer, and do not seize his hand, Allah will inflict them with a general punishment.”

Then what is the case for Muslims who not only abandon enjoining the good and forbidding the evil but actively support the evil with money, political support and arms?

However, it has been interesting to note that there has been a notable exception to the crackdown against the Muslim brotherhood across the gulf states. The iconic scholar and Islamic thinker of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi speaking live on Qatari state TV from a mosque in Doha, criticised the UAE for supporting the current military regime in Egypt. He claimed that the UAE ‘has always been opposed to Islamic rule’[7]. The predictable response from Abdullah Bin Zayed, Foreign Minister for the UAE urged the countries that oppose terrorism to stand by the Egyptian government ‘in the face of this terrorist organisation and what it stands and calls for’. The war of rhetoric was further intensified when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar in protest at Doha’s ‘interference in their internal affairs’.[8] Qatar, considered by some analysts to be the richest country in the world when measured against GDP per capita, has taken a unique stance of being an outspoken supporter of the ousted President, Mohamed Morsi while providing a platform for Qaradawi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures. In fact the imprisoning by an Egyptian court of four al-Jazeera journalists for more than 3 months with spurious charges relating to ‘smearing Egypt’s reputation and aiding terrorists’ is widely seen as retaliation against the Qatari backed broadcaster. The Saudi Intelligence Chief, Bandar bin Sultan may well live to regret one day his reported swipe that Qatar is merely composed of 300 individuals and a television channel! [9]

The Muslim world is undergoing tectonic shifts in centres of power as nations such as Qatar redefine the predictable narrative of the gulf states, and nations such as Turkey reassert their Islamic identity in the modern political context. The Muslim Brotherhood is only a symbol of the renewed vigour with which the Arab peoples are shaking off the legacy of decades of autocratic dictatorship. Eliminating the Brotherhood from the corridors of power will only mean that grassroots Islamic movements resurface elsewhere under a different a name and a different leadership.

Political movements come and go, nations rise and fall, leaders live and die. The only constant which does not change is the sunnah of Allah – those metaphysical laws which govern His Creation. And these laws are not like the short term manifesto of a political party or a self-serving policy adopted by the gulf-states to preserve the status quo. These laws endure and are always fulfilled and are inexplicably linked to the Hereafter. Allah said in the Quran, in a verse referred to by Islamic scholars as the verse of Successorship on the earth:

“Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that – then those are the defiantly disobedient”[10].

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[1] Surah al-Anam, verse 14

[2] Surah al-Anam, verse 114

[3] Surah al-Anam, verse 164

[4] Surah Az-Zukhruf, verse 26-27

[5] https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/10273-gulf-support-for-al-sisis-egypt-said-to-be-equivalent-of-the-marshall-plan

[6] Tabarani

[7] http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/government/uae-summons-qatar-envoy-over-al-qaradawi-1.1285541

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/05/arab-states-qatar-withdraw-ambassadors-protest

[9] http://www.shorouknews.com/news/view.aspx?cdate=06032014&id=90dbdd8d-f835-4ef6-8ed4-9ef540c24271

[10] Surah an-Nur, verse 55

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Disclaimer: As this is a guest post, the views expressed within this article do not necessarily reflect the views of coolnessofhind.wordpress.com or the blog’s writer.

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2 thoughts on “Saudi Arabia – the Land of Tawheed?

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