By Saeed Qureshi
Those who believe that Saudi Arabia has an Islamic system of government are either mistaken or ill-informed. It is outright a monarchy or kingdom that runs counter to the concept of an Islamic state. Even its name is “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” missing the world Islamic as we can find in the official name of Pakistan and some other countries. Islam ordains that a caliph as head of an Islamic government is to be chosen by the pious community notables.
A caliph or head of Islamic state is obligated to administer the state affairs with a group of consultants having immaculate character. That system if magnified comes closer to the democratic form of governance of the present times. Religiously, Saudi government is a family dynasty and professes a typical Wahabi or Salafi brand of Islam.
The Islamic State of Medina founded by prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) and later carried forward by four of his illustrious successors offers a veritable and original model of Islam. It survived only for 29 years. Thereafter, it was converted into hereditary monarchy although the head of state was still called a Caliph.
The personal lives of prophet and his associates were austere, simple and embodiment of self-abnegation. They wore simple dresses, ate simple food and did not amass money. They were accountable to the common folks. They dispensed justice in true sense. They were accountable to the community. They drew stipend from the Baitul Mal (treasury) hardly enough for their barest minimum living.
The Islamic authoritarian empire that began with the death of the fourth Rashidun caliph Hazrat Ali in 221AD cleared the way for the rival Muawiyah to lay the foundation of the dynasty (662-743) of Umayyad clan. The Umayyads were succeeded by Abbasids (750-861) and later by a string of other similar Islamic empires (868-1924). But essentially most of these regimes professing to be Islamic were oppressive brutal, family dynasties that survived as long they could hold on to power by sword and military muscle.
The Umayyads converted the pristine Khilafat-e- Rashida into hereditary succession or a form of government that was akin to the Byzantine, Roman or Persian empires. Such autocratic Islamic empires continued for several hundred years in some form or the other.
The last Ottoman Islamic Empire (1517-1924) also ruled over most of the Arab lands including Saudi Arabia. The end of the Ottoman Empire and abolishment of the sultanate and caliphate in March 1924 in modern Turkey founded by Kamal Ataturk marked the end of the religio-political Islamic empires that had begun with Umayyad absolutist dynasty in 622 AD.
The story of Saudi Arabia, however, is different and needs elaboration. The first Saudi state was established in the year 1744 (1157 A.H.) following an alliance betweenImam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab (religious reformer) and Prince Muhammad ibn Saud (the ruler). Thereafter the Saudi dynasty decreed the observance of Wahabi or Salafi creed of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
Under this Islamic system, such practices believed to be anti-Tauhid (God’s oneness) were abolished and that abolishment is still rigidly enforced in Saudi Arabia. These practices inter alia are seeking solicitation from saints, mystic, deities and spirits against sufferings and bad luck etc. This doctrine prohibits various customs such as visiting and venerating tombs, monuments, graveyards and special mosques. It also decrees it a sin to sanctify trees, caves, stones and similar other places.
In line with the Wahabi theology, the Saudi government has leveled off ancient graveyards where the companions of the prophets and other Islamic icons were buried. The kissing or touching of the outer wall or grill of the prophet’s tomb is forbidden. The diverse customs and traditions that are observed by various Sunni sects as Chishtia, Qadria, Naqshbandia etc and also the mainstream Shia branch, are sternly disallowed as being Unislamic.
Implementing the Wahabi Islam may not be objectionable because, paradoxically, in Iran there is Shia faith that is markedly opposed to the beliefs of various denominations falling under the Sunni category. Rather to uphold the concept of Tauhid is plausible and that is what Islam stands for against idolatry and human shamans (spiritual healers).
Islam exhorts that the Muslims around the world, irrespective of their region, color or ethnicity are one nation with God as the head. In Saudi Arabia there is acute distrust and discrimination about the Muslims from other countries. No external Muslim can settle in Saudi Arabia. The prevailing Saudi political system is repugnant and violation of Islamic faith in terms of being dictatorial and authoritarian. This system suppresses human rights and dignity and discards a civil society.
It concentrates power and wealth in a few hands. In this system there is no accountability through courts and national institutions. In Saudi Arabia, the royal family, sheikhs or heads of tribes are above law. The caliph was answerable in the state of Medina. Now he is a monarch and to criticize him or the royal family is a crime. The freedom of expression is unheard in Saudi Arabia and it is stifled forcefully.
The House of Saud is the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia for nearly three centuries. The major portion of oil income that runs into billions every year is distrbuted among the royal family members. Almost all the royal members are literally sitting on mounds of wealth. They have their private banks, their private jets, luxury villas and palaces in fun cities around the world. Their lavish, regal and extravagant life style defies description and looks like a sheer mockery of the sublime teachings of Islam as practiced by the founder and early disciples.
Saudi Arabia, the abode of Islam has been turned into feudal, tribal and family fiefdom. No one can oppose this loathsome system of monarchy that survives on the accumulation of national wealth in private hands and servitude of its citizens. The land, wealth and resources of Saudi Arabia belong to the people and not 15000 members of the royal family with 2000 as the elite and notables among them.
The religious scholars in other Muslim countries decry the Unislamic practices and sinful way of life in their societies but do not censure the Saudi rulers who have usurped power, pelf and wealth and at the same time call themselves as the custodians of Islam or the two mosques. It is a sheer travesty of Islam that judges the faithful by the level of piety and rectitude and not by their social, political and financial standing. Saudi imperial lords have kept the society backward and enslaved so that there is no challenge to their dynastic hold on power.
The Saudi people live under an orthodox and oppressive system that stifles freedom of expression, blocks modern education and emancipation of women. The conservatism and obscurantism has engulfed that society. The people cannot agitate or protest due to fear of state brutality or else because of lack of realization that they live in subjugation. They cannot form associations for the protections of their rights.
During Khilafat-e-Rashida the ordinary Muslims were free to question the caliphs for their anomalies. Such a question was asked from the second caliph Hazrat Umar by a commoner about the larger size of sheet he was wearing. The ruling royal Saudi family is above any censure of their policies and ownership of national assets and oil revenues.
I shall reproduce below a compelling quotation from Wikipedia that so vividly portrays the mammoth wealth owned by the Royal family members.
“The sharing of family wealth has been a critical component in maintaining the semblance of a united front within the royal family. An essential part of family wealth is the Kingdom in its physical entirety, which the Al Saud view as a totally owned family asset. Whether through the co-mingling of personal and state funds from lucrative government positions, huge land allocations, direct allotments of crude oil to sell in the open market, segmental controls in the economy, special preferences for the award of major contracts, outright cash handouts, and astronomical monthly allowances—all billed to the national exchequer—all told, the financial impact may have exceeded 40% of the Kingdom's annual budget during the reign of King Fahd. Over decades of oil revenue-generated expansion, estimates of royal net worth is at well over $1.4 trillion. This method of wealth distribution has allowed many of the senior princes and princesses to accumulate largely unauditable wealth and, in turn, pay out, in cash or kind, to lesser royals and commoners, and thereby gaining political influence through their own largesse.”
In a nutshell the Saudi kingdom is Islamic in name but in practice is clannish dictatorship. The Saudi rulers are averse to democratic institutions, detest religious pluralism, abhor civil society, bar mass education, suppress dissent and keep the society socially and intellectually retrogressive. It is patriarchal government that is at the helm without elections, parliament, independent judiciary and free media.
As Islam enjoins, it has no elected Majlis-Shoora consisting of acknowledged pious and austere people. It looks like a medieval dynasty still embedded in the tribal mold. Saudi Arabia is alienated from it s own people and the rest of the world for not being an enlightened modern Islamic state.