Saudi Arabia is one of the most secretive and authoritarian regimes on earth. However, under the guidance of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Middle Eastern kingdom has announced a social liberalization and a return to moderate Islam.
While the skeptics were quick to dismiss it as a marketing ploy toward the West, significant reforms seem to be on the way. What is the underlying cause of this sudden change?
The West completely misunderstands Islam. Radical Islam is usually associated with conservatism, but it is, in fact, the progressive version of the faith, though its inception is now lost to written history. Why? Progressives have no respect for history. They are book burners who eradicate the traditions of the past, condemning them as forbidden.
One of those histories was the original Islam. In the Hadith and the Quran, there are references to a river, olive trees, and agricultural fields in Mecca. The problem is that there was never any agriculture or rivers in the Arabian desert. Olive trees are indigenous to the Mediterranean region.
Furthermore, Mecca was supposed to have been “the mother of all cities” since the time of Abraham, but there was no mention of it in any ancient text or map until long after Muhammed’s death.
The Saudis have completely transformed Mecca, and during a time of massive construction, no archeological trace of the ancient city before the days of Muhammed has been found.
The original Mecca
It turns out that the earliest mosques originally had their direction of prayer, not towards Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Modern-day Mecca most likely is a copy.
How did this happen? Early in the history of Islam, there was a civil war that resulted in a split, with two Meccas. In the end, the Saudi version won, and all written records of the original were destroyed. Today we are only left with archeological evidence.
There were different competing versions of the Quran, and at a crucial point, the Khalif ordered all other than the sanctioned version to be burned. As such, the so-called “radical” Islam we have today is, in fact, the progressive one – the last version standing after all of history had been burned.
House of Saud
It is quite plausible that the House of Saud knows the truth about the origins of their holy city. Otherwise, they would not be so eager and willing to raze large parts of “ancient” Mecca to the ground.
This is fertile ground for reform since if you know the inauthenticity of your history, it is hard to maintain the moral high ground in your mind.
The hidden role of women
However, the impetus for reform may have come from a quite unexpected place: women. As the nation grew wealthy due to its oil, Saudi women were sent to schools and universities. They did not go into the workforce, but they were educated and became aware of the world outside.
Although the desert kingdom is the archetype of a patriarchy, every man has a mother, and possibly quite a few wives. When these are highly educated, don’t you think it is likely that they have imbued certain opinions and values in their sons and husbands?
All over the world, we see a correlation between female education and modernization. The first university for women opened in Riyadh in 1970, and a generation later, “suddenly” the state takes a turn towards modernity.
A return to moderation
It could all be a coincidence – we will probably never know for sure – but expect the return to moderation to continue as the power of progressive Islam recedes. Perhaps one day we will also rediscover the lost history of Islam?