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Discussions of “individualism” and “personal freedoms” in Saudi society

The rapid changes that Saudi society is going through, culturally, behaviorally and legislatively, which were accompanied by the “Kingdom’s Vision 2030”, stimulated discussions between civil and religious elites, especially with regard to “personal freedoms” and “individualism” and the human right to live according to the way he chooses. Without guardianship from anyone, as long as he does not do anything contrary to the law, which is the legal reference for Saudis.

These debates vary from one city to another, and they may differ in some small local details, but in their core they refer to a clear divergence of opinions between two points of view, “conservative” and another “open”, which is a very natural difference that all nations go through. Conservatives, especially the hard-liners among them, are apprehensive about any change, fearing that it will lead to the disruption of the established structures of customs and traditions, and to the destabilization of religious values ​​that have been inherited by generations. On the other hand, those who are open to the values ​​of the times believe that life, by nature, is moving towards development and change, and that resistance to modernization will only lead to more stagnation and isolation, and that civilization is not in contradiction with religion.

Qatif model!

Al-Qatif Governorate, in eastern Saudi Arabia, can be taken as an example of the ongoing dialogues, whether in councils or forums, and even social media, which reflect a divergence of opinions that often amounts to contradiction.

There are now several urban manifestations, specifically in the main cities of the province: Qatif, Saihat, and Safwa. Where modern cafes spread, with attractive designs, competing services, and providing several entertainment options.

A number of these cafes and restaurants are crowded with young men and women, as well as families, who come to sit and drink coffee, eat meals, or smoke hookahs, without barriers between tables, and to the sound of music. A very familiar and usual scene in neighboring cities such as Khobar and Dhahran, and it is a daily behavior in major cities such as the capital Riyadh and Jeddah. However, this relative openness was seen by some “preachers” and their supporters from the “conservative” movement as a cause for resentment, and considered it “disgraceful” behavior, while according to others, it is just a normal practice of the daily life of millions of Saudis.

The observer notes that: music, mixed spaces, the freedom of girls to wear clothes appropriate to them… and other social behaviors, are only marginal titles for a larger basic issue, which is the view of the concept of “personal freedoms”, and the extent to which the conservative religious current accepts it, and whether it can deal with flexibility With the criticism of the “preachers” speech and the points of view put forward by the civil intellectuals!

reward and punishment!

Fawzi Al-Saif, a Saudi religious scholar, has a lecture entitled “The Fallacy of Reason and Freedom,” in which he says, “You are free under a master, and you have the right to choose, and accordingly it follows that you are punished or not,” adding, “You are free to choose, but if you choose that side. On the Day of Resurrection, there will be severe torment,” wondering, “Where is the freedom, when a free person is supposed to be, whether he takes this path or that, there is nothing waiting for him.

So, Sheikh Al-Saif, proceeds from a purely classical religious perspective, based on the duality of reward and punishment, and the need for a person to adhere to legal rulings, and according to that his behavior must be regulated!

Sheikh Fawzi Al-Saif

Contempt for offenders!

The sword in its proposition, and although it is based on traditional premises, it does not go towards “coercion” or the practice of oppression against those who differ with him in his opinion, in contrast to some opinions adopted by other religious figures, such as Majid Al-Sada, who is placed in a solid box against any opinion It comes from outside his value system, as he wrote on his Facebook page, the text of which reads: “Why do liberals fight scholars and their religious orientations? Simply because their religious societies utter them and the values ​​they carry of immorality, so they do not find a place and value for themselves in a society that gives value to the word of its scholars and their orientations And consideration.”

In his proposal, the gentlemen seek to perpetuate the authority of “preachers”, by portraying society as a loyal follower of the “preachers” discourse, and that those who deviate from the path are a small number whose opinions have no value, because consideration is reserved for the “word” of scholars only!

So, here is a different example of Fawzi Al-Saif’s proposition. Although Al-Sada and Al-Saif belong to the same category of “religious scholars”, they differ in style and proposition, which is clearly reflected in the vocabulary of their discourse.

Consecration of guardianship!

For his part, preacher Diaa al-Khabbaz believes that “the modernist, in his criticism of religion, often resorts to deception and deceit, as in order not to directly clash with religion and religious people – especially in religious societies – he resorts to choosing a title, and does his best to distort and discredit it.” and alienating public opinion”, giving an example with “some of them seeking to distort and alienate the title (guardianship) and then hint in a clever way that it applies to the title (Promoting Good and Forbidding Evil), as it is a cunning method to curtail one of the most important divine duties, and an attempt to diminish its role And its effectiveness, due to its great influence in curtailing non-religious phenomena and minimizing them.

Here, the baker and the gentlemen meet on the same grounds that oppose change, suspicious of the limited impact of the preachers’ discourses on the general public, the criticism of the meaning of “guardianship”, and the rejection with which they met even within the same religious and conservative circles.

Al-Khabbaz, in the same comment he posted on his account on the “Instagram” platform, did not hide his criticism of the enlightened intellectuals, saying, “But what do we do when the Arkoni and Shahrouri culture is dominant over the modernist mind,” in a repetition of the same “disapproval” pursued by a wide segment of “preachers.” Against the ideas of the late Muhammad Arkoun and Muhammad Shahrour, and what they presented of a different perception of the concept of religion, it is the opposite of the narrative on which the extremist religious discourse was built.

Accept difference!

A fourth point of view sought to look at the scene from a different angle. In the Friday prayer sermon, in early January, Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar indicated that “differences of viewpoints between people in the intellectual fields and social work are natural,” warning, “It is not right to mistrust and accuse Any party to the other, or to judge it as delusion or innovation, or stubbornness or bad purpose without conclusive evidence,” pointing out that “one of the reasons for the difference of points of view is the availability of scientific and objective data in examining any issue or issue, so whoever has more information may differ. his opinion of those who lack that information.”

Sheikh Hassan Al-Saffar

Sheikh Hassan Al-Saffar

Al-Saffar seeks to view cultural pluralism within society as a fait accompli that must be dealt with without spasms or clashes, but rather acceptance of different opinions and respect for their owners.

Stay away from fanaticism!

For his part, Sheikh Hussein Ali Al-Mustafa said, “The ongoing discussions in the Qatifi community about the concept of social and intellectual freedom are important discussions, and one should not worry or be afraid of them, because the dialogue between different opinions is what leads to building new perceptions that are commensurate with the development of the era, and meet the human being.” Its requirements, and also deepening awareness that difference is a cosmic and divine norm that cannot be overlooked.

Sheikh Hussein Ali Al-Mustafa

Sheikh Hussein Ali Al-Mustafa

Al-Mustafa, in his interview with, called on the preachers at the Husseini pulpit to make their speech “closer to the people, addressing their needs, not dealing with them from a position above me, and staying away from harshness, because what is required is the call to God with sermon and good word.” Regarding behavioral changes in society, Al-Mustafa believes that they are “very natural changes, that correspond to the course of life, whether we like it in all of it or not, except that we must not deal with it with nervousness and aversion, but rather we must accept the diversity of lifestyles among people, without meaning that To be ashamed of our personal lifestyle,” adding that “a person in the modern era cannot live in the same way we used to live 20 years ago, and therefore, these changes are not all bad as some portray, but rather will lead to more refinement, development and respect for society.” to each other and to accept the principle of pluralism of ideas and opinions. Stressing that “the issue of women should not turn into a big stick that they wave in the face of society, as if they are a conqueror of evils. This is an imperfect patriarchal perception, as women are a major part and partner in building, development, family, love and culture. Being more visible now than before does not mean that she is less faithful.” “. Regarding the criticism of societal and religious discourses, Hussein Ali Al-Mustafa said, “Criticism should be from everyone, aiming to raise people’s intellectual and social awareness, and this is what I used to repeat on several occasions in my lectures.”

Different starting points!

Dr. Tawfiq Al-Saif, in his article in “Asharq Al-Awsat” newspaper, entitled “Useless Discussions”, presented a point of view, which he opened by saying, “I do not see an opportunity for a useful discussion between the defenders of the traditional version of religion and the advocates of enlightenment – modernity,” as “both groups belong to To a system of knowledge and values ​​completely different from the other.

Dr. Tawfiq Al-Saif

Dr. Tawfiq Al-Saif

Al-Saif considered, “The reality is that we are actually talking about two distinct intellectual worlds, each of which has its own ground, philosophical justifications, starting points, hypotheses, and tools of criticism, and it is completely different from the other world. Therefore, there is no single normative rule or common scientific scale that can be relied upon in balancing between the two opinions or their evidence.” . However, he acknowledged that “there is no need for regret. It is useful to look at the good side in heated debates,” adding, “The attempt of both sides to impose his opinion will push the other side to strengthen its inferences and deepen the ideas for discussion.” Noting that “if everyone remained silent in order to preserve the unity of the situation, no one would benefit. The discussion is what generates new visions, educates people and expands the horizons of knowledge.”

Here he meets Dr. Tawfiq Al-Saif and Sheikh Hussein Ali Al-Mustafa emphasized the importance of continuing discussions, not being apprehensive about them, and that in addition to being part of the freedom of thinking and questioning, they will lead to more knowledge, knowledge and experiences, which are things that society needs in order to develop and engage more in development and modernization.

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