Saudi acceptance of the "Other" - a change?
Saudi acceptance of the "Other" - a change?

Tribal culture, the basis of Middle Eastern sociology, sees the "Other" as someone who belongs to another family, tribe or ethnic group.  That makes him an enemy, either  to keep one's distance from - in the best case - or to fight against in the worst  This is the source of the Middle Eastern tendency to engage in violence in order to solve disagreements.

Islam came to the world in order to create an alternative to  tribal culture and to give believers a basis for connecting groups of converts and turning them into one, united nation.  However, in order to emphasize its uniqueness, Islam treats the "Other" as a heretic and an idol worshiper, someone who is the object of Allah's wrath (read Jews) or someone who has strayed from the right path (read Christians).

Accordingly, Islam not only failed to solve the problem of tribal hatred towards the "Other", it exacerbated and deepened it by means of religion-based hatred for non-Muslims. Today, concerted Saudi efforts to survive Persian hatred are forcing the country to develop relations with Americans  and Israelis, leading Saudi spokespersons to make valiant attempts to prepare the people and to justify relations with those who are the "Other" both tribally and religiously. This is anathema to those who have not yet overcome the way of thinking that posits hostility for the "Other" – and this explains the socio-religious context of an article recently posted by a Saudi writer

The entire article can be read below, with my comments in parentheses.

Are we able to accept the "Other?"

The discussion last wek regarding Pope Francis' visit to the United Arab Emirates revealed a great deal about the way some Muslims view the "Other" and the "different." The way we view the "Other" is characterized by many contradictions and is often disconnected from reality. In many instances, in the worst case, some of us skew the facts and lie or believe one is allowed to lie to strengthen his point of view and reject others.

It is important to point out that this refers only to some of us, because the silent majority does not necessarily agree with those who filled the traditional social media with protests and and outcries against this visit, opening all kinds of old and new issues, using language that makes one feel that Islam is in imminent danger and that there is no choice but to declare Jihad to protect it.

There is a list of facts that must be stressed as a preface for any discussion of the current situation.

The first essential fact is that Islam as a faith is very strong and not influenced by contact and dialogue with any other religious group, although "some of us" feel that if a Muslim sees a cross he will immediately convert to Christianity and is even more likely to do so if he visits a church or talks to an observant Christian.

The truth is that in the few unusual cases In which a Muslim has abandoned Islam and joined another religion, a close examination will reveal that that person suffers a clear defect in his thought processes, because anyone who knows the simplicity of  Islam's portrayal of the connection between man and his Creator, finds it hard to be persuaded by the complexity of other religions, especially those ruled by clergy in so-called religious mantles.

The second fact is that the Muslims are in a weak cultural state at present. They are still dependent on that Western Christian and Jewish "Other," as well as the Buddhist and Shiinto "Others"in the East, for  their essential needs.  This starts with the clothes on their backs and goes on to the medications with which they are treated, the mobile phones from which they send their tweets, and this means they will continue needing and purchasing knowledge from that "Other" for long decades, from.those whom they don't respect and with whom they avoid any dialogue.

The third fact is the  most important for us here. It is that Islam really is a religion of tolerance., dialogue, and live-and-let-live. If only that group of Muslims would read the life of our revered prophet with a clean conscience, peace and prayers be upon him, they would realize that by recognizing the "Other" and respecting the basic principles of life together with him, they would gain the admiration of the heart (of others) and would succeed in spreading the message of Islam.

The fourth fact that must be stressed is that dialogue with the "Other" does not necessarily result in persuading one another, and that even if the dialogue does take place on that basis, Islam has enough powerful logic and rationality to swing the pendulum its way, on condition that the person taking part in the dialogue is well versed in Islamic tenets.Except that real dialogue is based on the strength of the logic and rationality that preserve life together with all mankind, that puts an end to the suspicions and anger through which the world views Muslims because of the negative behavior of some of them.

Therefore, the intelligent move, the minimum a believer must do, is to open channels of communication with the Catholic church which has 1.2 billion members around the world, and with the religions that have the most influence – most especially the Vatican – because the Pope, as head of the Catholic Church, has more than 1.2 billion following him all over the world. He has spiritual authority over them despite the spread of atheism and secularism..

The Saudi monarchy began to believe that dialiogue with the Vatican is 1972 when the late king Faisal agreed to allow the Vatican to take part, at the urging of several European intellectuals, in a discussion with his learned religious scholars about Sharia law and  human rights. That year a seminar took place in Riyadh in the month of March with the participation of a group of Islamic scholars, including Mahmad Alkracan and several others.  The seminar ended with a declaration by the head of the European delegation MacBride, who said "From here, and from this Islamic state, we  must announce the existence of human rights, not from other states, because the Islamic scholars must announce these facts to the entire world whose ignorance led ithe enemies of Islam and the Muslims to malign Islam, Muslims and Muslim rule."

In 1974, King Faisal received the messenger sent by Pope Paul VI who brought a letter from the Pope that included an invitation for Saudi researchers to visit the Vatican. This visit did indeed take place, and Sheikh Mahmed Alkracan, then Minister of Justice, was at its head and met the Pope as well as the World Council of Churches.

It goes without saying that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was the initiator of interfaith dialogue, and the first Saudi king to visit the Vatican and meet Pope Benedict XVI. This and the conference he headed  in Madrid brought about the establishment of an international organization for dialogue based in Vienna.

Last year, King Salman welcomed the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who visited the kingdom by special invitation, and a high level Saudi delegation visited the Vatican in 2017 and presented a letter of appreciation from the kingdom to the Pope for his opinions calling for peace and coexistence and rejecting the connection between religion and terror.

Oddly, we keep repeating the words "Islamic tolerance" but we are apt to fall at the first attempt to act on this tolerance. An imam even publicized a legal decision on live TV and his words are being recycled all over, because he announced that anyone calling for dialogue with either Christians or Jews is one of the "wicked of the earth" and continued by saying that the Jewish and Christian religions are counterfeit religions that are close to idolatry. One must not go near them because that is seen as recognition of what they encompass, while reality is far away from that.

And that is the article written by Saltan Albazai, posted on the London-based Al Hayat newspaper website.  He comments on the history of Saudi relations with the Christian world as proof that Saudi rulers tried to advance the idea of dialogue with the "Other", but he forgets or ignores the fact that it is Wahabee Islam, to which Saudi Arabia belongs, that develops the idea of keeping a large distance from all contact with the Christian "Other" in order to prevent defiling the sons and daughters of Islam. 

Between the lines of Albazai's writing on the "Other," one can discover allusions to the ties Saudi Arabia has with Israel, ties he sees as a positive development. The Saudis are so afraid of the Iranians that the threat facing them serves to connect them to Israel, a country which is a partner to that fear and has its own reasons to be anxioius about Iran. 

Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky, Op-ed and Judaism Editor.