Here’s a nice piece from the Arabic daily Okaz, translated by Saudi Gazette. In it, the writer asks just what ‘tolerant Islam’ means. He points out that there are enormous differences between practices and interpretations of Islam around the world. That’s certainly a fact, as Saudi society itself makes clear. What is ordinary to some is haram to others; what is proper to some is ‘extreme’ to yet others. Noting that the new Council of Senior Scholars is returning to a more universal composition, including all four school of Sunni Islam, he also quotes cites two of the members as saying that the ‘door to ijtihad‘ (independent interpretation of Islam) is indeed ‘open’. We will have to wait to see just what comes of this. The potential for reform is great, but there are also powerful forces that will fight against any lessening of the strictures that govern Saudi society today.
Again I point out: there is yet to be any sense that Shi’a Islam will be brought into the Council. This remains a necessary step if Saudi Arabia is to indeed be deemed ‘tolerant’, but it’s a step in the future, I’m afraid…
What is tolerant Islam?
Muhammad Al-Herfi | Okaz
Many people were very happy about the changes recently made in the Council of Senior Scholars. Many also expected to see drastic changes in the nature of the council’s work and the decisions that it might make.
I said in a previous article that change itself is a legitimate and important demand. I also said that the infusion of new blood into any organ would help develop that organ, particularly when this new blood is qualified and able to give and take. Some writers who wrote about the changes in the council said the entry of new scholars following different schools of Islamic thought would enable the council to make more tolerant decisions.
The council was established in 1971 by a royal decree, which authorized it to seek the help of non-Saudi scholars whenever necessary. From its very beginning the council included scholars who did not belong to the Hanbali school — such as Sheikh Abdul Raziq Afifi who was Hanafi, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Shinkiti who was Maliki and Sheikh Abdul Majeed Hassan who was Shafie. This diversification of schools has been recognized in the composition of the new council. So the inclusion of different religious schools on the council was not something new.