In his latest interview on Alhurra TV, the well known Saudi writer Mohammad Mahfoudh expressed his opinions on critical issues related to the Shiites in Saudi Arabia. Among these issues were the local Shiite religious authorities, the Shiite-Salafi relations, their relations with outside authorities and coexistence and dialogue in Saudi Arabia.
Local Shiite Religious Authority
Mohammad Mahfoudh spoke about the necessity of establishing local Shiite religious authorities in Saudi Arabia explained the reasons behind its non-existence since the forties of the last century. He indicated that the Saudi society has many diverse intellectual and political trends including seven Islamic sects which should be respected and tolerated. The local Shiite religious authority perception has two dimensions. One of them is creating a legal institution that organizes the Shiites’ religious affairs within a common national context. But, unfortunately, the circumstances are inconvenient for the government to establish such a legal institution aiming to communicate between the government and the Shiite on religious matters. The other dimension is allowing a Shi’i scholar who has religious informed reasoning specifications and conditions (mujtahid), where Saudi Shiites are able of referring to him. However, this is can not be achieved without establishing religious schools (hawzas) that have the absolute freedom for conducting studies and scientific researches.
On the other hand, Mahfoudh believes that every sect must express itself and practice its doctrinal characteristics in a proper way because this condition will greatly benefits the nation’s political and social stability.
Shiites’ Relationship with Salafists
Regarding the Salafi-Shiite rapprochement experience inside Saudi Arabia, Mahfoudh stressed on that the Shiites appreciate any initiative within this context. Unfortunately, those attempts and initiatives have not yet resulted in reducing sectarian tension or adopting a unified national agenda. So, he referred to the elements of achieving that through the following: religious figures, must avoid duality in speech because it harms the common interests; and Islamic figures must be bold in expressing their viewpoints and ideas over other Islamic sects.
He emphasized on that powerful societies are the ones in which all different groups and categories take part in the common issues. Therefore, all components of the Saudi society, including the Shiites, should play a role in composing the national vision.
However, the Gulf region is, currently, in tensed sectarian alignment especially after the fall of Iraq’s political regime and the Lebanese war. Unfortunately, we; the Saudi society, were not capable of preserving our national situation from the impacts of the sectarian disturbances in other Islamic and Arab countries. Obviously, the solution is through making integral national initiatives that aim for secluding the Saudi society from those foreign impacts and offering more opportunities to all marginalized sects that result in national integration.
Shiites’ Relations with Other Countries
Mahfoudh confirmed on that the Saudi Shiites have no political allegiance with any state other than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This can be proven throughout the history even though there have been many critical events in the region where Shiites verified to be loyal to their state. Moreover, one should differentiate between affiliation and allegiance perceptions. People usually do not play any role in choosing the profound affiliations of their lives such as religion. So, the Saudi Shiites meet with other Arab and non- Arab Shiites in the same doctrinal affiliation only. However, when it comes to allegiance, they are stick to their nation; Saudi Arabia, but they aim for improving their partnership conditions in it. Here again, the local religious authority, if existed, will help in reducing the affiliation with outside religious centers.
National Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence
Mahfoud stated that without a comprehensive, national and intellectual project that integrate all parties in Saudi Arabia, terrorism operations will continue because handling this through the security forces only is not enough. It is important to reformulate media policies and educational curricula to suit the requisites of unity and pluralism in the Saudi society. Harmful economic and social phenomena, also, must be dealt with such as unemployment of which terrorists are taking advantage.
Moreover, it is necessary to reformulate the religious discourse in Saudi Arabia to get along with the requisites of freedom and the recognition of others’ rights, as well as to conduct political reform that aim for enhancing partnership in making common resolutions over the general affairs.
Mahfoudh called for openness and dialogue among the diverse sects in Saudi Arabia. He stated that all Shiite trends issued a document named “Partners in Our Nation” and they presented it to the Kingdom’s leadership. It included the Saudi Shiites perception towards the nation’s general issues. He believes that there is a pressing need for national dialogue between the various categories of the Saudi society.
On the other hand, he is worried about the inaction of the society’s will, generally, in addressing the cultural and intellectual sponsors for religious extremism phenomenon which threatens the general situation whether politically, socially or in security, and causes violence that hinders the developmental an political stability projects.
He urged the Saudi leadership to be open to the Saudi dissidents living outside the country, and called for the interfaith dialogue conferences to be held inside Saudi Arabia.