Saudi Discourse on Religious Plurality

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© Ergon Verlag

The study analyzes the inner-Islamic discourse on religious plurality. Society and politics in Saudi Arabia are based on the close relationship between political rulership and an exclusivist reading of Islam, generally referred to as "Wahhabism". Up to the late 1990s, the ruling family of Al Saud was propagating a vision of national identity that was highly focused on the “community of common destiny” of the Royal Family and its subjects on the one hand, and the "Saudi-Wahhabi Umma" as an outstanding characteristic of righteousness within the (Muslim) world on the other. This vision, however, led to the labelling of non-Wahhabi Muslims as false-believers, resulting in the marginalization of minority groups - first and foremost the Saudi Shia - inside the kingdom itself. The study is examining the intellectual and religious discourse on religious - foremost inner-Islamic - plurality in the framework of the Saudi "Center for National Dialogue". Starting with a description of the political implications of the Wahhabi religious reform program from its very beginning, and the development of political and social reform discourse in the 1980s and 1990s, the study offers an in-depth analysis of the National Dialogue Meetings. Moreover, it offers insights into the thoughts of six Saudi religious and intellectual thinkers, both of Sunni and of Shia origin. In addition to the high number of documents and media coverage, that were being used as data-base, the author was able to interview higly influential figures of Saudi social and political discourse of the last 30 years or so, amongst others Salman bin Fahd al-Awda and Zaki al-Milad. The study shows that Saudi discourse holds a number of innovative and critical positions and concepts concerning the established view on religious others as well as on national identity. It provides deep insights into the lively Saudi debates on citizenship and dialogue, rarely presented to a non-Saudi audience.

Note: Preuschaft, Menno, Religion, Nation und Identität. Eine Untersuchung des zeitgenössischen saudischen Diskurses zum Umgang mit religiöser Pluralität (Kultur, Recht und Politik in muslimischen Gesellschaften, vol. 31), Würzburg: Ergon 2014.