By Mohammed Al Shaikh
12 April 2018
The Ministry of Culture and Information has announced that in the next few days, the cinema will return to Riyadh after Saudis were deprived of it for about four decades.
The cinema itself is not the important matter here but what is important is the symbolism of this step. It is now clear to everyone that there is a governmental orientation that promotes openness in various sectors and different aspects of life.
It seems the government has reached a full conviction that the closed and radical society which fights happiness, hates joy and tends to forbid innocent entertainment is a sick society whose illness must be contained. Advocates of this negative approach must be silenced to save the community from this toxic sickness, which encouraged extremism and ignited terrorism, mainly among the youth.
If anyone tried to survey the causes and reasons for this close-mindedness, one would discover it’s due to figures with ‘calcified’ thoughts that passed prohibitions which are not based on any evidence and which did not rely on the rules of Sharia when issuing Fatwas (religious edicts).
These figures believe that what they prohibit and permit is final and there is no room for different views. According to them, what they say is absolutely right while everything else is completely wrong. I believe that this arbitrariness in rejecting other opinions has been our major problem that has created a society which walks in one direction and which only believes what the clerics it follows say.
The history of religious jurisprudence is full of debate and diverse approaches. The advantage of this approach is that it enriches Sharia. When one opinion is forced, this unilateralism will inevitably produce extremism, the first fuel of terrorism.
When we call for openness and for dealing with the issue of what is allowed and what is forbidden with free minds without accusing people of infidelity or heresy, i.e. when we accept pluralism, we’d be setting our foot on the first path of reform and civilization. We must also admit that our country has several components with different orientations, some of which have contradicting jurisprudential orientations.
We can never achieve coexistence, which is the basis of security and stability, unless we respect the differences between these components and prevent anyone from imposing his beliefs on others. What some people agree to completely prohibit, others may find permissible. Since we are all part of the homeland, one must respect others’ beliefs even if he disagrees with them.
Antidote to Extremism
I am certain that this approach towards greater openness introduced right now, would first bring down extremism and narrow-mindedness in our society, and which are the virus of terrorism. The results of change are already visible.
The number of terror cells busted this year stand in stark and positive contrast to the number of terror cells discovered in previous years. I strongly believe that the longevity of this openness in various sectors will further besiege extremism, and terrorist groups will find it more difficult to recruit followers.
Finally, I would like to speak out loud: openness, openness and then openness as this is not only a cure for extremism and terrorism but it is an elixir for cultural development, which closed-minded and backward people have obstructed us from pursuing for decades.
Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper.