Change in Saudi Arabia- Short and Long Term

As we have all read by now, Saudi Arabia has made some changes in its government and brought in more moderates. Some changes were expected, some were nominal while others are profound.

A lot of people focused on the first woman appointee as it heralds something new, however bringing in women is an inevitable change. No matter how much certain segments of society fight this change, it will happen – and within a generation. The reasons are obvious in a country where women will be majority business owners within a decade: demographics, telecommunications and education. By the way, a week or so before these changes, the first female Saudi cultural attache was announced for Canada.

Some are talking about the change of the Justice minister which is in line with the judicial reform that started a few weeks/months ago. Plans to overhaul the system were put into action several months ago.

Others are talking about the changes in education. This is aligned with the changes in curriculum that have already been started, as well as some of the “experimental” programs that have been tried out.

Changes in SAMA, Health and Info/Culture (along with all the other changes) were necessary for stability. The word is that several people maintained their positions/ranks however they have been reformed by internal pressure- better to reform yourself than be replaced!

The next big area is of course the change in the Hayy’a head (Commission for Promotion of Virtue and  Prevention of Vice). This is where it starts to get really interesting, not because of the change in person but because of the change in status quo in the ongoing tussle between the reform agenda of the administration and the religious right. There is a constant thrust-and-parry dance between society and the Hayy’a; the King has come down on the side of society.

The most profound and long term changes are the ones in the Shoura Council. Changing the head is of  course newsworthy. However this is the first time that all four Sunni schools of thought are being represented in the Shoura Council, not just the Hanbali school. Avoiding a history lesson, Wahabbism/Salafism is an off-shoot of the Hanbali school.

Including the other schools of thought on the Shoura Council dilutes the impact of Hanbalism/Wahabbism/Salafism. This is a long term change that has the potential to change the country in unprecedented ways; it effectively weakens the alliance between the House of Saud and the idealogues of  Ibn Abdul Wahab. There are different extreme end points that can come out of this (over the next few decades):

  • the door can be opened to move from a direct monarchy towards a constitutional monarchy
  • the religious right can feel threatened and destabilize the legitimacy of the monarchy
  • the country moves in the direction of becoming the next Dubai

Reality will probably lie somewhere between these extremes. The reign of King Abdullah has initiated the internal reform process. Crown Prince Sultan will have the choice of continuing on this path or reversing its course.

Several news story that cover the recent government changes are given below:

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Marriage in Islam

Marriages in Islam are social contracts and have to be understood in two separate ways: the mechanics of the actual marriage contract  and the responsibilities/rights associated with the marriage.

There are many cultural practices that are common however there are only a few that are religiously required (as per traditional interpretations- I won’t be dealing with other interpretations in this post).

One of the first requisites by Islam is the right to chose ones own spouse. Neither sides can/should be forced into a reunion against their will.

Like all contracts, marriages are written and signed by the bride and groom with two witnesses from each side (2 from the groom, 2 from the bride), done in the presence of an imam or a justice of the court. That means that there are a minimum of 7 people involved in any marriage contract (though they might not all be present simultaneously).

The contract itself sets the terms of the “mahr”- the amount that the husband owes the wife after the consummation of the marriage.  This is the opposite of dowry. In divorce proceedings there are various rules associated with the return of the mahr. Additionally, any other clause of legally permissible items can be added.

One more concept that is of note is that there are separate contracts for separate “transactions” in Islam. This is no different for marriages where a marriage cannot be conditional on another marriage. The terms of the contract (mahr, clauses etc) are embedded in itself, not on any other marriage contract.

The rights and the responsibilities of husband and wife have to be understood as counterparts. The right of the wife is the responsibility of the husband and vice versa. These can of course be manipulated/customized based on individuals.

The main one is associated with finances. Men are required to cover all living expenses for their wives and families. The traditional religious counterpart for women is the responsibility  of taking care of the household.

There are many other aspects of marriages however these are a few of the main ones. So why the primer on marriage is Islam? Because many of the various types of marriages mentioned in my previous post violate one or more of these requirements. Some are invalid, while others are considered reprehensible (foul, heinous, shameful).