Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

A commercial building that looks like the Kaaba, new holidays and new rules for Ramadan are indicative of a national identity in Saudi Arabia that is not tied to religion.

The formation of a new secular national identity in Saudi Arabia
The formation of a new secular national identity in Saudi Arabia


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Prince Mohammed bin Salman plans to build a giant square building in the Saudi capital. The Saudi Crown Prince’s project called ‘The New Cube’ will be 400 meters high and as wide and long as its name suggests. But more important than its glory is the change that took place in Saudi Arabia, of which it is sad.

The construction of The New Cube is expected to be completed in 2030 and the building will resemble the Kaaba in appearance. Apart from hotels, it will have many other places of entertainment.

In this regard, political analyst Bruno Schmidt Feuerherd from Cambridge University says that culture is replacing religion in Saudi society and now Kaaba is not the only thing in terms of architecture, which is like a cube or ‘cube’. be

New national identity

The New Cube, also known as the Commercial or Commercial Kaaba, is not the first step towards the creation of a new national identity in Saudi Arabia. A national identity that is not linked to religion. Last year, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued a royal decree, in which February 22 every year was announced as a holiday to celebrate the establishment day of Saudi Arabia. Earlier, the National Day of Saudi Arabia was celebrated on September 23 every year.

February 22 is a date of the Saudi king’s own choosing with no religious basis, Feuerheard says. According to him, national thinking is behind celebrating the establishment day on this day and the aim of this initiative is non-religious holidays.

Another such initiative is the announcement by the Saudi Crown Prince last year to change the year of establishment of Saudi Arabia from 1744 to 1727. Prior to that, the history of its establishment was based on an agreement reached in 1744 between the royal family of Saudi Arabia and the theologian Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab.

In this agreement, the Saudi royal family promised to financially support Wahhabism and give it authority over matters of education and public morality. In return, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab promised to sanction the royal family’s rule in Saudi Arabia from a religious perspective. While in 1727, Muhammad bin Saud assumed power as the founder of the first Saudi state after gaining control of the state.

In Feuerhardt’s opinion, the role of religion in the country has diminished due to the “reinterpretation” of the establishment of the Saudi state. This week, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs also announced major changes to Ramadan rules, which will come into force on March 22.

The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs has imposed a ban on collecting donations for mosques and eating Suhoor and Iftar there. According to his orders, the duration of prayers in the mosques will be kept short and children will not be allowed to pray there, while the people coming to the mosque will have to bring their identity card with them. Apart from Masjid Nabawi and Masjid al-Haram, the number of worshipers in other mosques has been limited and the broadcasting of prayers on TV has also been banned.

Analyst Sami Hamidi says about this that this is another step towards the formation of a national identity whose main pillar will not be Islam. Expressing his opinion on Twitter, he said, “MBS (Mohammed bin Salman) is taking Islam out of the public sphere.”

Changing mindset of Saudi society

These measures have not been widely opposed in Saudi Arabia. Fewer Heard says there are several reasons for the Saudi public’s acceptance of these measures. Explaining these reasons, he said that many Saudi nationals have studied abroad under the ‘King Abdullah Scholarship’ and therefore, even after seeing innovation in their country, they do not feel much cultural difference on their return.

At the moment, the priority of the Saudi state is to provide education and employment to the youth. This is part of the large-scale economic changes taking place in Saudi Arabia under the ‘Vision 2030’ introduced by Prince Salman in 2016, one of the aims of which is to bring innovation to the country. As a result, Saudi women now have more rights. Now cinemas have also opened there and the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Evil has also been abolished.

Feuerhardt says that Saudi Arabia now has more freedom socially, but “political activism is still discouraged” and “critics are portrayed as traitors to the people and the nation.” DW had contacted the Saudi authorities regarding this article but had not received a response by the time of publication.

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