Reforming the Religious Discourse in Saudi Arabia (2001–10)

Authored by: Eman Mohammad Alhussein

Routledge Handbook of Political Islam

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415484732
eBook ISBN: 9780203154144
Adobe ISBN: 9781136577239


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The focus of this chapter is on the different trends and debates concerning the reformation of traditional religious discourse in Saudi Arabia as discussed in the national press – the main arena of cultural and religious debates. These discussions have contributed to the birth of counter-discourses that challenge the mainstream understanding of religion. These reformative trends, which would have been impossible in the 1990s – and even more so in the 1980s – show that there is an urgent need for change in the country’s most vital component, the religious establishment. The themes, rationales and obstacles in the way of religious reform will be examined in newspapers, including Al-Watan, Al-Riyadh and Okaz. The reformation process coincided with an internal need to acknowledge the diversity of the Saudi Arabian population in terms of its different sectarian and religious beliefs. The reform has also helped to pave the way for counter-Sunni discourses to be discussed, especially in the annual conference of Al-Hiwar al-Watani (the National Dialogue). Lastly, this study will attempt to examine the strength of the religious establishment and how it is losing momentum. The reform by its opponents is reshaping a counter-discourse that embraces not only religion but also other aspects of Saudi Arabia’s diverse culture and society.

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