AFTER the 9/11, Saudi Arabia was blamed for promoting religious fundamentalism. No doubt, the Kingdom provided generous financial and material support to Afghans during their war against the erstwhile Soviet Union. But it was not Saudi Arabia alone that supported the Afghan freedom struggle in the 1980s. Most of other countries of the world also supported the Afghans in their war against the Soviet Union. Afghan war was, in fact, a conflict between the Soviet Union and rest of the world. Islam was used to gain the support of Muslim masses by exploiting their religious sentiments. While serving at the Military Institute of Languages, Saudi Arabia from 1983 to 1985, I watched documentaries on Afghan struggle produced by Americans. In these movies Afghan struggled was glorified as Jihad (holy war), and freedom fighters as Mujahideen (holy warriors). Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had to ultimately pay a heavy price for playing a lead role in Afghan war.
During stay in the Kingdom, I observed that Saudis are quite flexible in their approach to religion due to their interaction with Muslims from all over the world on Hajj every year. Once I listened to a young Mattawa (religious teacher) who visited the institute to deliver a sermon. After his sermon, I asked him few questions about religious issues, which are causes of serious conflicts in Pakistan. My questions related to the performance of certain rituals like the number of Travis (special prayers offered in Ramazan), exact place on chest/abdomen where folded arms/hands are to be placed while offering prayer, and saying Ameen aloud or quietly when offering prayer in a congregation. With a smile on his face, the young man replied that these were insignificant issues; a true Muslim should worship Allah alone, and lead life in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of Allah’s last Prophet (PBUH). He further added that minor variations in performance of rituals and difference of opinion about religious issues was natural, and not much significant. While living in Saudi Arabia I noted that the beliefs and practices of Saudis are the demonstration of true Sunni faith. For instance, in Pakistan different Sunni sub sects prefer to follow the teachings of only one of the four Imams, whereas Saudis act upon the teachings of one Imam in one particular interpretation of a religious issue, and other Imam in the interpretation of some other religious issue. During Hajj, the Saudi government distributes small booklets/leaflets, written in the languages spoken in the Muslim countries. These booklets/leaflets contain four columns. Each of the columns contains the practices, followed by a particular Imam during Hajj. The Hujjaj have the option to act upon the practices of anyone of the Imams or a different Imam on each occasion.
Huge billboards, written in major international languages, are posted at prominent places in Makkah and Madina to educate Muslims from all over the world about the true spirit of Islam as a religion of peace and goodwill. The instructions written on these billboards are quite realistic. I once stopped to go through the instructions written in Urdu on one such board. Interestingly, it was written that not causing injury or pain to a person is a “fardh” (religious compulsion) for every Muslim, which should be avoided even if one has to forego the performance of some ritual. For instance causing pain to others to kiss the Black Stone is not a desirable action in Islam. Unfortunately, we do not find this type of Islamic spirit among most of the Muslims. Despite their ultra conservative culture, Saudis are more adaptive than the people of other Muslim countries. Spending billions of US dollars on the promotion of modern education, particularly of the female, espousal of American technologies and systems to improve the management of their civil and military departments, are some of the examples that reflect their rational approach. Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country that has always encouraged and sponsored the interfaith harmony and dialogue. The Kingdom has hosted Jews and Christian scholars for dialogue and interaction with Muslim scholars, more than once.
Keeping in view Muslims’ emotional attachment with the places, buildings and other objects, associated with the Holy Prophet and his companions, should have been preserved as the Islamic heritage. By obliterating these buildings and places, Saudi themselves provided their opponents with an opportunity to propagate against them. King Fahad’s decision to take the title of Khadim-ul-Harmain-Sharifain reflects Saudi’s love and respect for the Holy Prophet. Besides spending billions of dollars on the development, expansion, cleanliness and maintenance of the Prophet’s Mosque, the Saudi authorities take extra care to ensure its security and sanctity. Millions of Pakistanis have been living in Saudi Arabia for the last many decades. Remittances sent by these Pakistanis are the major source of our foreign exchange. Saudi Arabia has always extended generous financial and political support to Pakistan during crises. Despite the goodwill Saudi Arabia has always shown for the people of Pakistan, it is often targeted by its adversaries, active in Pakistan, because of its conservative culture. The objective of this hostile campaign is to alienate the peoples of the two brotherly countries from one another by sowing the seeds of distrust. Cordial relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two major Muslim countries, are in the interest of not only Saudis and Pakistanis, but also of the entire Muslim Ummah.
— The writer a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.