Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rattles Muslim clergy, challenges sources of sharia

This is huge.  Those of us who have had hopes that Saudi Arabia can be transformed from a sponsor of hard-line jihad into a modernizing force in the Islamic world have cause for optimism.

Remarks made by the real ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), suggest that he is carefully laying the ground for a fundamental reinterpretation of orthodox Islam.

Tarek Fatah, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, writes in the Toronto Sun:

When the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, challenged the fundamental precepts of Islamic Sharia in an interview on April 28, the tremors were so deep, they left most Muslims and their clerics in a state of silent shock.

MBS, as the crown prince is known, had questioned the very validity of 'Hadith' literature — sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad — that provide much of what is today considered Islamic Law in places as far apart as Aceh in Indonesia to University campuses in California in the West.

As an example, the hijab suddenly lost its religious justification and much of the Islamic laws that created the Taliban lost their validation.

Many of us who had for decades fought the Saudization of Islam were taken aback by MBS's statements. The man who is turning his country slightly away from funding overseas jihads and civil wars had quietly heralded women's rights and in an unprecedented move included the Hindu texts of Mahabharat and Ramayana into the school syllabus.

These tremors in Islamdom were so deep and fundamental, they left the Imams, Muftis and mosque clerics who had always looked towards Riyadh for inspiration — both financial and religious — in a state of stunned silence. They still have not reacted.

Even the Islamist scholars in Canada held their breath, not knowing what to say or how to react to the changing winds in Islam. 

Because Saudi Arabia sends so much money to support mosques and Muslim clergy overseas, it is quite understandable that there is silence, at least for the moment.  No one is better positioned to help Islam reform and modernize than the ruler of Saudi Arabia.

I have from the start of his reign seen MbS as attempting something similar to what the Meiji reformers did in Japan, following its 19th-century opening to the West.  I am guessing that he and his advisers have studied their success closely, for he is adopting the same basic approach: labeling modernization as a "restoration."  In Japan, the claim was made that the reformers were "restoring" direct imperial rule, getting rid of the corrupt shogun, who stood between the people and their divine ruler (while installing themselves as the interpreters of the Emperor's wishes).

MbS is returning to direct Quranic law, eliminating the potentially inaccurate hadith sayings as a source of sharia law.  It is much simpler to interpret (and reinterpret) the shorter body of the Quran than the much more voluminous hadith — especially when the Saudi government is subsidizing the clergy who will issue the re-interpretations.

Here are some of the relevant excerpts (emphases added):

[W]e are bound to implement the Quran in some form or another. But in social and personal affairs, we are only obliged to implement stipulations that are clearly stated in the Quran.

So, I cannot enforce a Sharia punishment without a clear Quranic stipulation or an explicit stipulation from the Sunnah. When I talk about an explicit stipulation from the Sunnah, most hadith writers classify hadith based on their own typology, like Bukhari, Muslim and others, into correct hadith or weak hadith. But there is another classification which is more important, namely whether a tradition or hadith has been narrated by many people or a single narrator, and this is the main reference for jurisprudence for deducing regulations, Sharia-wise.

In essence, he is saying that some of the hadith may not be reliable.

So, when we talk about a Mutawater hadith, i.e., narrated and handed down from one group to another group to another starting with the Prophet, PBUH, these hadiths are very few in number, but they are strong in terms of veracity, and their interpretations vary based on the time and place they were revealed and how the hadith was understood at the time.

But when we talk about Ahad hadiths, which is handed down from a single person to another starting with the Prophet PBUH, or from a group to a group to a single individual then another group etc. starting with the Prophet PBUH, so that there's and individual in the chain. This is called ahad hadith. And this is broken down into many classifications, such as correct, weak, or good hadith. And this type of hadith, the ahad, is not as compelling as the mutawater hadiths; the ones narrated by a chain of groups unless paired with clear Quranic stipulations and a clear mundane or worldly good to be had, especially if it's a correct ahad hadith. And this is also a small portion of the body of hadith.

While a "Khabar" is a hadith handed down from a single person to another single person etc. to an unknown source, starting with the Prophet PBUH, or from a group to a group, then a person to another person, and so on, starting with the Prophet PBUH, so that there's a missing link. This represents the majority of hadith and this type of hadith is unreliable whatsoever, in the sense that its veracity is not established and that it isn't binding.

Wow!  A majority of hadiths are unreliable!

And in the biography of the Prophet PBUH, when the hadith was first recorded the Prophet PBUH ordered those records to be burnt and forbade the writing of hadith, and that should apply even more so to "Khabar" hadiths so that people are not obliged to implement them from a Sharia perspective, since they also might be used as ammunition to dispute God Almighty's power to produce teachings that are fit for every time and place. Hence, the government, where Sharia is concerned, has to implement Quran regulations and teachings in mutawater hadiths, and to look into the veracity and reliability of ahad hadiths, and to disregard "khabar" hadiths entirely, unless if a clear benefit is derived from it for humanity.

So, there should be no punishment related to a religious matter except when there is a clear Quranic stipulation, and this penalty will be implemented based on the way that the Prophet PBUH applied it.

The Crown Prince has the best security that money can buy.  He needs it.  This has the potential to change the character of Islam in the modern era.

Photo credit: Mazen AlDarrab.

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