King Salman Changing Title, Prelude to Fundamental Changes in Saudi Arabia

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Issues

The issue of power – including the political power –has been approached in totally different ways in the Islamic world by Sunni and Shia Muslims with Shias considering imamate as the ultimate authority while Sunnis believing in caliphate. There has been no precedent in the history of Shia where a king has been trying to use a special title to justify his legitimacy and this is a totally new issue. Among Sunnis, however, we have four major religious schools, that is, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. Those persons who founded these theoretical and jurisprudential schools were known as Imam among Sunni Muslims. However, none of them was ever a king and they only enjoyed theoretical and jurisprudential authority and introduced their own take of Islam to create a new school of thought. They, themselves, did not even claim that they had created a new school, but it was their followers who gradually transformed their ideas into a distinct school of thought among Sunni Muslims.

Now, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has reportedly decided to change his title from “king” to “Imam.” It seems that King Salman has come to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia is in conditions when it should make basic changes to its structure and he is trying to combine those changes with a message of justification. He wants to send the message to the people in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries of the region that changes in Saudi Arabia, which have been underway in the country for a while, are not simply political, but they are bent to introduce ideological changes as well. This is where the Saudi kingdom may face challenges, because many Wahhabi clerics will not easily give in to these changes. They have very close relations with Al Saud family and have been so intimate with them that they have ousted Al-Rashid family so that Al Saud could become kings of the Arabian Peninsula. Now, however, it seems that the new generation of Al Saud rulers will face challenges posed by these aging clerics, who still insist firmly on their strict convictions. This is natural as each of the two sides wants to have its own views come on top and this goal will certainly not be achieved so easily. Therefore by changing his title, King Salman is trying to give legitimacy to his measures in order to prevent further pressure from Wahhabi clerics.

At present, we are witnessing a generational gap in Saudi Arabia. In past years, all sons of King Abdulaziz were chosen as successive kings, but now almost all of them are about 80 years old. Now, a new generation has made its debut within Al Saud family, which has studied in the West and is claiming to be pioneering a new form of governance. The new rulers believe that conditions inside the country should be attuned to the outside world. On the other hand, however, the former generation, especially Wahhabi clerics who still stick to their obsolete ideas, are against such changes and are trying to resist them. In other words, a new era is beginning in Saudi Arabia. The previous generation of Saudi politicians have understood the perils of the Arab Spring and subsequent developments in the region. Now, they have reached the conclusion that the way should be gradually paved for these changes as well. The requisite for this is for Wahhabi clerics to accept these changes.

King Salman is going down a new path to make them accept. It seems that the underway changes in Saudi Arabia can be considered a transitional period because the king and those close to him have been taking firm steps ahead in the new era. By changing his title to Imam, the king wants to make Wahhabi clerics understand that he has the last say on everything, and they should accept this situation. However, this does not seem to be an easy task. Of course, within this traditional structure, King Salman once tried to authorize driving for Saudi women in Saudi Arabia on a tentative basis, especially for those princesses who drove cars in the Western countries with no problem. However, negative resistance against his decision sored so high that King Abdullah gave up his decision. Current assessments show that resistance against this decision will be also very strong. The successors are young and elderly people have no more chance of grasping the positions of power. Perhaps, the reason for this situation is not simply political because any person has a set lifetime and those who get old, cannot have much hope of getting a chance to run the country’s affairs. Even the current crown prince, who actually belongs to the new generation of Saudi family, is old. Perhaps, he is just playing a provisional role until the power is actually transferred to the younger generation and in doing so, he is trying to provide suitable grounds and remove obstacles on the way of appointment of the next crown prince.

Key Words: King Salman,Title, Fundamental Changes, Saudi Arabia, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali, Wahhabi Clerics, King Abdullah, Mollazehi

Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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