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Saudi Arabia seeks religious reset as clerical power wanes

Mohammed bin Salman  

Muezzins issuing high-decibel calls to prayer have long been part of Saudi identity, but a crackdown on mosque loudspeakers is among contentious reforms seeking to shake off the Muslim kingdom’s austere image.

Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest Muslim sites, has long been associated with a rigid strain of Islam known as Wahhabism that inspired generations of global extremists and left the oil-rich kingdom steeped in conservatism.

But the role of religion faces the biggest reset in modern times as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, spurred by the need to diversify the oil-reliant economy, pursues a liberalisation drive in parallel with a vigorous crackdown on dissent.

Chipping away at a key pillar of its Islamic identity, the government last month ordered that mosque loudspeakers limit their volume to one-third of their maximum capacity and not broadcast full sermons, citing concerns over noise pollution.

The move triggered an online backlash with the hashtag “We demand the return of mosque speakers” gaining traction.

It also sparked calls to ban loud music in restaurants, once taboo in the kingdom but now common amid liberalisation efforts, and to fill mosques in such large numbers that authorities are forced to permit loudspeakers for those gathering outside.

But authorities are unlikely to budge, as economic reforms for a post-oil era take precedence over religion, observers say. “The country is re-establishing its foundations,” Aziz Alghashian, a politics lecturer at the University of Essex,said.

“It’s becoming an economically driven country that is investing substantial effort in trying to appear more appealing — or less intimidating — to investors and tourists. ”In what was once unthinkable, some shops and restaurants now remain open during the five daily Muslim prayers.


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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 3:15:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/saudi-arabia-seeks-religious-reset-as-clerical-power-wanes/article34871722.ece

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