Fiyaz Mughal

UK Muslims should welcome Saudi-Israel deal

It’s a striking irony that the country which exported Wahabism is now pilloried by Islamists


Iran and Saudi Arabia flag together realtions textile cloth fabric texture

October 05, 2023 10:57

Last month, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, said: “We’ve got to see where we go. We hope that we will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, and get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”

It is no secret that Benjamin Netanyahu is staking his political legacy on a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia. He has said it will completely change the political landscape of the Middle East, because Saudi Arabia is the religious home of Islam. Netanyahu has previously said that any deal with Saudi Arabia will have a major impact on Muslim majority countries, and the religious leadership of Saudi Arabia still has a pull on governments in such countries, as well as believers in many other countries across the globe.

Netanyahu is right: normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia will place anti-Israel forces on the margins of many Muslim majority countries.

There will also be an impact here. Saudi Arabia has a pull on British Muslims, as the holy sites of Mecca and Medina are based there and many British Muslims visit for the annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. However, the political pull of Saudi Arabia on British Muslims has dropped over time, as communities have become politicised in other directions. Religious influences from Iran and Turkey have vied for British Muslim hearts and minds.

The Saudi heyday in the UK was in the 1980s and 90s, when hardline Wahabi institutions were pumping money — and their ideology — across Europe and South East Asia. Saudi Arabia’s legacy of Wahabism has certainly stuck in some British Muslim communities, and they now dislike the direction that the country is going. It is ironic that Saudi Arabia is driving social change towards a more liberal approach for young Muslims there, at the same time as some young people in Britain have chosen the reverse and looked towards hardline fundamentalist Islam as their way of life.

British Islamist groups have been spewing out their line that Saudi Arabia has become “a puppet of the West and Israel”. They see its engagement with Israel as a betrayal of the Palestinians, even though Crown Prince Salman has repeatedly said that there must be some kind of concession to the Palestinians before there is real, lasting normalisation.

The reality is that it is the Saudis who can achieve results for the Palestinians through negotiation with Israel. The Jewish state will not work through any neighbouring states other than Saudi Arabia and Egypt. For their efforts so far the Saudis have come under fire from Islamist groups both here and elsewhere who portray the Saudi government and Crown Prince as “enemies of Islam” and tell followers that the Crown Prince is “secretly a Jew”.

If a normalisation deal with Israel happens, British Islamist groups will agitate against the Crown Prince and his administration. Islamic schools of theology and jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia that are open to British Muslims will be watched carefully by the authorities for fear of agitation or any kind of Islamist activity. It is another irony that the Saudis will be watching out for foreign fundamentalists entering their country — when previously the Saudis promoted hardline Islamic beliefs.

Prince Salman is no stranger to working through crises. An intelligent man, he is connected to what Europe and the US think, but crucially he also understands that one of his greatest allies could be Israel. Both are engaged in the struggle against Islamist fundamentalism, and there is a real ongoing risk to Prince Salman’s administration from Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood groups.

He cannot allow them to derail him in what could be one of the most important treaties since the end of the Second World War. Neither side will be capitulating in this deal: they would be being more pragmatic and honest about that which binds them rather than that which divides them, such as countering Iran and extremism and the huge benefits of technological co-operation.

Iran will try to play out its proxy war through British Sunni Islamist groups, as though it has become the mantle bearer of protecting Palestine and Islam. We cannot allow Iran and British Islamist groups to play out their divisive rhetoric and activities in our country. We British Muslims should applaud the Crown Prince’s efforts and rally behind him.

Fiyaz Mughal is the founder of Muslims Against Antisemitism

October 05, 2023 10:57

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