post-image

When Muslims pray at white mosque

Activity

Saudi Arabia’s first mosque in the capital, Riyadh, was built by Muslims in the 1920s.

But the construction has been in dispute ever since, with the kingdom’s clerics challenging its constitution.

White worshippers and the country’s majority Sunni Muslim minority are barred from attending.

But the project was praised by a former Saudi diplomat, who told Al Jazeera that it is important for Muslims to experience a place where they can pray and learn from other Muslims.

“It’s a very special moment in history, and I believe this will help Muslims understand Islam more,” said Dr Ali al-Rifai, who was appointed as Saudi Arabia Arabia’s minister for religious affairs in December 2016.

“It’s the beginning of the transition.”

He added that it was a step in the right direction towards pluralism in Saudi Arabia.

Since the construction of the mosque, which was completed in 2014, the kingdom has made efforts to bring in more Muslim communities.

In 2016, it unveiled the first mosque to accommodate the influx of migrant workers from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which was mostly Muslim in origin but predominantly Shia in faith.

The country’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said last year it would open two new mosques for non-Muslim communities in the country.

Saudi Arabia has long been a key source of support for Sunni Muslim groups in the region, such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State group (ISIL).

But Saudi Arabia has also been accused of marginalising some Sunni Muslims, with critics pointing to the kingdom having a strong anti-corruption stance and a large Shia minority in the kingdom.

At the time of its creation in 1924, the country was one of the few Arab states to have a constitution and had a constitution in place until 1967.

Its constitution was rewritten in 1981, but a lack of consensus over what should be included in the document caused the government to delay it.

As the country expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, the government became increasingly authoritarian, and a lack in political rights for women and minorities was also a major concern.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Saudi women took to the streets to protest against the oppression of women and other social injustices.

Women were also forced into the labour force as domestic workers, while minorities were barred from voting and held back from taking part in society.

On the eve of the Arab Uprising in 2015, a Saudi court banned women from driving in the male-dominated Saudi kingdom, effectively outlawing women from holding political office.

Although the kingdom is now considered a secular country, there is still a huge number of religious minorities who face discrimination and are denied the right to education.

Despite these challenges, Saudi Arabia continues to attract thousands of foreign tourists each year.

Dr al-Ramli, a retired professor of Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, said he felt the mosque’s construction was a positive step in changing attitudes towards Islam and Muslims.

“It gives a chance to other Muslims to learn from Muslims, and it gives a voice to minority groups, especially minorities from the Shia and Sunni communities,” he said.

‘The next step’The building of the first Saudi mosque has sparked a debate within the country about its constitution and its status within Saudi Arabia, which is governed by a strict interpretation of Islam.

Critics say the constitution has limited religious freedoms, while supporters say it has promoted tolerance and respect for other religions.

King Salman, the current king, has previously said he does not support the constitution.

Tags: