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Saudi Arabia - Sahwa, the Awakening

The Saudi al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya (Islamic Awakening), or Sahwa, was a period of powerful social and political change in Saudi Arabia between the 1960s and 1980s. The movement was born out of a marriage between the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology and the Saudi state's Salafi-Wahhabi tradition. Sahwa's rise in the 1980s can be traced to three pivotal events: the seizure of the holy mosque in Mecca by a hardline group, the Iranian Revolution, and the Afghan War. In 1979, a former army corporal, Juhayman al-Otaybi, took control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca at a time when Saudi Arabia was trying to push through plans for social reforms. The incident was a big lesson for the state. It forced it to reign in its Westernisation project in an attempt to appease Saudi Islamists. The success of the Iranian revolution forced the Saudi regime to try to prove itself as a better Sunni example after Khomeini sold Islam as a successful way of ridding Muslim countries of tyrants. The third factor was Saudi Arabia's decision to support Afghan fighters against the Soviet invasion. The Sahwa is an Islamic revival that arose from among the grassroots as an expression of faith in Islam as a comprehensive way of life. Although groups within the movement held a range of ideas, they believed in non-violence and supported an intersection between religion and politics. Fundamentally, the groups advocated for incorporating Islamic teaching into education and daily lives. The Sahwa is a phenomenon which saw Muslim Brotherhood-inspired reformist movements influence Saudi society. In its original sense, it has ceased to exist, but the Sahwa's ideas and activists remain influential. Dating back to the 1950s, when King Faysal al-Saud was in power, Saudi Arabia gave shelter to thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members who had fled repressive governments in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. The exiles propagated their ideology as they became entrenched in key government positions and lead educational roles at universities and schools. They also incorporated elements of Saudi religious culture into their way of thinking. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood saw the need to incorporate Saudi traditions into their outlooks as they adapted to their new environment. By the 1970s, the Sahwa had become a network of several religious groups that adopted a wide range of religious and social outlooks, some more conservative than others. The Sahwa is not a movement, but a phenomenon. It developed naturally rather than at the hands of a certain group of people. It also included many activists and a range of ideologies. "Islamist" groups that developed under the umbrella of the Sahwa mostly focused on education and social activities, such as setting up summer camps for young people. Sahwa's view attracted the youth that had been sidelined by the state's clergy. It focused on building pride in the Muslim identity and a sense of responsibility towards Muslims around the world. In addition, religion was considered as having a role in politics, an atypical view in Saudi Arabia at the time. Several Sahwa figures worked to increase the role of religious scholars in politics as well as public representation in the Saudi state, challenging the royal family's hegemony. Groups under the Sahwa umbrella also held diverse views on society, but overall had progressive views - for instance, some supported more women's rights - compared with the rest of Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, the Saudi clergy left politics to al-Saud [Saudi ruling family], but new leaders from within Sahwa encouraged an interest in non-traditional views such as politics and voting. They saw Islam through a practical and comprehensive lens that addresses all issues. The state saw this aspect of Sahwa's ideology as a threat. The Sahwa challenged the idea that there should be obedience to the ruler, introducing ideas that were not welcome in the Wahhabi quarters. Despite several waves of state repression since the 1990s, the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired religious movement has maintained an influence over the years. The relationship soured following the Arab Spring of 2011, as dozens of Sahwa figures - including Salman al-Awdah - supported the revolutions, with some calling for swift reforms in the kingdom. Recently, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (commonly known as MBS) has cracked down on potential opponents, including religious scholars who have been inspired by or involved with the Sahwa. Among the most prominent detainees are Saudi Muslim scholars Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari. All three faced the death penalty.

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