Prince Al-Waleed and progressive Islam

Prince Al-Waleed and progressive Islam

Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal is one of the most liberal figures in the Islamic world. He is at the same time a pioneer in his country for women rights.

Previously, I wrote about another Saudi prince in my column dated July 14. It was a critical one on Prince Nawaf Al Saud, who was having wild parties on his 85-meter yacht.

Prince Al-Waleed is truly different. An interview with him was published in daily Hürriyet.

Prince Al-Waleed opens the debate of important political and legal concepts that have been well established in Islamic thought. He tries to give them modern substance.

Making reference to the times of Prophet Muhammed, he defends equality between men and women. Twelve people in the administrative board of the foundation he established are women and the foundation works to promote gender equality.

He uses the Islamic concept of “shura” (consultation) in the framework of modern democracy and parliament, just like young Ottomans or “jeune” (young) Turks had. 

He has been influential for the recognition of Saudi women’s right to vote and be elected.

“I have been created to do business,” he said, creating a portrait of a “businessman.” He argues for “progressive Islam.”

He said: “In real Islam there is a tradition of shura. When you say shura actually you are talking about democracy itself; in other words, to take everybody’s views. I believe that the democracy that is being implemented in Turkey is the closest thing to the concept of shura. Turkey’s example is the 21st century shura.”

Turkey’s journey

He defines Turkey as the concrete proof that “Islam and democracy can live together.” Turkey has an accumulated experience of 150 years. Some Ottoman elites attributed the meaning of the Islamic shura concept to parliament. 

The first laws on gender equality were endorsed during the Ottoman times. 

Today we still have some problems in terms of the status of woman, while the authoritarian dimension is still strong in our democracy. 

Time takes us forward. It would have been unimaginable for a Saudi prince to talk like that. Relations with the West and modern education enable modern political and legal concepts to take root in people’s mindsets.
Prince Al-Waleed’s statements are pioneering words.

Shura in Islam means consultation. This concept has been used frequently within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The difference between the parliament and the advisory body

But the Quran never specified to whom one should consult, how such a board should be elected or what its powers should be. It left it to the people to decide. 

I have to underline that it could be beneficial to use the concept of shura in order to endorse democracy. But in democracies, the parliament that comes to exist after elections cannot be lowered to the position of a consultative body. The advisors of the governments cannot have decision-making power; they can only say their views. There cannot be a monopoly of powers which intimidate people to the degree that they will be scared of opening their mouths. Freedom of speech and thought are fundamental norms in order to have opposition and criticism without fear.