Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Sheikh…and the Platform | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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If you talk to Saudis today, and ask them who are the symbols of new Islamic discourse, they would answer you with a variety of names such as Salman al Oudah, Aaidh al-Qarni, Abdullah Fadak, Mohammad al-Arifi, Sa’ad al-Barik and Ahmed bin Baz, just as the Egyptians would say Khalid al-Jundi, Amr Khalid and Mabruk Atiya, and the Kuwaitis would name Tariq al-Suwaidan, Mohammad al-Awadi and Mohammed al-Tabtabai. But talk still remains about an enormous ‘transition’ which has occurred in the discourse of Dr. Salman al-Oudah, which is an issue that deserves our attention. This man was considered in the past as an advocate of the extremist current, and his views were cited as an example of radicalism. But there has been a gradual change in the articles he has written, his style of talking; and even in his photographs, in which he has begun to seem more courteous and polite.

Al-Oudah’s discourse has transformed into a view that is more appropriate for the current age, which is exposed to different issues. [He talks] in a rational and moderate manner, taking into account the intentions of Shariaa law, and associates himself with the principle of positive thinking. This was previously absent from his discourse, and [this absence] is still found in many who follow traditional hard-line thought, their associates and their families. However, most of those following the development of Salman al-Oudah’s views endorse the reasons for this change. The ‘platform’, upon which Salman al-Oudah presents his informative and greatly important discourse, is both large and wide-reaching, and this platform I refer to is the television station ‘MBC’. This was the first television channel offering varieties of entertainment in the Arab world. It is watched by predominantly moderate segments of society, from different ethnic, racial, cultural and vocational backgrounds, in various parts of the world. The channel provides them with vocabulary, ideas and trends that cannot be provided within a local framework, or traditional hard-line media. The quality of the questions, issues and ideas put forward via this channel is both new and different. Those who pose the questions do so in an open forum, interacting with those of opposite opinions, from different homes and backgrounds. They [the presenters] are unable to provide them [the audience] with mouthfuls of simplified and superficial discourse, full of expressions of radicalism and extremism, which make them become detached or isolated, or in hostile opposition towards others. This is an issue that is not acceptable either on the street or in religion. Therefore, this ‘platform’ was where Salman al-Oudah began his very important television role, and this platform was no less important in implementing the change which has occurred in the man’s thought.

This [new] media platform has prompted Salman al-Oudah to deal with [questions from] ‘open telephone lines’, because the audience now doesn’t expect anything less, and would reject any other way. This was an intelligent move by Salman al-Oudah, to improve his appearance with regards to the general public, as today a new [media] climate has begun, completely different to what it was like in the past. Many people follow his show, and he interacts with people in episodes broadcast from London and Turkey, and in visits to Morocco, Lebanon and other countries. The Sheikh and the new platform were in dire need of each other, and there is clear harmony and integration on show, therefore the experience has succeeded, and will continue. This very platform is at the pinnacle of the media scene, the station achieves high rankings in viewing figures and offers quality in terms of standards and technical details. Thus, [Salman al-Oudah’s] program must take into account the standards, methods and conditions of the station, in both its preparation and production, and the result is that the program is produced on screen in a more attractive style than some other stations, which offer religious content over the air.

The Saudis can recall a variety of people who have appeared on their screens, in what might be called traditional religious televangelist programs. These programs were produced in a simple and fluent format, presented by people with open minds, such as Ali al-Tantawi, Abdulaziz al-Musnad, and Mohammad Motali al-Sharawi. The public were satisfied with these programs, despite the simplicity of their methods. Those who produced them managed to touch people’s hearts, whilst not belittling the wealth of knowledge offered by the presenting Sheikhs. Following these programs, there was the campaign and chaos of radical discourse, Fatwas, and diseased ideas, and thus it became necessary for a change. The ‘platform’ was changed, and with that, so was the discourse. Salman al-Oudah, ‘MBC’, and the shared success between the two, are important examples of this change, which has occurred on the media scene on one hand, and new Saudi religious discourse on the other.