A NEW REFORMATION
Few generations have the opportunity to witness an event that will reform, transform and conform a faith into a new trajectory. In 1517, when a German monk called Martin Luther protested about the Catholic Church, the Christian Reformation shook the Catholic world and signified the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern period in Europe.
On 16 December 2021 another spiritual reformation took place and will change the Muslim world irreversibly. A four-day music festival took place in a desert in Saudi Arabia, and a Bloomberg report says it looked remarkably similar to its’ Western equivalents. MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM 2021 kicked off on December 16 on the outskirts of Riyadh, and it featured everything that Islam is not.
The electronic music festival highlighted the changes catapulting through the conservative Saudi Kingdom under its controversial crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. In just a few years, the prince has lifted a ban on women driving, loosened gender segregation and defanged the religious police, who used to roam the streets punishing restaurants that played music.
In contrast, the four-day festival called MDL Beast Soundstorm was endorsed by the government and included performances by global DJs like Tiësto and Armin van Buuren. Organizers say more than 180,000 people attended the opening night, pushing boundaries as the kingdom transforms.
“Allow us progress, allow us to represent ourselves in the way that we feel fit,” said Prince Fahad Al Saud, a royal family member and entrepreneur who attended in a psychedelic-patterned jacket and sparkling eyeliner. “We are very eager to be part of the international community, but we can’t be stifled every time we try to make progress because it doesn’t look like what you want to see.”
The festival organizers say that 200,000 people attended on the second day, making it one of the best-attended music events in the world, the Saudi Gazette reported. “Women and men danced with abandon” as electronic music blared, Bloomberg said, only for the rave to be temporarily put on pause for 15 minutes while participants responded to the Islamic call to prayer.
Bloomberg reported that the women at MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2021 wore everything from “skintight pants” to “full-length robes and face veils.” According to Bloomberg, other sights to behold were a sign of “pushing boundaries” as the kingdom transforms. “Inebriated men stumbled through crowds perfumed with the distinct scent of marijuana,” said Bloomberg, “alongside a limited but notable display of local queer culture.”
Saudi Arabia is observed within the Islamic faith as the guardian of “true” Islam and the heart of the second biggest religion on earth. The Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca and buried in Medina. Officially all Saudi citizens are Muslims and the percentage of Saudi Arabian citizens who are Christians is officially zero, as Saudi Arabia forbids religious conversion from Islam and punishes it by death. Atheists and agnostics are officially called “terrorists” in Saudi Arabia and apostasy is also punishable by death.
But the key factor in Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of reforming an oppressive and conservative religion stems mainly from a changing generation. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s youngest populations with approximately 56% of Saudi Muslims being below 30 years of age. This young generation with a more liberal expression of faith and a more technological exposure to the West is no doubt the driving force behind the initiative of a young Crown Prince who understands the mindset of a millennial.
The approval of MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2021 will inevitably introduce a new interpretation to a conservative theology that could spiral into a spiritual Islamic reformation. As far back as 2007, Saudi Activists like Mansour al-Nogaidan called for Islamic leaders with “ … with the courage of Martin Luther … to reinterpret Quranic verses in favour of a more modern Islam.”
Few leaders are better equipped or better positioned than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s 85-year-old king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to lead Islam into the 20th Century
Prince Salman was appointed Crown Prince in June 2017, in a nation that is closely associated with radical Islam. He immediately assumed the positions of Chief of The Royal Court, Minister of State, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, all at the age of 32, making him the youngest minister of defence in the world.
Despite his age Prince Salman immediately made his presence felt in the Islamic community. He is recognised by the MUSLIM 500 (The world’s 500 most influential Muslims of 2022) as the 15th most powerful Islamic leader and the 7th most powerful political leader. He has a PhD degree in International Law and is fluent in Arabic, English and French. He is one of the youngest billionaires in the world with an estimated net worth of more than $10 billion.
There is no doubt that Prince Salman represents a new face of Islam and his reforms will challenge the conservative views of religious clerics in Saudi Arabia. In his future role as king, which could span for decades, he would immediately assume the role as Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques, controller of the world’s largest oil reserves, head of the world’s largest Da’wa (Islamic Missionary) network and head of a nine-state coalition in the region
Since his appointment as Crown Prince, Salman has spearheaded real change, limiting the powers of the kingdom’s religious police, who once were able to walk the streets and impose gender segregation and ensure women were covered from head-to-toe in public. The changes have been sweeping and unthinkable just a few years ago — young people mix on streets and cafes where music is played and a few women uncover their hair and wear colourful robes. The crown prince has also lifted a ban on women driving, approved concerts and is has opened the first movie theatre in many years.
16 December will go down in history as a turning point in Islamic history – it represents THE GREAT ISLAMIC REFORMATION. The next few years will be a defining season, not only for Saudi Arabia but for the process of a reformation within Islam and a clash of theologies. And Prince Salman will be the key role-player.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Islam being REFORMED will mostly affect Muslims and the way they express their faith in modern society. But a reformed Islam will also impact those from the outside and the way they perceive Islam in a modern society.
The main challenge for the new “Marthin Luthers” in the Muslim world is that Islam is in essence is a conservative culture, not only a strict religion but a conformist culture. Changing a religion is a lot easier than changing a culture and reforming Islam in a Christian culture like the USA will be a lot easier than the near impossible task of reforming Islam in a strict conservative culture like Iran.
So, for the time being, even though the origin of new reformations stem from the heart of Islam, it seems like the reformation of Islam will mainly take shape in non-Muslim regions, with an emphasis on American and European societies. If, and when this happens, it will result in two possible Christian outcomes, and the Church need to be well prepared.
THE HIGH ROAD: Openness for those who seek
The majority of young people who now have access to Television and have explored and tasted freedom of thought and freedom of dreams, support the idea of liberating Islam. Reforming Islam will most certainly encourage those within the faith who are disillusioned with a controlling religion to pursue other avenues. This will mostly happen in regions where Muslims are a minority and where there is freedom to express faith differences.
Many European nations has seen a tremendous influx of Middle Eastern refugees and the rebranding of Islam could present opportunities to the Church to reach out. The Church needs to be prepared to provide answers that will penetrate the hearts of those who seek an eternal future.
THE LOW ROAD: Alternative for those who do not seek
A reformed Islam will no doubt provide an alternative for those who grew up in an Islamic culture yet seek more than just a traditional faith. This will impact the flow of converts and impact the harvest field as experienced in the Middle East today.
A key strategy of strengthening the Church in the Middle East need to be on the priority list of every Church in the Western World as the window of opportunity shrinks.
It is indeed now or never.
- MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2021