“EDUCATION is not the learning of facts, but the TRAINING of the MIND TO THINK”
In this project, Rashed Al Shashai’s approach stands between documentation and intellectual practice, both as a teacher and a researcher. The name, ‘Section 11’ derives from the class that Rashid teaches in Al Faisalia School for gifted children, and explores the artists role as a mediator between the student as a recipient of education and the curriculum as a source of enlightenment; and if we believe that education is the most important foundation of civic and cultural society, then the role of this ‘Section 11’ exhibition, specifically the documentation of the recent history of Mondassah Village, contributes to the ongoing polarized discussion around education which has emerged over the past few decades.
Located 35km from Mecca, Mondassah (literally meaning ‘Hidden’) Village, was the place where Juhayman Al-Otaybi, the leader of the siege of Mecca in 1979, started his movement and planned the siege. It has been reported that many of the villagers were influenced by his ideology at that time, leading to what scholars called the ‘Juhaymaniya
movement’, which many believe to be the precursor to the group that became Al-Qaeda.
‘Section 11’ can be understood as a research project that reveals the existence of the ‘Sahwah’ or religious awakening as a hidden layer behind the official Saudi school curriculum. This research is especially important given the lack of documentation in the Saudi and Arab pre-internet landscape, where media blackout policies surround all major events including the incident at the Holy Mosque in Mecca in 1979. Against this backdrop of censorship, which was so prevalent during such a crucial time in Saudi’s recent history, and the available information at that time which camouflaged responsibility and awareness, the artist becomes an important witness to the truth. The challenge of this particular history, which is becoming increasingly relevant, visible and indeed urgent, is both the obstacles to effective research and the lack of understanding around the circumstances of its formation.
EDUCATION BETWEEN SAHWAISM AND FUTURISM
In the beginning, pure Salafism was the main path of the religious awakening movement, even the Juhayman group, in Saudi Arabia. A new Salafism emerged out of this context and began to try and limit the expansion of Sahwa, which became active at the end of the 60s. This was visible in the presence of both the Muslim Brotherhood and their successors, the Soroories; these two groups were among the most active religious groups in Saudi Universities at that time. The focus of the old Salafist group, which was originally focused on the interpretation and distribution of traditional Salafi doctrine, became more critical in the field of the society. They began to denounce the Sahwa Sheikhs by highlighting their understanding of Sharia law and their shift to politics.
This shift of the spiritual to the political was articulated by Sheikh Al-Albani, considered the godfather of the group, “it is political to leave politics”.
After many defections in the Sahwa group, a violent and radical group emerged under Juhayman’s charismatic and radical leadership. Together they traveled to remote areas of the desert and villages like the aforementioned Mondassa, to prepare for their assault on Mecca. Some cracks appeared in the group but their new ideology remained intact. Some of these disillusioned groups denounced the radicalism of Juhayman and the image he was portraying, and became an opposition and new movement known as Al Jamia.
Many of the scholars believed that the Juhayman incident paved the way for a new and more conservative ideology, one which led to the rise of extremism in Saudi society. Notwithstanding, this change could also have been the result of a more complex layering of influences, including a porous education system vulnerable to extremist ideology. What Juhayman actually achieved through the Mecca siege alongside other social and political influences, was to popularize and disseminate the new Sahwa ideology as an alternative to the existing Muslim Brotherhood creed and the previous Salafi ideology.
The reason behind the analyst’s conviction as to the Mecca incident’s effect of Saudi society, was the speed and volume of distribution of emotionally manipulative materials and activities, including folkloric songs, literature and summer camps, that were used to disseminate this ideology; as well as the resemblance between the Sahwa and the Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the clear aims of the Sahawi teachings, which hid behind the official school curriculum, supported by a complicit regional and international status quo and through the revival of heroic Islamic tales and history, was to encourage combat and Jihad against the foreign infidels outside the Kingdom.
Young people were targeted and invited to join training camps, in which they were encouraged to re-enact Islamic Jihadist history, in order to fuel the growing Afghani war with young fighters. One could argue that had Juhayman been active a few months later, he would have directed his energy towards the Afghani stage.
Given the importance of the conflict in Afghanistan and the political endorsement of religious ideologies through education, one should not give too much weight to Juhayman’s influence on society in the context of the rise of extremism in Saudi Arabia. Preachers and scholars have actively encouraged the Saudi youth to follow the Jihadi path, unaware of the context behind their decisions and unaccountable for their actions. This phenomenon in society could not have passed without creating the extremist intellectual foundation that allows these scholars and preachers to influence their society without fear.
In this exhibition, Rashid guides us towards deep yet hopeful changes to the Saudi landscape. Education in this particular exhibition is the channel with which the various stories unfold. We have to dig to the roots of our historical and collective narrative in order to reach a truth that can be built upon, and one that acknowledges the destructive and irreversible consequences of fundamentalism and violence. Lost energies that could have been redirected towards a more liberal
enlightenment, and an honest cultural existence. It is essential to understand the needs and desires of future generations before one can begin to dream for the future, leaving behind any project with undesirable social and cultural consequences.
10 – January – 2015
The Siege of Mecca, Yaroslav Travimov.
Awakening Islam, Stephane Lacroix.
Rejectionist Islamism in Saudi Arabia: The Story of Juhayman al-'Utaybi Revisited, Thomas Hegghammer and Stephane Lacroix
Inside the Kingdom, Robert Lacey.
Interview with Nasser Al-Ahoizi in Al Arabia channel, an aide to Juhayman who disagreed with him before the incident.