U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (Lt) meets with Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in February. Photo courtesy of United Nations
Oct. 30 (UPI) -- As Saudi Arabia embraces a more modern era, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz pledged to move the country away from extremism and toward "moderate Islam."
Mohammed's remarks at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh echoed the reform drive the kingdom is undergoing. Reforms include the reversal of the ban on female driving and the establishment of a domestic entertainment industry.
"Saudi Arabia was not like this before 1979. Saudi Arabia and the entire region saw the proliferation of Al-Sahwa [awakening] project after 1979 for many reasons," Mohammed said.
He was referencing major regional events in 1979 - the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the siege of Mecca by terrorists that inspired a generation of militants such as al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden.
"We are returning to what we were before - a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe," the crown prince said.
"We want to lead a normal life, a life that reflects our tolerant religion and our kind customs and traditions. We want to co-exist with the world and contribute to the development of our homeland and the world.
"Clear steps were taken over the past period on this matter and I think we will eliminate the remnants of extremism in the near future," he added. "Frankly speaking, we cannot spend 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today, and immediately."
Mohammed is the architect of Saudi Vision 2030, a reform plan designed to wean the kingdom's economy off oil dependency while creating jobs, stimulating the private sector and modernizing Saudi Arabia.
However, with the drive for reform come opponents of change, especially in a society long accustomed to conservatism. In a reminder of how challenging the kingdom's reforms could be, terror groups called on the Saudi population to resist the changes.
A senior member of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, arguably the most active and deadliest branch of the terror organization, said Saudis should resist the new policies, arguing they would lead the country to secularism.
In a video posted on social media, AQAP member and Saudi national Khalid Batarfi quoted from the Koran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and calling for a return to basic Islamic values, including "the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice."
Quoting Islamic scripture out of context to support terrorist activities is an oft-used al-Qaida strategy that has frustrated the legitimate religious establishment.
Acknowledging that this tactic has led to the recruitment of many of its young people, Riyadh recently established a body tasked with monitoring interpretations of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings to prevent them from being used to justify terrorism.
A royal decree launched the King Salman Complex for the Prophet's Tradition, which is to have headquarters in Medina. A statement by the Saudi government said the plan would "eliminate fake and extremist texts and any texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders and terrorist acts."
The statement added that the council would be made up of scholars from around the world and will be headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hassan al-Sheikh, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom's highest religious authority.
This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.