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greatest royal rumble

May Omar, a 27-year-old Saudi female, arrived at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Saudi Arabia wearing a double-extra large T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of professional wrestler Triple H. She wore it in place of her abaya—the traditional robe Saudi women wear over their clothes. “It’s flowy and black, so really, what’s the difference?” explained Ms Omar. Until recently her wardrobe choice would have earned unwanted attention from the religious police. But now, “It’s fun to wear the T-shirt of the wrestler you support.”
The Wall Street Journal reports American professional wrestling has long been a guilty pleasure for Saudis—especially women. Friday, 4/27 women in Saudi Arabia for the first time were allowed to watch men wrestle live in the ring. Tens of thousands of Saudis attended World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Greatest Royal Rumble”. (WWE identifies itself as a “mashup between reality, drama, sitcom and sports.”) Many women in the stadium abandoned another Saudi tradition, head scarves. Some female fans in the stadium were covered entirely, even their faces. Others not so much; one “covered” woman wore a WWE baseball cap in place of her hijab.

For Saudi authorities the event reflected 32-year-old
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s attempt to modernize the kingdom. To be sure, Saudi Arabia is not on the road to freedom; Christian churches and Jewish synagogues remain outlawed. But the government is turning away from enforcing strict Wahibi Islam. As coercive social institutions are abandoned, we may be surprised at how much like us Muslims really are. (Although, hopefully only a small percentage are fans of professional wrestling.)

Islam and Christianity are vastly different.

Islam demands people submit to the teachings of Muhammad; the term Muslim means, one who submits. Christianity challenges people to believe the message of Jesus, then challenges believers to proclaim that message. Institutions of both religions have resorted to coercion. But coercion only suppresses—it doesn’t change the desires God plants in every human; e.g., self-expression, personal choice, freedom of belief.

Institutions construct social barricades to convince insiders that outsiders are very different. Christians are told that all Muslims are religious fanatics, predisposed to violence and seeking domination. Muslims are told that all Christians are crusaders with loose morals, desiring to corrupt the morals of others. Then we’re shocked to learn that professional wrestling has fans in both cultures. And the religious barricades begin to come apart.

Religious barricades inevitably crumble. They crumbled during the Roman Empire when Christians were disparaged as godless cannibals, disloyal to the empire. They crumbled at the end of the Dark Ages when Christians re-discovered God’s plan for personal relationship. The Nazi attempt to create a patriotic German church fell apart. The Communist Soviet attempt to expunge religion became a farce. Similar to Nazi German, China set up the
Three Self-Patriotic Movement church, but the underground, illegal house-church movement has far more adherents and influence.

Now religious barricades are beginning to be taken down in Saudi Arabia. Not because the government has abandoned Islam but rather because it must be more honest with itself and more respectful of its citizens.

People, all people, yearn to be free. God designed us that way. The deepest freedom is found in relationship with our heavenly Father, a relationship available to everyone because of Jesus the Christ. And because God made us to freely choose Him. ~

Dan Nygaard