Wahhabist Ideological Quicksand & The Issues That Follow

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Saudi Arabia, in the recent times has been vehemently opposed and refuted for financing Wahhabi mosques and terrorism worldwide.

In the case of Germany, a year ago, Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of Germany claimed that such mosques had harbored radicals and extremists who were a blatant threat to public security. The most ushering reason behind extremism in the West Bank is that Saudi Arabia as well as other nations or organizations in the Gulf are fueled by oil-wealth and has taken strategic advantage of Saudi control of the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah.

Making the world sink in its quicksand, the Wahhabist ideology stands as a major problem, not only for those concerned with public safety around the globe, but also for Muslims who know and practice the religion of Islam, the way it was preached by the Holy Prophet.

The issues and agendas that are given zilch importance even in today’s time when terrorism is feasting up on the world, stand right here: What is Wahhabism? What makes a particular mosque, teaching circle, set of books, treatises, audio-cassettes, or Internet site Wahhabist? And given that there are few if any self-identified “Wahhabis”, how might one distinguish Wahhabism from Salafism more widely?

“Wahhabism” refers foremostly to the teachings of the 18th-century Arabian preacher and activist, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Najdi, who in 1744 made a pact with a local chief from the Saud tribe. Najdi claimed that Islam and The Holy Quran needed “purification”. This set the model for subsequent Saudi-Wahhabi rule: the clerics—Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his successors—would decide what was proper Islam and the rulers— Muhammad ibn Saud and his descendants—would enforce the cleric’s interpretation of Islam, control territory, administer the state, and eliminate improper beliefs and practices.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab preached a violent and radical understanding of Takfir, that is, the declaration that certain beliefs or practices are apostasy. He taught that the vast majority of Muslims living in his time were in fact apostates, as had been the majority of Muslims since the eighth century. It is not enough for Muslims to carry out the daily prayers, fast during Ramadan, give alms, attempt to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and affirm that “there is no god but God.” To avoid the charge of idolatrous polytheism, he taught, they must also renounce all beliefs and practices that negate, implicitly or explicitly, the oneness of God. Apostates who do not repent are to be executed. Whoever doubts that that the beliefs and practices condemned by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab are apostasy is himself an apostate. Whoever hesitates to support the appropriate punishment for the apostate is himself an apostate.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab disapproved of a plethora of practices: building mausoleums or even simple grave markers that rise more than a few inches from the ground; visiting shrines to saints or imams; making or displaying images of animals, humans, or angels in the form of sculptures, bas-reliefs, paintings or drawings; and making or wearing talismans, which are popular throughout many Islamic cultures. He also condemned the enactment of any law that is not God’s law as taught by the Prophet Muhammad; any sign of disrespect for Islam or Muhammad; and aiding non-Muslims against Muslims. In order to root out apostasy, he insisted, it was necessary to eliminate tombs, shrines, and art works along with the apostates who value them.

Yes, Islam is primarily based on Monotheism, but NO, no one has the right to “purify” the divinely ordained religion. For that matter, the basic backing of Wahhabism founds itself on the convenience that one man wished to attain by twisting the religion of Islam.

The claim that Wahhabi doctrine follows a “literal reading” of the Qur’an is mistaken. There is nothing in the Qur’an directing believers to level graves, for example. There is nothing in the Qur’an directing believers to destroy images of animals and humans. Wahhabi doctrine singles out specific Qur’anic verses and derives theological conclusions from those verses. And its most distinctive teachings are based not upon the Qur’an, but upon selections from the vast corpus of sayings and deeds attributed to Muhammad.

It was during the “Arab Cold War,” which broke out in the 1960s, that Saudi rulers began to spread and transform Wahhabi doctrines into a militant, pan-Islamic ideology. The Saudi kingdom felt exposed and jeopardised by the secularist nationalism epitomized by Nasser’s Egypt, and by liberal, socialist, and Marxist currents within Arab and Islamic societies more widely. With the backing of the United States, Britain, and other Western nations, Saudi Arabia entered into proxy wars against leftist regimes and developed a globalized Wahhabist ideology in response to the Cold-War ideologies of communism and liberal democracy. Saudi rulers and clerics also found common cause with Islamist ideologues like Mawlana Maududi in South Asia and Muslim Brotherhood circles associated with the Egyptian Brotherhood leader Sayyid Qutb. After Qutb’s execution in Egypt, Saudi Arabia provided asylum to Muhammad Qutb, Sayyid’s brother, and other radicalized members of the Brotherhood and provided some of them university positions and an increasingly sophisticated global platform.

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Saudi rulers and clerics stand opposed to the usage of the word “Wahhabi,” a term which would have anchored it in local Saudi traditions and thus interfered with the effort to present their ideology as the true common denominator of Islam everywhere. They insist that they do not advocate Wahhabism, but “Salafism,” a name associated with diverse revivalist movements that emerged around the beginning of the twentieth-century. A core element of Wahhabist ideology is its self-portrayal as nothing more than the true Islam of the “salaf,” that is, the early followers of Muhammad and his companions.

Abdulaziz Bin Baz (d.1999), the most important Saudi cleric of recent history, took the leading role in the production and dissemination of neo-Wahhabi ideology. At one time or another, Bin Baz was President of the Senior Scholars Committee of Saudi Arabia; President of the Saudi Standing Committee for Islamic Research and the Issuance of Fatwas; a member of the Saudi Supreme Committee for Islamic Propagation; President of the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly of Mecca; Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medina; Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia; Chairman of the Founding Committee of the Muslim World League; and Chairman of the World Supreme Council for Mosques.

Bin Baz and the other Saudi clerics of his generation oversaw a major program to revive, explain, and disseminate the writings of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab on Takfir. When a distinguished Sudanese scholar, Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, presented an interpretation of the Qur’an that opposed the imposition of the Shari`a in the Sudan, Bin Baz declared him an apostate deserving of death. After Sudan’s ruler, Jaafar al-Numeiri, had the 76-year-old Taha arrested, tried, and executed for apostasy, Bin Baz sent Numeiri a letter of congratulation. Muslims from Egypt to Pakistan who wrote interpretations of the Qur’an or who challenged Wahhabi assumptions about Islam risked being labeled an apostate. Those making the charge of apostasy seldom had to defend it, and many of those accused of apostasy found that even in the case where they escaped jail or execution, their careers were ended and they and their families could face years of threats and harassment.

Violent Salafists destroy the Al-Andalusi Shrine in Tajoura.
Violent Salafists destroy the Al-Andalusi Shrine in Tajoura.

Beyond direct threats of death and persecution, the pervasiveness of Wahhabist ideology serves to marginalize or silence Muslims who disagree with it. That ideology operates in a number beyond Saudi and Kuwaiti financing of mosques. 1) Tens of millions of artisans, engineers, medical professionals and others with technical skills come to the oil-rich nations of the Gulf, often staying for years or decades, and return to their home countries with new economic status. 2) Saudi Arabia offers scholarships to young Muslim men around the world who lack educational opportunity in their home countries to study Islam in the Kingdom. They are provided with generous stipends that allow them to live well and stay for years, before returning home to serve as religious teachers or imams. 3) Many who come to Mecca and Medina for the pilgrimage end up staying and studying in the holy cities. The Islamic University of Medina, in particular, has become one of the dominant religious institutions in Sunni Islam. 4) The Saudi state and wealthy individuals in the Gulf maintain or finance sophisticated publications and media networks dedicated to the spread of Wahhabist doctrines and ideology. 5) Gulf Arab commercial and financial networks play a powerful role worldwide and especially within the Middle East; those who need financing for small or large business may find that their chances are increased if they adopt and profess certain cultural and religious norms.

In strong contrast to the original Wahhabi movement, which was directed exclusively against Muslims, the new Wahhabist ideology warns that Islam is under mortal threat not only from apostates, but from Christians, Jews, and atheists who allegedly conspire to penetrate Islam with new ideas and thereby destroy it from within.

Another interpretation of Wahhabist ideology is physical. In the light of the Arab spring, tombs and Sufi shrines were desecrated or destroyed in Tunisia, Libya, Mali, and in other areas of Africa where there was a vacuum of power. Wahhabist Salafi militias carried out much of the destruction; in other cases, local individuals or groups influenced by Wahhabist preachers may have taken it upon themselves to damage or desecrate a shrine. The systematic destruction of religious and cultural heritage carries a devastating human toll as well. Sufis, Shi`ites, artists, architects, archeologists and others who resist the destruction can face death or persecution.

In Syria and Iraq, of course, the destruction has been even greater. The second issue of the ISIS magazine, Dabiq, features “A Photo Report on the Destruction of Shirk [idolatry or polytheism]” in the Iraqi province of Nineveh. The captions on the photographs from that issue reveal clearly ISIS’s rationale: “Blowing Up The ‘Husayniyyatul-Qubbah’ Temple in Mosul” [p. 14]; “A Soldier of the Islamic State Clarifies to the People the Obligation to Demolish the Tombs” [p. 15]; “Demolishing the ‘Grave of the Girl’ in Mosul” [p. 15]; “Demolishing the Shrine and Tomb of Ahmad ar-Rifā’ī in the District of al-Mahlabiyya” [p. 16]; “Blowing up the “Husayniyyat Jawwād” Temple in Tal ‘Afar” [p. 17]. ISIS has acted with equal fervor against pre-Islamic artistic and architectural heritage in from Nineveh in Iraq to Palmyra in Syria.

The first knock on the minds of citizens of a global village struck at the time when people could connect the ferocious terror groups ISIS & ISIL and their agendas of bombing shrines, mazaars, etc of Sufi Saints in the name of Islam, claiming that visiting these shrines gave rise of Polytheism

It came into notice that at the time that ISIS was engaged in this campaign of tomb, shrine, and heritage destruction, two influential Sunni websites were issuing fatwas that celebrated the Taliban for destroying the monumental Buddha statues at Bamiyan and then smashing other artwork across Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in 2001. The fatwas also urged Muslims to destroy such idols and tombs wherever they could do so, made particular mention of the areas of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, and specifically singled out the “idol” of the sphinx and the tombs of the pyramids for destruction.

One of the sites, IslamQA.info (Islam Question and Answer), is the project of Saudi-based Shaykh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, a former protégé of Bin Baz. The Alexa ranking of religious websites, based on the number of digital visitors, lists it among the top sites in the world, along with or exceeding, for example, the official website of the Vatican. The Saudi government does not allow al-Munajjid to promote his site within Saudi Arabia because he is not part of the official Saudi commission on fatwas, but it has given him a powerful base from which to project his rulings abroad. The second site, Islamweb, is the official site of Qatar’s Ministry of Religious Endowments.

These two websites address other questions as well. “Must all apostates be killed?” Yes, states al-Munajjid, unequivocally. Most probably, states Islamweb.

Wahhabist ideology throws at the world, a pessimistic, radical and inhumane version of the most peaceful religion of Islam : as if the very light of the faith were at the point of being snuffed out by apostasy and by the plots of non-Muslims.

Though this understanding of Islam is considered “puritan,” it would be more accurate to call it purist. It demands that Muslims devote themselves to a process of purification no less than genocide or holocaust, to murder the traditions and civilizations that have sprung over more than centuries of human evolution, and construct itself primarily based on the influences and ideas of non-Muslims.

Wahhabist ideology will obsess on purifying Islam and Muslims, until those who fuel this fire are held responsible and accounted for this heinous process of genocidal politics.

 With direct inputs from HuffingtonPost story by Michael Shells

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