Wahhabism – The Ideological Force Behind Islamic Extremism

All radical Islamists speak the same language of intolerance and dictatorship. For them Islam is just a political tool to dictate terms on others under threat. Rather than grasping the essence of Islam which is peace, they fall for distorted, out of context and self-serving interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi cult exemplifies this dangerous ideology that turns normal Muslims into suicidal and merciless killers.

Wahhabism is the fuel that sustains global jihadi violenceIslamic fundamentalists or extremists are adherents of a radical version of Islam that is variously called Salafism, Wahhabism os simply Islamo-fascism by the West. In its various shades, this violent ideology has made significant inroads among Muslims around the world. The cult of terrorism and suicidal attacks are external manifestations of this ideology. Global brand ambassadors of this ideology are the ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Laskar-e-Toiba, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. They seek political dominance through violence, which for them is a holy war (jihad) ordained by Allah. Thus, they have Allah given license to kill everyone on their way, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Drilled to think in self-serving ways they can’t tolerate any difference of opinion and hence can’t live peacefully among others, even in the Muslim societies. If the world sees Islam as a religion of peace they prove it wrong. All Islamic terror groups display this pathological intolerant tendency, regardless of their geographical location, race or color. Thus, worldwide all Islamic terrorists speak the same language of intolerance, violence and terror –in the name of Allah and Islam.

This intolerant tendency among Muslims is as old as Islam itself. Unable to capture the ‘spirit’ of Islam they remain totally cut off from the ethical and moral thinking. They derive ideological support from highly distorted, out of context and self-serving interpretation of what the Prophet said or did 1400 years ago.

Founder of the Wahhabi Cult

The best known example of radical version of Islam, from the recent history, is the Wahhabi ideology, developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in tribal areas of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. It is based on the preaching of a Sunni Muslim scholar named Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab (1703 – 1792). He was born in Najd Uyainah, in the present-day Saudi Arabia.

He grew up in an atmosphere where people performed different acts of worship, showed reverence to pious Muslim saints and to the person of the Prophet and paid respects at the tombs and shrines of saintly Muslims. In his understanding all this acts were un-Islamic. He concluded that over the centuries Islam had been corrupted by traditional interpretations of Islamic scholars and preachers – both Sunnis and Shias. In order to ‘purify’ the society and reinstate the ‘Pure Islam’ he vehemently attacked these practices and prohibited them.  He even went to the extent of burning books containing traditional prayers, interpretations of law and commentaries on the Qur’an and Hadith. ‘His Islam’ was strictly monotheistic and had no place for people respecting anyone other than Allah. He denounced and declared them non-Muslim.

However, for all practical purposes, he ended up declaring an all out war on Muslims and non-Muslims alike unless they submitted to his doctrines. Thus, scores of innocent traditional Muslims – both Shias and Sunnis – were killed, their villages were burnt down and many fled from the marauding Wahhabis. This is how he forced people into submission and grew his following, but his father and son were not among them. As he gave Islamic justifications to his own tribal thinking, he only gave religious legitimacy to the same primitive tribal behavior of that period that the Prophet tried to civilize – violence, plunder and treating women like sex slaves and commodity.

quran and wahhabi know bestClearly, for Wahhab there was only one interpretation of Islam – his own. He symbolized the thinking: If you follow Me you are a Muslim, else you are doomed as an apostate, a non-Muslim. There was no place for difference of opinion – and disagreements were erased by eliminating the dissenter, reflecting the typical tribal mindset. Thus, Wahhab turned Islam into a dictatorial political ideology – seeking dominance through threat and violence.

In many ways, Wahhab’s ideology resembled that of Ibn Taymiyyah, born in 1263 in Harran in modern day Turkey. But Taymiyyah was condemned in his own lifetime and he was frequently in trouble with the religious authorities. He was even imprisoned several times and his ideology never found place in the Sunni mainstream, although he attracted some adherents. Both these scholars have caused irreparable damage to the core teaching of the Islam, particularly through misinterpretation of two Quranic verses (Chapter 2 verse 193; and Chapter 8, verse 39).

Wahhab had openly declared that all Mushrikeen have forfeited their right to exist on this planet. His definition of Mushrikeen included all non-believers, including Jews, Christians, Hindus, and even Shia Muslims.

His followers continued his legacy after his death in 1792. Reflecting their Sunni mindset, the hatred for the Shia Muslims was natural for the Wahhabis. In 1801 they went on a spree of killings and destructions in Karbala. It was followed by the looting and wrecking of the tomb of Prophet’s grandson, Hussain, who was killed in 680 in Karbala (in today’s Iraq).

Here is how the Wahhabis treated Shias, as reported by Charles Allen in God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad.

“… a Wahhabi raiding band led by the Saudi Emir’s eldest son Saud ibn Saud attacked Karbala in modern-day Iraq, the most sacred shrine of the Shias, containing the tomb of their holiest saint, Hussain, grandson of the Prophet and son of Imam Ali. They pillaged the whole of it and plundered the Tomb of Hossein, slaying in the course of the day, with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, above five thousand of the inhabitants.

This event, which made a deep impression on the minds of the Turks, Arabs and Persians, was attributed to the guilty negligence of the Turkish Government, in failing to keep the Tomb of Hossein in a proper state of defense.  Huge amounts of booty were seized, the emir-cum-imam taking the usual one-fifth for himself and sharing out the rest among his Wahhabi soldiery, a single share to every foot-soldier and a double share to every horseman.”

Non-Muslims may like to know that the Shia-Sunni rivalry is rooted in the succession struggle for Prophet’s teachings. Shias formed the faction that believed that blood descendents of the Prophet form the natural order and they should inherit Prophet’s legacy; they are opposed by the Sunnis who follow the sunna (Arabic for “way” or tradition) of the Prophet. Today, 87 – 90% Muslims are Sunnis and the rest are Shias. While Iran is the global capital of Shias, the Saudi Arabia dictates the Sunni world through its Wahhabi ideology. Their rivalry has traditionally shaped the politics in the Gulf region.

Radical Muslims have used the same language of threat and violence during last 1400 years. Wahhab only revived it 250 years ago.

Birth of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia practices the most radical Islamic cult, Wahhabism.Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab’s best known follower was Ibn Saud – leader of the Saud tribe, one amongst many Bedouin tribes who perennially squabbled with each other in the hot and hostile desert of the Najd region. For the politically astute Ibn Saud, it was a brilliant idea to rule (control) people in this way, from a moral high ground in the name of Islam.

The emergence of the Saudi dynasty started in the area around Riyadh in central Arabia in 1744 when head of the Saud tribe, Muhammad ibn Saud, joined hands with Wahhab. This provided the ideological impetus to Wahhabi expansion which is still the basis of governance in Saudi Arabia today. Imbued with the religious zeal of the Wahhabi Islamic ideology, they became aggressively expansionist. The conquest by Wahhabis had important consequences for the subjects. It meant replacement of moderate and multicultural societies with the intolerant Wahhabi culture as a new compulsory social order.

As Wahhabis grew stronger and started to stamp their authority, their expansionist tendency alarmed the traditional Ottoman Empire in neighboring Turkey. In the ensuing confrontation in 1818, they were driven back to the Arab deserts where they remained confined and clashing with neighboring rivals almost until the end of the nineteenth century. Then again their stars started to shine.

Between 1902 and 1927, the Al Saud leader, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, carried out a series of conquests which ultimately lead to the creation of the modern state of Saudi Arabia in 1930. In the meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire had fallen at the end of the WW-1. The backbone of his supremacy was the Ikhwan (Brothethood), the Wahhabi-Bedouin tribal army, founded in 1912.

On 20 May 1927, the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Jeddah recognizing Abdul-Aziz’s realm (then known as the Kingdom of Hejaz and Najd) as a sovereign entity. However, the Ikhwan leaders wanted to continue their expansion spree into British subject colonies. But Abdul-Aziz did not allow it, as it could pit them directly against the British. It led to Ikhwan revolt but it was defeated and the Ikhwan leadership was massacred. In 1930, Abdul-Aziz controlled kingdoms of the Hejaz and Najd were merged to form the ‘Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’.

Few years later, oil was discovered in the Al-Hasa region. It gave the Saudis a unique political advantage. In February 1945, King Abdul Aziz signed an agreement with the US to supply oil in exchange for guaranteed protection to the Saudi regime; it is still in force today. After consolidating their oil economy, the Saudis started exporting their radical faith across the world through the network of charitable organizations and trained preachers. Saudis have spent billions of dollars on this venture. On the strength of petro-dollars and propaganda material the intolerant Wahhabi ideology reached across the world through mosques and madarasas.

As a result, all milder versions of Islam practiced in various countries got tainted or replaced with the Wahhabi cult. If today more and more Muslims appear prone to radicalization it only reflects the Wahhabi influence in their Islamic thinking. They love to connect every political struggle with Islam and unleash violence by calling it jihad. Stating differently, they exhibit the tendency to Islamize political conflicts and make it look as if they are waging a holy jihad to save Islam or victimized Muslims! What Pakistan has been trying to do in Kashmir since 1947 is precisely the same thing.

Recent Uprising of Radical Islam

911 attack in the US made Islamic terrorism a global issue.The defeat of the Soviet invaders in 1980s in Afghanistan at the hands of the Afghan jihadis should be seen as a watershed event that emboldened radical Islamists around the world. It came as a great moral booster for them. The Al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden became a symbol of global Islamic jihad. Of course, they did not fight alone; they were actively supported and trained by the US-Pak combine. Needless to say there were many other cold-war policies that were also working against the Soviet when they decided to withdraw from Afghanistan. As a result, they not only withdrew from Afghanistan but the whole Soviet Empire  also fell apart soon afterwards.

Osama bin Laden was a Saudi national and a hardcore Wahhabi mullah. He and many others came to Afghanistan to participate in jihad alongside their Islamic brethrens to evict the ‘infidel’ communist occupiers.

Throughout the 1990s, jihadi terrorists flourished in the Pak-Afghan region. After the communists were gone, Pakistan continued to churn out terrorists from its jihad factories; however, now to spread jihadi terror in Kashmir. It also installed the Taliban government in Afghanistan which was ousted by the Americans after the 9/11 attack.

The 9/11 US terror attack of 2001 brought the boldest face of militant Islam before the world. Of the 19 jihadi attackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia. The mighty West was forced to acknowledge the presence of a dreadful reality they always thought was a local phenomenon of Muslim societies. The worst part was that the mastermind was none other than their former ally of Afghan war, Osama Bin Laden.

This successfully executed attack further emboldened radical Islamists and gave birth to a second wave of mujahidin who wanted to emulate their heroes. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the false pretext of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction offered them another front to bolster their jihadi zeal. In later years, it gave birth to the Islamic State (ISIS), which became synonymous with the most barbaric face of jihadi violence. In fact, the ISIS is no different from the Ikhwan that helped the Saudis create their country. Their propaganda on social media glamorized jihad and influenced Muslims across the world. Thousands came radicalized even from the ‘developed’ Europe to participate in the jihad against the infidels in the Middle East.

Afghan Taliban’s large scale destruction of Buddhist shrines in the 1990s and ISIS’s demolition of ancient shrines in Iraq and Syria closely parallel Wahhabis’ destruction in 1920s of the 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannatul Baqi cemetery in Medina. In fact, the ISIS appears to be an exact photocopy of the original piece produced by the Wahhabi Saudis!

The Ideology of Terror Groups

All radical Islamic groups have the same core ideology; they differ only in personality clashes. Their preference for violence and terrorism can be seen exemplified by the training manual of Al Qaeda whose operatives carried out the 9/11 attacks. It candidly says:

“[An] Islamic government would never be established except by the bomb and rifle. Islam does not coincide or make a truce with unbelief, but rather confronts it. The confrontation that Islam calls for with these godless and apostate regimes, does not know Socratic debates, Platonic ideals nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun. The young came to prepare themselves for Jihad [holy war], commanded by the majestic Allah’s order in the holy Koran.”

True practitioners of Islam as a religion can’t imagine, even in their wildest dream, the Prophet ever approving such destructive thinking of the terror gangs. Yet, if a lot of moderate Muslims show silent approval of the fundamentalists it is because they see them as standing against the unjust hegemony of the Western nations and their self-serving politics.

Incompatibility With Modern Ideas

For Wahhabis and other radical Islamists Islam covers all aspects of Muslim life – religious, social, political and even mundane things like how women (in particular) should dress and behave – and Sharia society is the embodiment of their dream. Every do and don’t is rigid and as dictated by them. In fact, they fully take away the freedom to think, differ or decide from people. And non-believers have to convert and submit to their wishes to survive. This is the kind of totalitarian society they want to create and expect the humanity to live in. This always puts them at odds with people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is also a scary preposition even for majority of Muslims of the modern 21st century world.

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