The Sickness That Is Wahhabi Islam
Author: Adrian Morgan
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: August 8, 2007
Wahhabism, a strict and primitive form of Islam, is the rule of law in rich and influential Saudi Arabia. FSM Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan gives us an enlightening tutorial on its history, as well as some of the more alarming practices of this growing sect.
The Sickness That Is Wahhabi Islam
By Adrian Morgan
Background and History
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially came into existence in 1932. The Al Saud clan, led by Abdul Aziz bin Saud (c. 1880 – 1953), had by this time gained total control of the region formerly known as Arabia. The process of forcing rival clans into submission began at the start of the 20th century. Aziz was supported by members of a movement called the Ikhwan, or Brotherhood. Aziz founded the Ikhwan from disparate Bedouin tribesmen in 1912. These religious fanatics shared the same brand of fundamentalist faith as Aziz, but they later objected to the clan leader’s alliance with the British “Christians.” Eventually, the relations between the Ikhwan and Aziz soured, and by 1930 the future monarch had annihilated them as a force.
The Ikhwan followed the branch of Islam known as Wahhabism. This intolerant and extremist ideology had been formulated by Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792). Wahhab had been forced to flee from Medina, and he found protection in the person of Abdul Aziz’s ancestor, Muhammad Ibn Saud, in 1744. At this time, the al-Saud family was based at the town of As-Dariyah in Najd region, near Riyadh. Wahhab’s philosophy was derived directly from Ibn Taymiyyah: worship at shrines was considered forbidden, leading to a ban on tomb markers. Anyone who did not conform to Wahhab’s strict interpretation was a heretic, and deserved to be killed. Like Ibn Taymiyyah, Wahhab saw any “innovations” (bida) in Islam to be heretical. For the theologians of Al Azhar University in Egypt, the ideology of Wahhab was primitive.
Muhammad Ibn Saud was given religious “legitimacy” as a ruler over Najd by his association with Wahhab. By the time he died in 1765, the family which had developed as olive grove owners in the 16th century was as powerful as any other tribal group in Arabia. Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was virulently opposed to the Shi’a branch of Islam, and condemned their pilgrimages to shrines of their saints. After his death, his followers (who called themselves muwahiddun or “unitarians”) seized the Iraqi Shiite city of Karbala in 1802, where they destroyed the shrine of Imam Husain. The following year, they took control of Mecca, prompting the Ottoman Caliphate to send a force to reclaim the holy city.
In 1891, the Al-Saud family was driven out of Arabia by their rivals from the Rashidi clan, who took control of Riyadh and its environs. The al-Sauds took up residence in Kuwait until January 15-16, 1902, when Abdul Aziz bin Saud and his supporters drove out the Rashidis from Riyadh. The Rashidis remained powerful, supported by the Ottomans and by Turkey. In 1921, assisted by his camel-riding Bedouin followers of the Ikhwan, Abdul Aziz forced the Rashidis into submission, followed by an alliance.
British meddling in Middle Eastern politics had seen two Hashemite brothers placed as rulers in Iraq and Transjordan in 1921. The Hashemites claim descent from Mohammed, and since the 10th century, the ruler (sharif) of Mecca was traditionally a Hashemite. Since 1916, Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, supporting British interests, declared Hejaz (the northwest of Arabia along the Red Sea, comprising Jeddah, Mecca and Medina) to be independent of the Ottoman Turks. Sharif Hussein ibn Ali’s son ‘Abd Allah was king of Transjordan and his brother Faysal was king of Iraq. In March 1924 Sharif Hussein declared himself “Caliph”, shortly after the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished on the 3rd of that month. By September 1924, Abdul Aziz bin Saud and the Ikhwan took control of Mecca, leading Sharif Hussein ibn Ali to abdicate on October 5th and go into exile.
Control of the Hashemite region of Hejaz led the Ikhwan to go north to Transjordan in 1924, to claim that territory for themselves. The British, though allied to and financing Abdul Aziz bin Saud, met the Ikhwan with force, leaving alive only eight from a legion of 1,500. The Wahabbists objected to minarets, dancing and music. In 1921 Winston Churchill had warned the U.K. parliament of the extremism of the Wahhabists, saying: “Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and blood-thirsty, in their own regions the Wahhabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account, and they have been, and still are, very dangerous to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.”
In June 1926, the Ikhwan attacked a traditional procession called the mahmal. 25 people and 40 camels died. The mahmal involved a caravan procession carrying ornate curtains from Egypt to Mecca, where these drapes were placed on the Kaaba shrine during the Hajj pilgrimage. According to Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the violence occurred when members of the procession had sounded trumpets in the vicinity of a “holy place.” Bin Saud had earlier tried to prevent the mahmal taking place.
From 1926 onwards, the Ikhwan staged minor revolts against Abdul Aziz, and one faction even tried to destroy the Kaaba at Mecca. In 1929, antagonism between Abdul Aziz bin Saud and the Ikhwan led to a showdown. The religious authorities supported the King, and he crushed the Ikhwan. He set up a National Guard, and in 1932 announced himself king of Saudi Arabia. He had named the entire region of Arabia after his clan.
Vandalism In The Name of Allah
In 1924, the Wahhabis had begun a campaign of destruction of graves of Muslim saints and imams. Even the tomb of Mohammed’s daughter Fatima, from whose lineage the Mahdi (Messiah) will be born, was destroyed. The Ikhwan had even tried to desecrate the tomb of Mohammed, but had been restrained by the Al Saud chief. Under the rule of King Abdul Aziz and his descendants, the destruction of religious sites has been accelerating up to the present day. Over the past two decades, according to the Gulf Institute, 95% of the ancient buildings of Mecca have been demolished. Dr Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect, claims that now there are only 20 buildings which remain from the time of Mohammed.
The tomb of Mohammed is in Medina. In the 1950s, the Saudi establishment decided to build a library over the grave site. The architect gained a compromise, by allowing the tomb to remain beneath the library. The authorities intend the tomb to be concreted over and made into a car park. In 1998, the tomb of Mohammed’s mother, Amina bint Wahb, was bulldozed and razed to the ground. The house of Khadija, Mohammed’s wife, is no longer standing. It has been replaced with public toilets. The house of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph and father of Mohammed’s last wife Aisha, has vanished under the foundations of a Hilton hotel.
Even the cave where Mohammed is said to have received his first revelations, at the Al Nour Mountain, is being considered for demolition. Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote in response to a 2005 newspaper article condemning such destruction that Saudi Arabia was spending more than $19 billion preserving the heritage of Mecca and Medina: “[We are aware] how important the preservation of this heritage is, not just to us but to the millions of Muslims from around the world who visit the two holy mosques every year. It is hardly something we are going to allow to be destroyed.”
The Grand Mosque of Mecca is now becoming dwarfed by high-rise construction projects, including the Zam Zam tower, being built by the Bin Laden family. A religious ideology that can render its own heritage obsolete, in case pilgrimage (classed as “shirk” or “polytheism”) takes place, is destructive and anti-cultural. The tribe of Al Saud spreads this ideology around the world, funding madrassas and schools. The human beings who live under the intransigent rule of Wahhabism are denied some of the basic rights we take for granted in the West.
Abuse In The Name Of Allah
Saudi Arabia exports its Wahhabist ideology around the world. In 2005, Prince Alaweed bin-Talal made $20 million grants to the US universities of Georgetown and Harvard to promote “Muslim-Christian understanding”, yet there is no such tolerance of any other faith within Saudi Arabia. No Bibles or crucifixes can be brought in by visitors, and holding Christian religious services can lead to imprisonment.
Since 1926, the Wahhabists have had mutawi’oon (also spelled muttawa or mutawi,) who are enforcers of “virtue” – the religious police. These Islamic vigilantes wear red and white check keffiyehs or headscarves, and have the power to arrest people. They belong to an official body called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which has 10,000 members in 486 centers throughout the kingdom. The president of this commission is Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith. He stated in March this year that a royal decree was issued on September 7, 1980. This decree, said Al-Gaith, made the muttawa follow strict procedural guidelines.
He said: “The commission plays a large role in capturing people who practice sorcery or delusions since these are vices which affect the faith of Muslims and cause harm to both nationals and expatriates. The commission has assigned centers in every city and town to be on the lookout for these men. As for their fate, they are arrested and then transferred to concerned authorities. The commission also has a role in breaking magic spells, which are found in the sea. We cooperate with divers in this aspect. After the spells are found, they are then broken using recitations of the Holy Koran. We do not use magic to break magic spells, as this is against the teachings of Islam as mentioned by the Supreme Ulema. But we use the Koran as did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
Belief in sorcery and witchcraft seems anachronistic in the 21st century, but in November 2005 a chemistry teacher found himself sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and 750 lashes, for mocking Islam and studying witchcraft. Those who had accused Mr. Muhammad Al-Harbi were his own students. In December, Mr. Al-Harbi was granted a pardon by King Abdullah.
In June last year, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith launched a campaign to stamp out practices of “witchcraft” amongst Indian and African migrant workers in the kingdom. Earlier, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on the case of a naked African “witch” who brought traffic to a halt in Medina. The woman had been seen walking naked, and was tracked to a brothel. She tried to flee through a window, but fell through a roof and walked away unharmed, showing her “witchcraft.” She was later captured. The situation of foreign witchcraft practitioners led to Al-Ghaith setting up emergency centers throughout the kingdom to “register complaints on sorcerers and charlatans, track them and terminate them.”
When not seeking out witches, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice targets people who are considered to be acting immorally. They commonly seek out people who are “in seclusion.” This breach of morality, called “khalwat”, happens when a man and woman are found to be in each other’s company when they are neither married nor blood relatives. How the muttawa assess “khalwat” is – to Western minds – bizarre.
In June, 2006 a disabled 70-year old woman entered a shop in Al Deira market in Riyadh while unaccompanied by a man. In the shop was the male shopkeeper. As a result, the woman (and not the man) was accused of “khalwat”. Her relatives were not informed of her arrest. They found her a few days later in a jail.
The Saudi-based Arab News reported recently that a Nigerian man has been in jail for at least 50 days. Ibrahim Mohammed Lawal, a recent convert to Islam, had been studying Islamic Law at Badiya Islamic Center in Riyadh. When he heard that his 63-year-old woman neighbor was ill, he offered to drive her to the hospital. Several hospitals refused to admit the woman. Some time after she was finally admitted to a hospital, Mr. Lawal wondered about the woman’s well-being. He called to her apartment, where three of the woman’s female friends were present. As he inquired after the woman’s health, the muttawa arrived, and arrested Mr. Lawal and the three women.
Mr. Lawal cannot understand why he is in jail. He said: “I wanted to do a good thing for a woman who was sick, and this is what I get in return. I lost the support of my family in Nigeria, where my wife and children are upset with me – and here I am languishing in prison.”
In May 2006, the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, announced that the powers of the muttawa to arrest and detain suspects for hours were to be limited. The decree, reprinted in newspapers across the kingdom, stated: “The role of the ‘authority for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice’ ends with apprehending suspected individuals and handing them to the police, who then present them to prosecutors with a report of the incident involved.”
Despite such rulings, the zeal of the religious police exceeds the bounds they should abide by. Sometimes Shi’a Muslims are apprehended by the muttawa, and only released when they have signed a document denouncing their faith. The religious police frequently take men whose hair is too long off the streets. The individual’s locks are sheared to an acceptable length before release. They have a reputation for violence. This year, two men have died while in their custody. In June this year, local news reported that one man who had been apprehended for “khalwat” had died of a heart attack in custody. 50-year-old Ahmed Al Bulawi had been arrested in the northern province of Tabuk. The woman he was accused of being too “close” to was the relative of his employers.
28-year-old Salman Al Huraisy had died in May this year, after being arrested by the muttawa in Riyadh. Mr Huraisy had been accused of dealing alcohol. His relatives claimed that he had been beaten to death.
In the same month, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that a woman was severely injured after she fled from muttawa who had broken into her home. The religious police suspected her of “indecent activities.” She panicked and jumped from the fourth floor of her apartment block.
The greatest abuse of the religious police’s powers happened in March 11, 2002, and only became public knowledge after a senior member of the 20,000-strong Al Saud clan allowed the incident to be reported. A fire had broken out at a girl’s dormitory at a school in Mecca. The girls inside tried to flee the burning building. Because they were inappropriately dressed, the religious police beat them back into the blazing dormitory. They also prevented firemen from reaching the trapped victims. As a result, 15 innocent girls died. When the fire was first reported it had been claimed that the girls had died in a “stampede” to escape.
In July last year, the muttawa caused 69 women who worked at a chain of cosmetics stores to lose their jobs. One woman said: “The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice came to our shop once. We were wearing Islamic clothes and did not have any makeup on us despite the fact we work in a cosmetic shop. We did not look indecent as they claim and we definitely did not deserve to lose our jobs.” A senior member of the company which owned the shops said that “the commission issued a decision ordering us to close down our shops within three days. When we objected they said either we close down the shops or they will settle the matter by taking all the girls by force to their cars.”
The laws enforced at Saudi’s religious courts indicate a cavalier approach to human dignity. In March this year, a young woman who had run away from home was placed in a foster home for girls and was additionally sentenced to sixty lashes.
In November last year, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported that a young woman, who had been subjected to a violent gang rape by at last four assailants, was herself convicted of “khalwat.” Before the rape had taken place, she had been alone in a car with a man. As a result, she was sentenced to 90 lashes.
The following month, an Indian man working in Saudi wanted to visit his wife, who had just given birth to a son. He lost his way, and found himself in a Muslim-only area of Medina. His maroon residency visa (indicating he was a non-Muslim) was noticed, and he was reported to the police. A religious court sentenced him to be beheaded.
Beheadings take place in public, where a victim is made to kneel before having the head severed with a sword. There are numerous cases of female migrant workers, who have defended themselves from employers’ rape attacks, who have been killed this way. The figures for decapitations in Saudi Arabia have increased dramatically this year. In 2005, 83 people were beheaded, but in 2006 this figure dropped to 38. In this year alone there have been 107 public decapitations.
Saudi Arabia is a country with no democracy, and no religious freedoms. Yet we in the West allow the Saudis to fund mosques and schools, and to promote their intolerant Wahhabist ideology. Saudi-supported groups like CAIR complain about Muslims’ rights being abused in the West, while Muslims and non-Muslims have no real rights in Saudi Arabia. There is something unbalanced in this equation.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who has written for Western Resistance since its inception. He also writes for Spero News. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.
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