Monday, August 22, 2005


Working Paper On The War On Terror: The Wahhabi Movement


If you were to ask 100 people from 100 different countries to define what a Wahhabi is, you would very likely get 100 different answers. This is because the Wahhabi ideology exists more in the imaginations of people than it does in the real world.

Al-Sawkani and al-San'ani were leading scholars of the Zaidi Shi'ite sect who lived in Yemen during the 18th and 19th centuries. Nevertheless, many Yemeni Sunnis who follow the Shafi'i school of thought accuse anyone who follows these two scholars of being "Wahhabis". Likewise, we find that Brailvies in India accuse Deobandis of being "Wahhabis" while the Deobandis in turn call the Ahli Hadith in India "Wahhabis".

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During British rule in India, liberation movements that sprang up at the turn of the last century were accused of being "Wahhabis" by the courts. In the Caucasus, all Islamic movements were labeled "Wahhabi" by the Soviets, regardless of their ideological orientation.

In Saudi Arabia, the Shi'ite minority belong to two sects – the Imamiyyah and the Ismailiyyah – while the Sunni majority follow any of their four orthodox schools of thought, namely the Hanbali, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Maliki schools.

The imams in the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah have at one time or another been followers of different schools of thought. There was Sheikh Abdulhameed Hasan, a Shafi'i of Ethiopian descent, Sheikh Muhammad Thani, a Maliki of Nigerian descent, Sheikh Muhammad Ayyub, a Hanafi from Burma, and Sheikh 'Abd al-'Aziz bin Salih, a Hanbali native of Central Arabia. Few people ever bothered to make a distinction between these imams on account of their various schools of thought. In fact, few of them even bothered to find out which schools of thought they followed, because there are really no substantial differences between them. The Sunni schools are not comparable to the Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox denominations in Christianity.

The term "Wahhabi" was first used as a label to describe those who followed the 18th century scholar Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab. In truth, Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab did not come with any new school of thought. In fact, he was a typical Hanbali. He did not call to anything that Sunni scholars had not been calling towards for ages.

The four Sunni schools of though do not differ with one another in how a Muslim is supposed to relate to a non-Muslim or in matters of jihad. Those who claim that the Wahhabis have come with different opinions in these matters are saying something inaccurate. There is a point where the followers of Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab are different to many other Muslims living today and it has to do with the definition of monotheism and polytheism. Outside of Saudi Arabia, there are tombs of saints to be found that are places of pilgrimage. There are Muslims who go and pray to the saints buried in these tombs to fulfill their needs. They swear oaths in the names of these saints and sometimes even sacrifice animals to them.

By contrast, in Saudi Arabia these graves are nonexistent. Such tombs have long been torn down. The habit of praying to saints and offering sacrifices to them has all but died out in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, educated Muslims throughout the Islamic world frown upon these practices.
There are many books in wide circulation throughout the Muslim world that have been far more influential in propagating this attitude than the books of Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab. A good example of this is the book entitled Strengthening Faith by Isma'il 'Abd al-Ghani al-Dahlawi and the book entitled The Sincere Faith by Sadiq Hasan Khan. Both of these scholars hailed from India. Equally famous is the book entitled Monotheism written by the early 20th century Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abduh. We should also mention the many books that were written by the Syrian scholar Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi.

What set the followers of Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab apart from the others was their ardor in prohibiting what they considered heretical innovations in religion and their staunch condemnation of many superstitious practices that were widespread among the Muslims of their time, like the wearing of amulets and the seeking of blessings from presumably sacred rocks and trees.

In any event, the followers of Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab were viciously maligned by the Muslim public often with the active encouragement of various political leaders.
Today, however, Muslims from all over the world come to Mecca to make pilgrimage. They come to live and work all over Saudi Arabia and pray in the same mosques with everyone else. A person would be hard pressed to find any difference between a Sunni Muslim from Saudi Arabia and one from Egypt, Morocco, India, or anywhere else.

However, it must be admitted that the age-old stigma attached to the name "Wahhabi" is still associated with the people of Saudi Arabia in the minds of many people. This is why the Saudi government is accused of being "Wahhabi" and why the notion still exists that "Wahhabis" are somehow different in principle from other Muslims or that they are extreme and deviant. Certain political interests are capitalizing upon this today.

In the testimony that Steve Emerson and Jonathan Levi presented to the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee on June 31, 2003, reference was made to the idea that "Muslims will fight the Jews" at the end of time. It should be noted that this statement is to be found in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim, anthologies of the Prophet’s sayings that are considered by all Sunni Muslims to be the two most important and authentic books in Islam after the Qur’an. All Sunni Muslims, without exception, believe in what is found in these books. It makes no difference whether they are from Saudi Arabia or somewhere else.

It should also be noted that this statement is considered to be no more than a revelation of future events. Muslims see this, as a miracle of the Prophet Muhammad, since 1400 years ago there was only a small Jewish population in Palestine. Under Christian Byzantine rule, the Jews living there at that time were not allowed so much as to mount a horse, because of the support the Jews had given to Persia in its war against Byzantium. The Jews remained politically weak for 1200 years after the Prophet's death. Only at the turn of the last century did this change with European and American support of Jewish emigration to Palestine. Until that time, there had not been more than 25,00 Jews in the Palestine region. Moreover, the Jews had been living for centuries scattered throughout the world, and except for those who had been living in Muslim countries, they had suffered under severe oppression and persecution for centuries.
Throughout most of that time, there was no indication that the Jews would ever be able to establish a nation or build an army with which they could go to war with others. However, during all those long centuries, the Muslims believed that one day it would happen, simply because their Prophet said it would. Then, during the last half of the 20th century, it happened just as Muhammad had predicted. The Jews in Palestine established a nation and raised an army.

Since this prophecy has already begun to take place, is there any reason for the Muslims to deny that it has come to pass and may continue to unfold? Such a denial is difficult to expect when there are clear statements made by the Prophet 1400 years before that the Jews would establish their state in Palestine and that there would be wars between them and the Muslims, even stating where their leader would ultimately fall in battle.

The Muslims of the world are fully aware of these statements of their Prophet and they believe them. However, this belief does not affect their behavior. To Muslims, these are mere revelations of future events. They are not seen as endorsements of these events nor do Muslims look hopefully upon their taking place or wish to bring them about.

This is a major difference between the Muslims and some Christian denominations in the United States that seem to want to hurry their prophecies on. They have prophesies stating that the Jews will have to establish their state in Palestine and build their temple for the third time. There will have to be the battle of Armageddon in that region of the world after seven years of war and strife wherein 200 million unbelievers (Muslims) will be killed and where the battlefield will stretch for 200 miles from the city of Jerusalem. They see that all of these events are preconditions for the second coming of Christ. The followers of certain Christian movements in America believe it to be their duty to hurry these events on. Jerry Falwell is considered to be one of the leading proponents of this line of thinking and he has a steadily growing following in America in excess of 70 million people.

According to a poll carried out by ACRON University in 1996, 31% of the Christian population of the United States – roughly 62 million people – agree or strongly agree that the Battle of Armageddon is going to take place in the future.

So the Muslims believe that there is going to be a war between the Muslims and the Jews. They see it as something that is going to happen and that it will be an event that will unfold in the future. It will affect them no more than any other event that occurred in the past. It is neither something to be hoped for nor anticipated. It has no effect on their faith or their behavior. By contrast, there are Christians who believe strongly in the Battle of Armageddon and this has a very marked effect on their beliefs and their behavior. They see it as a precondition for the second coming of Christ and that their salvation rests upon it. They see it as their duty to hasten it on. This translates into their uncompromising support for the state of Israel and their support for war between Israel and Palestine and with the Arab world as a whole.

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