Decent article on Wahhabi threat

William Dalrymple (of White Mughals fame) has contributed a piece to today’s Guardian, “Saudi Arabia created the monster now devouring it”. It gives the usual account of the fitna caused by Wahhabi missionaries, and their negative effects on Muslim culture in places where they gain influence. Also Zia Sardar has contributed yet another piece to the New Statesman, also on the topic of Wahhabism. He seems to make two important mistakes in his article. Firstly, he claims that Muhammad b. Abdul-Wahhab advocated “the return to Koran and Sunnah”: “His call was for a return to the purity and simple profundity of the origin of Islam. He rejected practices that had accreted and become permitted in traditional Islam, such as celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad or visiting the graves and shrines of saints and divines.” In fact, contemporary scholars (including his teachers and his brother, who was also a scholar) wrote refutations of his ideas. They had been permitted since the earliest times. Other scholars had criticised the excesses which were known of, such as people gathering where the jinns were under the trees, but no sect grew up around these scholars, who fought against non-Muslims who were oppressing Muslims, not other Muslims.

Another interesting oversight is that he talks of Wahhabism as tribalism, where Islam takes the place of the tribe. In fact, a large part of the Wahhabi appeal is straightforward tribalism - its main scholars originate from Najd, and has many features of Kharijism (early Muslim extremism) such as using against Muslims Qur’anic verses and hadeeths which clearly refer to unbelievers, and Kharijism was an almost entirely Najdi phenomenon. The most vehement Wahhabis in the UK and the USA are often converts, many of them from deprived backgrounds in ghettos or ghetto-like areas like Brixton; my suspicion is that some youths who feel left out in Urdu-speaking Muslim communities, and make their way to their “brothers” who tell them that the Pakistanis were deviants anyway, and find a version of Islam that gives them self-esteem and does not require much change in character. Some scholars said that the Khariji fitna was simply an extension of the dispute between the tribes of Rabi’a (in Najd) and those of Mudar (in the Hijaz), and Wahhabism is the latest version of the same fitna.

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