An Unhelpful Contribution

Review of: “Source of Terror: The Wahhabi-Salafi Ideology and its Consequences” by Vincenzo Oliveti (Amadeus Press, 2001)

There cannot be that many young Muslims, and this applies to converts especially, who have not had to make the decision as to whether to join the “Salafi” cult, or to follow the mainstream of Islam. For those lucky enough to choose the latter, as I did, reading a well-argued comparison of the two is as likely to be a factor in one’s choice as the company one keeps. In my case, it was reading a piece in Q-News, actually a few weeks before my shahada, about a young Wahhabi student in Makkah, who having become convinced that true Islam was Wahhabism, ended up rejecting Islam. So the appearance of another worthwhile contribution to this debate can only be welcome. (Read the article here at Mas’ud Khan’s page.)

This book, however, does not meet the criteria of a “worthwhile contribution”. Its basic premise, that Wahhabism or Salafism (the latter being the name by which adherents of Wahhabism call the sect) is not mainstream or orthodox Islam, is true. However, the book has scores of inaccuracies which clearly reflect the non-Muslim, “outside-looking-in” perspective of its author.

The book’s purpose, as the title suggests, is to demonstrate that the main ideological basis for the activities of Al-Qa’ida and other extremists, is Wahhabism. Certainly, the non-native contingent in the jihads in Chechenya and Afghanistan are Wahhabi-driven, and arguably their activities have led to the destruction of both the Taliban and of the fledgling Chechen state. It rightly points out that Islam explicitly forbids much of the activities which are the hallmarks of “Islamic” terrorism, such as the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Its first chapter is a generally accurate portrayal of “The House of Islam” and the problems which have helped to give rise to the Wahhabi fitna (and other controversial movements, such as modernism in Egypt and Shi’ite fundamentalism). However, his “outside perspective” means that his book ignores a crucial point: that movements within Shi’ism should have absolutely no relevance to mainstream Muslims, save for the impact of Iranian finance.

In his assessment of Wahhabism and its relationship to mainstream Islam, however, this book falls down on numerous occasions. There are many accusations in this book which have absolutely no references or proof to them, notably that Salafis indulge in secret and temporary marriages. (He may not be lying, but we need proof!) Another example is his accusation of Salafi “cracking” of Sunni websites: “Recently, Salafi thuggery has ‘gone cyber’: the Salafis now employ computer and internet specialists to attack, crash and ‘spike’ with ‘viruses’ the websites of their orthodox Muslim opponents (although they never, interestingly enough, attack anti-Islamic websites as such or even hard-core pornography websites)” He doesn’t produce any reference, which means that the accusation is useless in any debate. I have never heard of the people behind any leading anti-Salafi website complaining of being “cracked” by Salafis. He alleges that the practice of Salafis insisting on women covering their faces with black veils is not to be found in Orthodox Islam; in fact, the veiling of women’s faces was common in urban areas across the Islamic world until about 100 years ago. He ascribes the practice of suicide bombing to “Takfiris” and claims it is forbidden in Islam as if this was uncontested; in fact, fatawa defending the practice (in Palestine, though not in relation to Sept 11) have been issued by ulama in Egypt and India who are not Wahhabis, let alone Takfiris.

The book does not stop short of slandering other groups of Muslims, including (predictably) the Taliban and the Tablighi Jama’at. The latter, he labels “the other great dupes of the Salafi ‘virus’”, and he claims that “many of its ‘group-leader’ preachers have begun to imbibe (and in turn, teach) Salafi ideology, hence creating a massive and international grass-roots Salafi propaganda machine”. Anyone who has any familiarity with the TJ knows that its Shaikhs are fundamentally opposed to the Salafi da’wah, and one can buy anti-Salafi books in any Deobandi / Tablighi bookshop! Their relationship with the Wahhabis is somewhat more complex than that of other Sunni groups, but the fact remains that many ulama outside that region, who are notable opponents of Wahhabism, have taken knowledge from, and given ijazas to, Deobandis. The latter especially cannot be said for the Salafis.

In short, this book is not helpful for anyone looking for a scholarly refutation of Wahhabism. Anyone relying on non-Muslim sources in debates with Muslims, about Muslim issues, would in any case be torn apart, but even people outside this category would be better advised to consult works on the subject by authentic Islamic scholars, of which there are plenty in the English language today.

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