The more we learn about Saudi Arabia and the connection to
September 11, the more worried we should be. 15 of the 19
hijackers, after all, were Saudis and obtained their passports /
visas to enter the U.S. in Saudi Arabia, according to the latest
reports. But what is more worrisome is the fact that Saudi
Arabia is fast becoming, in the words of author Stephen
Schwartz, an "IslamoFascist (sic) regime." And you can thank
an Islamic sect called Wahhabism for that.
For this week I''m just going to briefly review the history of the
Wahhabis, and then next week we''ll spend some time on current-
day Saudi Arabia and the influence they have. A lot of what
follows is dry stuff, folks. But it''s important to an understanding
of the immense problems we in the West face.
As with the beginning of any religion, after the founding of Islam
by Muhammad in AD 622, various branches such as Sunni, Shi''a
and Sufism were formed. [See "Hott Spotts" 10/4/01.] Then in
the 18th century, along came Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab,
the founder of the Wahhabi movement.
Al-Wahhab was born in 1703 in central Arabia to a family of
Hanbali scholars. A Hanbali -- named after Ahmad ibn Hanbali
(780-855) -- was a strict traditionalist, who preferred to base his
beliefs on a dogmatic adherence to the Quran (the holy book of
Islam containing the divine revelations of God to Muhammad).
The Hanbalis were upset that most Muslims in the 18th century
were no longer living in accord with the teachings of the Quran
and they were disturbed by the religious practices of the day,
including the veneration of saints as intercessors with God. In
other words, there was to be no idolatry in the name of Islam.
So al-Wahhab picked up on this theme and adopted his own
brand of traditional Islam. While his belief that there was to be
strict obedience to the Quran, as interpreted by scholars in each
generation, may not have been unique, the rejection of all that
could be regarded as "innovation" was to be accomplished at any
cost. This brought al-Wahhab into opposition with the Sufis,
whose "shayks" were respected as being especially close to God.
Al-Wahhab said there was only one God, and the word of the
Quran was paramount.
Al-Wahhab started off by taking his campaign of renewal to the
small city states of central Arabia. In 1745, he aligned himself
with Muhammad ibn Saud. It was an alliance between teacher
(al-Wahhab) and soldier (ibn Saud) and together they created a
militant form of Islam. Follow us or else. The new Wahhabi-
Saudi state expanded rapidly and a capital was established in
Riyadh in 1773.
After al-Wahhab''s death in 1791 the movement continued. But
later the Ottoman Sultan (in Turkey) sent the Egyptian army in to
conquer the Wahhabis and this was accomplished in 1818, yet,
again, the Wahhabi sect still remained as a center of Islamic
By 1902 al-Aziz ibn Saud restored the Wahhabi-Saudi political
system with his recapture of Riyadh and thirty years later (1932)
ibn Saud consolidated his territorial gains into the kingdom of
Saudi Arabia. While the kingdom adopted some of the ways of
the West, publicly it maintained the rejection of Western culture
in accordance with the sharia (law) of Wahhabi Islam.
Sharia refers to the sacred law as a global concept or ideal. It is
divine in origin because it is rooted in the Quran. Wahhabism,
then, being based in Sharia, is an extreme form of Islam, in that it
relies solely on the fundamental teachings of Islam, and, as
interpreted, results in some of the following prohibitions:
--No other name than the name of Allah may enter a prayer.
--There is to be no smoking of tobacco or drinking of alcohol.
--No shaving of the beard.
--No abusive language.
--Segregation of the sexes, with women being banned from the
Under its strictest form, Wahhabism denies equal rights to
women and invokes the death penalty as punishment for drinking
or sexual transgressions. It also doesn''t allow close interaction
with non-Muslims. And, most importantly in terms of today,
Wahhabism avers that the Quran allows followers to defend its
brand of Islam by violence if necessary, and throughout history
there are examples of this. Once subjugated, Wahhabism is
imposed on those who have been conquered.
One note on Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader / terrorist of the
Taliban. During the 1980s, Omar had been a student of Islam
who fought against the Soviet occupation, losing an eye while
becoming deputy commander. [Which to draw a comparison
would be like a cardinal becoming an army leader.] It wasn''t
until 1994, though, that the Taliban, as a formal force, appeared
in Afghanistan. Initially the Taliban -- which means "students"
from the madrassas (schools / colleges) -- weren''t taken
seriously. But after gaining the respect of the streets (helped
along by massive funding from the Saudi government), the
Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, whereupon Omar and his
cronies created a moral-shariah-governed society; closing up the
girls'' schools, requiring that women be fully covered in public,
and banning them from the workplace. They also banned
television, movies and music, ordered men to grow beards and
pray 5 times a day, and introduced the "hudud" punishments
(such as amputation for theft, death for murder and stoning for
Next week we''ll look at how Wahhabism is impacting
governance in today''s Saudi Arabia and why we should be
fearful here in the U.S....as if you didn''t already know!
"Oxford History of Islam," edited by John Esposito
"A History of the Arab Peoples," Albert Hourani
Stephen Schwartz / The Weekly Standard