Posts Tagged ‘Wahhabism’

Saudi Arabia-the beginning

December 6, 2018

Know your terrorist: the Wahabi sect of Saudi Arabia and the Family Saud.[1]

Yes, I know it’s been ages since I posted anything.  The Saud family and  Wahhabi Islam shouldn’t have taken so long.  I did keep busy with other things, of course, but the research for this report kept expanding.  I began to feel that I was writing a dissertation.  And, just a few days ago, I read an article by Carlotta Gall about Saudi influence in Kosovo.[2]  But more about that later.

Saudi Arabia, as far as I know, is the only country in the world named for its ruling family.  It was founded, in 1932 by Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud).  However, Ibn Saud was preceded by nearly two hundred years of determined ancestors whose beliefs made the Puritans seem easy going.

It all began in the early 1700s.  At that time, Arabia was ruled, in principle, by the Ottoman Empire.  It was actually a land of many tribes who spent most of their time fighting each other.  One aspect of the society was the blood feud.  This was not unique to Arabs.  As in other cultures, the tribe of the murderer could pay a blood price to the aggrieved family.  If this failed, there existed an elaborate system of rules. Revenge could reach to the fifth generation and if the perpetrator died before the family of the  victim could take revenge, his nearest relative would be targeted.[3]  Loyalty to the tribe was essential for self-protection.

The Ottoman rulers were not terribly interested in Arabia.  Most of its interaction with the outside world was trade. From the time of Herodotus, North Arabia  produced many luxury goods, not available  elsewhere: frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and laudanum.  They also transferred spices, silks and other luxury goods from India and Yemen.  [4]

Both the Saud family and their religion came from the central region of the peninsula. known as the Najd. (plateau)  Surrounded by coastline and mountains, it was little explored and thought to be inhabited only by nomadic Bedouin traders.  However, hidden among the arid dunes were a number of oasis towns.  Under the Najd is an enormous glacial aquafer.  Grain, dates and other fruit were grown and the culture allowed time for poetry and study. [5]  Gertrude Bell in 1927 was still surprised by the oases, “ It was curious riding through hilly ways and cultivated country to-day after three weeks of desert.”[6]

Now the stage is set.  Imagine this remote, independent cluster of towns at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  Apart from trade and Muslim pilgrims, most inhabitants neither know nor care about the world outside.

Part Two, The Purifier of Islam

Mohammad ibn Ahd al-Wahhib was born in the town of Uyaina, in 1704.  He came from a family of scholars.  His father was a qadi, or judge according to the Hanbali school of shari’a law.  Ahd was Mohammad’s first teacher.  By the time he was ten Mohammad had memorized the Quran.  He  then went to Mecca on the hajd, or pilgrimage.  There he studied for a time, then continued to Medina for further education.  Over the years, he traveled as far as Bagdad and Damascus.[7]

In his studies and his travels, ibn Abd al-Wahhib was shocked at how far the Muslim population had strayed from the teaching of the Prophet.  He began preaching a return to the roots of Islam. Only the Qur’an, and the Hadith were authoritative.  Every innovation since then was shirk, idolatry.

In Islam at the time, many people believed in the power of saints to give aid to the living.  Pilgrims brought offerings to their graves.  They also believed in holy stones, trees and caves, soothsayers and the power of djinn, all of which horrified ibn al-Wahhib.  Even more, he was shocked by the mysticism of the Sufis, who tried to achieve oneness with Allah. This was blasphemy.

His book of Islam is still studied by all Wahhabi followers,  It has influenced radical fundamentalist groups such as Al-Quaeda, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood. It begins with a commandment that may sound familiar:

“And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): ‘Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taghut (all false deities etc. i.e. do not worship Taghut besides Allah).’ 

In some places where he preached, local authorities were tolerant of his ideas.  However, many towns made a good income from the pilgrims. Others saw no problem with popular belief and considered ibn al-Wahhib a trouble maker.[8]  He was expelled from one place to another until he had the good fortune to land in Dariyah, the home of emir Mohammed ibn Saud, who “presented himself before the Sheikh as one of his students of Islam, along with his family.”[9]  This was the beginning of the partnership that would result in the formation of the theocracy of Saudi Arabia,

[1] Nawaf E. Obaid. “In Al-Saud We Trust”,   Foreign Policy, No. 128 (Jan. – Feb., 2002), p. 74

[2] Carlotta Gall. “How Kosovo Was Turned to Fertile Ground for ISIS” New York Times, (May 21, 2016)

[3] Alexi Vassiliev, History of Saudi Arabia, Saki Books, (2013) Kindle edition. Chapter One, p. 25 As a side note, there was a gang-related murder in Ireland recently where the victim was a relative of a target who could not be found,

[4] Sharifah M. Al-Boudi, “Najd, the Heart of Arabia”. Arab Studies Quarterly  (Summer, 2015)

[5] Al-Boudi p 10

[6] Gertrude Bell, Letters Jan. 10, 1927.

[7] Vassilev, Chapter 2 p. 3

[8]Joseph Nevo, “Religion and National Identity in Saudi Arabia”,  Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp 37-38

[9] ‘Alamah’ Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di. Explanation ‘ Of an by Mohammad Ibn Wahhadi ‘s Kitab the At-Tauhid ,   nd

______________________________________________________________________________IIf there is interest in my thumbnail sketch of how we got so entangled with Saudi Arabia and why I, along with many others, find it unsettling, let me know and I’ll post another piece on how we wound up in this situation.  There are many good books on the topic.  I’m writing for those who just want the basic information.  Thanks, Sharan.