Breaking through Wahhabi myth
By Hassan Khaja
The Daily Targum - Opinions
In the mad rush after Sept. 11 to find out why the terrorist attacks
took place, various explanations were provided for what could drive a
person or persons - in this case, Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda - to
commit such an act. The quick answer was all religions have their
crazy fanatics, extremists or fundamentalists - the terrorists
represent a segment of fanaticism.
Thus emerged the most popular term used to describe Osama bin Laden,
al-Qaeda, the Saudi "hate factory," and every guy with a beard -
"Wahhabi." Now, I don't identify myself as a Wahhabi, but enough
people have called me one to grant me some kind of authority on the
term. I was first exposed to this term when the Islamic Society of
Rutgers University was accused of being an Arab-Wahhabi organization.
This occurred, ironically, the same year they hosted a very large-
scale and widely publicized event with Hamza Yusuf, who is very well
known as a moderate Muslim President George W. Bush embraced after
the Sept. 11 attacks.
It would be logical to say a Wahhabi is best defined as one who
adheres to the religious thought of Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab, a 19th
century scholar from Najd, in present-day Saudi Arabia. In reality,
no one actually calls himself a Wahhabi. Rather, this is a term used
by others to refer to his followers. No so-called Wahhabi considers
himself anything other than an average, everyday Muslim.
Now, when people discuss the Wahhabi movement and call Muhammad bin
Abdul-Wahhab a man who spawned terror, no one actually quotes bin
Abdul-Wahhab. It might be difficult to do so, considering few of his
works have been translated into English. So the question must be
posed, "Did Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab teach terror?"
One might argue his followers preach terror. But, does this really
reflect the teachings of Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab? How often has it
been claimed there are followers of every religious teaching with
extremists who misinterpret the texts of that teaching? Certainly,
there are Wahhabis who condemned the actions of Osama bin Laden. In
fact, the former Saudi mufti, Abdul-Azeez bin Baaz wrote, "So my
advice to ... bin Ladin ... and all those who traverse [his] way is
to leave alone this disastrous path."
A closer study of Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab's works reveals a lack of
calls to the kind of terrorism perpetrated by al-Qaeda. His more
popular works, "Kitab At-Tawheed" ("The Book of Monotheism")
and "Usool ath-Thalaathah" ("The Three Major Principles"), are
beginner's books on theology with no reason for anyone who is not a
Wahhabi to be intimidated. In fact, they merely consist of verses
from the Quran and sayings of Muhammad. The job of interpretation is
left to the peace-loving or hate-mongering reader.
Another theory that has advanced regarding the ideology of al-Qaeda
is the group is made up of ardent followers of Sayyid Qutb, a 20th
century writer and one of the intellectual fathers of the Muslim
Brotherhood. This seems more sound because the Muslim Brotherhood
movement was a political movement - like al-Qaeda - whose primary
interest was to establish the Islamic state. The political nature of
al-Qaeda explains its acceptance of working, albeit alleged with
Shiite, a concept students of bin Abdul-Wahhab's school of thought
would never stand for. Additionally, al-Qaeda's arbitrary
declarations of heresy against corrupt Muslim regimes failing to
implement Islamic law are more in line with Sayyid Qutb's similar
Unfortunately, misunderstandings about the true ideological leanings
of Osama bin Laden helped people to sow fear among unsuspecting non-
Muslims about Muslims living in America. Clearly the last thing Saudi
Arabia would think of doing is spreading an ideology similar to Osama
bin Laden's, which ultimately calls for an overthrow of all
governments, including its own. So it says much to Abdul-Wahhab's
credit that the founder of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, granted Muhammad
bin Abdul-Wahhab protection, and the alliance still exists today.
Primarily because the present-day Saudi monarchy has a lot of oil
money to throw around, they are able to fund the construction of
mosques and Islamic schools around the world, including within the
The common misconception that Osama bin Laden is a follower of
Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab gave fodder to Muslim-bashers for their
attacks. Due to the perception the Saudi government might use money
to sow its ideological roots -- which are falsely perceived to be
those of Osama bin Laden's - the charge is launched against mosques
that they are used to spread terror as well.
Because of the relative ease of studying at the International Islamic
University of Medina, the accusation has been made that this
institution was used to spread an ideology similar to Sayyid Qutb's.
This conveniently opened all the imams and sheiks, who studied at the
University to suspicion that they, too, promote terror.
In times of fear, any explanation is considered the right
explanation. However, if a war against extremist ideologies is to be
fought, it's only right that reason can't be suspended in the quest
to fight that ideology.
Hassan Khaja is a Livingston College senior majoring in political
science. His column, "Moment of Clarity," appears on alternating
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