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Wahhabist Islam debated in Saudi Arabia

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  • thekoba@aztecfreenet.org
    The following article, attributed to Mohammad Bazzi of Newsday, appeared on page A14 of the Tuesday, June 24, 2003 edition of The Arizona Republic. It is
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 24, 2003
      The following article, attributed to Mohammad Bazzi of Newsday, appeared on
      page A14 of the Tuesday, June 24, 2003 edition of The Arizona Republic.
      It is foolish to believe that any one faith is the source of anti-imperialism.
      Many atheists have taken it up also.

      --Kevin Walsh

      SAUDIS INCH INTO DEBATE LINKING ISLAM TO VIOLENCE

      Riyadh, Saudi Arabia--As a teenager, Mansour al-Nougaidan didn't think adults
      went far enough in enforcing the strict form of Islam prevalent in Saudi
      Arabia. So he dropped out of high school, opened his own mosque and began
      issuing fatwas to root out Western corruption from Saudi society.

      His fatwas, or religious decrees, targeted fast-food restaurants, clothing
      shops and other symbols of foreign influence. After his supporters bombed a
      video store in Riyadh in 1985, al-Nougaidan was arrested and his makeshift
      mosque was shut down.

      During several stints in prison, he was exposed to interpretations of Islam
      that were different from the Wahhabi doctrine that has dominated Saudi Arabia
      for more than 70 years. Al-Nougaidan says his prison readings turned him
      into one of Wahhabism's fiercest critics.

      Now a 33-year-old writer, al-Nougaidan is at the forefront of an emerging
      debate in Saudi society that asks whether Wahhabism is a root cause of
      militant Islamic violence. The question has taken on a new urgency after
      last month's suicide bombings of foreigners' three housing compounds in
      Riyadh, which killed 34 people.

      Rulers Put At Risk

      "Many of today's radical groups draw at least part of their religious
      justifications from Wahhabi ideology," al-Nougaidan said. "For too long,
      Saudi society has been exposed to only one school of religious thought.
      It teaches hatred of Jews, Christians and even other Muslims who are deemed
      too liberal."

      New debate over Wahhabism--and other long-proscribed topics such as government
      corruption and democratic reforms--poses a risk for this country's rulers.
      Since World War II, the ruling Saud family has managed a tenuous pair of
      alliances: one as an ally and major oil supplier to the United States, and
      the other as a political partner with Wahhabi clerics who dominate social and
      religious policy. The clerics have long vilified America and the West.

      Pressures are growing from inside and outside the kingdom on the House of
      Saud to limits its alliance with the Wahhabi religious establishment.
      But the monarchy has rested its legitimacy on its religious credentials, and
      it is unclear how far the Sauds are willing to distance themselves from
      Wahhabi teachings. The Sauds also face a challenge from extremists like
      Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network has been blamed for the May 12
      attacks. Bin Laden, a Saudi exile whose brand of militant Islam springs
      from Wahhabi roots, accuses the ruling family of straying from Islam.

      Bombings Change Issue

      Last month's bombings transformed the debate about religiously motivated
      violence from one where Saudis had largely blamed outside forces--such as
      radical Islamic groups that coalesced around the war against the Soviet
      occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s--into one of national introspection.

      Shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington,
      in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, reformers attempted to open a
      similar debate. But the discussion was drowned out by anger among many
      Saudis that their entire society was being demonized because of the actions
      of a few zealots. The government has long argued that Saudi militants
      learned false notions about Islam outside the kingdom.

      The desert kingdom is full of gleaming office towers, strip malls with
      brand-name American stores and highways packed with Buicks and Chevrolets.
      But modern commerce comes to a halt five times a day, with each call to
      prayer. The conservative religious establishment has great authority, and
      a religious police force roams the country looking for moral infractions.

      Word Was Once Taboo

      That there is any public discussion of Wahhabism is remarkable, because for
      years it was taboo to mention the word. Many Saudis disputed that there
      was even such a thing as a Wahhabi school of thought; they preferred to call
      it true Islam.

      Wahhabism seeks to return Islam to its "pure" form, as it was practiced by the
      prophet Muhammad and his followers in seventh-century Arabia. The movement
      was founded by an 18th-century preacher, Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, who
      argued that Islam should be based on a literal interpretation of only two
      sources: the Koran, the Muslim holy book, and the Sunnah, the collection of
      the prophet's sayings and actions.

      The movement does not look kindly on non-Muslims. In its most extreme form,
      Wahhabi doctrine supports permanent jihad or "holy war" to spread its austere
      interpretation of the faith.

      Such anti-Western views aid bin Laden and other extremists in finding
      recruits, reformers argue, because they can convince young men that their
      faith condones violence against non-Muslims.

      "By constantly describing the United States as a devil, or Satan or an
      infidel, this could make our young people hate America and want to take
      violent action against it," said Mojeb Zahrani, a comparative literature
      professor at King Saud University in Riyadh and a leading reformer. "This
      rhetoric has an effect on people, especially impressionable young people.
      Those who spew this kind of rhetoric must take responsibility for it."
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