Propagating ISIL Through Wahhabism or Salafism
Submitted by Charles Knighton
We continue to hear from those who should know better that the destruction of Islamic terrorist groups such as ISIS by military force would put an end to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
WRONG! Such groups are merely the symptom of a malevolent form of Islam long championed by the Saudis, who have spent billions to combat the spread of Shiite Islam in an effort to ensure that the Islamic world is primarily Sunni. In recent years, the ancient Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq, Yemen and throughout the Middle East has grown more overt, bitter and violent. Now that Iran has agreed to rein in its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, the Saudis fear a newly enriched Iran will be more aggressive in spreading its Shiite doctrine and promoting Shiite-led revolutions.
The Saudis have promoted their religious views by investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools and Sunni cultural centers across the Muslim world. During the decade-long Afghan struggle against the Soviets, Saudi princes funded the explosive growth of madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The schools, located in rural communities where there was no other source of education, taught a militant form of Islam, telling students they had a sacred duty to fight infidels. Out of these schools came the radical students who eventually formed the Taliban, as well as many al Qaida recruits. Today, many of these Pakistani schools draw students from Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere, and they return home radicalized. These schools and the teaching clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Sunni Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism. One cannot overestimate the importance of the ideology that’s propagated by these schools in shaping minds in the Muslim world.
Wahhabism was founded in the 18th century by Muslims seeking a return to Koranic literalism, and is one of the strictest sects of Islam. The founder, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, sought the protection of an emir, Muhammad ibn Saud, and the two joined forces to spread the doctrine throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The cleric’s daughter married the emir’s son, which means the entire House of Saud is directly descended from Wahhab. The purest sect requires adherents to abstain from alcohol and drugs. The sexes are segregated, with women fully covered in public. Even other Muslims who stray from these medieval practices—such as Shiites and moderate Sunni sects—are considered infidels. Prescribed punishments for crimes—among them apostasy and blasphemy—include flogging, stoning and beheading.
Wahhabism gained enormous influence in 1979, when radical clerics who believed the House of Saud had been contaminated with Western decadence led hundreds of armed militants to occupy the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Deeply alarmed, the royal family sought to appease the militants by reversing the steps toward modernity the country had taken. Movie theaters and record stores were shut down, and more power was given to the religious police to seek out and punish offenses. In effect, the seizure of the Grand Mosque sent Saudi Arabia into a 30-year time warp that cut it off from the social-development trajectory it had been on. The royal family made a grand bargain with the clerics: Riyadh would fund the spread of Wahhabism abroad as long as the extremists kept any militant activities off Saudi soil. That deal ensured that radical Islam would overwhelm moderate versions in many countries, and planted the seeds of many terrorist groups.
Wahhabism has now reached nearly everywhere in the Muslim world except where Iran holds sway. In the 1980s, Saudi money poured into Afghanistan to help the mujahedeen fight the Soviets, an effort that gave rise to the Taliban and eventually to al Qaida. In the 1990s, Saudi aid to the Bosnian Muslims struggling in the wars that broke up Yugoslavia brought the Wahhabi strain of Islam to Europe. That same decade, Saudi money helped to further radicalize Chechnya’s Muslims. One of the cables released by WikiLeaks quotes then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Most members of al Qaida were Saudi, including Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sees itself as purer than the Saudi regime, but its fundamentalist Sunni doctrine has its roots in Wahhabism. A former member of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, Bob Graham, says ISIS “is a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money and Saudi organizational support”. In effect, Graham says, ISIS represents a form of Wahhabi ideology that the Saudis can’t control—a cancer that now threatens the kingdom itself. In order to stop ISIS and similar terrorist organizations, it is necessary to first dry up this ideology at the source. Unfortunately, this can only be accomplished by Muslims themselves, a task they seem either unwilling or unable to undertake.