Wahhabi Islam – the Real Enemy of the West
In the world most of us know, we have nothing analogous to Wahhabi Islam. This may explain why we appear to be ignoring this ominous threat, despite everything we have accomplished against international terrorism and radical regimes in Southwest Asia in the past two years.
The Wahhabi sect is a branch of Sunni Islam. A bit of background will facilitate an understanding of where Wahhabi adherents fit into the overall Islamic scheme.
Islam is based on two writings, the Qur’an, believed by Muslims to have been revealed by Allah to Mohammad during the 7th century, and the Sunnah, which records the Prophet’s life. Taken together, the Qur’an and Sunnah form the basis for Islam as a religion and for Islamic jurisprudence, very much like our Constitution forms the basis for our secular laws; except that Islam does not distinguish between “religious” and “secular” as we do in the West.
The Shari’ah, which is analogous to codified law in Western society, consists of the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and a constantly evolving collection of Fatwas, or rulings, that deal with every aspect of Islamic life from ideology to practical daily matters. Throughout Islamic history, Imams and Mullahs have issued Fatwas, which have the force of law among Muslims, similar to a ruling by a Western court. As in the West, these rulings can be confirmed or overturned by a higher authority, by issuing a Fiqh.
From the beginning, two branches of Islam evolved: Sunni and Shia or Shi’i. As in every religion with internal differences in belief, how these differences are described is very much a function of who does the describing. All factions, however, seem to agree on at least two points.
The Shia (or Shi’ites) believe that they derive directly from ‘Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet. ‘Ali died in AD 661. Shi’ism, as their brand of belief is called, derives from the Arabic phrase “shi’at ‘Ali,” which literally means the partisans or party of ‘Ali. The Shia believe that the Prophet chose ‘Ali as his rightful successor. Today they fall under one of twelve Imams, and most live in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
The Sunni, on the other hand, specifically reject that the Prophet selected ‘Ali as his successor, and went to war repeatedly in the ensuing 1,400 years to prove their point. The Sunni is organized under four schools of law or jurisprudence called madh’habs. Their differences don’t matter here.
The second point is not so obvious in how it matters, but has been material in the wars fought between the Sunni and Shia over the centuries. The Sunni passionately believe that certain body parts of Allah are real, physical objects. The Shia just as passionately believe that Allah is entirely immaterial. I don’t mean to trivialize these differences, but only to indicate that relatively minor differences in belief or in perspective have resulted in profound differences in behavior.
In our own Judeo-Christian culture some believe in the literal meaning of the Bible, whereas others choose to interpret the Bible according to one or another religious point of view. In this sense, Islam is no different.
In another sense, however, Islam is dramatically different from both Christianity and Judaism. The Judeo-Christian focus is mainly on peace and nonviolence – turning the other cheek. Granted, in practice, our own heritage has had its share of faith-based wars, but in today’s modern world, both Christianity and Judaism can be considered entirely benign.
No so Islam – and especially not so the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam. The Wahhabis believe that Allah’s organs are physical, and that Allah sits firmly on a ruling throne in Paradise. They take in a literal sense every Qur’anic statement, especially when it relates to warfare, and most particularly to jihad – religious war.
Sometimes called the Salafi school, Wahhabi is an 18th-century offshoot of the Hanbali madh’hab. In 1818 Wahhabi was nearly defeated and deprived of influence, but the Saudi dynasty breathed new life into the movement in the early 20th century when it drove the Hashemites out of Arabia into the present Jordan.
According to a prominent Lebanese Islamic scholar (who remains anonymous for obvious reasons), during the last decade, Saudi Arabia has financed all of the Wahhabi movements in the region either directly or indirectly through non-governmental organizations.
This means that al Qaeda, 9/11, and all the other terrorist acts against the United States and other nations received their funding from the House of Saud.
“This was really a strategic mistake,” says this scholar. “The Arab rulers, as well as the policy analysts, have really underestimated the [fundamentalist] regeneration in the region. I would expect a war of Wahhabism against the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi rulers.”
In effect the House of Saud tried to purchase protection for itself by channeling some of its vast wealth to the Wahhabis. Recent events, of course, have put the lie to this point of view.
In most of the Islamic world, the Wahhabis control basic schooling. Between the ages of 7 and 15, students are taught fundamentals of strict Islam and religious obligations. Initial introduction to basic education (reading, writing, and arithmetic) is entirely absent, except as an adjunct to the teaching of strict, literal Islam. Between 15 and 25, young men are taught to fight – are prepared for jihad.
Wahhabism flourishes in every Muslim country. Lebanon has about 4,000 Wahhabis. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan it is far larger. Wahhabism goes by many names – Ikhwan, Wahhabi, Salifiyya, Mowahabin, and the Taliban. What all of them have in common is a strident, militant view of Sunni Islam, and financial support at the highest levels of the Saudi government. They also share a hatred of anything not strictly Wahhabi.
Osama bin Laden has capitalized on this widespread Wahhabism to unite Muslims across the Islamic world. The movement grows by indoctrinating youngsters in its hatred while ostensibly educating them. It is fueled by massive infusions of Saudi money. And it is legitimized by Fatwas issued almost daily by Islamic clerics throughout the Islamic world.
The system feeds upon itself, and is growing stronger by the day. In recent weeks, Iraqi clerics have begun issuing Fatwas to their local congregations that, in effect, put at risk every non-Islamic person anywhere in the region.
These people cannot be stopped by reason. They cannot be starved out. And they certainly cannot be changed. Their message of universal fundamentalist Islamic rule over all Muslims now and over the entire world as soon as possible cannot be ignored if we value our freedom and way of life.
The specter of universal Jihad is upon us. The longer we wait, the stronger the Wahhabis become, and more capable of achieving their goals.
Will the entire Middle East become a Wahhabi-ruled theocracy? Quite possibly. Will the rest of the world fall to the Wahhabi sword? Not likely, so long as the United States remains willing to apply its overwhelming force to prevent this from happening.
With the arrest this week in Saudi Arabia of the terrorists who attacked the residential compounds, and the subsequent arrest of several militant clerics who vociferously supported them, the Saudis have taken another small step in the right direction.
In the meantime, we cannot allow Wahhabi schools to exist, let alone flourish in any area we control, or over which we exercise influence. The moment a cleric utters a Fatwa calling for anyone’s death is the moment for us to act. These clerics must be stopped permanently, no matter what it takes. We must speak to them in the only language they understand – force and violence. We must disperse Wahhabi communities and require their children to be educated in secular schools that Coalition forces and their follow-on civilian counterparts control, schools where they will learn about the real world, and how to build a self-governing society on the ruins of the Wahhabi disaster.
If America lacks the will to take these drastic steps, I fear that our presence and influence in Iraq will be a momentary splash in the frying pan of history.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor