Wahhabists/fundamentalists, for whom beard shaving is forbidden, condemn Christians, Jews, followers of other religions and Muslims who disagree with them, declaring them “apostates”, “heathens”, and “infidels” who deserve to be killed and massacred.
The Wahhabist campaign has reached Norway. Mosques are being built and usable spaces are being bought with funds from Saudi Arabia. Wahhabi literature, supplied for free by the Saudis, is being distributed in mosques with ties to Saudi Arabia. The export of Wahhabism is “overwhelmingly the most far-reaching global propaganda campaign in the history of man”. (The Herland Report will this fall host radical talks with both Carl Schiøtz Wibye, Trond Ali Linstad and a number of other important writers and intellectuals on the Youtube TV show The Herland Report.)
IS—the so-called “Islamic state”—loses ground in Iraq and Syria. IS driven out of such key cities as Iraq’s Mosul and Syria’s Raqqa—losing grip on their military foothold. Thousands of IS fighters are killed. This is in addition to the thousands of civilians who are killed in the on-going battles to oust IS—mad crusaders propelled forth by the destructive ideology of Wahhabism. The fighters may be killed and eliminated, but the ideology will endure and remain with us into the future.
We need to understand Wahhabism: what it is and what it is not. You are sure to encounter it—you may even come across it in your inner circle. We see it written that the ideology is supposedly tied to Islam. So it is claimed by its supporters—and of course by those critical of Islam. All that considered, we could do with a review of Wahhabism. For this reason too: the ideology has an impact on many people; traces of it can be found with quite a number of Muslims. And it is a problem that needs weeding out.
Wahhabism can be traced back to the 1700s, to the teachings of an “Islamic” preacher on the Arabian Peninsula. His name was Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Wahhab lived as a half-Bedouin in the Najd, the desert interior of today’s Saudi Arabia. Wahhab believed that most Muslims had strayed from the path of “the true faith”, that they had become “apostates”. Those who did not agree with his beliefs about Islam could justifiably be killed, as they were “infidels”. Their women could be made slaves and raped; their property confiscated or levelled to the ground. On this basis, Wahhab developed a sect and philosophy that was termed “Wahhabism”.
Muslims must return to the “correct belief and practice” according to Wahhab, as he himself defined it, and then Muslims would recover their strength and receive help from God. Formal and rigid, selectively interpreted fundamental beliefs. The adoption of strict, dull, mandatory outer rituals—this is what they were supposed to devote themselves to. In addition to rejecting, killing or massacring others, this became the hallmark of Wahhabism.
On until the beginning of the 20th century, the common conception outside of the central area of the Najd was that Wahhabists were a fanatical sect of dissidents who had forsaken Islam. Authoritative Islamic pundits rejected Wahhabism’s jihad against other Muslims. Wahhab’s claim that all Muslims other than Wahhabists had been apostates and idolaters for nine hundred years was considered absurd by an overwhelming majority of the Ummah, the global Muslim community.1
Muslim pundits and intellectuals who clearly opposed this Wahhabi sectarian form of thinking were called “devils” or “the spawn of Satan” by Wahhab. A psychological barrier against killing them was thus broken down.2 The Wahhabists promoted a narrowly-defined Bedouin culture from the Najd desert and sought to make it ubiquitous. The result was a fanatical movement of murder and massacre, purportedly “real” Islam.
Wahhab’s violent sectarian ideas hardly would have won out if it were not for Al Saud, an Arabian clan, joining the Wahhabi movement. The combination of religious fanaticism and clan-based Arabian nationalism would come to form an expanding power. Such is Saudi Arabia to this day. The Al Saud-Wahhabi alliance is a significant element of the state. Together the two have formulated an extensive system of intolerance, hate and fanaticism that has led to bone-chilling injustices and atrocities.3
Salafism is a movement of current interest. Salafi can be translated as “a disciple of our forefathers”.3 Salafism shares the same aim as Wahhabism: to press on; to go back and revive what they believe was the Muslim way of thinking, way of life and rites for the first three generations after the Prophet Muhammad. Salafism can be considered a variant of Wahhabism. Wahhabism and Salafism are both extremely conservative socially and ideologically, and they are concerned with outer rules of “purity”. Islamic creeds other than their own are nothing more than a pack of lies. Salafism and Wahhabism draw from nearly the same doctrine.1
Wahhabism goes against the Quran
Wahhabism goes against the text of the Quran. We can look at a few examples. First, the most important element in Islam: the individual’s relationship with God. The Wahhabists—like other “fundamentalists”—believe this is all well and good: humans were created to worship God. The formal veneration of God and outer rites are the optimal forms of worship. Beauty, ethics and morals are of no value and not worth reflecting on when compared to performing the right prayer and mandatory outer formalities and rites. While in contrast to this, the Quran states: “So woe to those who pray, but who are heedless of their prayer!” (107:4-5) It places the utmost emphasis on moral and ethical responsibility.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists condemn Christians, Jews, followers of other religions and Muslims who disagree with them, declaring them “apostates”, “heathens”, and “infidels” who deserve to be killed and massacred. The Quran reads otherwise: “Indeed, Muslims who have believed and those who were Jews or Christians—those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness—no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve” (5:69). They may be on the right path.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists want a homogeneous society and for everyone to follow the “right faith” according to Wahhabi judgement. The Quran, however, says: “And if your Lord had willed, He would have made mankind one community; but they will not cease to differ” (11:118). God has created, and wants, multiplicity.
The Quran says: “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah” (6:108). For Wahhabists/Fundamentalists, those who believe in any other God must be killed. But Wahhabists/fundamentalists want to force people to believe, and should they fail to practice with the right “faith”, they can be killed. The Quran says: “There shall be no compulsion in the religion” (2:256). “You cannot compel people to believe” (10:99). “It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah” (10:100). “So whoever wills—let him believe; and whoever wills—let him disbelieve” (18:29). The Quran is tolerant and rational.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists proclaim that other Muslims are not real believers/Muslims.3 But the Quran is clear on this: “Do not say to one…‘You are not a believer’” (4:94). The fundamentalists hate “others” who disagree with them, but the Prophet Muhammad, who is supposedly their ideal, “loves his enemies” (The Quran, 3:119). Fundamentalists are intolerant. The Quran, however, instructs Muslims to “hold to tolerance” (7:199).
Wahhabists/fundamentalists are critical of independent thinking, intellectual work and deeper reflection, as everything has already been clarified. The Quran, however, says that: “The worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason” (8:22). Wahhabists/fundamentalists are void of intellectual matter and creativity—and they are satisfied with it that way.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists reject the arts, aesthetics and creativity. The Quran, however, says that God has created “beautiful things” that the Quran challenges us to “delight in” (16:8). For God “loves beauty!” (The Prophet Muhammad, hadith).
The entire message of the Quran is about God being “compassionate and merciful”! These words are foreign to Wahhabists/fundamentalists.
Wahhabism: a narrow-minded, hostile theory and practice.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists have sectarian practices as part of their daily duties. They have rules for how one should eat, drink, dress, sit, walk and step in and out of the bathroom. Music and singing are forbidden; giving flowers, hand clapping and drawing people or animals is forbidden; shaving one’s beard is forbidden; eating or writing with the left hand is forbidden; celebrating birthdays is forbidden.2
Wahhabists/fundamentalists show no respect for non-Muslims. They must not be the first to greet the other person, and must not give a friendly reply when greeted. A Wahhabist/fundamentalist who encounters a non-Muslim on the street will not yield to let the other pass—the non-Muslim has to. They regard them as inferior.
Wahhabi/fundamentalist minorities in non-Muslim countries reap the benefits of living there and take advantage of welfare, but rarely think of giving back. They demand that the local community adapts to accommodate them, and will not have it the other way around.1
Wahhabists/fundamentalists are not generally “true to the letter” or obedient to religious texts. They pick out singular, isolated phrases, taken out of context, and make them mandatory rules.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists say that they are waging a “holy war”, jihad, but war is not considered “holy” in Islam. The Quran does not use the word ‘jihad’ for war, but rather another word: ‘qital’. Jihad is the struggle for good, and it is something good in itself, while qital is not. Qital may be necessary for defence, and the Quran’s reference to qital is always limited, related to specific situations and is accompanied by instructions not to exceed a reasonable limit, and to instead forgive or seek peace.2
Wahhabists/fundamentalists are oppressive towards women. They often value the woman’s role as a mother, but otherwise see women as deficient and subservient. As a wife, the woman is under her husband’s authority; as a daughter, under her father’s; and in society, she is under the authority of all men. A woman is never an autonomous, independent person who takes part in moral and societal issues on equal footing with others.
Among the Wahhabists’/fundamentalists’ top “pundits” is Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a Saudi Arabian cleric. He has issued a fatwa (religious decree), which states “slavery is a part of Islam”.2 This legitimises the kind of sexual exploitation of women we see from IS and other fundamentalist groups in Iraq and Syria.
Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism
In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia used its vast oil riches to launch a systematic campaign to spread Wahhabism to the rest of the Muslim world, and beyond. Large sums of money were lent or given to fundamentalist organisations.
Saudi Arabia formed the Muslim World League (Rabitat al-Alam al-Islami), which disseminates Wahhabi literature in all of the world’s major languages and to most places, awards monetary prizes and gifts and provides financial support to an extensive network of writers and publishers, schools, mosques, organisations and private individuals.
The result being that many Islamic movements around the world adopt Wahhabi ideology, at times expressed as Salafism, and individuals and institutions learn to shape their ways of thinking, speech and behaviour as encouraged by Saudi Arabia.2
The export of Wahhabism is “overwhelmingly the most far-reaching global propaganda campaign in the history of man”.1
The Wahhabist campaign has reached Norway
Mosques are being built and usable spaces are being bought with funds from Saudi Arabia. This is the case for many of the larger mosques. Wahhabi literature, supplied for free by the Saudis, is being distributed in mosques with ties to Saudi Arabia.
Other countries – Syria
Wahhabism is being exported to all countries, Syria being one of them, where Wahhabism plays a pivotal role. In the mid-1970s, the Saudis began to creep their tentacles into the Syrian public, where they continue to wreak chaos.1
Their Wahhabi initiative showed positive results. Wahhabi-leaning groups such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra received generous support, and the stage was set for the growth of the even more brutal “Islamic State” (IS).1
In 2015, around half of the likely 100,000 people who took part in the fight against the Assad regime, whether jihadists or Islamist militants, were by and large funded and armed by the Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar.1
Wahhabism is being exported to Yemen. Saudi leadership has formed a network of schools, bought their way into mosques and sent over Saudi-trained imams. Saudi jihadists are fighting in the country; Yemen is to be dominated by Wahhabism. But a large section of the population is Houthi-Shia, which has no use for Saudi interests.1 The Houthi-Shia have grown into a formidable resistance movement.
Saudi Arabia has responded with extensive bombing and officially heads a coalition of nine Arabian countries, with logistical support from the U.S. and the U.K.1 And with political support from Norway! The result has been a humanitarian crisis deemed “the worst in the world” by the UN.
Wahhabism may seem to grow ever stronger. After more than forty years of targeted proselytisation, Wahhabism—also known as Salafism—has consolidated its position in Muslim communities, still without standing high in the favour of the majority, nor in Norway. But the process of influence persists.
The Muslim World League is the supplier of extensive Wahhabi literature to Muslim communities, including those here in Norway. The Saudi “relief agency”, the International Islamic Relief Organization, puts up the facade of humanitarian work, while most of its work is aimed at spreading Wahhabism. You will find local actors with collection boxes in Oslo, fund-raising for alleged “children in need”.
Wahhabists/fundamentalists can adapt. We see it in such places as Syria, where al-Qaeda and the affiliated al-Nusra drop some elements of extremism to come off as a “normal” social and humanitarian organisation in order to win local support and be recognised internationally through cooperation with western institutions. Norwegian relief agencies may have cooperated with them, and they probably still do.
“Islamist fundamentalism”: Wahhabism, Salafism and similar ideologies are, with their sectarianism and aggressiveness, a threat to many places in the world. With defeats in Iraq and Syria, the outside military organisations such as IS, al-Qaeda and other factions may be weakening. But the way of thinking—the ideology—lives on and could gain more ground still. This we must bear in mind.
1. Carl Schiøtz Wibye. Kingdom of Terror. How a Violent Sect from the Arabian Desert Radicalised Islam. Gyldendal 2017.
2. Khaled Abou El Fadl: The Great Theft. Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. USA 2005.
3. Shiraz Maher. Salafi-Jihadism. The History of an Idea. London 2016.