Magazine article The Spectator

Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad

Magazine article The Spectator

Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad

Article excerpt

Wolves in sheep's clothing WAHHABI ISLAM: FROM REVIVAL AND REFORM TO GLOBAL JIHAD by Natana J. DeLong-Bas I. B. Tauris, £19.95, pp. 374, ISBN 1850436797 £17.95 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

The word 'Wahhabi' entered popular consciousness at the same time as '9/11' and is now about as loaded as the word 'Nazi'. But whereas 'Nazi' is understood by all, 'Wahhabi' has crept into the vocabulary of modern global terrorism with little explanation other than that it and 'Wahhabism' are considered part of the mindset of men like Osama bin Laden. It goes without saying that the Western world needs to know all there is to know about Wahhabis, so when a book comes along that claims to be the first serious study of the man who gave his name to this particular brand of bigotry we should take it seriously.

In about 1744 in the most backward part of Arabia a mullah named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab joined forces with a minor but ambitious Bedouin chief named Muhammad Ibn Saud. The former had already made himself hated by organising the stoning to death of a woman who had admitted to adultery and by inciting a rabble to pull down the tomb of a popular local saint. The alliance of these two as temporal and spiritual leaders was scaled by a marriage that gave rise to two interdependent ruling and clerical dynasties. It also laid the foundations for Saudi expansion, culminating in the formation of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, ruled over by the descendants of Ibn Saud and Ibn Abel al-Wahhab, with Wahhabi Islam as its state religion. Over the same period Wahhabism became a byword throughout the Muslim world for reactionary, holier-than-thou, confrontational and heartless Islam the like of which had not been seen since the days of the holy terror of Mahmud of Ghazni. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were nurtured on Wahhabism, as indeed was the young Osama.

A central element of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's theology was his redefining of jihad, the Muslim's duty to 'struggle in the path of God', as sanctified terrorising of anyone who disagreed with his interpretation of holy writ. Fundamentalists are usually content to leave the punishment of those who disagree with them to God; Wahhabi fundamentalists are not - by their book, if you won't agree to their way of thinking they have a religious duty to kill you. …

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