Thursday, September 4, 2014

Radical Islam is the Muslim Reformation

Mo - Martin Luther

John R. Houk
© September 4, 2014

ACT! for America basically represents the Counterjihad camp in which there is a divide in in Sunni Islam, viz. between the majority Moderate Muslims and the Radical Muslim purist Islam which is often described as Salafist Islam (Arab influence) or Deobandi Islam (Indian subcontinent [Short version and more Detailed version] – i.e. India-Pakistan). Pew Research estimates that 87% – 90% of Muslims are Sunni in 2009. A BBC article dated in December 2013 has the Sunni percentage between 85% - 90% of Islam.

The Counterjihad leader of ACT! for America Brigitte Gabriele cites “intelligent services” globally at a 2014 Benghazi Conference for the Heritage Foundation. Gabrielle says 15% - 25% of global Muslims are Radical. Unfortunately she does not cite which specific intelligence services she has in mind:

There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today. Of course not all of them are radicals! The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent, according to all intelligence services around the world. That leaves 75 percent of them peaceful people.

But when you look at 15 to 25 percent of the world’s Muslim population, you’re looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization. That is as big [as] the United States. (Heritage Panelist Brigitte Gabriel was asked about radical Islam. Her response is BRILLIANT… By Hannah Bleau; Young Conservatives; 6/14/14)

In a 2008 article by Daniel Pipes that was originally posted in the Jerusalem Post, Pipes shows the difficulty in pinning down the percentage of Muslims that are Radical:

As with any attitudinal estimate, however, several factors impede approximating the percentage of Islamists.

·         How much fervor: Gallup polled over 50,000 Muslims across 10 countries and found that, if one defines radicals as those who deemed the 9/11 attacks "completely justified," their number constitutes about 7 percent of the total population. But if one includes Muslims who considered the attacks "largely justified," their ranks jump to 13.5 percent. Adding those who deemed the attacks "somewhat justified" boosts the number of radicals to 36.6 percent. Which figure should one adopt?


Negatively, 10-15 percent suggests that Islamists number about 150 million out of a billion plus Muslims – more than all the fascists and communists who ever lived. Positively, it implies that most Muslims can be swayed against Islamist totalitarianism. READ ENTIRETY (Counting Islamists; By Daniel Pipes;; 10/8/08)

Ten percent was the percentage of Radical Muslims I last heard about prior to Brigitte Gabriel’s 15% - 25%. Pipes places in perspective the reasons for pulling a lot of radical numbers out of the hat of percentages. That percentage might be as low as 7% or as high as Gabriel’s 25% or even the higher 36% criteria. Also cited by Pipes that the number of radical Muslims will number to the hundreds of millions at the lowest to a higher number of over 300 million cited by Gabriel. In 2012 Pew Research believes the global amount of Muslims was 1.6 billion. Thirty percent of 1.6 billion Muslims is around 576 MILLION Radical Muslims. Whether the Radical Muslims number about a hundred million or half a billion that is a lot of Muslims that might be willing to enforce Islam by violence.

Then there are the Counterjihad writers and pundits that look at the Quran in the same way a Radical Muslim does and comes to the conclusion that a good Muslim follows the examples of Muhammad the false prophet of Islam. Self-proclaimed Moderate Muslims will proclaim that Muhammad is the perfect example of the perfect man, ergo Mo is the perfect example for the basis for a Muslim to conduct his life. It would not matter to a devout Moderate or a Radical Muslim on the nature of the Islamic lifestyle based on the etched in stone perfect man which is Muhammad (Mohammed, Mohamet, etc. depending on the time period in which an English language publication is involved). To the Counterjihadists who look at all good Muslims are Muslims of Muhammad and the Quran there is really no difference between Moderate and Radical except in the display of violence. Which is to say every single Muslim under the right circumstances are more than capable of emulating their prophet.

I tend to lean toward this second camp of Counterjihadists. I’m very appreciative of non-violent expositors of Islam but because of the Islamic Quran, Hadith, Sira and Sunnah I do not trust the ultimate aim of Islam’s version of evangelism (dawah).

And specifically for me Islam is a particularly vile because its own writings condemn Judaism and Christianity as perversions of Islam as if Islam has always existed. Islam has not always existed. Old Mo crafted the death cult borrowing from Judaism, Christianity and singularizing the polytheistic moon cult of the deity of Allah. Mo essentially eclecticized*** the three religious beliefs to mold a singular monotheistic death-cult that is capable of transforming the human mind socio-politically via a divine theology.

[*** Apparently a quick perusal of Google tells me I may have created a derivative word with “eclecticized”. For clarity’s sake I derive this word from “eclecticism” which is definitely a word – from under ‘Encyclopedia Article for eclecticism’:

(from Greek eklektikos, "selective"), in philosophy and theology, the practice of selecting doctrines from different systems of thought  without adopting the whole parent system for each doctrine. It is distinct from syncretism-the attempt to reconcile or combine systems-inasmuch as it leaves the contradictions between them unresolved. In the sphere of abstract thought, eclecticism is open to the objection that insofar as each system is supposed to be a whole of which its various doctrines are integral parts, the arbitrary juxtaposition of doctrines from different systems risks a fundamental incoherence.                In practical affairs, however, the eclectic spirit has much to commend it.]

A Muslim apologist might bring up the thought that not all Radical Muslims are violent jihadists. Indeed there is an element of truth in that thought. Yet since I am in the camp that believes every Muslim that believes he is a good Muslim is capable of violence present with the proper circumstances, the so-called non-violent Radical Muslims will easily turn to violence when provoked. And provocation can be set off with anything a Muslim considers an insult to Muhammad, Islam and Allah. Essentially a Biblical Christian as myself has insulted Muhammad, Islam and Allah by calling Mo a false prophet, calling Islam an antichrist religion and Allah a man-made deity manufactured from Judaism, Christianity and an old Arabic polytheistic moon-god. I have no doubts that if I was a bigger dog in the blogosphere I would have a fatwa given by some cleric for my death or that some Muslim taking it upon himself to satisfy honor would murder me.

I have to assert here I am no expert on Islam nonetheless I can read. From what I have read pertaining to Radical Islam is that it is a relatively recent development in a historical perspective. The theo-political religion of Islam itself historically is attributed to Mo circa 622 AD. (Modern academics prefer Christian Era or Common Era or C.E. these days rather than the Latin Christian usage of Anno Domini or AD translated to English as Year of our Lord.)

As I wrote in the first paragraph the Radical Sunni Islam is roughly divided between Salafists and Deobandis. These are Islamic purist renewal movements within Islam. In essence it is the Muslim version of a Reformation. In Christianity many Christians began to believe the Papacy had exceeded its purpose in granting such things as indulgences for money, i.e. forgiveness of sins if a sum of money was paid to the Papacy. Another example was evoking a reverence for holy relics which were more often than not fake forgeries of what were claimed to be artifacts from Biblical and Early Christian beginnings. These protesting Christians became known as Protestants because the protested that the Roman Catholic Church was moving too far into man-made traditions above the authority of the Holy Scriptures. The Papacy’s first solution for these protesting Christians was to condemn them as heretics for being contrary to the Holy Pope the vicar of God on Earth. The Protestants became successful largely to the support of big dog Nobles and Kings supporting the earliest protesting Christians such as Martin Luther (German), Ulrich Zwingli (Swiss) and John Calvin (French). The three Protestant Reformers were hardly on the same page monolithically however they agreed on one point, viz. that the Pope had exceeded his theological authority in creating tradition rather than adhering closer to the Scripture and/or the Early Church.

The Salafis and the Deobandis also desire a return to the earliest principles of Islam. Which if you are unfamiliar with those Islamic early days were very sadistically violent and expansionist in building an empire to convert the world to Islam. For me this explains the gravitation of Radical Muslims to gravitate toward violent terrorism. These transnational Islamic terrorists really haven’t had the means to create a formidable military to exact conquest of the world since the demise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Or least not yet …

Iran has been developing nukes to spread its concepts of a Shia Revolution upon the Earth. Now it is looking like ISIS-ISIL-IS forging a Sunni-Jihadi-Salafi-Muslim nation carved out of Iraq and Syria.

In the detailed version link above pertaining to Deobandi Sunnis you will note its origins derive Shah Waliullah who lived from 1703 – 1762. I say “derive” because a school was founded in 1867 in India called Darul Uloom Deoband. Whence the name Deobandi.

The Salafi Movement also has early inspiration but its spread among various Sunni locations did not really occur until 19th and 20th century. There are two or three Muslims scholars that were influential on modern Salafi movements. The primary one I am aware of is Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah (1263 - 1328):

[He] was a Sunni Islamic scholar born in Harran, located in what is now Turkey, close to the Syrian border. He lived during the troubled times of the Mongol invasions. As a member of the school founded by Ibn Hanbal, he sought the return of Islam to its sources: The Qur'an and the sunnah (the prophetic tradition of Muhammad). He did not consider the Mongols to be true Muslims and encouraged war against them. He believed that legitimate Islam is based on the opinions of the earliest Muslims, the salafa. He was critical of Shi'a and of Sufi Muslims for venerating their Imams and Sheikhs and for teaching that God dwelt within them. He was also critical of venerating and visiting the shrines of dead saints.

He was intolerant of Christians, arguing that Christianity as practiced was a corruption of what Jesus has taught, which was the message of Islam. He was also critical of Islamic philosophy and accused Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, and al-Frabi of being unbelievers for teaching that the world is eternal, which makes God redundant. At times employed by the authorities he was at other times imprisoned by those same authorities, who disagreed with his views. However, he attracted a large following and about 100,000 people, including many women, are said to have attended his funeral. He did much to revive the popularity of the Hanbali legal school. He is cited with approval by Islamist Muslims. His belief that Muslims who did not live under the Sharia lived in ignorance (jahilia) was taken up by such twentieth century thinkers as Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi. (Ibn Taymiyyah; New World Encyclopedia; This page was last modified on 3/30/14 22:41)

Another person of influence among Salafists is Ibn Qudamah (1147 AD – 1223 AD):

Imam Mawaffaq ad-Din Abdullah Ibn Ahmad Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi (Arabic ابن قدامة Ibn Qudamah) was a noted Islamic scholar of the Hanbali madhhab, author of many treatises of Hanbali jurisprudence and doctrine, including al-Mughni (the most widely known textbook of Hanbali fiqh) as well as Tahrim an-Nazar (Censure of Speculative Theology, criticism of Ibn Aqil's views.) He was a member of the school founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and is considered, along with Ibn Taymiyyah, as one of the two most significant proponents of Hanbalism; in the modern era, adherents of the school often refer to the two as "the two sheikhs and Sheikh ul-Islam.[2] (Some links removed - Ibn Qudamah; Wikipedia; This page was last modified 1/15/14 01:02)

And according to Mark Durie another influential person to Salafists was Ibn Qayyim:

There is hardly another Muslim Mamluk polymath of such standing who at the same time is best known as the student of someone else. Despite his own extraordinary scientific output, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah (1292–1350) was Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyah's (1263–1328) most famous and important student. Even centuries later, he is still primarily known and defined by his relation and service to his master, whose works he compiled and whose legal doctrines and hermeneutical and theological convictions he defended. While Ibn Taymiyah led a life characterized by conflict on several fronts, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah—with the exception of a few incidents—was a rather bookish man who preferred pious scientific endeavors to confrontations of any kind. (Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah: His Life and Works; By BIRGIT KRAWIETZ; Middle East Documentation Center, The University of Chicago; © 2006, 2012)

A prominent book among Salafists on living a Sharia-like life is al-Misri’s Reliance of the Traveller (easy to access but difficult to read pdf and a Scribd assessable pdf) translated into English by Nuh Ha Mini Keller (an American convert to Islam living in Jordan). Salafists tend to think of themselves as most affiliated to the most conservative Islamic school of thought of Hanbali; however the irony is seems Reliance is affiliated with the Shafi’i school of Islamic thought which from what I have read seems to be the easiest to follow of the four schools. Keller’s English translation of Reliance includes biographical info on people some of Misri’s concepts include. One of those people is ibn Taymiyyah.

There are two Radical Islamic groups that have affected America and Israel via transnational terrorism that think of themselves as Salafists but other Salafis question that appellation for them: Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Between Wahhabis and the MB there seem to be nuanced differences but in the eyes of Americans there both anti-Liberty theo-political ideologies bent on Islamic Supremacism by hook or by crook.


Wahhabism began as a religious and spiritual reform movement in Najd, a remote and rather featureless area of central Arabia. Its founder, Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92), was born in Najd, into a region inhabited by an Arab population of predominantly tribal structure. Based on the legal interpretations of Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyah, which are conservative and literal in approach, Wahhabism is based on Sunni Islam but is very puritanical in its outlook. It forbids all practices that might be considered innovations, such as the Sufi custom of venerating saints, and disapproves of activities such as listening to music.

Wahhabi Muslims do not usually refer to themselves as such, but use terms such as Salafi ('followers of pious forefathers'). (Wahhabi manuscript; Online Gallery Sacred Texts)

Wahhabi or Wahabi (wähäˈbē) … reform movement in Islam, originating in Arabia; adherents of the movement usually refer to themselves as Muwahhidun [unitarians]. It was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab (c.1703–1791), who was influenced by Ibn Taymiyya and taught that all accretions to Islam after the 3d cent. of the Muslim era—i.e., after c.950—were spurious and must be expunged. This view, involving essentially a purification of the Sunni sect, regarded the veneration of saints, ostentation in worship, and luxurious living as the chief evils. Accordingly, Wahhabi mosques are simple and without minarets, and the adherents dress plainly and do not smoke tobacco or hashish.

Driven from Medina for his preaching, the founder of the Wahhabi sect went into the NE Nejd and converted the Saud tribe. The Saudi sheik, convinced that it was his religious mission to wage holy war (jihad) against all other forms of Islam, began the conquest of his neighbors in c.1763. By 1811 the Wahhabis ruled all Arabia, except Yemen, from their capital at Riyadh. The Ottoman sultan, nominally suzerain over Arabia, had vainly sent out expeditions to crush them. Only when the sultan called on Muhammad Ali of Egypt for aid did he meet success; by 1818 the Wahhabis were driven into the desert.

In the Nejd the Wahhabis collected their power again and from 1821 to 1833 gained control over the Persian Gulf coast of Arabia. The domain thereafter steadily weakened; Riyadh was lost in 1884, and in 1889 the Saud family fled for refuge into the neighboring state of Kuwait. The Wahhabi movement was to enjoy its third triumph when Ibn Saud advanced from his capture of Riyadh in 1902 to the reconstitution in 1932 of nearly all his ancestral domain under the name Saudi Arabia, where it remains dominant. Wahhabism served as an inspiration to other Islamic reform movements from India and Sumatra to North Africa and Sudan, and during the 20th cent. has influenced the Taliban of Aghanistan (sic) and Islamist movements elsewhere.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. (Wahhabi;

9/11 Commission. The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the “9/11 Commission”) claims that “Islamist terrorism” finds inspiration in “a long tradition of extreme intolerance” that flows “through the founders of Wahhabism,” the Muslim Brotherhood, and prominent Salafi thinkers. The report further details the education and activities of some 9/11 hijackers in the Al Qassim province of Saudi Arabia, which the report describes as “the very heart of the strict Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia.” According to the Commission, some Saudi “Wahhabi- funded organizations,” such as the now-defunct Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, “have been exploited by extremists to further their goal of violent jihad against non-Muslims.”17 Due in part to these findings, the Commission recommended a frank discussion of the relationship between the United States and its “problematic ally,” Saudi Arabia. (The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya; By Christopher M. Blanchard; - CRS Report for Congress; updated 1/17/07)

Muslim Brotherhood

·         Influential Islamist organization

·         Ideological forebear of Hamas and al Qaeda

·         Supports imposition of Shari’a law

·         Approves of terrorism against Israel and the West

See also:

The Muslim Brotherhood's "General Strategic Goal" for North America

Founded in 1928 by the Egyptian schoolteacher/activist Hasan al-Banna (a devout admirer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis), the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) -- a Sunni entity -- is one of the oldest, largest and most influential Islamist organizations in the world. While Egypt historically has been the center of the Brotherhood’s operations, the group today is active in more than 70 countries (some estimates range as high as 100+). Islam expert Robert Spencer has called MB "the parent organization of Hamas and al Qaeda." In 2003, Richard Clarke – the chief counterterrorism advisor on the U.S. National Security Council during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations – told a Senate committee that Hamas, al Qaeda, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were all "descendants of the membership and ideology of the Muslim Brothers."

MB was established in accordance with al-Banna’s proclamation that Islam should be “given hegemony over all matters of life.” Toward that end, the Brotherhood seeks
to establish an Islamic caliphate
, or kingdom -- first spanning all of the present-day Muslim world, and eventually the entire globe. The organization further aspires to dismantle all non-Islamic governments wherever they currently exist, and to make Islamic Law (Shari’a) the sole basis of jurisprudence everywhere on earth. This purpose is encapsulated in the Brotherhood’s militant credo: “God is our objective, the Koran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle [jihad
] is our way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”

Embracing Hasan al-Banna’s belief that Islam is destined to eventually dominate all the world, MB today is global in its reach, wielding influence in almost every country with a Muslim population. Moreover, it maintains political parties in many Middle-Eastern and African countries, including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and even Israel. Not only does the Brotherhood exist in Israel proper, but its Palestinian chapter created the terrorist organization Hamas, through which MB has supported terrorism against Israel ever since. …

In May 1991, MB issued to its ideological allies an explanatory memorandum on "the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America." Asserting that the Brotherhood's mission was to establish "an effective and ... stable Islamic Movement" on the continent, this document outlined a "Civilization-Jihadist Process" for achieving that objective. It stated that Muslims "must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands ... so that ... God's religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions." Through stealth jihad, the Brotherhood would seek to impose Islamic values and customs on the West in piecemeal fashion -- gradually, incrementally gaining ever-greater influence over the culture. The memorandum listed some 29 likeminded "organizations of our friends" which sought to realize the same goal.

MB Outlawed in Egypt:

On Christmas Day 2013, the Egyptian government formally labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, banning all of its activities including protests. The announcement came after the government blamed the Brotherhood for the suicide bombing of a police station in Mansoura. READ ENTIRETY (some repetitive links removed - MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD (MB); Determine the Networks)

I felt compelled to share my thoughts on Islam due to an ACT! for America email that promotes an essay by Alastair Crooke that ACT found on HuffPo. As a Conservative I am suspicious of the value of anything found on a website that promotes a Leftist perspective. HuffPo definitely is Left Wing (or for those into politically correct semantics – Progressive). So I decided to do a little checking on Mr. Crooke:

Alastair Crooke, … (born 1950) is a British diplomat, the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, an organisation that advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.[1] Previously he was a ranking figure in both British intelligence (MI6) and European Union diplomacy.[2]

… He held clandestine meetings with the Hamas leadership in June 2002. He is an active advocate of engagement with Hamas to whom he referred as "Resistants or Resistance Fighters".

… (Alastair Crooke; Wikipedia; This page was last modified 9/1/14 10:05)

Now, documents seized by Israel which have just been published reveal that in June 2002, Alistair (sic) Crooke, then working for Moratinos, met secretly in Gaza with a Hamas delegation headed by the organization’s then-leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Grovelling behaviour, indeed; but more than that, a lethal confusion of language. Crooke told Yassin that: ‘The main problem is the Israeli occupation’. Yassin agreed. But while Crooke appears to have been talking about the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Yassin was talking about the ‘occupation’ of 1948:

In other words, the problem Yassin wanted removed was the existence of Israel itself. And Crooke did not demur. Instead, he replied:

‘I completely understand what you are saying. There is an understanding not only on the government level but also on the popular level, and there is sympathy with the Palestinian people…’

… Crooke observed:

‘As for terrorism, I hate that word. I have spent some time in my life with freedom fighters like in Colombia.’

So to the EU’s security adviser, the genocidal terrorists of Hamas are actually freedom fighters. In other words, they are morally justified in their campaign of mass murder, and Israel is morally unjustified in trying to defend itself against it. And this was just three months after the massacre of the Passover seder in Natanya.

… (Melanie Phillips on Alistair (sic) Crooke; Posted by Robert Spencer; Jihad Watch; 4/22/05 7:26am)

As far as Counterjihad writing goes, Crooke is Islamic terrorist friendly promoting the ungodly concept that Israel does not have the right to exist and the Arabs that call themselves Palestinians have a right to the Land of Israel – the Promised Land from God Almighty to the Jews as a perpetual inheritance.

Crooke’s essay on HuffPo is a fairly decent explanation of the Radical Islam of the Islamic terrorists ISIS-ISIL-IS. Crooke takes his readers on a journey of understanding on the emergence of Wahhabism and Saud family founder connecting theologically and politically for a mutual benefit. To understand the differences between Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia and the extreme Salafism of ISIS he says this:

There is nothing here that separates Wahhabism from ISIS. The rift would emerge only later: from the subsequent institutionalization of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine of "One Ruler, One Authority, One Mosque" -- these three pillars being taken respectively to refer to the Saudi king, the absolute authority of official Wahhabism, and its control of "the word" (i.e. the mosque).

It is this rift -- the ISIS denial of these three pillars on which the whole of Sunni authority presently rests -- makes ISIS, which in all other respects conforms to Wahhabism, a deep threat to Saudi Arabia.

Crooke goes on a historical journal of how the Al Saud tribal leader Abd-al Aziz – continued by his son Saud bin Abd al Aziz - utilized Wahhabism as a unifying ideology of the Arab Peninsula Bedouins to push out the Ottoman Turks from control of Medina, Jeddah and Mecca. These are among the holiest sites in Islam. By 1818 the Ottomans used their client army composed of Egyptians to destroy the then Wahhabi capital of Dariyah. The Wahhabis and the Sauds disappeared into a desert life for the rest of the 19th century. In the early 20th century another Abd-al Aziz Saud tribal leader again used Wahhabi ideology to unite Arab Bedouins taking advantage of the Ottomans weakness in their empire because of the eventual loss of WWI.

Thus when read Alastair Crooke’s (not ‘Alistair and not to be confused with Alistair Cooke) essay of illumination about ISIS it is fairly decent; however keep in mind Crooke is writing under the belief that these poor misguided Radical Muslims desire a reform to the purist early days of Mo because they are exploited by the West, America in particular and Muslim world despotic leaders exploiting the universal Islamic ummah.

JRH 9/4/14
Sent by ACT! for America: 9/2/2014 4:30 PM

There can be no denying that Saudi Arabia has long played a key role in the global Jihadist movement:

• 16 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.

• The largest single source of foreign fighters among insurgents in Iraq fighting US GIs was Saudi Arabia.

• Wealthy Saudis have long funded charities that supported the families of HAMAS suicide bombers in Israel.

These are just a few examples of Saudi treachery in the war on terrorism.

But what is Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the new Islamic State? Why is Saudi Arabia’s king warning the West to take action against them? Can he be trusted?

Former British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke provides an informed background on this subject that can help all of us understand…

You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

By Alastair Crooke
The World Post – HuffPo
Sent by ACT! for America: 9/2/2014 4:30 PM
HuffPo original post: 08/27/2014 11:56 am EDT - Updated: 08/28/2014 3:59 pm EDT

The dramatic arrival of Da'ish (ISIS) on the stage of Iraq has shocked many in the West. Many have been perplexed -- and horrified -- by its violence and its evident magnetism for Sunni youth. But more than this, they find Saudi Arabia's ambivalence in the face of this manifestation both troubling and inexplicable, wondering, "Don't the Saudis understand that ISIS threatens them, too?"

It appears -- even now -- that Saudi Arabia's ruling elite is divided. Some applaud that ISIS is fighting Iranian Shiite "fire" with Sunni "fire"; that a new Sunni state is taking shape at the very heart of what they regard as a historical Sunni patrimony; and they are drawn by Da'ish's strict Salafist ideology.

Other Saudis are more fearful, and recall the history of the revolt against Abd-al Aziz by the Wahhabist Ikhwan (Disclaimer: this Ikhwan has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood Ikhwan -- please note, all further references hereafter are to the Wahhabist Ikhwan, and not to the Muslim Brotherhood Ikhwan), but which nearly imploded Wahhabism and the al-Saud in the late 1920s.

Many Saudis are deeply disturbed by the radical doctrines of Da'ish (ISIS) -- and are beginning to question some aspects of Saudi Arabia's direction and discourse.


Saudi Arabia's internal discord and tensions over ISIS can only be understood by grasping the inherent (and persisting) duality that lies at the core of the Kingdom's doctrinal makeup and its historical origins.

One dominant strand to the Saudi identity pertains directly to Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), and the use to which his radical, exclusionist puritanism was put by Ibn Saud. (The latter was then no more than a minor leader -- amongst many -- of continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes in the baking and desperately poor deserts of the Nejd.)

The second strand to this perplexing duality, relates precisely to King Abd-al Aziz's subsequent shift towards statehood in the 1920s: his curbing of Ikhwani violence (in order to have diplomatic standing as a nation-state with Britain and America); his institutionalization of the original Wahhabist impulse -- and the subsequent seizing of the opportunely surging petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, to channel the volatile Ikhwani current away from home towards export -- by diffusing a cultural revolution, rather than violent revolution throughout the Muslim world.

But this "cultural revolution" was no docile reformism. It was a revolution based on Abd al-Wahhab's Jacobin-like hatred for the putrescence and deviationism that he perceived all about him -- hence his call to purge Islam of all its heresies and idolatries.


The American author and journalist, Steven Coll, has written how this austere and censorious disciple of the 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, Abd al-Wahhab, despised "the decorous, arty, tobacco smoking, hashish imbibing, drum pounding Egyptian and Ottoman nobility who travelled across Arabia to pray at Mecca."

In Abd al-Wahhab's view, these were not Muslims; they were imposters masquerading as Muslims. Nor, indeed, did he find the behavior of local Bedouin Arabs much better. They aggravated Abd al-Wahhab by their honoring of saints, by their erecting of tombstones, and their "superstition" (e.g. revering graves or places that were deemed particularly imbued with the divine).

All this behavior, Abd al-Wahhab denounced as bida -- forbidden by God.

Like Taymiyyah before him, Abd al-Wahhab believed that the period of the Prophet Muhammad's stay in Medina was the ideal of Muslim society (the "best of times"), to which all Muslims should aspire to emulate (this, essentially, is Salafism).

Taymiyyah had declared war on Shi'ism, Sufism and Greek philosophy. He spoke out, too against visiting the grave of the prophet and the celebration of his birthday, declaring that all such behavior represented mere imitation of the Christian worship of Jesus as God (i.e. idolatry). Abd al-Wahhab assimilated all this earlier teaching, stating that "any doubt or hesitation" on the part of a believer in respect to his or her acknowledging this particular interpretation of Islam should "deprive a man of immunity of his property and his life."

One of the main tenets of Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine has become the key idea of takfir. Under the takfiri doctrine, Abd al-Wahhab and his followers could deem fellow Muslims infidels should they engage in activities that in any way could be said to encroach on the sovereignty of the absolute Authority (that is, the King). Abd al-Wahhab denounced all Muslims who honored the dead, saints, or angels. He held that such sentiments detracted from the complete subservience one must feel towards God, and only God. Wahhabi Islam thus bans any prayer to saints and dead loved ones, pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, religious festivals celebrating saints, the honoring of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad's birthday, and even prohibits the use of gravestones when burying the dead.

Abd al-Wahhab demanded conformity -- a conformity that was to be demonstrated in physical and tangible ways. He argued that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader (a Caliph, if there were one). Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated, he wrote. The list of apostates meriting death included the Shiite, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all.

There is nothing here that separates Wahhabism from ISIS. The rift would emerge only later: from the subsequent institutionalization of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine of "One Ruler, One Authority, One Mosque" -- these three pillars being taken respectively to refer to the Saudi king, the absolute authority of official Wahhabism, and its control of "the word" (i.e. the mosque).

It is this rift -- the ISIS denial of these three pillars on which the whole of Sunni authority presently rests -- makes ISIS, which in all other respects conforms to Wahhabism, a deep threat to Saudi Arabia.

BRIEF HISTORY 1741- 1818

Abd al-Wahhab's advocacy of these ultra radical views inevitably led to his expulsion from his own town -- and in 1741, after some wanderings, he found refuge under the protection of Ibn Saud and his tribe. What Ibn Saud perceived in Abd al-Wahhab's novel teaching was the means to overturn Arab tradition and convention. It was a path to seizing power.

Ibn Saud's clan, seizing on Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine, now could do what they always did, which was raiding neighboring villages and robbing them of their possessions. Only now they were doing it not within the ambit of Arab tradition, but rather under the banner of jihad. Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab also reintroduced the idea of martyrdom in the name of jihad, as it granted those martyred immediate entry into paradise.

In the beginning, they conquered a few local communities and imposed their rule over them. (The conquered inhabitants were given a limited choice: conversion to Wahhabism or death.) By 1790, the Alliance controlled most of the Arabian Peninsula and repeatedly raided Medina, Syria and Iraq.

Their strategy -- like that of ISIS today -- was to bring the peoples whom they conquered into submission. They aimed to instill fear. In 1801, the Allies attacked the Holy City of Karbala in Iraq. They massacred thousands of Shiites, including women and children. Many Shiite shrines were destroyed, including the shrine of Imam Hussein, the murdered grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

A British official, Lieutenant Francis Warden, observing the situation at the time, wrote: "They pillaged the whole of it [Karbala], and plundered the Tomb of Hussein... slaying in the course of the day, with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, above five thousand of the inhabitants ..."

Osman Ibn Bishr Najdi, the historian of the first Saudi state, wrote that Ibn Saud committed a massacre in Karbala in 1801. He proudly documented that massacre saying, "we took Karbala and slaughtered and took its people (as slaves), then praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and we do not apologize for that and say: 'And to the unbelievers: the same treatment.'"

In 1803, Abdul Aziz then entered the Holy City of Mecca, which surrendered under the impact of terror and panic (the same fate was to befall Medina, too). Abd al-Wahhab's followers demolished historical monuments and all the tombs and shrines in their midst. By the end, they had destroyed centuries of Islamic architecture near the Grand Mosque.

But in November of 1803, a Shiite assassin killed King Abdul Aziz (taking revenge for the massacre at Karbala). His son, Saud bin Abd al Aziz, succeeded him and continued the conquest of Arabia. Ottoman rulers, however, could no longer just sit back and watch as their empire was devoured piece by piece. In 1812, the Ottoman army, composed of Egyptians, pushed the Alliance out from Medina, Jeddah and Mecca. In 1814, Saud bin Abd al Aziz died of fever. His unfortunate son Abdullah bin Saud, however, was taken by the Ottomans to Istanbul, where he was gruesomely executed (a visitor to Istanbul reported seeing him having been humiliated in the streets of Istanbul for three days, then hanged and beheaded, his severed head fired from a canon, and his heart cut out and impaled on his body).

In 1815, Wahhabi forces were crushed by the Egyptians (acting on the Ottoman's behalf) in a decisive battle. In 1818, the Ottomans captured and destroyed the Wahhabi capital of Dariyah. The first Saudi state was no more. The few remaining Wahhabis withdrew into the desert to regroup, and there they remained, quiescent for most of the 19th century.


It is not hard to understand how the founding of the Islamic State by ISIS in contemporary Iraq might resonate amongst those who recall this history. Indeed, the ethos of 18th century Wahhabism did not just wither in Nejd, but it roared back into life when the Ottoman Empire collapsed amongst the chaos of World War I.

The Al Saud -- in this 20th century renaissance -- were led by the laconic and politically astute Abd-al Aziz, who, on uniting the fractious Bedouin tribes, launched the Saudi "Ikhwan" in the spirit of Abd-al Wahhab's and Ibn Saud's earlier fighting proselytisers.

The Ikhwan was a reincarnation of the early, fierce, semi-independent vanguard movement of committed armed Wahhabist "moralists" who almost had succeeded in seizing Arabia by the early 1800s. In the same manner as earlier, the Ikhwan again succeeded in capturing Mecca, Medina and Jeddah between 1914 and 1926. Abd-al Aziz, however, began to feel his wider interests to be threatened by the revolutionary "Jacobinism" exhibited by the Ikhwan. The Ikhwan revolted -- leading to a civil war that lasted until the 1930s, when the King had them put down: he machine-gunned them.

For this king, (Abd-al Aziz), the simple verities of previous decades were eroding. Oil was being discovered in the peninsular. Britain and America were courting Abd-al Aziz, but still were inclined to support Sharif Husain as the only legitimate ruler of Arabia. The Saudis needed to develop a more sophisticated diplomatic posture.

So Wahhabism was forcefully changed from a movement of revolutionary jihad and theological takfiri purification, to a movement of conservative social, political, theological, and religious da'wa (Islamic call) and to justifying the institution that upholds loyalty to the royal Saudi family and the King's absolute power.


With the advent of the oil bonanza -- as the French scholar, Giles Kepel writes, Saudi goals were to "reach out and spread Wahhabism across the Muslim world ... to "Wahhabise" Islam, thereby reducing the "multitude of voices within the religion" to a "single creed" -- a movement which would transcend national divisions. Billions of dollars were -- and continue to be -- invested in this manifestation of soft power.

It was this heady mix of billion dollar soft power projection -- and the Saudi willingness to manage Sunni Islam both to further America's interests, as it concomitantly embedded Wahhabism educationally, socially and culturally throughout the lands of Islam -- that brought into being a western policy dependency on Saudi Arabia, a dependency that has endured since Abd-al Aziz's meeting with Roosevelt on a U.S. warship (returning the president from the Yalta Conference) until today.

Westerners looked at the Kingdom and their gaze was taken by the wealth; by the apparent modernization; by the professed leadership of the Islamic world. They chose to presume that the Kingdom was bending to the imperatives of modern life -- and that the management of Sunni Islam would bend the Kingdom, too, to modern life.

But the Saudi Ikhwan approach to Islam did not die in the 1930s. It retreated, but it maintained its hold over parts of the system -- hence the duality that we observe today in the Saudi attitude towards ISIS.

On the one hand, ISIS is deeply Wahhabist. On the other hand, it is ultra radical in a different way. It could be seen essentially as a corrective movement to contemporary Wahhabism.

ISIS is a "post-Medina" movement: it looks to the actions of the first two Caliphs, rather than the Prophet Muhammad himself, as a source of emulation, and it forcefully denies the Saudis' claim of authority to rule.

As the Saudi monarchy blossomed in the oil age into an ever more inflated institution, the appeal of the Ikhwan message gained ground (despite King Faisal's modernization campaign). The "Ikhwan approach" enjoyed -- and still enjoys -- the support of many prominent men and women and sheikhs. In a sense, Osama bin Laden was precisely the representative of a late flowering of this Ikhwani approach.

Today, ISIS' undermining of the legitimacy of the King's legitimacy is not seen to be problematic, but rather a return to the true origins of the Saudi-Wahhab project.

In the collaborative management of the region by the Saudis and the West in pursuit of the many western projects (countering socialism, Ba'athism, Nasserism, Soviet and Iranian influence), western politicians have highlighted their chosen reading of Saudi Arabia (wealth, modernization and influence), but they chose to ignore the Wahhabist impulse.

After all, the more radical Islamist movements were perceived by Western intelligence services as being more effective in toppling the USSR in Afghanistan -- and in combatting out-of-favor Middle Eastern leaders and states.

Why should we be surprised then, that from Prince Bandar's Saudi-Western mandate to manage the insurgency in Syria against President Assad should have emerged a neo-Ikhwan type of violent, fear-inducing vanguard movement: ISIS? And why should we be surprised -- knowing a little about Wahhabism -- that "moderate" insurgents in Syria would become rarer than a mythical unicorn? Why should we have imagined that radical Wahhabism would create moderates? Or why could we imagine that a doctrine of "One leader, One authority, One mosque: submit to it, or be killed" could ever ultimately lead to moderation or tolerance?

Or, perhaps, we never imagined.
Radical Islam is the Muslim Reformation
John R. Houk
© September 4, 2014

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