Monday, February 05, 2007

Saudi Historian Challenges Wahhabi Narrative

A Saudi-born historian has written a doctoral dissertation on the beginnings of the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia that challenges the authoritative teaching of the Saudi kingdom that the founder of the movement Wahhab was strictly a religious figure:

After decades of research and a doctoral thesis on the history of the Wahhabi movement, Dakhil came up with an answer. The clerics had inherited their power from Wahhab. The fiery, puritanical preacher had been instrumental in catapulting the House of Saud ahead of others vying for power at the time and became an influential and trusted partner in the first Saudi state. That alliance between the ruling family and the clergy continued down the generations, with the Wahhabis eliminating all other doctrines, taking charge of education and enforcing their strict brand of Islam in mosques and schools.

The religious connection also gave the Saud family legitimacy to oversee Islam's holiest places.

Dakhil's findings offer a new reading of the Wahhabi movement that contradicts the official narrative and could lead to a reduction of the clergy's power. Wahhab was inspired by politics as much as religion, Dakhil said, and he used religious discourse to further his political aim of creating a state in central Arabia, then composed of dozens of city-statelets under the Ottoman sphere of influence.

A more accurate historical reading, which would decrease the role of religion and highlight the political context, should reduce the clout of the clergy and give ordinary Saudis more of a say in how the country is run, Dakhil said...

By mainstream Muslim standards of his time, Wahhab used an extremist interpretation of Islam -- and particularly jihad, or holy war -- to rally people around the first Saudi state. He castigated those who did not believe in his interpretation, declaring local emirs and the Ottoman Empire infidels. The concepts were later used by the Saud family to conquer new territory. But that Wahhabi doctrine came back to haunt the royal family when it inspired armed militant groups, such as al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, to label them infidels and wage war against them.

There is nothing more dangerous than religious fundamentalists who "know" that they are channeling God's mind and acting as God's soldiers.

No comments: