By Izeth Hussain –
I want to argue in this article that Wahhabism is not as generally thought an atavistic movement designed to take Islam back to the middle ages in reaction to modernity but a movement meant to cope with modernity, and that its strategy for that purpose is to transform Islam into an ideology of power-worship. My thinking on this subject has in its background the fact that I read some decades ago in a great novel by Montherlant, something to the effect that the typical modern man, bereft of the dimension of the transcendental, has two legs one of which is a drive for money and the other a drive for power, the two legs on which the terrible fellow stomps along wreaking the unparalleled destruction that the world has witnessed since the beginning of the First World War in 1914.
But first of all I must clear up some confusions. I concluded my last article on a case for extirpating Wahabism by stating that the crucial question that has to be addressed is whether or not it is the IS, not Saudi Arabia, that practices Wahhabism in its full authentic form. I wrote further that that question can be resolved only by establishing whether or not characteristic IS practices, such as sex slavery, have their warrant in what Wahhab actually preached. If not, there would be a case for extirpating just the IS but not Wahabism itself. If, on the contrary, the IS is the full-blown authentic manifestation of Wahhabism the case for the international community persuading Saudi Arabia to abandon Wahhabism becomes, I think, unanswerable. It is pertinent to recall that in 2013 the EU officially declared that Wahhabism was the greatest source of international terrorism. We can safely assume that that declaration was backed by studies made by scholars and specialists. Therefore there was a case for the EU to persuade Saudi Arabia to abandon Wahhabism.
However, Muslims who have been influenced by Wahhabism in Sri Lanka and elsewhere will give no weight at all to what the EU says. For that matter they give no weight at all to what the scholars of orthodox Islam have to say. What the latter have to say is more or less along the following lines. The Wahabis and their clones are utterly unscrupulous in finding substantiation for their tenets in the Koran and the hadiths and the Sunna. When it suits their purposes they read Koranic texts literally, ignoring the contexts that give full meaning to those texts. They are capable of perverse misreading of texts. They are given to using hadiths of very doubtful authenticity that are not included in the six canonical books of the hadiths. And so on. Consequently it can hardly be expected that finding warrant for IS tenets and practices in what Wahhab preached will lead to any useful conclusion. The Wahabis and their clones believe what they want to believe and they use texts towards that end.
The best strategy to move towards an extirpation of Wahhabism could be a three-pronged one: firstly, show that at the very core of Wahhabism there is nonsense and everything that flows from that core is nonsensical; secondly, that extreme violence and terrorism are of the essence of Wahabism; thirdly, that Wahabism is an unIslamic ideology of power under which the mass of the Muslims will become robotic power worshipers. In addition it will help if it can be shown that some Western forces have been behind the spread of Wahhabism right from the inception and right down to the IS.
I have already shown in earlier articles that at the very core of Wahhabism – the charge of saint worship and polytheism – there is nonsense. What flows from it, such as the sacking of Kerbela in 1801 including the massacre of 5,000 innocent men, women, and children, is also nonsense, moronic, brutal, subhuman nonsense, – and that’s at the core of Wahhabism and all its clones. I will now substantiate the point that extreme violence and terrorism are of the very essence of Wahhabism. Wahhab agreed to the stoning to death of an adulteress. According to Natana de Longbas, presently one of the foremost apologist s for Wahhabism, he did so very reluctantly because the woman was obviously mentally deranged: she repeatedly committed adultery and spoke about it openly. In her lengthy defense of Wahhab’s crime that I have read de Longbas fails to mention that Wahhab did not use the unanswerable argument that the Koran itself prescribes no more than 80 lashes as punishment for adultery and that he could not allow a Koranic provision to be overridden by a hadith of very doubtful authenticity. Nor does she mention that Wahhab failed to use the argument that stoning to death for adultery was very rarely put into practice in the long centuries since the death of the Prophet. I believe that during the many centuries of the Ottoman Empire, which prided itself on the strict observance of the sharia, stoning to death for adultery took place only once. The episode suggests that sadistic brutality was part of Wahhab’s personality. I have also brought out the disingenuousness that is at the core of Wahhabi apologetics, on which I remarked earlier in this article.
As for terrorism, it was there at the very inception of Wahhabism. Terrorism in its essence includes the indiscriminate killing of non-combatant innocents. It is said that Wahhab himself led the first Wahhabi terroristic attack, which was on the tomb of the brother of Caliph Omar who died a martyr’s death. That was followed by terrorist attacks on Najd villages in which Wahhab participated, it is said with the axe as his favorite weapon. The tradition of terrorism inaugurated by him had its first full flowering in the Kerbela massacre of 1801 and it continues to this day. The Saudis have been projecting a sanitized image of Wahhabism according to which its terrorism is an aberration, whereas the trut is that Wahhabism can always be expected to morph into terrorism. That is an important part of the case for the international community to persuade Saudi Arabia to abandon its championship of Wahhabism.
I come now to the question of Wahhabism as an ideology of power worship. In recent days more than one of my readers has sent me the text of a June 2015 article by Catherine Shakdam in which she argues that Wahhabism is not an atavastic throwback but a modernizing movement and compares it to movements in which mass massacres have occurred: the French Revolution in which well over a thousand were guillotined, and the mass massacres under Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. Others too, such as John Gray the philosopher, have argued a similar case after the Paris bombings. In support of that view I will point out that Wahhabism is not comparable to movements of religious reform and renewal through a return to the roots. Lutheranism led to nationalism, Calvinism led to capitalism, both led to a reinvigoration of Catholicism through the counter-Reformation, and Methodism and the chapel cults of Britain led to socialism. The Buddhist and Hindu reform movements of the late nineteenth century can be seen in a positive light, and so can the Islamic reform movement inspired by Jamaldin al-Afghani. But I can’t see anything positive in Wahhabism. In its latest manifestation, the IS, it is just a grisly, gory, savage horror. There is much more to be said on Wahhabism as power worship. I will conclude this article by recalling Yeats’ great prophetic poem which concluded, “What rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”. The IS rough beast wants to slouch towards Mecca to be born.