Saudi embassy in Washington agrees to curb
the spread of Wahhabism
AH Jaffor Ullah
A strenuous relationship has been developing between America and Saudi
Arabia over the issue of Islamists coming to American soil carrying
diplomatic visa sponsored by the latter. Americans are becoming
increasingly edgy ever since Muslim terrorists struck down the twin towers
located at the WTC complex in New York on September 11, 2001. News media
in the US are having a field day unearthing extremism and hatred that is
alleged to be endemic in Wahhabi teachings. Scholars who study Islamic
fundamentalism in America have been saying lately that Wahhabi teachings
promote hatred, and it preaches intolerance amongst its devotees.
Notwithstanding this assertion, the Saudi regime is an unabashed promoter
of Wahhabi teachings all over the globe. It is quite conceivable that
since Wahhabi teachings do not advocate democracy and staunchly support a
vicegeral form of government, the teachings are like sweet music to the
ears of Saudi royal family members. Therefore, Saudi royalty has been a
big patron of the Wahhabi school of Islam.
The Wahhabi brand of Islam has been spreading by leaps and bounds all
over the world for over the last five decades, but most scholars thought
this to be an innocuous movement. The proliferation of mosques in American
cities and their suburbs is a new phenomenon that dates back to only a
decade or more. In South Asia, however, the Wahhabi teachings have made
inroads a long time ago -- to be precise, over half a century ago. The
religious school in Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, India, which is considered the
Oxbridge equivalent as a seat of Islamic higher learning saw the intrusion
of Wahhabi teaching quite early in the twentieth century. One offshoot of
this Wahhabi takeover of South Asia's prominent madrassahs is the
establishment of the religious organization Tablig al-Jamaat. Every year,
in Raiwand, Punjab (Pakistan), and Tongi (Bangladesh), Tablig al-Jamaat
hosts Bishwa Ijtema (world congregation) to reinforce Wahhabi
teachings amongst ordinary Muslims. More Muslims congregate at this
spectacle than the hajj ceremony held in Mecca annually. Most attendees to
Ijtema hardly know that the event is the brainchild of a Deobandi
cleric. The Indian Mullahs favouring Wahhabi teachings had eyed on a small
mosque located in Kakrail in the early 1950s. Only a handful of devotees
then would come in the winter months from rural areas to join in Tafsir.
However, the Wahhabi movement has grown beyond the periphery of Kakrail
mosque. The Ijtema in Bangladesh is a national phenomenon now. I am
bringing up the Bangladesh experience to illustrate a salient point, that
is the teachings of a small number of clerics can bring a massive change
in the way people visualize their religion. The hallmark of Old Bengal's
Islam is tolerance and inclusion of various ideas. Sufism was an integral
part of Islam in our part of the world. But that is in times past. Thanks
to Tablig al-Jamaat and the Deoband madrassah. They are out there
to purify Islam and give the religion a razor sharp image. In America
also, the Wahhabi clerics have been coming by droves from Middle Eastern
nations to spread Wahhabi teachings which would like to take Islam back to
Muslim clerics from various Middle East nations would come to America
seeking help from American mosques. Unbeknownst to most ordinary Muslims
in America, many a cleric would come with Saudi governmental assistance.
One such case was unearthed in the American media very recently. Both the Washington
Post (WP) and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on
December 7 and 8, respectively, that the Bush Administration had urged the
Saudi officials not to issue any more diplomatic visas to clerics. As a
prelude to this story, the WSJ had published an article on December 3,
detailing the Saudi Embassy's support for the Institute of Islamic and
Arabic Sciences in Fairfax, Virginia, which "advocates a strict brand
of Islam that experts say breeds extremism."
The first cleric to lose his diplomatic visa is Jafaar Idris, a
Sudanese Imam, who was a former research director of the Fairfax's Islamic
Institute. According to the WP news report Mr. Idris "is a popular
fundamentalist imam who on his web site has critiqued Western-style
democracy as incompatible with Islam." This is exactly the mantra of
the Saudi regime. The Saudi royal family finances these mullahs to
perpetuate the myth that democracy is incompatible with Islam. The
gullible clerics then reiterate this phrase from the pulpit of a mosque.
Consequently, the gullible devotees would believe the litany thinking that
a country or a nation could be ruled by a regime as Lord's vicegerent or
khalifa. The devotees, however, forget that we are now living in the dawn
of the twenty-first century.
In the past, the Americans were not that crazy to investigate Islamic
clergies who gave sermons during a Jumma prayer or who would
lecture an Islamic gathering. However, all this changed after the 9-11
terrorist attacks. Under pressure from America, the Saudis are cutting
back diplomatic visas that they routinely issued to religious figures,
which many observers consider a part of a broader Saudi government effort
to strengthen its Islamic outreach effort.
Strangely enough, Saudi embassies all over the globe have autonomous
Islamic affair wings that promote the Saudi version of Islam. The
embassy's religious wings spend lavishly to set up religious schools and
mosques. Critics of the Saudi regime in the West point out that such
operation provides an outlet for Islamic extremists to travel and move
money. Some of this money ends up in the hands of global terrorists. The
Saudis are very defensive about these allegations. Buckling under
pressure, now they want to phase out the "Islamic affair wing"
in Washington DC. The bigger question, however, is will they shut down
those wings in all countries? Only time can tell.
AH Jaffor Ullah, a newspaper columnist and research scientist,
writes from New Orleans, USA.