February 5, 2015

A FIGHT IN WHICH WE HAVE NO DOG:

What is Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia? : The future of the Middle East hinges on the beliefs of the Muslim sect which dominates the oil-rich kingdom. (Galina Yemelianova | 2 February 2015, MercatorNet)

Though it gives the appearance of monolithic control by the ruling elite, Saudi Arabia is in fact riven by profound tensions. These perpetually threaten to erupt and transform things forever. One such fault line centres on the nature and role of a Sunni sect and its connection to radical Islamism. [...]

Wahhabism is an Arabian form of Salafism, the movement within Islam aimed at its "purification" and the return to the Islam of the Prophet Mohammed and the three successive generations of followers.

Its two major points of reference are the Koran and the Sunnah. The latter consists of hadiths - stories not included in the Koran - describing how the Prophet and the four righteous caliphs dealt with issues in the public and private spheres. These, together with the Koran, form the basis of Sharia law.

As in other forms of Salafism, Wahhabi Muslims call themselves muwahhidun (proponents of the oneness of God). They insist in every aspect of life on strict adherence to Sharia.

From roughly the 1950s on, the Wahhabi ulama (Islamic scholars) were increasingly co-opted by the house of al-Saud to provide religious legitimacy as it tightened its grip on power against tribal rivals and consolidated Saudi Arabian nationalism (as opposed to Nasserite pan-Arabism).

The process of legitimisation included Wahhabi policing of the Sharia-based legal system and education in schools and universities (a quarter of Saudi degrees are in Islamic theology). Wahabbism also dictated everyday moral behaviour, including dress codes, segregation and subordination for women. The severity of the rules helped establish the image of Saudi Arabia as the citadel of Islamic purity. This was reinforced by the existence of the Islamic sacred cities of Mecca and Medina on its territory.

The Saudi paradox    

At the same time, Islamic social puritanism existed alongside the increasingly corrupt behaviour of the ruling Sudairi clan and extended royal family (who number, according to some estimates, up to 20,000 people). This was made possible by the burgeoning oil trade with the West from the 1970s onwards.

The corruption engendered resentment toward the regime among some Saudi Salafis (neo-Wahabbis), particularly wealthy and educated younger people - including Osama bin Laden. A government decision to allow a large American military presence in the country in pursuit of the Gulf War in 1991 only aggravated the tension.

Neo-Wahhabis remain by far the greatest potential threat to the regime. The advance of IS in Syria and Iraq, as well as its counterparts in Africa and elsewhere, presents a serious religious challenge to the Saudi regime and its Wahhabi establishment. Both IS and the Saudis claim to represent the "true" Islamic state, subscribing to strict adherence to Sharia law. But they are also sworn enemies, since Saudi Arabia has officially joined the American-led coalition against IS, with whom a many neo-Wahhabi Saudis are actually fighting.


Posted by at February 5, 2015 6:15 PM
  

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