For a long time now, people like Donald Trump have been mixing religion with their own belief system. This has only caused confusion! Islam is seen to be a religion of peace and yet, many people around the world continue to believe the stereotypes. An obvious one is linking Islam to terrorism and calling it ‘Islamic extremism’, which only adds fire to the fuel. That is why, learning the historical facts about ‘Wahhabism’ may help present a clearer picture.
Defining the ideology
Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92) was the theologian behind the Wahhabi movement. He wanted people to realize that the Islam they know of is wrong. When he finished his studies in Medina, he began preaching his ideas in Iran. Many Muslims found his views highly offensive, such as the idea that the Prophet Muhammad has nothing to do with Islam. He further rejected noble Islamic scholars who respected differing peoples in society, celebrated birthdays, undertook rituals for the deceased and worshiped shrines.
Wahhab was originally a Sunni Muslim, but then began to dislike their practices and the ways in which the Sunnis worshiped. (Sunni Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed’s companion Abu Bakr should be the next religious ruler of Muslims. However, Shia Muslims believe that Ali who was the son-in-law and cousin, was the one chosen by God to be the next ruler.
Wahhabi groups are a mixture of nonconformist movements known as the ‘Khawarij’ and ‘Mujassimah’ which means anthropomorphism (the belief that God has similar attributes to humans.
Wahhabists call themselves ‘Salafi’ — believing that they are trying to purify Islam — while calling others ‘Sufi’.
The last point mentioned is where things begin to get tricky. ‘Salfi’ means Muslims that lived in the first century. However, it is important to understand that Wahhabists must be seen as distinct from the first-century Muslims in their practices, beliefs and values — entirely different, in fact! Those that do not know this think that Wahhabist beliefs coincide with Sunni beliefs, and this is where the confusion lies. Violent and psychotic groups like al-Qaida and ISIS were born out of this misunderstanding. Terrorists that follow the radical ideology truly believe that they are only obeying the values of the Islamic religion.
The lesson then, is to stop confusing the Sunni and Salafi frameworks. The Sunnis certainly do not think that one should rebel against their government and kill innocent people!
Is there a solution?
Many prominent Muslims state that their faith has nothing to do with this ideology that promotes violence. They are constantly forced to defend themselves against those that target young people in concerts. Here are some comments they have made:
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (journalist) she is a Shia Muslim
‘There is no Muslim community and we are all individuals. I have more in common with Yorkshire birdwatchers!’
Sadiq Khan (after the London Bridge attack)
‘Your perverse ideology has nothing to do with the true values of Islam’.
Shah Rukh Khan (famous Bollywood actor)
Khan acted in a film called My Name is Khan about a man that has Asperger syndrome who is tired of the prejudice faced by Muslims post 9/11. The character then goes on a cross-country trip to speak to the American President. Khan has stated that he feels that sometimes politicians treat him as a symbol of what they feel is not patriotic about Muslims who live in India, adding further:
‘There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring nation rather than my own country — this even though I am an Indian, whose father fought for the freedom of India. Rallies have been held where leaders have exhorted me to leave and return to what they refer to as my original homeland’.
The above individuals are from different backgrounds but they all have one thing in common: they don’t want their religion to get in the way of who they are.
Wahhabism seems to be getting in the way of the true Muslim identity and the foundation of Islam. Frustratingly, western governments here in the UK, Australia and EU countries such as Belgium can’t work out why young people are joining terrorist groups despite their best efforts.
It is clear that it will take time to figure out a way of combating this. The reality is that many terrorists who see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ are actually just lonely individuals that want to make a difference in whatever way possible. This conundrum will not go away easily. But we should at least get to grips with the historic background of an ideology that has managed to seep into what must, at bottom, be understood as a peaceful religion.
Here is a good Ted Talk that relates: