The rise of the House of Saud, Wahabiizm and the Salafiyyah
Increased concerns about the rise of Wahabi ideology both in the Arabic and non Arabic world coupled with the alleged spread of Wahabiizm into areas of Saudi Arabia where it was marginalised previously, inspired me to look into the subject further. A couple of years ago in Bristol there was a concerted effort by the far right to prevent the building of a mosque in Stokes Croft. More recently during a conversation in my local corner shop, which is owned by a Pakistan family, I learned the mosque is to be built by Saudi Arabia. Bristol City Council are cagey about the whole affair, which is unsurprising in the light of far right responses but unwise as secrecy can only inspire further dissent.
Earlier entries explore the origins of Wahabiizm and how it is built on the philosophy of the almost certainly Kurdish theologian Ibn Taymiyya, see,/2015/01/29/the-battle-for-mecca-and-other-cities-al-wahab-and-ibn-saud-king-hussein-of-hijaz-and-the-hashemites-clan-flags-at-half-mastmy-part-in-the-rise-of-saudi-arabia/ and /2015/03/05/more-ibn-taymiyyah-jihad-the-mongol-invasion-acceptance-or-retaliation/ who lived in the 13th centuryand followed the Hanbal school of Jurisprudence.
They also show how Abd’al Wahab, the founder of Wahabiizm befriended Ibn Saud, the leader of a small tribal dynasty in the late 18th century and how their forces were defeated by Ibrahim Pasha in 1806 see,/2014/02/07/nineteenth-century-colonisation-continuedmuhammed-ali-pasha-and-the-wahabiiz/. Both the Saud family and Abd’al Wahab were opposed to Ottoman rule particularly in regard to its claim to the Khalifa. In my view they were correct as the Ottoman empire pursued an imperial and secular agenda.
Peter Mansfield describes how in the 1920s the then ruler Ibn Saud preserved the dynasty by entering into short marriages with the daughters of leading tribal chiefs with whom he sired 300 children. With a population of little over 2 million, Saudi derived its wealth through subsidies paid by the UK government and by the pilgrims who visited the holy site of Mecca. Even as the international markets grew for oil sales, Ibn Saud railed against new technologies thus his top officials consisted of Egypians, Syrians and Lebanese.
By the time he died the oil revenue was not vast but his son and successor another Saud was given to excesses, which led to the erosion of Wahabi conservativism . At that point many of the younger population were attracted to the socialist ideals of Jamal-Ab’dulNasser, the Egyptian president. King Saud saw this as a threat and was urged, by some western governments, to challenge Nasser for the leadership of the Arabs. The result was his forced abdication in favour of his younger brother Faisal.
The Faisal years in brief
King Faisal was an austere but wise ruler as his reign was affected by several political and economic events on the world stage. All connected to oil wealth and many to interventions by Britain. Nevertheless Saudi’s economy and infrastructure grew and of course in 1973 the Kingdom seemingly took charge of their own oil strategy. The move caused profound changes to the world economy and led to the restructuring of the world bank and the International Monetary fund (IMF). This is an interesting area but completely off piste. Suffice to say king Faisal consolidated his religious stance with that of his political and economic aspirations. He was not a welfarist and the whole infrastructure, as now, depended on the private sector and outside interests. He was assassinated by a family member in 1975.
The following section will explore the premise, that mercenary groups such as Islamic State follow the Wahab doctrine rather than the Salafist movement, or indeed both. To do this it will trace the origins of the two perspectives. Salaf is the Arabic word for ancestor and followers of the Salafiyyah are said to follow their righteous ancestors. The founder of the movement was the 19th century scholar Jamal-al’din al-Afghani. Author John L Esposito, in his book ‘Islam The Straight Path’ refers to how ”he attempted to bridge the gap between secular modernists and traditional Islamists” as he advocated the reclamation of the philosophies, sciences and technologies, which he attributed to Islamic society.
These principles along with his rejection of the more esoteric philosophies like Sufism guaranteed his appeal generally to the Ulama (the hierarchy of the Islamic scientific theologians). Nevertheless al-Afghani was a supporter of a parliamentary system as he believed this curtailed the power of rulers. If he was right about one thing it was about the west and its uncontrolled exploitation of the world resources, both intellectual and physical. al-Afghani was extremely well travelled, a scholar and inspiration to his followers.
Allegedly more political than religious his ideas for reforming Islam was inextricably linked to ridding the Muslim world of colonial rule, an idea he ostensibly shares with the ‘Islamic State’ elite. His position is somewhat contradictory as Mr. Esposita maintains, Afghani accepted the reality of nation states. A previous source for this blog Al-Islam.org explains how nationalism to Islam is an anomaly as the religion itself is the philosophy, which determines the world view of its adherents. Nationalism has its own social and political principals and thus is incompatible. Needless to say there are millions of Muslims worldwide who do not support this argument and have happily consolidated the two positions.
Perhaps in claiming a Khalifa in Raqqa, Syria those Muslims from outside the country, whilst rejecting national boundaries and colonialism are also moving into the arms of Wahabi principles and away from the doctrine of al-Afghani. True to an extent though it appears al-Afghani may have modified his views in later year. Mark Sedgewick has written a fascinating account of al-Afghani, his friend and follower Mohammed Abduh and their exile to Paris for anti British activities in Egypt in the late 1800s. their activities there, and their subsequent visit to Britain was a truly international and dignified experience, which may have influenced al-Afghani’s views on the west further.
The Encyclodedia Iranica discusses al-Afghani’s life and some points are worth highlighting despite their tendency to blur issues. al-Afghani was born in Asadabad in Iran but was educated in Tehran and influenced by Shia schools noted for its 4th Pillar (the need always to have the ”perfect man”). He may have adopted the name Afghani to protect his identity or heritage as the Shias had long been persecuted.
The tract describes how his position on British colonial rule was almost certainly coloured by the India mutiny. This certainly manifested when he worked as an advisor to the then Afghan Amir Azim Khan who he advised to side with Russia against Britain during the skirmishes, which occured in late 1860s Afghanistan. Nevertheless Britain had a far more successful campaign during this period than they’d had in the 1830s.
al-Afghani spent time in Russia and promoted a war between it and Britain however this harboured a hidden agenda of provoking Islamic uprisings in the regions, which later formed part of the soviet bloc. He failed and no doubt would have been envious of the occurrences of 1977, when Britain did just that though he wouldn’t have approved of their motive, which was not to unify Muslims but to pit them against each other.
al-Afghani certainly had a colourful career, he published papers in both Persian and Arabic, though was said he didn’t like writing so dictated his thoughts to his followers who transcribed them. His emnity was levelled mainly at the Ottomans and British imperialism and advocated Hindu and Muslim unity as the best way to rid India of British rule. Though he may have promoted pan Islamism in his later years and though his work has inspired some modern Islamist movements, his main aim was certainly to rid the Muslim world of British tyranny.
More about his adherents and the development of the movement next time.