Wahhabism in Region: Facts and Perspectives

Wahhabism in Region: Facts and Perspectives

Shah Waliullah is one of the most influential clerics in the history of Muslims in India and Pakistan. He played a key role in radicalization of Sunni Muslims by converting them into Wahhabi and semi-Wahhabi (later emerged as Deobandi) radical sects. He also played a key role in creating hatred not only against Hindus and other Non-Muslims but also against Shia Muslim minority. He is the one who wrote letters to Ahmad Shah Abdali Durrani of Aghanistan inviting him to attack India in order to ‘save Muslims’ from Hindus and Shias.

What is, however, not known is that Shah Waliullah was also a contemporary of Muhammad ibn Adal Wahhab, founder of the violent Wahhabi/Salafi sect of Saudi Arabia, and during his visit to Arabia for Hajj, Shah Waliullah was completely radicalized by Wahhabi ideology. Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab (1703-1792 AD) of Saudi Arabia was a contemporary of Shah Waliullah (1703–1762 AD) of Delhi, India.

Famous Sunni Barelvi/Sufi scholar Allama Muhammad Umar Icharwi (d. 1971) – known as ‘Junayd of his time’ clearly documented book Miqyas Hanafiyyat that Imam Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dahlawi was a Wahhabi. Below are some of the facts and arguments presneted in this book. Scanned images of relevant pages are attached at the end.

1. While discussing the history of Wahhabis, which ideologically starts from ibn Taymiyyah, Allama Icharwi mentions that Shah Waliullah was born in the year 1114H who was nine years younger than Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab. He writes that Shah Waliullah was, by birth, a Sunni Hanafi, as taught by his father Shah ‘Abd al-Rahim, and heir to his father’s wilayyah.

2. However, Shah Waliullah’s intention for Hajj took him to Hijaz. There Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab noticed that Waliullah is very influential scholar in India. Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab saw this as a good opportunity and started to attract Shah Waliullah towards Wahhabi ideology.

3. When Shah Waliullah returned to India, he lost the wilayyah of his father as well as the Hanafi touch. When the followers of Shah Waliullah saw his abuse of the pious Sunni Muslims and ideology, most of them left him.

4. It became famous in Delhi that Shah Waliullah had turned into a Wahhabi. He was declared a kafir by some leading Sunni and Sufi scholars.

5. Shah Waliullah began teaching Wahhabi ideology under the title ‘Muhammadi’. Few individuals became his followers and they were always around him for his protection because no ordinary Sunni Muslim could tolerate his abuse of the Prophets and saints. At that time, he was the lone Wahhabi scholar in the subcontinent.

Here’s an example of Wahhabi ideology of Shah Waliullah:

Shah Waliullah writes: “And among that (the occasions where forbidden shirk is present): Surely they seek aid from [people] other than Allah for their needs — including cure for the ill and giving wealth to the poor; and they make vows (nadhr) and hope that their aims are successful on account of those vows; and they recite their [people’s] names hoping to gain their blessings. Allah Most High has made it incumbent on them that the say in their prayers, ‘It is only you that we worship and it is only you that we seek aid from.’ Allah Most High says, ‘So, do not call with [the name of] Allah anyone else.’ And the meaning of du’a (supplication) is not ‘ibadah (worship), as the exegetes say, but it is isti’anah (seeking assistance), because of the verse of…” (Hujjat Allah al-Balighah, 1:186)

Shah Waliullah says that seeking help (istighasa) from Allah’s chosen Prophets and saints is shirk (polytheism), so basically he is caling Sunnis, Sufis and Shias as polytheists (mushrik), which is a Wahhabi idology.

6. Then Shah Waliullah wrote books wherein he propagated the intolerant and violent ideology of Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab and abused the Prophets and saints therein. Consistent with Wahhabi ideology, he supported the destruction of graves of Sahaba and Ahlul Bayt by the Saudi Wahhabi Najdi regime.

7. In this situation, he left his home country for Najd [second time] and stayed with Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab as a representative of Wahhabis in India. He returned during his later part of life.

8. Shah Waliullah left his two sons, Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and Shah Rafi’ al-Din, as his heirs. Even though his sons preferred the Hanafi madhhab of their grandfather, but [as the saying goes] one is swayed by fatherly influence. They were influenced at least somewhat by their father but the scholars sufficiently answered [refuted] them. Intolerant ideology and violent Jihad not only against Sikhs but also against Sunni Sufis by Shah Muhammad Isma’il Shaheed and Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed is a confirmation that Shah Waliullah and his sons were completely radicalized by the Wahhabi ideology.

Allama Icharwi’s research is not a lone opinion among Indian and Pakistani Sunni circles.

Before Hazrat Aḥmad Raza Khan, Allama Fazl-e-Rasul Badāyūnī (d. 1272AH) wrote in his Persian book Al-Bawāriq al-Muḥammadiyya bi Rajmī al-Shayātīn al-Najdiyya (The Muḥammadan Lightning in Striking The Najdī Satans):

“The conclusion of everything that Shāh Walī Allāh has written shows that he is against the Ahl al-Sunnat wa al-Jamāʿat. Shāh Walī Allāh’s pious children[1] have not published and distributed these types of books (by Shāh Walī Allāh), and have kept (these books) hidden. It is as if they have veiled those words of their father that were unveiled.”

Mawlana Hakim Sayyid ‘Abd al-Hayy Hussaini [father of Shaykh Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi] writes regarding Molwi Fazl Rasul Badayuni, “He was a faqih who was argumentative and very biased in his beliefs, he was in constant opposition of the ‘ulama, most far away from the Sunnah and an aid to bid’ah, he encountered the people of haqq with his lies and innovations and was a lover of the world. He made takfir of Shaykh Shah Isma’il ibn ‘Abd al-Ghani Dahlawi and he accused Shaykh Shah Waliullah al-Muhaddith Dahlawi of being a Nasibi Khariji. And he accused and spoke ill of Shaykh Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Ahad al-Sirhindi [Mujaddid al-Alf al-Thani] who was the imam of the Mujaddidiyyah and he [Fazl Rasul] would say, ‘All of them are deviated and are leading others astray’.” (Nuzhat al-Khawatir, p.1065)

G.F Haddad extensively quotes Fazl Rasul Badayuni in his criticism of ‘Allamah Shah Isma’il Shahid.


In his book, God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, Charles Allen writes:

R. Upadhyay notes that: (http://saag.org/paper629)

On principle Wali Ullah had no difference with his contemporary Islamic thinker Abd-al-Wahab (1703-1787) of Saudi Arabia, who had also launched an Islamic revivalist movement. Wahab, who is regarded as one of the most radical Islamists has a wide range of followers in India. He “regarded the classical Muslim law as sum and substance of the faith, and therefore, demanded its total implementation” (Qamar Hasan in his book – Muslims in India -1987, page 3).

Wali Ullah also supported the rigidity of Wahab for strict compliance of Sharat(Islamic laws), and shariatisation was his vision for Muslim India. He maintained that “in this area (India), not even the tiniest rule of that sharia should be neglected, this would automatically lead to happiness and prosperity for all” (Shah WaliUllah and his Time by Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, 1980, page 300). However, his theory of rational evaluation of Islam was only a sugar quoted version of Islamic fundamentalism for tactical reasons. He was guided more due to the compulsion of the turbulent situation for Muslim rulers at the hands of non-Muslim forces around them than any meaningful moderation of Islam, which could have been in the larger interest of the subcontinent.

Glorifying the history of Muslim rule as triumph of the faith, WaliUllah attributed its downfall to the failure of the community to literal adherence to Islamic scriptures. His movement for Islamic revivalism backed by the ideology of Pan-Islamism was for the political unity of Indian Muslims. His religio-political ideology however, made a permanent crack in Hindu–Muslim relation in this sub-continent. Subsequently non-Muslims of the region viewed his political concept of Islam as an attempt to undermine the self-pride and dignity of integrated Indian society.

The religio-political theory of Wali Ullah was quite inspiring for Indian Muslims including the followers of Wahhabi movement. It drew popular support from the Ulama, who were the immediate sufferers from the declining glory of Muslim rule in the subcontinent. The popular support to his ideology “has seldom been equaled by any Muslim religious movement in South Asian subcontinent” (The Genesis of Muslim Fundamentalism in British India by Mohammad Yusuf Abbasi, 1987, page 5). He was of the view that the lost glory of the faith could be restored if the Muslims adhered to the fundamentals of Islam literally.

The Sepoy mutiny of 1857 was a turning point in the history of Islamic fundamentalism in India. With its failure Indian Muslims lost all hopes to restore Muslim power in India. But successive Ulama in their attempt to keep the movement alive turned towards institutionalised Islamic movement. Some prominent followers of Wahhabi movement like Muhammad Qasim Nanauti and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi drew furter inspiration from the religio-political concept of Wali Ullah and set up an Islamic Madrassa at Deoband in U.P. on May 30, 1866, which grew into a higher Islamic learning centre and assumed the present name of Dar-ul-Uloom (Abode of Islamic learning) in 1879. For last 135 years Dar-ul-Uloom, which is more a movement than an institution has been carrying the tradition of Wahabi movement of Saudi Arabia and of Wali Ullah of Delhi. Even Sir Sayid Ahmad drew inspiration from the tactical moderation of Islam from Walli Ullah in launching Aligarh movement. The Muslim politics as we see today in Aligarh Muslim University is deeply influenced with the Islamic thought of Wali Ullah.

According to Dr. Sayed Riaz Ahmad, a Muslim writer, the Muslim leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Mohammad Iqwal, Abul A’la Maududi and others, who participated in freedom movement were followers of Wahhabi school and carried the tradition of Wali Ullah with slight re-adjustment. Thus, the nostalgic appeal to Muslim fundamentalism had a direct or indirect influence of Wali Ullah on the overall psyche of Indian Muslims. Unfortunately, the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam by Wali Ullah gradually widened the gap of mistrust between Hindus and Muslims of this sub-continent.

Combination of Islamic extremism of Wahhab and religio-political strategy of Wali Ullah has become the main source of inspiration for Islamic terrorism as we see today. So long the Muslim leaders and intellectuals do not come forward and re-evaluate the eighteenth century old interpretation of faith any remedy for resolution of on going emotional disorder in society is a remote possibility. It is the social obligation of intellectuals to awaken the moral and economic strength of entire society without any religious prejudice.

Wahhabism, Foreigners, & Power

Prelude to the Unfolding Nightmare:

An ultra-treacherous cult unfurls throughout the globe, devouring its prey like an indiscriminate wildfire. Political “experts” have loosely tried to equate this out of control cult to “Radical Islam”; some people call it “Jihadi Islam”; and some call it “Fundamental Sunni Islam”: Yet, all of these designations are a stretch–if not an intentional lure, or sheer denial–from the bitter truth. The truth is that this cult bears a name beyond any label or recognition of those titles mentioned prior, in fact, it is quite distinct from Islam altogether: the Cult of Wahhab, is one of the oldest, most dangerous, and well-organized cults of our time.

The genesis of this exceedingly vast cult can be traced back to Saudi Arabia, where it emerged and initially manifested with a little help from friends loyal to the Royal Saudi family (1); its branches radiating outward, through concepts rooted in what is commonly known as “Wahhabism.” Henceforward, like any other weed that smothers life surrounding it, Wahhabism must certainly be dug out by the roots before it spreads any further. Thus, in order to diminish the violent effects resulting from Wahhabist ideals, ideals that essentially operate like a disease captivating the human psyche, we must learn it–acknowledge its history and origins. We must get to know its {Wahhabism’s} depth and impact–everywhere: how it is utilized by certain global powers and political entities to control and influence bands or individuals affected by its doctrines–groups like ISIS; and how it spreads. Finally, remaining in a state of complacency towards the alarming rate at which Wahhabism spreads is a reminder, complacency against a prevalent crises never resolves; but, it only aids in the development of a more serious problem. Therefore, preventing the spread of Wahhabism must be addressed.

Setting the Record Straight:

What is Wahhabi, or Wahhabism? By most definitions: “Wahhabi is any member of the Muslim reform movement founded by Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab in the 18th century in Najd, central Arabia, and adopted in 1744 by the Saʿūdī family. Today Wahhabism is prevalent in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.” (2) This is how Wahhabism is commonly defined, but is it really as meek as that? Rarely is Wahhabism described for the gargantuan cult it really is, as the definition states it is delicately referred to as a movement: “the efforts and results of a group of people working together to reach a common goal: the civil rights movement.”  (4) However, the deeper you delve into this series analyzing Wahhabism—the roots, its impact on humanity, the movers and shakers–as well as completing independent fact searching on data surrounding it, the more one can visualize how a dangerous cult transpired from a movement.[1] Furthermore, there is a common misbelief among copious scholars that the late Mohammad Ibne Abdul al-Wahhab was the Father of Wahhabism or Wahhabi doctrine. Contrariwise, he was not the true founder of Wahhabi creed: although, the cult of stern thought and spurious religious ideology has earned his name–for carrying on and leading the Wahhabi reform movement progressively… and aggressively. At the core of Wahhabi ideology lies a deeper, yet still, sinister past–dating back to almost 700 years ago–beginning with a man on a tumultuous mission, a man named Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah: If ever a father had been named for sowing the Wahhabi seeds of thought, it should be this man. Ibn Taymiyyah is certainly an early link in a sinister chain of forged dogma, playing a pertinent role in corrupting the minds of millions who stand against Islam, captivating lost souls who fell victim to his doctrines and admired his legacy for centuries on.

The Long Dark Shadow of Wahhabism:

Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah was born January 1263 – in his time he was considered to be a provocative scholar within the sphere of the Islamic World. (3)Taymiyyah was schooled in a rather religiously aggressive environment, according to historians. He attended an institution founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Hanbali fiqh (jurisprudence) was beheld as the most conservative out of four orthodox systems of Islam—Hanabli, Hanafi, Maliki and Shafii–because it was “suspicious of the Hellenist disciplines of philosophy and speculative theology.” (3) Unfortunately, as the years progressed, it seem Ibn’s behavior transgressed: “Ibn Taymiyyah, together with the help of his disciples, continued with efforts against what, he perceived to be ‘un-Islamic practices’ and to implement what he saw as his religious duty of commanding good and forbidding wrong”(5)–and he did so violently. This is, within Wahhabism, at the core of the Cult and its follower’s discipline, which has led groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Taliban (enforcers of strict Wahhabi codes) to carry out some of the most grisly acts against their captives.

It was Taymiyyah who first viewed all other religious practices that strayed from his perception of the Prophet’s “true” Sunnah as punishable—sometimes by death: According to his own distorted logic, “he was returning Islam to what he viewed as early interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah” (the codes of life that Prophet Muhammad {pbuh} lived by written in hadith). He drew many critics and opponents, even from among his colleagues of the Hanabli fiqh, because of his own innovations and fanaticism; especially, after leading ruthless undertakings against Shi’a, Alawite, Jews, and Christians.  Acceptance of Imamate, Saints, and holy sacred traditions he condemned; namely, graveyard visitations were viewed as false worship–“shirk” and “bid’ah”–as so many are accused of today by the Cult of Wahhab. One could say, Ibne Taymiyyah was the leading “shirk, bid’ah police” of his time: The innovator of an unscrupulous tradition adopted by the Wahhabi cult and their devout followers hundreds of years later. As he spiraled out of control creating the very bid’ah that he feared himself, at the age of 63, he was imprisoned in the Citadel of Damascus, prohibited from issuing fatwa any further. (6) Disappointingly enough, this would not be the end of Taymiyyah; the peak of his legacy would be born into another era, centuries later, with a man named Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab.

Centuries after his death, Ibn Taymiyyah ideologies would linger, building up a storm in the minds of his successors, having a profound influence over Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s own beliefs–whom would revive some of his most aggressive dogma. In the early-mid 1700’s, the well-known Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb would extract the beliefs of Taymiyyah and inject them once again into society; like Taymiyyah, his ideas were rooted in the Ḥanbalī School of law; and like Taymiyyah, they were rejected by local Ḥanbalī officials. His ideals earned him expulsion, first from the towns of Ḥuraymilāʾ and then from ʿUyaynah. (2) Nevertheless, these initiatives to silence Wahhab would not mark his downfall, it was only a stepping stone towards a greater accomplishment in the life of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Soon enough, visualizing the effectiveness of Wahhabism for control over the masses, The Emir, Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, inserted himself as Wahhab’s “saving grace” and a great source of financial support plus encouragement for Muhammad Wahhab. In 1744 the Saudi dynasty would begin funding the Wahhab movement. Emboldened and fuming with the same hatred, for non-Muslims and Muslims alike, left behind by Taymiyyah’s legacy, Wahhab along with his new collaborator would set the pace for the development of a well-organized and dangerous cult, on oil fertile grounds, throughout an entire nation.

At the turn of the 19th century, “they had brought all of Najd under their control, attacked Karbalāʾ, Iraq, a holy city of the Shīʿite branch of Islam, and occupied Mecca and Medina in western Arabia.” The Cult of Wahhab manifested and had been fully revived under the guidance of the Saʿūdī Fayṣal I. As one source describes: “The activities of Ibn Saʿūd in the 20th century eventually led to the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 and assured Wahhābī religious and political dominance on the Arabian Peninsula.”(2)

Simultaneously, the Western world had their sights set on good ol’ – lustrous! — Arabian Black gold (oil) more so than Saudi’s infamous violations against humanity. They turned a blind eye then (towards oppressive rule), precisely as they do now. Westerners walking on Saudi Arabian sands sneered past the beheadings, the degradation of females from all age groups, and other violations… just as long as they–the men in fine black suits–could shake hands with the men clad in fine white thobes—Saudi monarchy.

The Wahhabi Price
In the mid-1700s, a Islamic reformer by the name of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab who preached a strict interpretation of the Koran by insisting in the belief of one God, payment of Zakat (a form of tax), and call for Jihad (“Holy War”). He had a growing flock of followers; however, his preaching of reforms ran counter to the belief and interests of local rulers such as Uthman Ibn Muammar who expelled him under pressure from the Chiefs of Hasa. After his expulsion, Muhammed Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab moved to Diriyyah where his reputation preceded him and sought protection from Muhammad Ibn Saud. In return for his protection, Muhammad Al-Wahhab declared Muhammed Ibn Saud “Iman” of the Muslim community while Muhammad Al-Wahhab would be the spiritual-religious leader. With this agreement, a pact was signed and sealed in 1744 that signified the bond between the House of Saud and its future generations with the Wahhabi movement. With the pact between Muhammad Ibn Saud and Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, the first of the devil’s bargain was made by the Saud family in its pursuit to increase its power and wealth over Arabia.

A painting of Abdullah bin Saud, convicted and executed after losing the war in September 1818.

A painting of Abdullah bin Saud, convicted and executed after losing the war in September 1818.

The alliance between the Saudi family and the Wahhabist allowed them to spread their power and influence through the emirate. It is unclear whether the Saudi family could have succeeded without the appeal to the people of the Wahhabist doctrine that preached the idea of purifying the land of unorthodox religious and social practices. The people were drawn to the concept of living under Shari’a law. In addition, the Wahhabi movement transcended the sedentary and nomadic tribes by the concept of Tawhid (Oneness of God) that appealed to everyone. This allowed the Saudi Family to rise in prominence. The ascent of the Wahhabist and the Saudi Family came to an end when it was force to surrender and submit to Ibrahim Pasha with his Egyptian (Ottoman) Army on September 11, 1818 (Ottoman–Wahhabi War).


Less than a century later, the Saudi family made its return in its quest for supremacy for Arabia. The second movement was led by Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Abd Al-Rahman Al Saud, known as Ibn Saud. By using the religious framework of Wahhabism to consolidate his rule, Ibn Saud gained the legitimacy to rule as long as he championed the cause and became the guardian of ritualistic Islam. Ibn Saud supported the Mutawaa’a (religious specialists) and the Ikhwan (Muslim Tribal Force) within his realm to expand his conquest. In addition, he incorporated them into his expanding state apparatus by paying for them in kind which earned him submission by the population as the recognized leader of the Muslim Community. From 1902, the recapture of Riyadh, to 1932 when Ibn Saud announced the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud had utilized the Mutawaa’s and especially the Ikhwan to gain control of the land; however, Ibn Saud and his family would later regret and fight against their creation.

From 1927 to 1930, the Ikhwan led by Faysal Al-Duwaysh staged a rebellion against the house of Saud. After the capture of Hijaz, the Ikhwan leaders held a conference in Artawiyyah in which they criticized Ibn Saud for his association with the British, the nature of his kingship, the legitimacy of his Islamic taxes, and his personal conduct such as his serial marriages to over 100 women. To suppress the rebellion, Ibn Saud had turned to the British, the same force that helped him expel the Ottomans. Ibn Saud attacked the Ikhwan in the battle of Sibila and on their Hujjar (village settlements) mainly in Artawiyyah and Al-Ghatghat. The British supported Ibn Saud by attacking the Ikhwan with the Royal Air Force (RAF) which caused many to flee to Kuwait. The British fearing the Ikhwan’s destabilizing factor in Kuwait, fought them until the Ikhwan surrendered in Kuwait in 1930. In addition to defeating the Ikhwan militarily, he also scored a religious victory when the Ulama (religious scholars) and Mutawwa’a clarified its ruling concerning the relationship between the Ra’i (Shepard/leader) and the Ra’iyya (Followers) and the obligations to one another. As a result, Ibn Saud invoked the Wahhabi concept of submission to the leader of the Muslim community to seal his legitimacy and supremacy. While the Ikhwan rebellion may have been defeated in 1930, it would make a revival again in different manifestations to challenge the authority of the House of Saud such as the Siege of Mecca in 1979 and the emergence of Al-Qaeda.

In 1916, three years after Ibn Saud won control of the Arabian Gulf coast, he met with British political officers Sir Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell to strengthen the Saudi-British ties that had been formalized by the Anglo-Treaty the year before (Photo contibuted by Saudi Aramco).

In 1916, three years after Ibn Saud won control of the Arabian Gulf coast, he met with British political officers Sir Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell to strengthen the Saudi-British ties that had been formalized by the Anglo-Treaty the year before (Photo contibuted by Saudi Aramco).

On November 20, 1979, Juhayman Ibn Muhammad Al-Otaybi and Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al-Qahtani with their supporters seized the Mosque in Mecca in order to challenge the authority and supremacy of the House of Saud. As had been the case with the Ikhwan rebellion, Juhayman and Al-Qahtani attacked the House of Saud for its relationship with “Infidel Powers”, its lavish lifestyle, and relationship between the Ulama and the ruling family. An example of the House of Saud creating something it later would regret is its support for many of Juhayman’s followers who were students at the Islamic University of Medina where the Egyptian Brotherhood had a considerable influence. The Egyptian Brotherhood would spread their influence throughout many Saudi Universities and lay the foundation between the Egyptian Brotherhood and Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader Osama Bin Laden. Similar to the Ikhwan Rebellion, the House of Saud relied on the religious scholars to denounce the Juhayman’s and Al-Qahtanni’s siege of the Mosque in Mecca that allowed for military intervention within the holy site which defeated the rebels in December 1979. The rebel’s mistake which the House of Saud capitalized on was the naming of Al-Qahtanni as the Mahdi (the one who guides) which was a controversial move in Sunni Islam.

The siege of 1979 in Mecca was not the only major event to challenge the House of Saud. That same year, the Soviet Union launched an invasion of Afghanistan to support the Afghan Marxist Government. Besides the threat of a domestic Ikhwan challenge to the ruling Saudi family, the biggest threat came from the global communist movement which was presented as a social, political, and religious challenge to Islam. In order to counter the Soviet threat, the Saudis provided money to the mujahidin resistance fighters and allowed Saudi citizens to go and fight as volunteers. The Saudis would support the mujahidin until the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan in 1988; however, due to their support of the mujahidin, they had unwittingly created another monster that would come to haunt them. The training these Afghan-Saudi volunteers had received predisposed them towards a fundamentalist Islamic ideology which turned their attention back towards the House of Saud and challenged the legitimacy of its authority to rule. The Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would give ammunition to these Afghan-Saudis, led by Osama Bin laden, as a result of the King’s decision to allow “Infidel armies” to fight in the land of the holy places in order to defeat another Muslim army (Iraq). The invitation to the Americans, British, and other Western forces “shattered the myth of Saudi non-alignment, Islamic Politics, and self-reliance” (Madawi Al-Rasheed, “A History of Saudi Arabia“, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 162).

This decision gave rise to Osama Bin Laden who had already made a name for himself in the Soviet-Afghan War and had established Al-Qaeda to fight Jihad against unbelievers. Osama Bin Laden had attended King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and had been influenced by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who Bin Laden later had killed, and from his association with the Egyptian Brotherhood (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and Islamic Group who were spiritually led by the “Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdel Rahman, who the US would later implicate in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombings. The association of the rebels of the 1979 Siege of Mecca to the Egyptian Brotherhood would come full circle when Egyptian Surgeon, Ayman al-Zawahiri, would join his faction of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda to fight the “Infidel forces” in the Middle East and to challenge the authority of the House of Saud. In order to understand the challenge that the Ikhwan, the 1979 rebels, and Al Qaeda represented to the House of Saud, one must understand the other Bargain the House of Saud made with the Devil; its relationship with the “Infidels” in order to come into and maintain power.

Map of ground operations of Operation Desert Storm from February 24-28th 1991.

Map of ground operations of Operation Desert Storm from February 24-28th 1991.

The Foreigners Price
Ibn Saud utilized the Wahhabi movement to acquire political and religious legitimacy, but it was the military and financial muscle of foreign “Infidel powers” of Britain and the United States that ensured his hold on power. Ibn Saud’s relationship and alliance with Britain proved crucial in the early 20th century as he fought against his rivals the Rashidis and the Sharifians (Hashemites) who were aligned with the declining Ottoman Empire. Upon the outbreak of World War I, the British turned to Ibn Saud as an ally to undermine the Ottoman Empire which was supporting the German and Austria-Hungarian Empires. In 1915, Ibn Saud signed the Anglo-Saudi Treaty which resulted in Britain recognizing Ibn Saud’s claim to the Najd, Hasa, Qatif, Jubayl and other territories ruled by Ibn Saud while promising military aid if they were attacked by outside powers. In return, Ibn Saud agreed to recognize the British domains of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the relationship with Britain continued, but had fractures due to Britain’s support of the Sharifian family which established the Hashemite Kingdoms of Trans-Jordan and Iraq. It was this relationship with Britain and the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdoms which limited Ibn Saud’s conquest of the Arabs that would later lead to the Ikhwan Rebellion. As a result of Britain’s relationship with Ibn Saud and the British northern dominions of Trans-Jordan and Iraq, the British and Ibn Saud signed the Treaty of Jeddah in 1927 thereby recognizing the absolute independence of Ibn Saud as the leader, but not the Saudi State. That slight omission in the treaty would ensure British interference in the affairs of the Saudi State.

The British suspension of funding for Ibn Saud after his campaign in Asir would eventually lead to the British being replaced by the Americans as the key strategic partner. Due to Ibn Saud’s debts as a result of his campaigns to unify Arabia and defeat the Ikhwan Rebellion, Ibn Saud’s Finance Minister Abdullah Ibn Sulayman signed an agreement with American Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL; today Chevron) which was the predecessor to Aramco. To justify this agreement, Ibn Saud cited the Sura Al-Kafirun which allowed for the possibility of separation/co-operation between Muslims and Non-Muslims thereby provided the religious cover for the Americans to come to Arabia to search for oil. Ibn Saud’s concession to the Americans came at a time Saudi Arabia was experiencing several financial turmoil which could have undermined the Saudi Regime.

Aramco pioneers Tom C. Barger, geologist and later CEO of Aramco, and Khamis ibn Rimthan, legendary Bedouin guide, and other field party members in’Ain al-Tarfa, Eastern Province, February 1938.

Aramco pioneers Tom C. Barger, geologist and later CEO of Aramco, and Khamis ibn Rimthan, legendary Bedouin guide, and other field party members in’Ain al-Tarfa, Eastern Province, February 1938.

The final blow to the British was their lack of support for Ibn Saud’s campaign against Yemen which Britain did not see as a strategic interest like Iraq. As a result, Ibn Saud aligned with the Americans who were considered neutral and at the time without obvious imperial ambitions. After World War II a weakened British Empire, which continued its support for the Hashemite Kingdoms that represented a challenge to Saudi Arabia, was replaced by the Americans as the foreign power most involved in Saudi Affairs. As a result, Aramco became the institution that helped Saudi Arabia modernize its infrastructure and the tool in which the Saudi regime solidified its power.

The relationship with the Americans was strained in 1973 after the start of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Yom Kippur War). Initially, Saudi Arabia stated that it would not use oil as a weapon; however, King Faysal eventually made a statement that he could not support countries that were helping the Israelis and thereby agreed to the OPEC embargo. This move helped Saudi Arabia eclipse Egypt in the region that was losing to the Israelis; however, this move put it in direct conflict with the US which hinted at threats of invasion to secure its energy security. This caused Saudi Arab to threaten to destroy its oil fields in retaliation for an invasion (a threat made by Al Qaeda today to cause an economic collapse for the US; cf.: Khalid R. Al-Rohan, “The Impact of the Abqaiq Attack on Saudi Energy Security“, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 27.02.2006). The Saudi’s backed down after the US threatened an embargo of grains to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Regimes. After the end of the Oil Embargo, Saudi Arabia moved closer to the US as a result of its perceived vulnerabilities which ensured low oil prices for the US and Europe while the US provided security. This vulnerability would be exposed in 1990 when the Saudis invited the US for protection against the Iraqis despite its immense wealth and spending on military hardware. It was this contradiction that gave Osama Bin Laden the material he needed to attack the Saudi Regime for being corrupt.

The 1990/91 Gulf War proved a shock for the Saudi people. They had been aware of the Saudi-US relationship, but were not prepared for half a million US and Western Soldiers, especially women, on their lands. While some supported this, a minority saw this as a violation of Islamic Principles. This caused some to argue that the involvement of non-Muslims to fight Muslims demonstrated the illegitimacy of the Saudi Royal Family. This claim grew stronger after the defeat of Iraq in Kuwait that left thousands of Americans on Saudi soil to continue their no-fly zone military operations against Iraq until the start of the second Gulf War in 2003. As a result, domestic dissent grew against the Saudi state which saw a series of attacks against US targets around the world and in Saudi Arabia (Khobar Towers 1996). This would eventually boil over into the attacks of 9/11 and Al Qaeda’s operations inside Saudi Arabia in 2003 in their attempt to bring down the Royal Family.

The new generation of Saudis will redefine the political and religious landscape while confronting the realities of globalization. The regime will have to inspire and lead the pragmatists who have interacted with the outside world and see the need for reform, but also see the limits and the need to preserve their unique culture (Mani Yamani, “Changed Identities: The Challenges of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia“, Brookings Institute Press, 2000, p. 1). The House of Saud can continue balancing the gift the Devil gave it or it can cast aside that old bargain and seek a new bargain of its own choosing. What it might just need is a Saudi led Islamic Reformation to challenge the old Wahhabi 7th century philosophy and recast Islam for the 21st Century.

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *