New Age Islam
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Islam and Sectarianism ( 14 Sept 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Are Wahhabis up-keepers of a purer form of religion than other Sunnis?


By Syed Akbar Ali



"The Messenger will say: 'My Lord, surely my people have taken the Quran for a joke": Surah 25:30.


I believe in Islam and the Quran because Islam is not a religion. It is a deen or a way of life. A lot of Muslim people will most likely get upset with what I write. This is a certainty. This is because they are in a state of denial. They feel embarrassed to admit that the problem lies in their religion. Especially the more religiously inclined among them know what it is to be embarrassed. This is because they themselves are experts at embarrassing people in their 'holier than thou' games.


Therefore when you point out that they are also not exactly in the right way, they will disagree because they fear embarrassment. This is an irrational fear because it is better to realize mistakes now and remedy them than to flounder, fail and flop all over the place like fools.


There is nothing wrong with the human being. God says in the Quran that He made the human in a perfect form.  I have always wanted to have an extra pair of hands but we have to accept that God knows what He is doing. There is nothing wrong with the human being. The hardware is perfect. Only the software can be corrupted – and it frequently is. What is put inside the human brain can make him a monster. I believe all religious software – without exception – is corrupted. But I believe in Islam and the Quran because Islam is not a religion. It is a deen or a way of life. The Quran is not a book of crazyhorse mantras but it is a book of guidance that the Muslims should hold in their hands like a map to find their way - everyday.


But the Muslims have left the Quran very far behind.

"The Messenger will say 'My Lord, surely my people have taken the Quran for a joke" Surah 25:30.


This is the complaint of the Prophet himself. The prophet's inheritors will ignore the Quran. But they will deny it vehemently. The Shiahs are vehemently arguing that an eight year old child who disappeared down a well hundreds of years ago will emerge one day as the 12th Imam who will rule the world. In Iraq the Shiahs and Sunnis are killing each other by the tens and hundreds everyday because of such beliefs. They both deny that they are in the wrong. Both believe they are on the right path!


The Tabligh cult is now threatening knife fights at mosques because they too feel that they are on the right path and they do not like the path taken by others. A news report from the NST (circa March 2006) describes a tense situation in a mosque in Kelantan created by two groups of religious folks – one group from the tabligh cult and the other group from the local mosque. While the resident group was having its discussion, the visiting tabligh group decided that they were different and started having their own sermon inside the same mosque. This almost led to a fight and police reports being lodged by both parties. From the news report it is obvious that two flavours of religion inside the same mosque were an explosive mix.


When it is pointed out to them that all the Islamic countries around the world are failing or have already failed, they deny it. They say it is because of Zionist conspiracies, Jewish conspiracies, Western conspiracies etc. It is everyone else's fault except theirs. Many also feel that if the Islamic countries are collapsing it is because they do not uphold the religion how it should really be upheld. They prescribe an even bigger dose of an even more concentrated form of their religion. This is suicidal. This is the Club of Doom. They want to increase the levels of religious toxicity in their country.


In the book 'Warriors of the Prophet – The Struggle For Islam' the writer Mark Huband quotes Nadia Yassine, the daughter of Sheikh Abdesalam Yassine, the leader of the Moroccan Islamist Movement in the 1990s. Morocco has been ruled despotically by King Hassan since 1962. Hassan has used torture and long term imprisonment to suppress any opposition to his corrupt regime. And how does the Islamist movement want to save Morocco?


"The world is becoming foolish. It's going too fast and if it's not slowed down there will be fewer and fewer people who can keep up with it. Economic inequality is monstrous. At the same time we want to return to spirituality. The Islamic movement is essentially spiritual. And the great chaos we are living in is essentially spiritual….It is because religion alone can give people a new life".


And the cow jumped over the moon and the dish ran away with the spoon!  The only solution to get out of being left out of the economic inequality is to get fully involved in the world economy. Muslims need to manufacture things, build cities, think creatively, read and write freely, vote in free and fair elections and do the million other things that the free world does. There is nothing spiritual about making a good quality car, serving your customers well or writing useful software. To give people a new life, they need steady jobs, comfortable homes, schools with good teachers and books, hospitals and roads. That is how you give people a new life. Religion cannot give people any type of life – other than misery and misfortune.


Many things have been tried so far to bring up the Islamic countries to be at par with the rest of the world. But they have all failed. The only thing that has not been tried on a sufficiently large scale is a critical and vigorous questioning of the religion itself. People are afraid of questioning their religion because in many countries – including Malaysia – questioning the religion or criticising the religious authorities can result in prosecution and jail. Thus are mistakes and wrong beliefs perpetuated. As the very sick nursery rhyme goes "When the bough breaks the cradle will fall. Down will come baby cradle and all'. The devil is surely laughing from the treetops.


The denial syndrome – that there is nothing wrong with the Muslims and that everything is wrong with the rest of the world – not only afflicts knife wielding cults and fervent religionists in Morocco but also the cream of the Muslim intelligentsia. Here is Dr Abu Hamid Abu Sulayman from his book 'Crisis in the Muslim Mind'. Dr Abu Hamid was the Rector of the International Islamic University here from 1988 until the demise of Anwar Ibrahim (circa 1998) and also Chairman of the International Institute of Islamic Thought. I have quoted from Dr Abu Hamid's writing at various places in this book. He has very correctly identified many weaknesses and failures of the Muslim ummah around the world but still the denial syndrome is evident. Despite saying that "the thought of the ummah as it stands at present is in need of reform" Dr Abu Hamid concludes his book by emphasizing that the role of the ummah includes "guiding the future course of human civilization in fulfilment of the ummah's responsibility to correct the progress and thought of humankind." Despite being unable to clothe itself or "even feed itself" he feels that the ummah is still responsible to correct humankind!  When Rudyard Kipling or the West makes statements like this we say that they are being arrogant.


The Muslims have no choice but to learn to question their religious beliefs and especially to question their religious scholars. How many more hundreds of years are the Muslims going to wait in poverty, despair, violence and hatred – waiting for the right Imam to emerge from a well in the ground or for the right conditions to emerge for the restoration of their lost greatness?


The proper management of Communism has turned China into a giant in just 50 years.  They have got rid of religion and relied almost completely on science and common sense. Their people are now enjoying growing standards of living, they appreciate art and culture and can look forward to an even better life over the next 50 years. None of the Islamic countries can say the same thing about their past or their future.


Let us be honest and objective. Will a Saudi Arabia even exist over the next 50 years? Many Arabs totally dislike the Saudis for naming their country after a family. The 'Al Saud' is a family name and is not the name of a country. Imagine our country having a name like 'Al Mahathir Malaysia'. Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But this is what has happened in Saudi Arabia. And today the Osama bin Ladins of the world and their mysterious "Al Qaeda" cohorts are already planning attacks and other forms of anarchy to oust the 'Al Saud' family from their perch in Saudi Arabia. If they are successful, perhaps they will change the name of the country to 'Bin Ladin Arabia'. If they can do it once, why not twice? The present day Saudi Arabia is already a hotbed of Wahhabism – a fanatic form of religion which has indeed been the incubator that has spawned the Osamas of the world. Wahhabism has now spread all over the world including to Malaysia through subtle proselytizing by the Saudis. The University of Medina in Saudi Arabia is the foremost school for exporting Wahhabism all over the world. Many students, including from Malaysia, are given places by the Saudis to study at the University of Medina. The net result is that there now exists in Malaysia a significant presence of Wahhabi adherents who are beginning to be a cause for concern. The proper name for Wahhabism is actually 'salafi' and many Wahhabis in Malaysia call themselves the salafis.


Wahhabis feel that they are upkeepers of a more purer form of religion than other Sunnis. The Wahhabis believe that their version of religion is derived from the salaf or the earliest three generations that succeeded the prophet - the generation of the sahaba or companions, then the tabiin (second generation) and finally the tabii tabiin (third generation) after the Prophet. They reject many rituals and other understanding of religion which is practiced by the Sunnis which they say were liberal innovations or bida'a that came after these three earliest generations. They use this word bida'a or liberal innovations very freely to describe many things that came into being after the first three generations. Before and soon after Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud the founder of Saudi Arabia established the Kingdom his supporters set off on murderous religious expeditions inside the land where they would wipe out entire villages including men, women and children who were not Wahhabis. This was done to cleanse Saudi Arabia of bida'a.


The Deobandi madrassas in India which have given birth to the Taliban and other terrorists are strongly Wahhabi influenced. Beginning from the 1970s until now there are fights and clashes between the Wahhabis and the other Sunnis in India. In India the Wahhabis also call themselves the 'Tauhidis' or monotheists. These are just different labels but they all profess Wahhabism. I know of an ex-Wahhabi who ran away from India to Malaysia to avoid getting arrested after getting into a fight with Sunnis in India.


In the early 1960s the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen terrorist group in Egypt also became Wahhabi influenced. In Malaysia their numbers are growing rapidly. In the Internet there are fierce debates and name calling between Malay Wahhabis and other Malay Sunnis. There is bound to be a major clash between these groups some day.  Wherever Wahhabism has taken root there have been fights and clashes between them and the other Sunnis.


Every year millions of followers of the sect of Ahlul Sunnah Wal Jamaah or Sunnis celebrate the birthday of the Prophet. This celebration is called Maulud Nabi and in many countries like Malaysia, India and Pakistan there are processions and vast gatherings held to celebrate the prophet's birthday. These processions are actually a tradition popularized by the Turks from the time of the Ottoman Caliphate. Again the Wahhabis term these processions and celebrations another example of bida'a or liberal innovation. During this year's Maulud Nabi in April 2006 in Pakistan a bomb exploded at a gathering of people celebrating the Prophet's birthday. According to my Pakistani friends on the Internet 48 people were killed and scores injured. Normally religious killings in Pakistan take place between the Shias and the Sunnis but this time some accusing fingers have been pointed at the Wahhabi or Salafiyah movement in Pakistan who disagree that the prophet's birthday should be celebrated publicly with processions and gatherings. The accusation against Wahhabi involvement in the bombing is yet to be proved true but it is mind boggling how much hatred can be generated in the warped minds of people in the name of their religion to the extent that they are willing to murder human beings just for celebrating someone's birthday.  These incredible hatreds are always lurking just below the surface and can explode at any time. In Pakistan it is really scary to stop and think that neighbours may be planning each others' death and destruction over parades and beards.


In Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis were actually put into power by the British during the 'Great Game' before World War Two. But Saudi Wahhabis believe that God had chosen them to rule Saudi Arabia and inherit the oil wealth that flows in that nation.  Boosted by increasing oil prices which has made them among the wealthiest human beings on the surface of the earth, the Saudis are now convinced that their wealth is due to their upholding the true religion - wahhabi salafism. They are really proud of their wealth (which is now actually starting to decrease) and they make no excuses to show it off. The more religious fanatics among them want to export this Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the ummah and cleanse the ummah of the bidaa or liberal innovations. It is their fervent belief that it is because the ummah has strayed by upholding bidaa that the ummah is in such bad shape all over the world. Wahhabism will save the world.  Welcome to the Club of Doom again.


They are locked in a denial syndrome. The Wahhabis feel that the reason for the backward and poor condition of the ummah all over the world is non adherence to their purer form of religion. Hence they want to prescribe an even greater dosage of an even more toxic form of religion – Wahhabism - as the great panacea for the ummah. Doom, doom and more doom. That is Saudi Arabia and their Wahhabi fruitcake.


Closer to home Indonesia is still in turmoil.  Despite three different presidents after the long rule of President Suharto, Indonesia is yet to enjoy the benefits of a modern democratic economy.  Complicating the situation in Indonesia is the rise of the religious faction which is taking full advantage of the new democratic tradition to openly preach their version of religion. Of course when they cannot click with reality they can fall back on the tried and tested religious hate mongering that is the staple tool of so much religion based politics. It is therefore not surprising that there are more religious clashes in Indonesia now. A prime example is Bali. The island of Bali is not only blessed with beautiful beaches and sunshine but it is inhabited by Hindu Indonesians who have developed on an almost natural attitude to be hospitable to visitors. Hence there is a thriving tourism industry on the island which ultimately provides the people of Bali more economic opportunities. This has caused Bali to become a target of the hate mongers among the Sunni religious fanatics in Indonesia. Hence we have seen the bomb blasts at the famous Kuta Beach in Indonesia where the Malaysian university lecturer Dr Azahari and his other Malaysian henchmen were involved as the bomb makers and plotters. They believed that they were fighting for their religion.


They will deny that their violent actions are totally useless and wrong. They will deny that there is anything wrong with them.


To date Indonesians have exhibited significant amounts of religious tolerance towards people of other religions and also towards the various shades and sects of religion within Islam. But this seems to be breaking down. Again in the characteristic of a Failed State where local religious authorities act independently of the Central Government local governments and religious tribunals in Indonesia are imposing their own versions of religious laws but often backed by local enforcement. Hence a preacher in East Java was thrown in jail for reading prayers in the local language instead of in Arabic. Another man was sent to prison for five years for writing a book that was condemned as 'deviant' by the Indonesian Council of Ulama. The religious authorities breathe in different oxygen altogether. They feel that they have the right to interpret things the way they want and take their own action without regard to the Central Government. Throughout the history of the Islamic nations this has always led to the breakdown of law and order and the eventual breaking up of their societies.


We have already described the news report about a tense situation in a mosque in Kelantan created by two groups of religious folks – one group from the tabligh cult and the other group from the local mosque. While the resident group was having its discussion, the visiting tabligh group decided that they were different and started having their own sermon inside the same mosque. This almost led to a fight and police reports being lodged by both parties. From the news report it is obvious that two flavors of religion inside the same mosque were an explosive mix. These types of clashes and violence between the members of the same religion takes place because the ummah is in a state of denial. Each sect, flavour or cult feels that the fault lies in the other fellow. "We are the best and we are on the right path". This type of dysfunctional behaviour ultimately leads to nowhere except violence and doom. But again the majority of the ummah will deny that their religion causes problems. "Why do you want to mengaibkan or highlight our differences?" will be their retort. Just sweep everything under the rug.


I now live in Bukit Jalil, close to a large mosque which is the largest centre for the tabligh cult in Malaysia. Living so close I inevitably get to meet some of these people. They are perfectly normal human beings at least when they come to eat at the restaurants or when they come to board the train at the LRT stations. A group of seven of these karkuns – a strange name they call themselves now – were on the train. They were from Southern Thailand. They were obviously very poor people but they had been on a religious journey – away from home – for four months. They were rubber tappers and farmers. One of the karkuns, in his mid 30s said that he had six children to feed back home. He said his one room attap house was no bigger than the train compartment we were sitting in. Upon asking who was taking care of the six kids for four months while he was away, he smiled widely and said 'My wife'. When I asked 'how does your wife earn money when you are away for four months?' he replied 'God will provide. Besides it is the rainy monsoon season now and I cannot tap rubber. This is a good time for me to travel on tabligh'.


This is the type of frightening answers you can get from these religious folks. They are high on some strange religious 'spirit' which simply numbs them to the real world. The greatest commitment which the human being should uphold is to take care of his wife and children. But they can just drop all their responsibilities and go traipsing around the world, wasting their lives and even causing tensions in the mosques. A totally useless bunch of fruitcakes.


The Muslims have been brainwashed into denying that they may be upholding something that is less than good. Another example is their complicated rules about marriage.  Two recent cases have been reported in the Press where young Muslim couples have run into problems trying to get married because their fathers' consent had not been obtained. Society should protect its young girls from being 'carried away' by unscrupulous suitors but at the same time women who are mature enough to get jobs, rent houses and take care of themselves in adult life should exercise their right to get married. But this is not the case according to the Shafi sect. According to the Shafi sect, a girl who wants to get married must get the consent of her 'wali' or guardian – starting first with her father. If she has no father it can be a 'brother' or her paternal uncles. She cannot get herself married.


This is not written anywhere in the Quran. According to the well known book 'Shariah The Islamic Law' by Abdul Rahman I. Do i the concept of guardian or wali for marriage rites varies according to the different sects. Muslims the world over are divided into numerous sects. The largest two are the Ahlul Sunnah Wal Jamaah and the Syiah. The Ahlul Sunnah Wal Jamaah are further divided into the Shafi, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali sects. The Shafi and Maliki sect require the consent of the wali as a necessity for a young woman to get married. But the Hanbali and Hanafi schools merely require the consent 'as a condition'. The Hanafi and Maliki place greater emphasis on the actual marriage proposal and the acceptance.


But in Malaysia we think that our marriage rules are written in stone.  There was a case in Malaysia where because of certain family issues, a father refused to consent to his daughter getting married. The girl had to go to the trouble of suing the father in the religious court to compel him to consent to her marriage. In the end the girl did get married but it has possibly estranged her relationship with her father almost permanently. This issue would not have arisen if the girl was a legal adult and the father's consent was not required.


In another more terribly sad case, a 23 year old nurse had forged a death certificate claiming her father was dead and therefore unable to consent to her marriage to a young man. For reasons best known to her, she did not want to seek his consent to get married. When the father found out he applied to the religious authorities who promptly annulled her marriage – notwithstanding the fact that the young woman was now two months pregnant. This is a nightmare. What becomes of her child if her marriage is annulled? Is there any legal authority anywhere in the world who can prevent the girl from remarrying her ex husband again? Surely her baby will need a father. Where has justice been served by annulling a marriage between a man and an adult woman and denying a child a father all because the bride's father was upset his proper consent was not obtained? It is obvious now that while the father derives some strange satisfaction from seeing his pregnant daughter's marriage annulled the daughter will remember this predicament and bear the stigma for the rest of her life. Is this how we hope to establish an exemplary ummah and be a shining beacon for the rest of the world? The world does not care for this type of ludicrous behaviour. If at all, the world will only stop to laugh at the antics of the Muslims. Again this type of sad story would not have happened if the father's consent was not required. The girl was already 23 years old, a legal adult and working as a nurse.


From my own experience I once assisted a young girl in a family who was to be married. Her father had passed away but she had her mother, sister and a whole bunch of maternal uncles here in Kuala Lumpur. Belonging to the Hanafi sect she would have had no problems at all getting married because the Hanafi sect does not make marriage so difficult. Unfortunately for her in Kuala Lumpur the religious authority is from the Syafie sect. The presence of her mother and her maternal uncles was of no use to the Syafie sect. She had no choice but to obey the requirements of the Syafie sect. This is where the circus started. Since her father had passed away but her paternal uncle was alive, the Syafie sect required that a paternal uncle 'consent' to her getting married. The paternal uncle was an oafish moron who had estranged himself from the family and lived in Singapore and did not want to journey to Kuala Lumpur to help her out. I had to assist the young girl write appealing letters to her uncle as well as the religious authorities to expedite her desire to get married. Official forms had to be obtained, sent to the uncle in Singapore who then had to go to the Majlis Agama Islam Singapura (MUIS) and attest that he consented to her marriage. The forms then had to be dispatched by the MUIS to the religious department in Kuala Lumpur and acknowledged by the local religious authority before the marriage could be solemnized. This process took about three months. All this just to get married. They do tie themselves up in knots.


But what beguiles me - as I have quoted from Abdul Rahman I Doi's book above - is that this need not always be the case. According to Abdul Rahman Doi, in the other sects like the Hanafis and the Hanbalis the consent of the guardian wali is not required for marriage to the same extent as the Shafi sect or the Maliki sect. But don't we all serve the same God and believe in the same Islam? The degree of difficulty one has to endure to get married seems to depend on which sect or old scholar you choose to follow. Where is the role of God and Islam within this scheme of things? 


But the Muslims are in a state of denial. To them everything is hunky dory fine and well. Even when they tie themselves into knots and fall down, to them it is alright. They are falling down in the name of their religion. But, as I said before, Islam is not a religion. It is a deen or a way of life.

 Syed Akbar Ali is a noted writer and activist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be contacted on