By New Age Islam Special Correspondent
February 11, 2015
Although many terrorist attacks have shaken Pakistan in the past but the massacre of children in Peshawar military school seems to have practically awakened the Pakistani society and polity. Right from launching military operation Zarb-e-Azb to chalking out policies like National Action Plan against terrorism which includes bringing madrasas into the legal fold and making them accountable to law, the country has been taking all the steps necessary to root out terrorism from the country.
It was in this context, that a Pakistani minister Riaz Hussain Peerzada recently accused the Saudi government of promoting and funding Wahhabi ideology which is believed to be the root cause of terrorism and sectarianism in the country. He is believed to have said that Saudi Arabia has been distributing money to a number of terrorist and extremist outfits in the country. The issue was also raised in Pakistan’s national assembly and the Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rahman informed the Senate that Saudi Arabia along with Qatar, Iran, UAE and Kuwait were funding religious seminaries in Pakistan.
Though the Saudi Arabia has denied the allegation by saying that the financial assistance is provided only to the organizations that seek their help through the government and so it is a transparent matter, there is meat to the allegations as many documents have in the past disclosed the involvement of the Saudi nationals, businessmen and bankers in the terrorist groups active in the world including Pakistan.
The biggest recipient of Saudi and Gulf funds are religious seminaries or madrasas in Pakistan. The Islamic country has a wide network of madrasas belonging to all the sects and schools of thought of Islam, majority being those belonging to Sunni sect, both Deobandi and Bareilvi. Since these madrasas run on donations and Zakat (charity) from individuals and charity organizations, they are not under direct control of the government. This makes them unaccountable for the funds they receive. They also have their curriculum which is largely sectarian and orthodox, preaching hatred against other religious communities and sects and schools of thought in Islam. These madrasas stress more on jihad than on scholarship and research. In these madrasas, concept of jihad assumed a narrow meaning as fighting Shias, Qadianis, Christianity and other schools of thought in Islam. This change came about under the influence of Wahhabism, official version of Islam of the Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
After the economic resurgence of Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, Saudi Arabia started channeling its wealth to the Muslim countries with the purpose of its own version of Islam, that is, Wahhabism. As the Quran also makes financial jihad a duty on Muslims, Saudi Arabia took up this version of jihad and provided massive funds to the religious seminaries of Muslim majority countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries where the madrasas did not get financial help from the government. In lieu of the financial aid, Saudi Arabia imposed Wahhabism in these seminaries, thus waging al ghazwa al thaqafi and al ghazwa al fikri (cultural and intellectual jihad) in these countries. Writing on the growth of Deobandi thought in Pakistan, B. Raman writes:
“In a news item published on January 20,1995, the "Nation", a daily newspaper of Pakistan, quoted a confidential report of the Home Department of Punjab as stating as follows: "(Under Zia), the Saudi Government started backing the Deobandi school of thought and, in the wake of the Afghan war, supplied funds and arms to the Deobandis. Indirectly, the USA and a few other Western countries also supported the SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba) to counter the growing Shia and Iranian influence in this region. "
Thus Saudi Arabia started funding madrasas in the region to counter not only Shia sect but also other schools of thoughts of Islam. According to a report published by United States State Committee on terrorism in 2003, Saudi Arabia had spent $87 billions from 1980 to 2000 (in twenty years) to promote Wahhabism in the world. It financed 210 Islamic centres, 1500 mosques, 2000 madrasas and 202 colleges. The number must have risen many fold in the last 13 years.
During the Afghan war, these madrasas became a breeding ground for mujahideen fighting against Russia. However, after the end of Russian occupation, the madrasas continued teaching Wahhabism in the name of Jihad and preparing fighters for fighting infidels in Muslims countries. Taliban is the product of the madrasas established by Mullah Omar in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Other extremist organizations like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangwi are also products of the same Wahhabi ideology preached and practiced in madrasas run by Jamiat Ulema Islam headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman.
An expert on Islamic fundamentalism, Vali Nasir says, “in one madrasa in Pakistan, I interviewed 70 Malaysian and Thai students who are being educated side by side with students who went on to the Afghan war and the like. These people return to their countries, and then we see the results in a short while. ... At best, they become hot-headed preachers in mosques that encourage fighting Christians in Nigeria or in Indonesia. And in a worst case, they actually recruit or participate in terror acts.”
There have been a number of reports prepared by the US intelligence agencies in the wake of 9 11 which have exposed the involvement of Saudi businessmen and bankers in the terrorist organizations like Al Qaida.
A report of the Council of Foreign Relations Studies published in 2002 says, “For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important sources of funds for Al Qaida.” The report also said that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt and other Gulf states formed part of group from where not only the funds for terror activities originated but also served as transit point and regional finance centres. There have also been reports that suggested that members of the largest and sometimes fractious Al Saud family numbering 5000 or more along with other Saudis have acted independently of the country’s senior leadership in providing support to Islamic fundamentalist groups prone to violence.
The Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States though said that the Saudi Arabian government or its officials did not found Al Qaida but says that Saudi Arabia was a place where money was collected from individuals and from charities like Al Harmain Islamic Foundation that may have diverted funds to Al Qaida. In 2004 spurred by criticisms for funding terrorism through it, Saudi government dissolved it.
The report also mentions “The Golden Chain”, a group or individual donors who financed Osama Bin Laden’s operations in Afghanistan and in Bosnia. In 2002, the FBI had seized a list of 20 Al Qaida financiers most of whom belonged to Saudi Arabia.
There was also another controversial report called Briss and UN Report released in 2002 which said that Al Qaida received $300 to $500 million in the decade prior to 9/11 from Saudi Arabia. The individuals who donate money to terrorist organizations are wealthy businessmen and bankers.
In 2004, a Defence department official said that private Saudi individuals and charities were channelling funds to insurgent groups in Iraq.
Quite recently, during the Syrian war, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar funded the terrorist organizations and provided them with weapons and training to dislodge Basharal Assad. The move enraged Russian President Putin so much that he threatened Saudi Arabia with military action against it if Saudi Arabia spurred the US to launch a military attack against Syria. The US also has said that Saudi Arabia has done little to obstruct the flow of funds to the extremist outfits.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has intensified its campaign for promoting Wahhabism in India. Religious representatives of the Saudi government have been frequenting the country where the Muslim forms a major part of the population. Many conferences on the greatness of holy companions (Azmat-e-Sahaba Conference) and have been held in India where the religious representatives have attended. Such conferences cost huge amount of money which cannot be held without the financial aid of the Saudi government. During the emergence of ISIS, a great section of Muslim religious circle glorified and supported the ISIS in the same way as Saudi Arabia officially did.
Pakistan’s National Action Plan is a comprehensive plan against terrorism under which the Pakistan government has initiated steps to bring the madrasas in Pakistan under the ambit of law and make the details of its findings available to the government. The confederation of madrasas mainly Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been opposing this move because any audit of their funds might disclose the source and amount of funding which they have been receiving from Gulf countries in the name of promoting Islam. Pakistan government has woken up to this reality though belatedly but it’s never too late. It has to contain the rot within the madrasa system which has become centre of obscurantism, narrow-minded orthodoxy, extremism, terrorism, sectarianism and all that is retrograde and un-Islamic. The sooner the Pakistan government stops this funding of hate in madrasas, the better.