By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
June 18, 2015
'Islamophobia’ is generally defined as “prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of Islam”. To ensure that the term can be used in as wide an array of situations as possible, ‘Muslims’ are deemed interchangeable with ‘Islam’ in the definition. This implies that Muslims and Islam are synonymous and that all Muslims showcase an identical adherence to Islam. This in turn reflects blatant neglect of cultural, sceptic and humanist Muslim identities which view adherence to Islamic scriptures in varying lights.
The self-contradiction of the misnomer aside, there are few regimes and states – if one can take the liberty of dubbing the kingdom of al-Saud as such – that are more ‘Islamophobic’ than Saudi Arabia. While the Kingdom is the birthplace of Islam, and is considered the religious hub owing to the presence of Masjid al-Haram and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the al-Saud family has long treated Islamic heritage as their personal property and Islam itself as a blank cheque for perpetual transactions.
The al-Saud family has a centuries long association with demolition of mosques, burial sites, homes and historical locations central to Islamic history, culture and heritage. It flaunts an antediluvian and narrow version of Islam (Wahabbism), which ironically started off as a “revivalist” movement in the 18th century. Wahabbism strictly condemns veneration of any historical sites or shrines, and deems the act as “shirq”. The Saudi 'Islamophobia' and prejudice targets every other version of Islam.
At the start of the 19th century the Saudis led by Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud attacked Karbala and Najaf, destroying holy sites like the tomb of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. By 1804 the Saudis had taken their destruction to Mecca and Medina and demolished the tombs of Fatimah, the youngest daughter of the Prophet, and Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, his first wife, along with many other structures related to the Prophet’s closest companions at Jannatul Mualla and Jannat al-Baqi cemeteries.
Among the prominent sites targeted in the 20th century, after the Kingdom of al-Saud was established in 1932, were the graves of the ‘martyrs of the Uhad Battle’ – including Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle – along with the Fatimah-al Zahra and Manaratayn mosques, as well as the Qubbat Al-Thanaya. After reserves of oil were first were discovered in Al-Ahsa in 1938, the global submission to Saudi monopoly over Islam, and the ensuing destruction of Islamic heritage, grew in synchrony with the rising number of oil barrels.
According to estimates in the last couple of decades alone, 95 per cent of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been destroyed. With the number of pilgrims for the annual Hajj increasing every year, the Saudis have cashed in on Islamic capitalism, with luxurious hotels, malls and skyscrapers replacing sites that Muslims deem holy or of cultural and historical significance. Even though the need to accommodate a growing number of pilgrims is evident, to vandalise those very sites that enrich the experience Muslims who don't adhere to the Saudi brand of Islam, is to target the very essence of the pilgrimage.
When ISIS’ destruction of ancient artefacts and targeting of culture and history associated with Islamic empires is used to discredit their credentials as the ‘Islamic’ state, the Muslim world’s continued acceptance of the al-Saud family as the decision maker on behalf of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, smacks of hypocrisy amidst threat of ‘economic’ or ‘religious’ sanctions. The fear of not getting a visa for the Hajj – the very experience that forms the core of the Kingdom’s tourism industry, which the Saudis are hell bent on vandalising – is enough for many to acquiesce to Saudi’s ‘Islamophobic’ demolition of the Muslim world’s pluralism.
The Saudi phobia of Shia Islam is inherent to the kingdom’s domestic and foreign policy to a point where the “Jews of Israel”, which according to Saudi’s Islam should never “be taken as friends”, become a natural ally vis-à-vis Iran. The anti-Shia militancy in Pakistan and throughout the Middle East is fuelled by Saudi petrodollars. The on-going Saudi-led intervention in Yemen that has killed hundreds of Muslims and left thousands displaced is a corollary of the Saudi fear of a Shiite government undoing the status of Yemen as a Saudi satellite state.
As Saudi Arabia funds seminaries and militants around the Muslim world to expand its Islamic hegemony and quell any moderation and reform, it simultaneously keeps raising the ante on its own human rights abuses, reserving special ‘wrath’ for ideological resistance. Raif Badawi, a secular blogger - a prisoner of conscience in the 21st century - was punished with 1,000 lashes for ‘insulting Islam’ – with the first 50 meted out on January 9. On June 7 the Saudi Supreme Court upheld the punishment, which means that Badawi could be physically tortured in the month of Ramazan for blog posts which called for secularism to replace the Saudi theocracy.
Saudi Arabia’s draconian and bizarre counterterrorism law, which was sanctioned last year, dubs “atheism”, criticism of the Saudi rule and any form of dissent as terrorism. The loosely used term “atheism” is used to target human rights activists and writers who call for tolerance and pluralism in the Saudi society. Waleed Abu al-Khair, Badawi’s lawyer, was the first human rights lawyer to be convicted under last year’s counterterrorism law which has seen an unprecedented hike in beheadings and state sanctioned executions.
The Saudi ‘Islamophobia’ stems from the need to maintain the hegemony of Wahabbism and oil as the two pillars on which the economic superstructure of the Kingdom stands. Allowing for any pluralism in Islam or making Muslim around the world the stakeholders in decisions pertaining to Islamic heritage would damage one pillar of Saudi economy.
With the need for pluralism in Islam and reform in the Muslim world becoming evident, the Saudis are precipitously escalating their Islamo-capitalistic vandalism before they're forestalled by reformists. By 2017 the Abraj Kudai, the world’s largest hotel will be open in Mecca. It will tower over Masjid al-Haram, with its 45 stories, 10,000 bedrooms and four helipads epitomising condescension for Islamic heritage and non-Wahhabi Islam