The Virulet Virus of Wahhabi Intolerance
By Murad A Baig
March 22, 2009
It is difficult to understand how a single rough Bedouin from Nejd, one of the most impoverished areas of central Arabia, could turn a great religion like Islam on its head. It is even more astonishing, in the context of the extreme sensitivity of most Muslims to the slightest assault to their creed or culture, that this man and his cohorts could so radically reinterpret Islam as to allow the wahhabis to defile and destroy the tomb of The Prophet Muhammad at Madina in 1803 and to later strip the sacred Kaaba at Mecca of all the treasures that pious pilgrims had adorned it with.
Mohammed Abd Al Wahhab, born about 1703, not only redefined Islam in a puritanically narrow and intolerant way but injected into it such a virulent hatred for its perceived enemies that this vicious creed could revive again and again after being repeatedly wiped out to rise like a phoenix and become the single greatest threat to world peace today.
Wahhab demanded total surrender to the Supreme Being Allah disallowing any ceremonies, including ceremonies for marriage or death, or worship of any saints, adorning of graves, tombs or other sacred objects, holding religious processions and wanted all Muslims to wear simple clothes without colours or ornamentation and demanded the total suppression of women. He denounced art, music and dance though he permitted obedience to spiritual guides or `pirs’.
The Islam of the Quran was an avowed religion for peace and order but it suffered in the hands of many revisionists who changed its direction over the centuries. The holy book was only put into writing 33 years after The Prophet’s death and then supplemented with the Hadith written 200 years later that further altered its direction. Muhammad had for instance stated after the battle of Badr … `We are now finished with the lesser Jihad (struggle against oppression) and are beginning the greater Jihad (struggle against our own weaknesses) but Jihad is mentioned 199 times in the Hadith in much stronger terms but was still short of the holy war that the wahhabis were to later demand.
Wahhab seems to have understood the tremendous power of hatred to unite and inflame its followers in an intensely determined war against its declared enemies. He urged all Muslims to mercilessly exterminate infidels, blasphemers, idol worshippers and Christians and even Muslim apostates like the Shias and Sufis even though the loving Sufi philosophy had been the main agent for conversions to Islam. Wahhabis believed that a secret `Imam’ would miraculously appear to lead them to victory over these infidels. Jihad was only now declared to be a holy war where followers were asked to blindly do their duty with the absolute assurance that Allah and his angels would make them successful with the joys of paradise guaranteed to any who fell as martyrs to the cause. Although they considered all innovations to be heretical the lust for violence soon overcame their inhibitions about guns and they were soon adept at using the latest weapons and technologies of communications.
The seeds of Islamic hatred went back a long way. In its 800 years of glory the followers of Islam had reason to consider themselves as the greatest people on earth. They had liberated women and slaves from many oppressive mediaeval customs, invented algebra, rediscovered the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato and promoted early science at a time when Europe was still in a dark age. Islam had lived peacefully with Jews and Christians in all their kingdoms. Its first defeat was at the hands of the pagan Mongols including the slaughter of 92,000 Muslims at Baghdad in 1258. But Islam not only survived but converted these rough conquerors willingly to its faith. The turning point was the defeat of the Ottoman Turks outside Vienna in 1663 after which the ascendancy of the Christian nations of Europe quickly made them the masters of the world. As in all civilizations the losers blamed their failures as retributions for deviating from the true path and rabid preachers had a fertile field of anger and frustration where they could cultivate their bitter creeds.
Wahhab’s vision enshrined in his book `Kitab al-Tawhid’ (book of unity) however encountered strong opposition in Nejd when it was first preached around 1744. Most of the religious teachers including his father and uncle were horrified but he was fortunate to find a patron in Muhammad Al-Saud who used this vitriolic new creed as a powerful weapon to propel his tribe that went on to win his descendents the kingdom of Arabia where they rule to this day. Then with the discovery of oil in 1938 they gained the power to generously finance the spread of their fanatic creed.
With the many pilgrims going to Mecca that they controlled, Wahhabism soon spread its tentacles to India in the 19th century when Indian Muslims were smarting at the loss of their former commanding positions before the onslaught of the Marathas and the British. In this fertile ground wahhabi, also called Salafi, centers were established in Patna and Sittana near Swat where the turbulent tribes were drawn to this violent creed. These two centers communicated with each other in a secret code of commercial transactions in which Patna was the `chota (small) godown’, (at Sadiqpur later demolished by the British) supplying funds, manpower weapons, materials and encouragement to the `barra (big) godown’ of Sittana. This centre led by `Hindustani fanatics’ was rooted out several times by the British only to trouble them time and again.
The Jihads tried but failed to play a major role in 1857 even though their cadres were a constant irritation to the British. But these fanatic Sunnis had a large influence in the Madrassas where most Muslim children were educated. In 1866 after the Patna trials, two Mullahs set up a madrassa at Deoband North of Delhi that was initially known as the Arab madrassa with the avowed purpose of preserving Islam from British oppression. The wahhabis never had a base of mass support among the Indian people as it was too violent and intolerant for most Muslims but few Muslims dared to speak up against these fanatics. But wahhabism did not go unchallenged and mainstream mullahs declared a `fatwas’ against the Wahabi heresy on several occasions. After 1947 most Muslims in India were conscious of the need to fit in with a Hindu majority and the wahabi influence diminished though it did not die. Even the Deoband seminary no longer preached hate and violence.
In Pakistan however, there is no such restraint and fanaticism was kept aflame on the issue of Muslims being oppressed in Kashmir. A few young men from many Asian countries, inspired by wahhabi rhetoric, volunteered as warriors for Kashmiri liberation and were laterer encouraged when the USSR occupied Afghanistan in 1979 and the CIA collaborated with Pakistan to fund and train the Taliban to fight them. Some 3 million Afghans refugees fled to Pakistan and numerous madrassas sprang up that began to preach wahhabi extremism to millions of gullible youngsters with liberal Arab funding. The good thing is that wahhabism does not have majority support in Pakistan as was clear from the failure of their candidates in the last elections.
Deoband’s Dar ul Ulum, followed by a college of 6,000 Indian Mullahs, recently publicly condemned this terrorism and the redefined Jihad saying that the killing women, children and Muslims is un Islamic. It said…”Islam rejects all kinds of injustice, violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder in any form.” They and all moderate Muslims however need to do much more to mock the fanatics and make them believe that they are not heroes but heretics to the words of Muhammad and destined for the fires of hell instead of the paradise assured by their fanatic leaders.
Pakistan however has a serious problem as it cannot entirely trust its soldiers and police, some of whom infected by the fanatic ideology, are unwilling to shoot or contain the terrorists on its soil who are now targeting many Pakistani leaders and institutions. These Wahhabis may be a small minority but their hate filled ideology is toxic. The worry is that if Pakistan fails to contain them it may be devoured by a Frankenstein of their own making that will also be a serious threat to India.