Mumbai. Afghanistan. Pakistan. The 'Islamist' terror attacks in South Asia all had the hallmarks of Wahabi ideology. Its followers are blinded by faith to believe that they have the mandate of Allah to rid the world of ‘infidels’ and ‘heretics’. Combating terrorism may thus be impossible until this Wahabi cult is thoroughly discredited.
Mohammed Abd Al Wahab, (1703-1794), redefined Islam in a narrow and intolerant way and injected into it such a virulent cult of hatred that, though repeatedly put down, it has risen to become the single greatest threat to world peace today.
A single rough Bedouin could so radically reinterpret Islam that his followers got away with destroying the tomb of Prophet Muhammad at Madina in 1803 and later stripped the sacred Kaaba at Makkah of the treasures that pilgrims had adorned it with. Wahab disallowed ceremonies for marriage or death, worship of saints, adorning of graves, tombs or other sacred objects, holding religious processions, art, music and dance and demanded the total suppression of women.
The Islam of the Quran suffered in the hands of many revisionists who changed its direction over time. The holy book was supplemented with the Hadith written 200 years later with further interpretations. In the Quran, Muhammad had defined jihad 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 stronger terms. Wahab seems to have understood the tremendous power of hatred to unite and inflame its followers in an intense ‘holy war’. He urged followers to mercilessly exterminate ‘infidels’, ‘blasphemers’, ‘idol worshippers’, Christians and even ‘Muslim apostates’ like the Shias and Sufis. He made them believe that Allah and his angels would assure success with the joys of paradise guaranteed to any who fell as martyrs for the cause. This lust for violence soon overcame inhibitions about innovations and the Wahabis soon grew adept at using the latest weapons and technology.
Wahab’s vision enshrined in his book ‘Kitab al-Tawhid’ (book of unity) encountered strong opposition when it was first preached around 1744. 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 forward. Al-Saud went on to win his descendents the kingdom of Arabia that they rule to this day. Then the discovery of oil in 1938 gave them the power to finance the spread of their creed.
With Indian Muslims making pilgrimages to Makkah, Wahabism spread to India by the 19th century. Wahabi, also called Salafi, centres were established in our country.
The ‘chhota (small) godown’ at Patna supplied funds, manpower weapons and materials to the ‘barra (big) godown’ at Sittana near Swat where the turbulent border tribes were drawn to this violent creed. The ‘Hindustani fanatics’ were rooted out several times by the British.
These fanatics had great influence in the Indian madrasas where most Muslim children were educated. In 1866, two mullahs set up a madrasa at Deoband, north of Delhi, that was initially known as the Arab Madrasa, to preserve Islam from British oppression. Though Wahabism never had mass support, as it was too violent and intolerant, few Muslims dared to speak up against them though some mainstream mullahs declared ‘fatwas’ against this heresy. After 1947 most Muslims in India were conscious of the need to fit in with a Hindu majority and the Wahabi influence diminished.
In Pakistan however, the fanaticism was kept aflame on the issue of Muslims being oppressed in Kashmir. They were greatly encouraged when the USSR occupied Afghanistan in 1979 and the CIA collaborated with Pakistan to fund and train the Taliban to fight them. Madrasas preaching Wahabism then infected the children of some three million Afghan refugees.
Deoband’s Dar ul Uloom, followed by a college of 6,000 Indian mullahs, recently condemned this terrorism. The gathering clarified the meaning of jihad, saying that killing women, children and Muslims was un-Islamic and rejected all kinds of injustice, violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder in any form. Muhammad’s merciful and beneficent Allah was clearly not the god of Wahab. Wahabism does not have majority support in Pakistan. But because Wahabis give all Muslims a bad name, Muslims need to make the fanatics understand that Wahabis are not heroes but heretics against the words of Muhammad. Indian Muslims were too intimidated by Wahabism to speak out fearlessly against this creed. It is time they did.