Have you heard of the Wahhabis? Perhaps not. And yet they are quietly taking over Islam all over the world. They have, believe me, an ugly past.
Mohammed Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was the author of Wahhabism. He was a theologian, son of a judge, and belonged to Najf, a nomadic region of Arabia, untouched by civilisation.
What was his provocation? Simply this that the Caliphate and the two cities of Mecca and Medina were taken away from the Arabs by the Ottomans. The Ottomans were Muslims, but not Arab. Here is Arab nationalism at work.
But let us go back to the source of Arab nationalism?to Prophet Mohammed. ?Before long?, he once told his people, ?you will conquer many countries and cities.? And he assured them that a night in the battlefield as a soldier of Allah was superior to saying prayers at home for 2000 years! The Prophet was after an Arab empire. And the Arabs were after the loot.
Not this alone. He made Arabia a subject of divine reverence. He once told the Arabs that Allah lived in the Kaaba, the center of all blessings, and that Adam had built it. What is more, Allah spoke Arabic. The Prophet says: ?Love the Arabs because I am an Arab, because the Quran is in Arabic.? And one must visit Mecca once in a life-time to qualify for paradise. He had a special regard for his own tribe?the Quraish. He made them the ?rulers of men until the Day of Judgement.? And he gave special weight to Mecca. ?O Mecca?, he says, ?by Allah, you are better than any part of the earth and dearer to me than the rest of the world.? Surely, Prophet Mohammed was a great Arab nationalist? If Islam conquered half the world, the inspiration came from the Prophet himself. And if Wahhab followed his footsteps, there was no wonder. The Arabs do act as a ?chosen people?.
But the Caliphate fell on evil days. The Mongols came like a scourge and devastated the Muslim empire. Perhaps nothing like this had happened before. Hubris? To add to the woes of the Arabs, as soon as the Mongols left Arabia, the Ottomans took over the countries.
Naturally, Wahhab gave a call for revolt against the Ottomans. He was himself after the Caliphate. And he had the support of the British and the Saudi family. They too wanted to oust the Ottomans.
In 1744 Wahhab launched a campaign for the purification and renewal of Islam. He called upon all Muslims of the world to accept his version of Islam. ?Original and authentic?, he called it. He said it had been highly distorted by the Ottomans. Wahhab'sbook on monotheism carried a blue-print of a new Muslim world. His doctrines can be classified under three heads: 1) Rituals are superior, 2) No reverence to the dead and 3) No intercessory prayer addressed to God.
One can understand all these. But what is one to make of his other reforms? He wanted a God in human form, new prayers, and a new drill for the namaz. He did not want the prayer for the Prophet of Islam and the invocation of blessings on him at the start of the Friday prayer. He condemned Haj as it involved visits to the tomb of Mohammed and others. By the way, he wanted to convert all tombs of saints into toilets! He opposed celebration of the Prophet'sbirthday. He would not even allow the name of the Prophet to be inscribed on a mosque. He burnt books and banned music.
There is no doubt Wahhab wanted to himself a high pedestal. He opposed both Sufism and Shiaism, as also other religious traditions. In 1787 he declared himself leader of the Ummah.
In 1802 the Wahhabis attacked the Shia centre of Karbala, looted the treasures and destroyed the tomb of Al-Husayn. Al-Zahawi reports that they killed everyone in sight. The Wahhabis conquered Mecca (1803) and Medina (1805). Here too they desecrated the sacred sites and the tombs. But the Ottomans re-established their control over them.
In 1924 (after the fall of the Ottomans) the Wahhabis reconquered Mecca and Medina. But there was no fund to pursue their dreams. After the petro-dollar boom, the funds came in abundance from the patrons of the Wahhabis?the Saudis?to construct mosques and organise education of Muslim youth all over the world. We know the consequences of the programme.
The Wahhabis reflect the more violent face of Islam. Today they have turned against the West, once its patron. The youth (a good part of it) has turned to terror.
It is true Wahhabism is different today from what it was in the 18th century. But that is because of international pressure. However, the spirit remains the same.