There is an uneasy relationship between the Wahhabi (also known as the Salafis) who in effect see themselves as keepers of the faith and the rest of the Muslim world. Centred in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam emerged from the deserts of Najd and is the version of the faith expressed by followers of Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century self-claimed Bedouin reformer. To outsiders at least, the Wahhabi movement appears an instigator of violence, at times apparently legitimising jihad as an armed conflict to kill fellow Muslims when they are considered in disagreement with Wahhabi vision of Islam, declaring them kafirs, or infidels. Related to the ruling family through matrimonial alliances, descendants of Abdul Wahhab’s family continue to control the ministry of religion, and because they are rigid in their conservatism they appear determined to block reforms desired by King Abdullah and the political leadership of Saudi Arabia. They have caused considerable upset in the past by the destruction of various Muslim treasures For example in 1925 the Mausoleums of the Prophet’s family at Jannat-ul Maali and Jannat-ul Baqi, the sacred graveyards of Mecca and Medina, were demolished, and while the featureless Wahhabi cemeteries may reflect their belief that only Allah should be honoured with memorials, there is no doubt this is not a view accepted in totality in the Muslim World.
Their geographical position in the heart of Muslim history has given added prestige to their leadership with the Imam‘His Holiness’, Imam-e-Haram, Dr Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais at the head of the mosque at Mecca. The Indian Muslim sect of the Barelvi appear unconvinced that he outranks their leader.The oil wealth of Saudi Arabia has also given them more influence in that it has made it possible to spend billions in establishing and running mosques, Madrassas (religious schools), training of clerics and publishing many of the journals supporting the faith.
Since they remain a minority amongst Muslim in many places eg the Indian sub-continent and since they oppose other versions of the faith they are believed to have instigated the bombing of dargahs and Shia mosques in Pakistan , and agitated against Barelvis, Shias, Sufi and other Muslim minorities and non-Muslims. The Sufi and their disciples appear constricted in movement and behaviour by the Wahhibi in their traditional home territories of Medina and Mecca, with the religious police preventing their religious celebrations and closely proscribing the behaviour of pilgrims. For example women are allowed little time at the mosques.
The West with a continued dependence on Saudi oil needs to tread very carefully, but remembering the recent attacks on Mosques in Iraq, Afghanistan and India and the Saudi sponsorship of the suicide bombers (giving grants to the martyrs’ families) it may be unwise to ignore the apparently growing influence of the Wahhabi movement.
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