So just how much of a threat to world peace are the extremists? SHAYKH MUHAMMAD HISHAM KABBANI, leader of america’s islamic supreme council, warns that militants will tear islam, and the world, apart
Today, throughout the world, there has been a wave of radical movements, which sometimes turn militant, whose source can be traced to the Wahhabi movement. What is this movement and how did it spread throughout the Muslim world, and now the Western world? What are its ideological differences with traditional Islam and how are these differences influencing and supporting modern day radical movements? What can be done to diminish the power of these movements?

Traditional Islam views religion as a pact between man and God and therefore the domain of spirituality. In this belief, there can be no compulsion or force used in religion. From the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s), peace and tolerance were practiced between different religious groups, with respect to distinctions in belief. Contrary to this, the “Wahhabi” ideology is built on the concept of political enforcement of religious beliefs, thus permitting no differences in faith whatsoever. In “Wahhabi” belief, faith is not necessarily an option; it is sometimes mandated by force.
The origins of nearly all of the 20th century’s Islamic extremist movements lie in a new Islamic theology and ideology developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in tribal areas of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. The source of this new stream of thought was a Muslim scholar named Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab, hence the name “Wahhabism.”
The premise of this new, narrow ideology was to reject traditional scholars, scholarship and practices under the guise of “reviving the true tenets of Islam” and protecting the concept of monotheism. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s brand of “purification” of Islam consisted of prohibiting many traditionally accepted acts of worship, reverence of the person of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and the pious saints, and burning books containing traditional prayers, interpretations of law and commentaries on the Qur’an and Hadith. He encouraged his followers to interpret the holy books for themselves and to act on their interpretations in light of their own understanding, regardless of their understanding of fundamental principles or lack thereof. Anyone who did not profess to this new ideology was considered outside of the realm of Islam – an apostate, disbeliever or idolater, thus making the shedding of their blood and confiscation of their wealth permitted. In this way, he was able to secure a significant following whose legacy continues in one form or another until today.
The traditional schools were immediately supplanted by extremist ideologues and radical centers of education. Africans tell the story of a young man sent to study Shari‘a at great expense by his Sunni parents. Upon his return a few years later, he refused to eat a chicken slaughtered in his honor by his father stating, “my father is an apostate.” Scenarios like this one quickly caused a great rift between the generations of peace-loving Muslims and the chaos-driven youth who were their children.
More ugly still is the violence wreaked by ex-tremists on the Muslims of Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, Daghestan, Chechnya, and within the Indian Subcontinent. Violence and societal upheaval were instilled at the new schools by radical ideologues like Egyptian ex-Communist Sayyid Qutb. Sayyid Qutb declared a Muslim is either a “revolutionist” or an infidel, and went so far as to declare all the Islamic societies of his time apostate and fit to be overthrown. He stated, “Islam is a force that runs to gift freedom to all people on the earth with no regard to the variety of their religious beliefs. When this force meets with aberrant forces, it is the duty of his so-called ‘Islam’ to struggle and annihilate them.” Invoking the memory of the original Kharijis, he also wrote, “Islam is a whole: its separated parts should be united and the differences removed.”
Their dismissal of the traditional schools of thought, their development of schools as incubators for radical ideology, their attack on the source texts of Islam and generations of recognized scholars, and their financing by ideological counterparts worldwide, have truly enabled the Neo-Kharajite movement to dominate the vision of Islam in the world.
Traditional Muslims, the silent majority, remain numerous and confidant enough to repel the Neo-Kharajite movement from within Islam, given the necessary support. However, backed by the oil-wealth of their ideological counterparts overseas, Neo-Kharajites have a definitive advantage over the majority of Muslims, who have only their own humble resources at their disposal. Only with real financial and political support can classical Muslim scholars and moderate, mainstream Muslims reclaim the banner of Islam from these usurpers, retake the podium they have hijacked, repel these extremists and discredit their heretical ideology. Truly, this is a battle worth fighting. And it is a battle which, with the help of Almighty God, we can and must win.
Unfortunately, many American Muslim organizations lack the courage to stand up and speak forthrightly about this matter. Too often we see leaders of the community, equivocating between implicit support for extremists and general condemnations of terrorism. Broadbrush, vague condemnations are nothing but a show to prove one’s moderation when Muslims sit around the interfaith table with Jews and Christians. This has the community spinning around in confused circles, for the people can’t help reflecting the actions and words of their leaders.
Equivocation on clear moral issues can only lead to perplexity among the common worshippers and loss of confidence in the upright principles of Islam. The cause of these conflicting messages is that on the one hand leaders fear they might divide the community (which in reality is already divided into many factions), and on the other hand they fear for their own positions, due to their connections with extremists around the world through their U.S. offices.
roots of extremism
Bin Laden has issued a fatwa to all his followers stating, “The U.S. is the enemy of Islam and we must fight it. Our order throughout the world is to kill any member of its army and its leaders, and this is a religious duty.” This fatwa was issued by bin Laden in retaliation for the U.S. government’s detention of Shaykh Omar Abdur Rahman.
We found a similar fatwa has been issued by one of the highest religious officials of Saudi Arabia, Imam Abdur Rahman al-Hudhayfi, grand imam of Masjid an-Nabawi of Madina al-Munawwara of Saudi Arabia, during Jumah prayer March 13, 1998. In his 29-page fatwa the Imam stated:
“The followers of Judaism and Christianity know for certain that Islam is the true religion, but jealousy towards the Muslims, arrogance, love of wealth and selfish desires are a barrier between them and Islam….We have to be aware that movements that have been initiated to bring together interfaith sessions of different religions are seriously detrimental to Muslims. It is clear that truth and falsehood cannot be compromised. We further disapprove of invitations to such compromises which are being extended by those ‘intellectuals’ who are not even acquainted with the basic and essential doctrines of Islam…”
Al-Hudhayfi—Imam of the 2nd most holy mosque for Muslims—continued,
“How can there be any compromise between Islam and Judaism when Islam is unique in its purity, its light, its brilliance, its justice, its magnanimity and high morality for mankind, while on the other hand Judaism is a collection of materialism, treachery, low and degraded morals, lawlessness, greediness and covetousness…. Similarly there is no relationship between Christianity and Islam. Islam is a pure unitarian religion believing in the unity of God, filled with justice and blessings, whereas Christianity is a collection of misguidedness…”
The similarity of the thinking behind these two fatwas cannot be missed. Instead of a comprehensive approach to solving the problems of the Muslim ummah, these two extremists find it easier and politically expedient to blame America, Russia, or any extraneous power for the current sorry state of the Muslims. In the two edicts one can see the expression of views prompted primarily by the political agendas of the individuals issuing them. Whenever a situation arises where a certain goal is sought, declarations are made to arouse the emotions of the masses. However what is said in no way reflects the traditional Islam and the majority of Muslims. Rather, these ideologues are expressing their own extremist dogma, inherited through their ancestors from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, 18th century founder of the “Salafi”/Wahabi sect. This sect has developed and been promoted very intensely in the last thirty years by a number of regimes, with the disastrous result that the extremism which vaulted them into power has now come full circle and threatens to sweep them away.
Thus we see bin Laden, a Saudi, with his network of militants, working to destroy the government of Saudi Arabia, no doubt strengthened by the fatwa of the Saudi imam, Abdur Rahman al-Hudhayfi. This contradicts the explicit teaching of Prophet Muhammad (saws) not to oppose a ruler as long as he does not prevent the performance of prayer—even if he commits injustice. Thus extremists use Islam when it suits them and likewise contravene it at their convenience.
Spouting verses of Qu’ran and Prophetic traditions, well-financed Wahhabi/Salafi preachers exploit the spiritual yearnings of the people and harness them to adopt their teachings.
While outwardly ‘Islamic’, the main ingredients of traditional Islam are missing: love, compassion, mercy, tolerance, respect and forgiveness. These words are rarely spoken, and if so only in regard to people of the same creed.
All others are rejected as “unbelievers” to be ignored, and, undoubtedly if the Wahhabis were given power, to be eliminated. The actual focus of these preachers is not so much Islam as it is politics. Arguing that Islam is a religion of action in which state and religion are not separated, they reduce Islam to political goals and power-seeking, subjugating its spiritual dimension completely.
The cleverest dimension of the Wahhabi/Salafi ideological onslaught is their ability to earn the sympathy of Western thinkers and analysts by claiming to be “reformers” of Islam. They present innocuous literature of struggling for religious freedom and practice as if to demonstrate their supposed non-violent, ideological goals. Yet, what they deceitfully conceal is those ideological goals are not a matter of choice.
Their desire for an “Islamic state” for example is not just an ideal, it is a duty they will not surrender or relinquish. Therefore, the pursuit of such an ideal will inherently lead to violence as long as there is societal or governmental opposition to its establishment. Their ideological goals do not provide for negotiation, compromise, or mediation with other societal perspectives of the nation-state.
It is imperative for the foreign observer to critically determine at what point the pursuit of religious ideals is actually an incitement to violence and civil unrest. As nations founded on principles of democracy and freedom, we should not condone the imposition of any ideals— social, political, or religious—by physical force or psychological intimidation.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s a flood of Muslim radicals from Arab Gulf nations, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, North Africa began to cross the borders of Central Asian nations and the Caucasus unimpeded. With the downfall of communism, the newly emerging nations had little or no resources to fight the insurgencies. Fighters, mainly trained in Afghanistan, as it is alleged, with funding from Wahhabi sources and through the sale of opium and other narcotics, were able to penetrate borders, make quick guerilla attacks and then rapidly withdraw. Trained in the crucible of the Russo-Afghan war, these radicals were primarily fighters, with little interest in ideology. However, their backers were radical ideologues: Bin Laden, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Shaykh Umar Abdur Rahman and numerous other Arab ‘reformers’, following the teachings of the strict Wahhabi/Salafi ideology.
Latter-day reformers of Islam, the Salafis like Rashid Reda, Jamaluddin Afghani and other modernist pan-Islamic thinkers, and radicals like Syed Qutb, Hassan al-Banna, Mawlana Mawdoodi, had all drunk deeply at the fount of Wahhabi ideology, and from it came their militant approach. These groups rejected traditional religious understanding and instead focused on the politicization of religion. Though they have since renamed their movements as if to disconnect them from ‘Wahhabism’, the essence of their teachings is the same.
Trained in their home countries in militancy, establishing core cells and building up organizational and financial prowess, these radical leaders were not content with establishing mosques, Islamic schools or social institutions -they sought to build a military movement. Initial goals— overthrow the governments of their home countries or adopted nations and create the “Islamic state”, following their version of “pure” Islamic law— adapted to suit their ideology.
These heavily funded operations often posed as relief organizations, but in reality they were working to spread the Wahhabi/Salafi ideology adopted by various radical movements. The massive infiltration of political Islam into a society previously void of political activism laid the foundation for an organizational strategy founded on anti-government pseudo-Islamic rhetoric.
Today the strategy of the Wahhabis in Central Asia is two-pronged: 1) flood the religious ‘market’ with massive quantities of literature from radical Wahhabi/Salafi reformists, which advocates the “Islamic revolution” or ‘Jihad’ against the government, targeting students and intelligentsia who are now free to read and study;
2) encourage militant activism, ranging from public protests and the founding of anti-government mosques and schools, to the actual engagement in acts of terror and military insurgency operations. Such operations are often staged from remote areas of neighbouring countries, creating a ‘natural’ barrier to governmental forces that pursue them.
According to Salafi/Wahhabi ideology, the end justifies the means. Therefore it comes as no surprise to find the ‘scholars’ of militant Islam declaring permissible all that Islam in fact declares prohibited. This includes:
· Declaration of ‘Jihad’, against Muslim governments and their citizens reasoning that the failure to implement Islamic law makes the government enemies of Islam and ‘unbelievers’. This contradicts authentic Islamic law, which states that unless a government prevents Muslims from praying, revolt is not permitted. This ruling is derived from the verse in the Quran, “Obey God, obey your Prophet, and obey those in authority over you.”
· Killing any member of the government stating that they are ‘kafir’ or ‘unbelievers’. Though seemingly just a matter of words, such a declaration amongst Muslims subjects them to immediate death since they would be considered “enemies of Islam”. Such an accusation of heresy or apostasy is a grave sin in Islam and contradicts traditional Sunni belief.
· Killing citizens who do not revolt against the government, as collaborators with unbelief.
· Selling Islamically forbidden products and materials, i.e. opium, to finance any aspect of their ‘Jihad’.
· Dealing in arms smuggling.
· Kidnapping, buying and selling human beings.
Take Chechnya. Chechens are moderate Muslims who want to follow the Islamic legal standards in rules of worship and civil society, but who see no reason to impose such law on anyone else. When the first war for Chechen independence took place, it was not so much religiously motivated as it was supported by religious enthusiasm.
What took place during the latter phase of the war and after the peace treaty with Russia resulted in today’s disastrous situation in Chechnya.
Using Shamil Basayev (responsible for the Moscow theatre siege) as their kingpin, the Wahhabis were able to establish an independent militant movement operating outside all laws and restrictions.
The Wahhabis poured finances and arms into Basayev’s militia, creating a full-scale army in Chechnya. Their intent on expansion was clearly demonstrated by the insurgency into Daghestan in August 1999. The primary objective is to create an Islamic state, with the expectation that eventually it will stretch from Afghanistan to North Africa, and from Turkey south to Yemen and the Sudan.
It is very well known that cer-tain networks have flourished in many countries throughout the world. Small but well-fi-nanced militant movements arise, coming against their government and the common people, instigating conflict. The danger lies when an outside government supports such extremist movements under the false impression that this constitutes preserving religious freedom.
To understand such movements, one must understand the scope of Islam and the psychology of Muslims, since what we are seeing today is an ideological movement turned militant. It is important to note that the Wahhabi ideology itself is extreme in its interpretation and can turn militant over time. Why is this form of thinking attractive to some Muslims? What are the political agendas behind “religious” movements? How are holy books used to justify illegal actions performed in the name of the religion? Education is a key factor in containing and countering the spread of this type of extremism and its associated movements.
It would be highly beneficial if a think tank or research institute were to be formed in order that government officials, researchers, and media understand Islam on a deeper level, rather than making rash generalizations based on superficial understandings. To truly understand the world Islamist extremist movement, one must realize it is not just a social phenomenon as so many theorists mistakenly assume, but is a full-fledged ideological war of words and weapons alike.