SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) According to the latest news the jihad against Shia Muslims in Pakistan continues with 23 Shia pilgrims killed and a number injured in a gun and bomb attack in south-western Pakistan.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed they weren’t responsible but their linked organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), has been perpetrating one Shia Muslim bloodbath after another. There is a rising fury among the Shia Muslims in Pakistan that the sectarian violence should continue with Muslims killing Muslims in the name of Islam.
Even though minority groups are correct in highlighting the complete failure of state authorities to protect them, we must understand the root of the problem which is not confined only to Pakistan but appears to be a global phenomenon with groups like ISIS killing entire towns of Shias under their control. We must ask where such groups and individuals are getting their ideological justification for such heinous and un-Islamic crimes.
Significant blame lies with the ideological foundation of such groups – which comes in the form of the conservative belief of Wahhabism – the official state doctrine of Saudi Arabia. Though the Saudi government does not explicitly promote terrorism, its official state doctrine of Wahhabism advocates anti-Semitism, misogyny, inter-action with non-Muslims only in cases of necessity and the ex-communication (takfir) of many Muslims who do not subscribe to their extreme interpretation of Islam. It therefore provides the ideological justification for animosity and hatred of wider society laying the perfect foundation for radical preachers to then advocate violence as a religious duty to cleanse the faith of impurities.
Through their embassies and charities, the Saudi’s have built multi-million dollar mosques and schools and sponsor international students to study in Saudi on full scholarships, sending them back with funding and lifetime jobs as Wahhabi proselytizers to their respective countries. All this whilst the Wahhabis at home in Saudi continue to demolish and bulldoze all signs of Islamic history from the Arabian Peninsula.
The Wahhabi movement was instigated by the eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (c.1703-1791) who believed that Muslims had strayed from the authentic teachings of Islam. The movement condemned visiting shrines and tombs of saints and Muslims who did not agree with his teachings were excommunicated or killed in an effort to purge Islam from what Wahhab believed to be unsanctioned innovations. Wahhabi military campaigns waged war against moderate Muslims, demolishing Islamic shrines and slaughtering entire villages of Muslims who did not subscribe to his extremist interpretation. This same extreme ideology is behind the present day destruction of shrines and mosques in Libya and the continuing violence against minority and mainstream Muslims all over the world such as the Shia in Pakistan.
An alliance was formed between Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the ruling house of Muhammad ibn Saud who provided political and financial power for the religious revival in return for religious legitimacy when forming the new state. Political loyalty to the House of Saud effectively became a religious obligation and by reviving the notion of a community of believers, Wahhabism helped to forge a sense of common identity that superseded tribal loyalties.
Wahhabism would have remained a footnote in history as a puritanical cult movement even after it was adopted as the official state religion were it not for a single factor – the discovery of oil. The flood of petro-dollars meant that the Saudis could then spend an estimated $ 2 to $3 billion each year promoting the extreme and conservative ideas of religious leaders who in turn helped maintain the Saudi royal family’s position of power.
As the Shia in Pakistan face an onslaught of killings and the Arab Spring falters in Egypt and Tunisia and as Libya and Syria continue to tear themselves apart with violent sectarian fighting, it is surely time that global Muslims realized that their efforts to police terrorism within their ranks are futile in the face of well-funded religious extremism, whose adherents are fighting not only modern democratic ideas but also any signs of liberalism in their own religion. Sectarian violence in Pakistan for example can no longer be blamed just on Pakistani groups when it is funded by wealthy Wahhabis who are continuously supporting such groups to further their ideology. The Sunni-Shia antipathies will continue to fester and erupt as long as Saudi petro-dollars are being distributed so lavishly.
The proxy wars being fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mali and Syria are attracting itinerant zealots and angry young militants and keeping them from creating unrest in their own countries. Emboldened by anarchy in failed and failing states, funded by petro-dollars and justified by fundamentalist ideology, extremist groups similar to Al Qaeda and ISIS are seizing the moment and endeavoring to impose Wahhabi ideas wherever possible. In the process, they are killing and maiming more Muslims than people of other faiths, and are creating deep societal rifts and lasting enmities within their own communities.
The Muslim world must pressure Saudi Arabia to change and together or separately they must develop a convincing strategy for reducing Wahhabism and its global influence. Whether the Muslim’s can achieve this or not remains to be seen, but it is certainly time that the relationship undergoes more intense scrutiny and recalibration in the name of Islam.