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Saudi Islam, 9/11, and Further Dangers
Updated: November 2008

The two-day UN Interfaith Conference on November 12 and 13, 2008 proposed by Saudi Arabia to promote "dialogue on religion and culture" is a propaganda stunt aimed more at softening Saudi Arabia's image abroad as the hot bed of Islamist extremism than to soften Wahhabi Islam at home. It is curious that the Mufti (highest Saudi religious post) along with other senior clerics were absent from the Conference. If Saudi Arabia were serious about promoting dialogue on religion and culture the place to start is Saudi schools, mosques, and media, not theatrics on the world stage. The world would become a better place if Saudi rulers stop their Wahhabi ulama (religious scholars) partners from denigrating other religions and Islamic sects and from preaching that jihadism is the short route to paradise. 

That the founder and leader of Al-Qaeda is a Saudi, that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on September 11, 2001 were Saudis, that six years after the atrocity Saudi nationals continue to represent the largest contingent among foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq suggests a causal relationship between the Wahhabi way of life and terrorism. This is not to imply, however, that 9/11 was a state-sponsored crime. Rather, the crime was the work of individual jihadists produced unwittingly by the Wahhabi way of life. 

Without a shred of convincing explanation Saudi propagandists in the East and the West managed to deflect the world’s attention from Wahhabi culpability. They managed to brush aside any connection between the Wahhabi way of life and 9/11, claiming instead that politics (without specifics), not Wahhabism, was behind the atrocity. Absurd fantasies circulating in some Arab societies blame 9/11 on Israel’s Mossad, or the American extreme right.  Western apologists, many of whom are former Washington officials, who act for the Al-Saud princes, Saudi government, and private sector businessmen as advisers, business partners, lawyers, public relations consultants, etc... have aided in this outcome. More than four years after 9/11, a Newsweek poll found that a majority of Americans were still unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the hijackers were born, and a full 20% thought most came from Iraq. 

It is believed here that Wahhabism is as responsible for 9/11 as politics. It is contended that human behavior is a product of past experiences, beliefs, and values and that these cannot be compartmentalized in isolated chambers in the human mind so that the religious chamber can be sanitized. Admittedly, neither religion nor politics alone causes terrorism. The combination of religious extremism and political frustrations, however, can. Islamist extremism does turn political frustrations into religious crusades, with all the vehemence and nastiness that religious conflicts provoke. Islamist extremism and political frustrations are like fuel and fire. The fuel is Wahhabi ulama's fanaticism. Wahhabi teaching creates the mindset of self-annihilation in the name of God, with the promise of a reward in paradise. The fire is Saudi autocratic rule and excesses (see below), plus political humiliation from abroad; such as, among others, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Washington’s policies in the Middle East.

Saudi Islam: A Wahhabi Cult

Wahhabism is greatly influenced by the most orthodox among the four surviving Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Hanbalite School. Because of its extremism, Hanbalism has had over the centuries a tiny following. Even today, and despite Saudi Arabia's strenuous proselytizing efforts and vast financial resources since the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973, the Saudi brand of Islam is followed mainly by Saudi Arabia's less than 20 million indigenous people, or about 2% of the world’s one billion Sunnis, plus an indeterminate number of followers among the millions of Muslim expatriate workers who had worked and continue to work in Saudi Arabia and who became indoctrinated in the Wahhabi way of life. 

Partnering with Wahhabi clerics and accusing the Ottoman Sultans of being bad Muslims, Abdulaziz Al-Saud (?1876-1953) used Wahhabism as a justification for his rebellion against Istanbul at the turn of the twentieth century. He made Wahhabism the legitimating ideology of his newly established kingdom in 1932 and named it after his family. His five successor sons followed their father’s footsteps, cementing Wahhabism as Saudi Islam.

Wahhabism manifests its agenda in Saudi Arabia on every turn. Three of the eight Saudi universities are entirely dedicated to the teaching of Wahhabism. Of the sixteen core subjects in the twelfth grade in Saudi high schools, nine are on Wahhabi Islam and related subject. Philosophy subjects are prohibited. For decades, Saudi students have been taught to condemn and denigrate other religions and Islamic sects. Starting with the first grade, children have been taught that Christians, Jews, and the other non-Muslims are destined to hellfire. As the children grow up, the same message is honed more explicitly. In the ninth grade, students are taught that violence towards Christians, Jews, and the other non-believers is sanctioned by God; tenth graders are taught that, in law, the life of non-Muslims is worth a fraction of that of free Muslim men; eleventh graders are taught that Muslims do not yield to Christians and Jews on a narrow road out of honor and respect; and in the twelfth grade, that Islam has spread through Jihad and that jihad is one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God. 

These teachings find their roots in the Quran, although the Quran contains also verses that are tolerant and peaceful on the same subjects. These contradictions cause Muslims to follow different values and ways of life. The Wahhabis choose to teach the intolerant and the violent. Moderate Muslims, on the other hand, choose the tolerant and the peaceful instead.

Saudi Arabia is estimated to have 85,000 mosques; or, a mosque for every 300 persons. To put this figure in perspective, Egypt, a devout Muslim country has a mosque for every 1,300 persons. Around fifteen percent of the time of the two government-owned television stations is dedicated to purely religious programs, in addition to Wahhabi rhetoric in other programs. At Christmastime, clerics on loudspeakers implore their congregations not to greet or befriend Christians. Jews are spared the attack on such occasions because they are not allowed to reside there. A Christian may not wear a cross pendant. A Bible can cause its owner imprisonment, lashings, and deportation. The US State Department advises that non-Muslim worshipers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture for engaging in overt religious activity that attracts official attention. Needless to say that churches do not exist despite the more than one million Christian foreign workers from, mainly, the Philippines, Europe and America.

Exporting Wahhabism

In foreign lands, Saudi funded mosques, preachers, schools, teachers, students, charities, etc... propagate the Wahhabi message. Saudi-trained preachers in Britain, for example, denigrate their hosts, urge their congregations to not assimilate, to reject women rights, to force child-age arranged marriages, and to view Western political systems as alien to Islam. The growth of extremism was also helped through the many millions of Muslim expatriate workers who had worked or continue to work in Saudi Arabia and who became indoctrinated in Saudi Islam. In 2004, according to US State Department estimates, there were 750,000 expatriate workers from Egypt, 250,000 Palestinians, 1.4 million from India, 1 million from Bangladesh, and 900,000 from Pakistan. These numbers must have grown since 2004. When considered within the context of the expansion of Wahhabism in Arab countries, Lebanon in particular (by virtue of the Hariri clan) and in Egypt, and the resurgence of the Talibans in Afghanistan, who are Wahhabis, as well as the growth of Islamism in Pakistan and Bangladesh, a menacing arch of Wahhabi extremism from Bangladesh, to Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Lebanon, Egypt, and among Palestinians could be developing under Saudi stewardship.

Autocratic Saudi Governance: a Jihadist Factory

Saudi governance is non-participatory and non-representative. Free press does not exist. Political parties, labor union, and societal organization are banned. Dissent is dealt with cruelly.  The monarch is an absolute ruler. The national budget is allocated at his sole discretion.  Saudi governance is mired in tribalism, cronyism, nepotism, and favoritism. The ruling group violates the law with impunity. Corruption, a natural consequence of such systems, is the glue that keeps the ruling group together. The Saudi Ambassador to Washington revealed on a PBS Frontline interview in September 2001 that corruption could have cost Saudi Arabia US$50 billion out of the US$400 billion spent on development. He argued that he and his clan “did not invent corruption,” that corruption “happened since Adam and Eve,” and that corruption is a part of “human nature.” Such audacious disregard to honorable conduct by the ambassador of a regime that draws its legitimacy from claiming the religious high ground is breathtaking. The Prophet had reportedly “cursed the person who does the bribing as well as the person who accepts the bribe (Abu Dawood Sunna collection). With such type of governance, it is not surprising that Saudi Arabia abstained from voting for the universal declaration of  human rights proclaimed by the United Nations in December 1948. 

The Al-Saud family is possibly the world’s largest ruling family ever. It is estimated that Abdulaziz Al-Saud’s direct descendants could number 5,000, or more (around the year 2000). When the relatives are added, the number becomes much greater, several times as much. The annual burden of the 5,000 royals on the  Saudi treasury may be estimated at US$5 billion, or more.

The Wahhabi ulama, with vast support from the Saudi government, brainwash the populace into believing that submission to Islamic authority is at the core of the Islamic Creed and that blind obedience to the Al-Saud rule is a form of piety. Wahhabism legitimized the absolute rule and the excesses of the Saudi regime. The combination of Wahhabism and the Al-Sauds’ excesses have turned Wahhabi society into a Jihadist factory. A genie was born, and the genie got out of the bottle. No one today seems able to get the genie back into the bottle. 

That 15 of the 19 murderers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia is an indictment of the entire Wahhabi way of life—its legitimating ideology, system of governance, educational system, indoctrination practices, as well as its collective political, religious, military, judicial, civic, intellectual, tribal, and business leaderships. 

Saudi Arabia must take responsibility for blackening the name of Islam. Saudi Arabia must take responsibility for the worldwide anger and mistrust generated following 9/11 toward the 280 million Arabs who are innocent of Wahhabi extremism and who have always looked with disdain on Wahhabism and its primitive way of life.

To eliminate a terrorist cell or two or a hundred or a thousand cells will fail to root out terrorism. To fight terrorism, not only must the material and the financial infrastructure of jihadism be destroyed, but also the religious foundation upon which jihadism rests, starting with Wahhabism.