Micah Saichek Pols 4400-090 Prof.

Zackery Heern The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in the 20th Century In the world¶s religious landscape today, there is clear and definite delineation between two very popular forms of Islam which compete for power, prestige, and leadership of the Muslim community. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 20th century must be examined within the preconditions that created an environment where it was possible for violent Wahhabist ideology to gain a foothold, firstly with the loss of authority over the Muslim community and no leader to guide the religion as occurred in prior centuries. Second, the advent of colonialism whereby colonial powers played politics and chose to empower and solidify the authority of a certain family in Saudi Arabia ascribing to a certain ideology, and finally, the unintended consequences of this institution of leadership which helped to perpetuate the ideology through its control over the state and beyond. All of the above meshed together to form a perfect storm of sorts, where violent ideology and state power combined to formulate what we know as Islamic fundamentalism in contemporary society. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in the loss of leadership and authority in the Muslim community. Before the early 1800¶s, jurists in Islamic law were empowered with the ability to formulate legal opinions which could have drastic effects, they could search prior legal opinions, along with the main sources of Islamic law; the Qur¶an and the Sunna, and could reach conclusions which were malleable, achieving stability and balance with the current political/social situation. Islamic law was itself an important guiding force as its rulings encompass several different areas of life; marriage, inheritance, civil crimes etc. Legal schools

were well-funded and instilled vigorous training in legal opinions and formulations, and encouraged potential jurists to acquire a vast knowledge of the past and current doctrine to arrive at legal opinions. The opinions of jurists were of much import, and had the ability to influence the lives of Muslims in their communities. Khaled Abou El Fadl in his book µThe Grant Theft, Wrestling Islam from the Extremists¶, identifies the importance of these jurists and their potential power in deciding doctrine and formulating legal opinion. ³Although there was a long tradition of plurality of opinions within the juristic class and a practice of disputation and disagreement, juristic institutions provided the power of definition in Islam´ (Fadl 2005, 30). In many cases, as the jurists were not a part of the state per se, and did not necessarily follow commands or dictates from the state, they were able to remain independent of political decisions and dogma, formulating more reasoned juridical decisions. ³The Shari¶a remained the transcendent symbol of unity, and the jurists, as its articulators and protectors, stayed above the petty political and military conflicts and struggles for power´ (Fadl 2005, 34). In the 1800¶s, with the appearance of colonialism, colonial powers would overtake a country, and put into place secular leaders who would oversee and control that country. As many of the leaders that were subsequently placed into power were secular, some military trained, and some versed in Western thought, the prior endowments and funding for Shar¶ia legal schools, and Shar¶ia law as a legal system itself were discontinued, thus undercutting what religious authority remained, further diluting one main source of authority able to effectively dictate and guide Islam. ³Under the guise of reform, Shari¶a law was replaced with Western-based legal systems´ (Fadl 2005, 35). The leaders of states and their actions during this time are also of much consequence in contributing to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. State leaders nationalized industries and educational systems, bringing them under control of the state.

Through this mechanism, funding for Shari¶a legal and religious schools was diminished, and what legal schools remained had their curriculums co-opted by the state, modifying the emphasis of study. ³The material taught in the religious schools no longer included studying jurisprudential theory, legal maxims, legal precedents, hermeneutics, rhetoric, procedural theory, or any of the kind of subjects normally encountered in schools of law´ (Fadl 2005, 36). This proved disastrous in two ways. The loss of many of the religious schools resulted in lowering educational standards, so that less-able and less knowledgeable students were inducted into study. The second consequence was the modification of curriculums by the state, which, coupled with less able students studying, the state could inject prejudice and preference into those curriculums, narrowing or cutting out that which might be damaging to the state or the rulers beliefs/dictates, and students were less equipped to reach reasoned conclusions. ³This process left a vacuum in religious authority in modern Islam´ (Fadl 2005, 37). The damage done by these actions cannot be overstated. It is clear that, although the Shari¶a legal system and formulations may not have been up to the standards of modernized Western-style legal systems, the several competing Shari¶a legal schools-all seen as equally valid in formulating judicial opinions- acted as a check on centralized dictates, allowing fluidity in deciding legality and allowing local districts to formulate opinion which would work best in each area. But collectively, these competing schools were able to guide the definition of Islamic identity and authenticity, similar to utilizing chains of transmission in deciding the validity of a Hadith. With this guiding force diminished, the question of authenticity really became pronounced in that, without any central schools and opinion, this left the door open for any Muslim to be able to formulate his own opinion on what constitutes being a true Muslim and proper Muslim conduct. ³As these selfproclaimed and self-taught ³jurists´ reduced the Islamic heritage to the least common

denominator, Islamic intellectual culture witnessed an unprecedented level of deterioration´ (Fadl 2005, 39). Another problem created by these occurrences was the relationship between Islamic groups and the states in which they resided, and must be discussed further. As noted earlier, modification of religious educational curricula was done in the interests of the state, degrading the programs so that no student who emerged from that school had the same level or quality of training in Shari¶a law that previously existed. This degradation had the aim of both causing students to be ill-equipped in religious training to speak out against practices inducted by the state, and also to garner support for their policies. Jurists after this occurrence had lost prior prestige, and the status and opportunity that accompanied it. While this degradation occurred, states and their leaders recognized the utility of being able to garner support from Muslim communities. ³In the 1970¶s various governments««were complicit in supporting various Muslim movements in order to counter the spread of Marxist and leftist organizations´ (Fadl 2005, 41). As Fadl later explains, the utility of accumulating support of µpuritanical¶ movements was thrown into jeopardy by the severe danger they later posed, proved by their masses unifying to overthrow or assassinate governments or heads of state. This is most clear in the examples of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the assassination of Egypt¶s president Anwar Sadat. ³By the early 1980¶s, in an effort to get rid of the puritan danger, many governments in the Muslim world replaced the short-lived honeymoon with vicious repression´ (Fadl 2005, 41). This statement embodies the beginnings of radicalization which would come to taint Islamic movements, as this vicious repression only reinforced more radical ideologies, adding fuel to the fire, and instead of mollifying these belief systems, repressive actions gave puritans tangible grievances used to

argue against that oppression and acted as a solidifying force, bringing puritan movements closer together, against the will of the state. Examining the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism would be incomplete without discussing the figurehead of the Wahhabist ideology, his stated views, actions, and how that ideology flowered into a force which blended with state power, and utilized that power and influence to spread the ideology worldwide. ³The Wahhabi doctrine (derived from the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam) was first preached in Najd in central Arabia in the 1740¶s by a native Muslim scholar, Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab´ (Nevo 1998, 36). µAbd al-Wahhab believed that Islam was being corrupted by modernity, outside influences, acts of mysticism and even selfproclaimed Muslims who practiced or believed differently than he, and was fervent in his condemnation of said Muslims. ³Wahhabism exhibited extreme hostility to all forms of intellectualism, mysticism, and sectarianism within Islam´(Fadl 2005, 46). µAbd al-Wahhab was an interesting figure, whose ideology was rife with inconsistency and contradiction, both on a superficial level, and even more pronounced when viewing this ideology against the body of Islamic knowledge and belief which preceded him. The Wahhabist angle of Islam could be defined as Muslims being under a spell of a sort of jahiliyya, wherein modernity, colonialism, mysticism, rationalism and the beginnings of global integration were corrupting influences pulling Muslims away from true Islam. Included in this ideology was a complete narrowing of critical thought, reasoning and discussion about Muslim belief and conduct. ³Wahhabism also rejected the long-established Islamic practice of considering a variety of schools of thought to be equally orthodox, and attempted to narrow considerably the range of issues upon which Muslims could legitimately disagree´(Fadl 2005, 47). An interesting problem with this practice, was the selectivity of it, µAbd al-Wahhab rejected this practice, but only

insofar as it disagreed with his beliefs. ³All jurists who were not strict literalists-or those who were suspected of using reason in legal interpretation or who had integrated rationalist methods of analysis into their interpretive approaches-were considered heretics´(Fadl 2005, 48). Wahhabist ideology is viewed negatively, at least in one respect, as supporting the act of takfir, which was branding Muslims as infidels, a considerable charge carrying immense weight in the Muslim world. ³The significance of calling a Muslim a heretic was enormous: a heretic was to be treated as an apostate, and thus killing or executing him was considered lawful´ (Fadl 2005, 48). Again, this is in stark contrast to the core beliefs of Muslims; even with only a cursory, amateur knowledge of Islam, one must realize the blatant contradiction in sanctioning the killing of another Muslim, and further, outwardly declaring disagreeing Muslims as heretics and sanctioning their assassination. Very significant evidence exists showing that at the time of µAbd al-Wahhab, his ideology was considered fringe, extremist, and too dismissive of many practices, and too abrasive to appeal to the masses, one of the most glaring instances of this is embodied in µAbd al-Wahhab¶s own brother, who wrote a wealth of information condemning his brothers practices and beliefs. This leads to the question of how Wahhabist theology was able to spread literally around the world, influencing the masses, and vociferously defended by certain Nation-states in the modern era. The answer to how the spread of Wahhabism was accomplished, involves the Ottoman empire, Britain, and influential families living in and vying for control of Arabia. Although the Ottoman empire was successful in creating and maintaining a massive empire, while simultaneously spreading Islam and allowing Muslims to worship as they wished, it was seen as a corrupting force by Wahhabist¶s, claiming that they were Muslim in name only, and as infiltrators of the religion, the Ottomans sought to destroy Islam from within. ³The first Wahhabi

rebellions in Arabia in the eighteenth century aimed to overthrow Ottoman control and enforce µAbd al-Wahhab¶s puritanical brand of Islam upon as much of the Arab-speaking world as possible´ (Fadl 2005, 61). µAbd al-Wahhab firmly believed in the primacy of Arab Bedouin culture, and anything external to that culture was un-Islamic and heretical, which helps to explain why the Ottoman¶s were seen as the enemy: they were an external force from a land not of Arabia, and the aim of Wahhabist¶s in the 18/19th centuries was to expel them, and attempt to regain control over the two holiest places in Islam, Mecca and Medina. What ended up happening, changing forever the face of Islam, was in ³the late eighteenth century the Al Sa¶ud family united itself with the Wahhabi movement and rebelled against Ottoman rule in Arabia´ (Fadl 2005, 60). The Al Sa¶ud family was one of the warring, powerful families residing in Arabia, struggling for control. ³The Al Sa¶ud/Wahhabi alliance from 1745 to 1818 is known as the first Saudi state´ (Fadl 2005, 61), however the real power giving force to the rise of Fundamentalism came at the beginning of the 20th century, when µAbd al-µAziz bin Al Sa¶ud decided to convert to Wahhabist theology, and coupled with his thirst for control over Arabia, and Britain¶s aim to topple Ottoman power in the region, was able to gain hold of power, accepted as the legitimate ruler of Arabia. This allowed Al Sa¶ud to declare Wahhabism as the one true Islam, and forced all within his realm to convert and adhere to that theology, which led to brutal slayings and bloody rebellions. ³The idea of religious pluralism has neither meaning nor support in many segments of the population, and religious norms and practices are encouraged, promoted, and even enforced by the state´ (Nevo 1998, 34). The way in which Al Sa¶ud maintained power in Arabia, and utilized that power to spread Wahhabi theology must also be examined. Saudi Arabia encompasses the two holy places, and Al Sa¶ud won a much vaunted victory in securing legitimacy over it, and this control holds immense power over both citizens

living within Saudi Arabia, and also for Muslims who wish to conduct their pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. As mentioned earlier, Wahhabism has historically treated Muslims who hold different opinions, or who chose to follow different practices or sects of Islam, as heretic apostates worthy of death. There is no room to stray from the one ³true´ path of Islam, that is, the path of Wahhabism. Al Sa¶ud¶s control over Arabia enabled him to set the parameters of belief and practice, forcibly compelling those residing within its borders to adhere to his doctrine. This also allowed him to control who was allowed into the country to go on the pilgrimage. ³Any Muslim who dared criticize Wahhabism, for instance, was denied a visa to visit the holy sites, and for many pious Muslims, this would have constituted a very serious emotional blow´(Fadl 2005, 87). In this same way, Al Sa¶ud used his influence over Muslims and Muslim thought to stifle debate against Wahhabism, through various methods. In some cases, an author who was supportive of Wahhabism could be given special awards, grants, or the Saudi state would purchase large numbers of the book to assure that the publisher and author had an advantage, and incentive to continue in this manner. The importance of this fact cannot be overlooked, and these actions constitute one main reason that Wahhabism as an ideology was able to spread outside of Saudi Arabia¶s borders, influencing Muslim thought worldwide. ³Starting in the late 1970¶s and early 1980¶s, Saudi Arabia had embarked on a systematic campaign of promoting Wahhabi thought among Muslims living in the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds´(Fadl 2005, 87). Another factor which is important and provided an avenue for engaging in this campaign, was a natural resource coveted by all; oil. Oil, and the Ottoman Empire¶s prior existence in Arabia, both provided an environment favorable to British intervention. Britain wanted to destabilize Ottoman control in Arabia, and simultaneously, the vast oil reserves

underneath the soil, were seen as paramount objectives, throwing their support first behind warring families of Arabia, but settling upon the Al Sa¶ud family, who promised them favorable rights to natural resources, in exchange for acceptance of legitimacy and control over the area. Vast, flowing oil production leads to immense wealth obtained by one owning such natural resources and the capability to extract and sell them. Oil money undoubtedly sustained and bolstered the al Sa¶ud family¶s control over the region, allowing them to maximize their influence externally, and as mentioned above, influence the thought and authorship of materials favorable or unfavorable to Wahhabism. In conclusion, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the modern era can, in part, be attributed to the founder of Wahhabist thought and his ideological predecessors, the world political situation in the 18/19th centuries which produced an environment allowing a leader to purvey his ideology, and the state power that leader gained, allowing him to control, guide and influence Muslim thought worldwide. Wahhabism, while at first seen as an extremist ideology and fringe in nature, later used Salafism as a quaint cover for some of its more violent methodologies, enabling the ideology to become more prevalent and accepted in society. In its history, Wahhabism had seen rebellions, bloodshed, and used those experiences to bolster its sense of identity and purpose. Though some of the rebellions were able to be controlled by state power, modern terrorist attacks have shown that state power is not always enough to be able to control the actions of all those who believe, or who purport to believe and have misinterpreted its meanings. It remains to be seen whether tempered, moderate Islam reformers will be able to modify, improve upon and in a sense pacify Wahhabist ideology as it currently stands, or whether the world situation will eventually devolve into a much-feared Huntingtonian µClash of Civilizations¶ conflict. However, with the richness and diversity in Islamic history, one hopes

that reformers will succeed, through the spread of knowledge and good will, in wresting the hegemony of fundamentalist ideology, from those who use power, force and bloodshed to maintain it.


Cook, Michael. 1992. On the Origins of Wahhabism. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, third series. Vol 2, No. 2: 191-202 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25182507 Fadl, Khaled Abou El. 2001. Islam and the Theology of Power. Middle East Report No. 221: 2833 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1559337 Fadl, Khaled Abou El. 2005. The Grand Theft Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne:HarperCollins Publishing Knysh, Alexander. 2004. A Clear and Present Danger: "Wahhabism" as a Rhetorical Foil. Die Welt des Islams New series Vol. 44 Issue 1: 3-26 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1571334 Lacroix, Stephane. 2004. Between Islamists and Liberals: Saudi Arabia's New "Islamo-liberal" Reformists. Middle East Journal vol. 58, No. 3: 345-365 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4330029 Nevo, Joseph. 1996. Religion and National Identity in Saudi Arabia. Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 34, No. 3: 34-53 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4283951

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