The Magazine

Wahhabis in America

A Saudi export we could do without.

Nov 5, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 08 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Dr. Gibril Fuad Haddad, a Lebanese writer and opponent of Wahhabism-Saudism, has placed nearly the whole Islamic establishment in America and other Western countries on the roster of Saudi-subsidized propagandists. This includes the functionaries who stood alongside President Bush at the Washington Islamic Center soon after September 11. Haddad's condemnation encompasses the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which exercise immense influence over mosques, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and numerous other incarnations of this hydra-headed beast. According to one informant who requested anonymity, Wahhabi imams in American mosques until recently received salaries of between $2,000 and $4,000 a month from the Gulf states.

Indeed, the multifarious Wahhabi entities spend money like, well, a Saudi oil prince--some of it on political lobbying. In 1999, the Saudi embassy in Washington announced a grant by the Islamic Development Bank of $250,000 to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) for the purchase of land in Washington, to be used in the construction of "an education and research center." CAIR is, without doubt, the most obnoxious front for terrorist apologetics to be found in the United States; even since September 11, it has relentlessly sought, on the pretext of promoting "sensitivity," to dictate how Islam may be discussed in American media. Its methods are anything but subtle, usually featuring peremptory demands and even threats, and until recently it was notably successful. (CAIR, incidentally, is but a minor line item in the Wahhabi budget. The Saudi embassy statement announcing the grant to CAIR also reported gifts of $395,000 for the construction of a school in Tanzania and $30 million for "Islamic associations in India.")

Wahhabi-Saudi lobbying is nothing if not bold. In 1999, Saudi "relief agencies" were on the scene in Kosovo within a month of the end of the NATO intervention, showering money for Wahhabi indoctrination. The Saudi embassy in Washington proudly declared, on that occasion, that a goal of the effort was "promoting Islamic curricula as a mandatory component in Kosovo schools." But while Kosovar Albanians are Muslims in their majority, they include a significant Catholic minority, especially prominent in intellectual life.

It was no wonder, then, that on December 29, 1999, the Kosovapress news agency, media arm of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, issued a strong denunciation of the infiltration of Wahhabi-Saudi missionaries. It declared, "For more than a century, civilized countries have separated religion from the state. . . . We now see attempts, not only in Kosovo but everywhere Albanians live, to introduce religion into public schools. . . . Supplemental courses for children have been set up by foreign Islamic organizations who hide behind assistance programs. Some radio stations . . . now offer nightly broadcasts in Arabic, which nobody understands and which lead many to ask, are we in an Arab country? It is time for Albanian mosques to be separated from Arab connections and for Islam to be developed on the basis of Albanian culture and customs."

The Saudis also use their control over the city of Mecca--destination of the hajj pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam, obligatory for all who can afford it--as an opportunity for political shenanigans. In their hands, the hajj frequently becomes a paid junket useful for recruitment purposes. In 2000, the Muslim World League (much overdue for a full investigation into its funding of Osama bin Laden, but omitted from the president's list of groups whose funds have been frozen) hosted 100 prominent American Islamic personalities on hajj. They were accompanied by a delegation of 60 Latin American "academics and specialists." All expenses for the latter were paid by Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to the United States. Last year the Saudis advertised their subsidy of 1,500 pilgrims from Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. In 1999, the Saudis paid for 100 influential American Muslims to "make hajj." The list of such expenditures seems limitless.

Resentment of this religious colonialism is rife among American Muslims, however subdued its expression now. One authoritative source who also asked to remain nameless but who was long courted by the Islamic Society of North America told me, "American Muslims are getting real sick of Wahhabi domination." Others, however, note that ISNA has recently feigned openness to non-Wahhabi Muslims, just as its leaders portrayed themselves as "anti-terrorist" to President Bush.