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Saudi King’s Reform Step vs. Crown Prince’s Ambitious Wahhabism

9:25 AM, Jan 3, 2012 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Last year’s budget also allocated 60,000 new jobs to Nayef’s interior ministry. And in an apparent bid to line up the Saudi Wahhabi clerical class behind him, Nayef, beginning before his appointment as crown prince, sponsored a series of conferences on religious issues. In September, while still only a prince, Nayef appeared to support King Abdullah’s ameliorative course, by hosting an international parley of Islamic scholars to condemn takfir, in which Muslims are declared to be apostates from their religion, and vulnerable to murder and pillage, based on doctrinal differences. Nayef read a welcoming address by King Abdullah that condemned takfir as an abusive practice, the growth of which the conference blamed on errors in the Saudi educational curriculum.

On December 28, however, now-Crown Prince Nayef opened a conference on “Salafism” – the cover name used for Wahhabism – at the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, typically known as “the terrorist factory.” In publicity leading up to the event, university representative Ahmed bin Yousif Al-Darwish admitted, to the authoritative Arab News, the problem of an “extremist Salafism,” characterized by “terrorism and murder . . . extremism or takfir,” with which the kingdom does not wish to be identified.

Nayef inaugurated the seminar. He declared that “Saudi Arabia would continue to follow the Salafist ideology,” and “denounced those who create doubts about” the doctrine. But the conference agenda included other, bolder claims by the Wahhabis. A certain Ibrahim Bin Nasir Al-Humoud argued, as described in the Arab News, that “the most distinctive feature of this approach is that it is divine. He stressed that this divine approach is so obvious that it does not need interpretation.”

Sheikh Badr Al-Hassan Al-Qasmi dispensed with the “Salafi” camouflage by presenting an encomium to Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, the progenitor of the cult. A Moroccan philosopher, Ahmed Bou Oud, told the “Salafism” colloquy that criticizing the Saudi state religious dogma was “tantamount to belittling Islam itself.”

A woman named Muneerah from the Princess Noura University in Riyadh, founded as the Riyadh University for Women in 1970 and relaunched on a grandiose scale by King Abdullah in May 2011, proclaimed that Wahhabism does not rely on any particular interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, but is present in all of them. In other words, all believing Muslims are presumed to be, or must declare themselves as, Wahhabis.

Muneerah also asserted that “Salafi” doctrines date back 1,300 years, to the early days of Islam, a ridiculous anachronism, since the term “Salafi” was used very rarely by Muslim authors – and never in reference to an ideology – until the 19th century. It was then adopted by modernist reformers, who did not engage in violence against Muslims or non-Muslims, unlike the “Salafis” today. The term “Salafi” was appropriated by Saudi Wahhabis in recent decades, reflecting the repulsion many Muslims feel toward the Saudi Wahhabi legacy of violence, devastation, and religious infiltration of non-Saudi Muslim communities, from the Balkans to India.

Such fantasies wipe away the history of Islamic intellectual diversity in favor of a single credo that permits no reflection, criticism, or elaboration of principles. In Saudi media coverage of Nayef’s theological summit, the customary praise for King Abdullah was missing. The aim of the convocation was clear: to reinforce the power of the Wahhabi clerics, their control of religious affairs, their influence on all other aspects of public life in Saudi Arabia, and their loyalty to Nayef. King Abdullah’s latest reform gambit has been matched, at least rhetorically, by an aggressive strategy of defense from Crown Prince Nayef. 

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