Introduction: The Saudi Largess
Part One: The Saudi Dawah
i) A Bit of History
ii) The Saudi Empire
iii) The Means of the Wahhabite Dawah
Part Two: The Saudi Economy and Largess
iv) The Saudi Economy
v) Immigrants to Saudi Arabia
vi) Cash to the Sudan
Part Three: War
vii) Israel – 1967
viii) Afghanistan – 1979…
ix) Iraq – 1990…
Part Four: Inside Saudi Arabia
x) Other Religions in Saudi Arabia
Introduction: The Saudi Largesse
In the last fifty years or so many mosques have been built here in the UK. In fact, very many mosques have been built. And many were built with Saudi funds alone. But the Saudi state and its private benefactors don’t just say to British Muslims: Here’s some money. Go and build yourself a mosque. No. The British Muslims who receive such funds must make sure that they, and the mosque they are going to build, will be in ideological/religious conformity with Saudi Wahhabism, at least to some small or large extent.
In the 1980s and before, Saudi Arabia financed several movements to overthrow leftist and communist regimes, sometimes allied to the Soviet Union, sometimes not. For example, for many years Riyadh backed the Eritrean Islamist insurgents against the Marxist regime in Ethiopia. Pakistan has also become a large beneficiary of the Saudi largesse, as were the Afghan Islamist militants who overthrew the Communist regime in Kabul.
i) It is a major financial backer of the Muslim Brotherhood in many countries.
ii) It is a major financial backer of Jamaat-e Islami in Pakistan.
iii) It produces radio and TV programmes on Islam throughout the world.
iv) It teaches Arabic in non-Arabic states.
v) It funds Islamic schools and colleges abroad.
vi) It funds conferences and seminars on Islam and Islamic subjects.
vii) It distributes Islamic materials.
viii) It builds and funds mosques worldwide.
Part One: The Saudi Dawah
Firstly, A Bit of History
The Saudi monarchy doesn’t go back that far. In 1745 an alliance was formed between the amir Muhammad ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792). The latter was a puritan reformer; a sort of Islamic equivalent to the Calvinists or Puritans of the 15th and 16th centuries. And like our own Calvinists, Abd al-Wahhab carried out an obsessive campaign against Islamic ‘superstition’. Indeed he was also a kind of Islamic icon-smasher or literal iconoclast. He saw all these ‘innovations’ as an assault on Islam’s original purity. That is, how Islam was at the time of Mohammed and immediately after. Around two hundred years after Abd al-Wahhab, in the 1960s onwards, the 20th century Islamic puritans began to destroy or desecrate various monuments and symbols in Mecca and Medina.
The Saudi Empire
The Saudi Wahhabites offered the Muslim world what they called an ‘Islamic domain of shared meaning’. That is, despite all the different nations and ethnicities in the world which are Muslim, there is something on the table to unite them all. Indeed Muslims are always stressing - to non-Muslims - the ‘universal’ nature of Islam and the ‘brotherhood’ of all Muslims. It is strange, then, that it should be the Saudi Wahhabites who are offering the world’s Muslims an ‘Islamic domain of shared meaning’ if we consider their hatred of Shiites and of Iran specifically. Indeed hardcore Wahhabites are against all non-Sunni Muslims, including the Shiites, the Sufis and so on. But, of course, it goes further than that. Saudi Wahhabite Muslims are also violently against other kinds of Sunni Islam as well. All this should be born in mind when we consider the strings attached to the massive largesse which the Saudi state and the Wahhabi religion attaches to the world’s Muslims.
It should also be stressed that the Saudis did not really respond to a call from the world’s Muslims for a ‘domain of shared meaning’ which would obliterate all differences between Muslims and create a set of dogmas which could control the lives of all Muslims from Nigeria to Thailand. It would be more correct to say that the Saudis artificially created that demand for Islamic or Muslim uniformity. They did so through money, which the Saudi state has had a hell of a lot of. More specifically, another of the strings attached to the Saudi largesse was/is the promise of upward social mobility and economic advantage which came along with receiving such large funds. And alongside the social mobility and economic advantage came political mobility and political advantage. However, to get all this, Muslims all over the world had to condescend to Saudi Wahhabism, either in a big way or in various small ways.
The Means of the Wahhabite Dawah
Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud (later, from 1964 to his assassination in 1975, King Faisal) set up the World Muslim League in 1962. Its primary role was to be the mouthpiece of Saudi Arabia. More precisely, to be the mouthpiece of Saudi Wahhabism. It did this by running seminars and conferences on Islam and related subjects. Or as the World Muslim League itself put it:
‘The Islamic world forms one collectivity united by Islamic doctrines. In order for the collectivity to be a reality, it is necessary that allegiance will be to the Islamic doctrine and the interests of the Muslim umma in its totality above the allegiance to nationalism or other isms.’ - Saudi Arabia, 1962
It seems that Saudi Arabian Wahhabites, from the early 1970s (or 1967, see later) until today, have taken over, or seen themselves as taking over, the overall running of the Islamic dawa – the Islamic ‘call to Islam’. And all this (more or less) simply because this country is so rich.
It has been said that this was the first time in nearly one and a half thousand years that a real universal Islamic Umma was possible. The same Wahhabite books, Korans and cassettes could now be found throughout the Umma – the Muslim world.
Part Two: The Saudi Economy and Largesse
The Saudi Economy
In 1974, the Saudi oil industry accounted for 91% of all its exports. 26 years later, in the year 2000, things hadn’t changed that much. At that time the oil industry accounted for 91.4% of Saudi Arabian exports. That amounts to trillions of dollars in the coffers of the House of Saud. It also shows that oil is just about everything in Saudi Arabia. The tiny .4% rise also shows us how static the Saudi economy seems to be. What it also shows us this is that very little of this money was used in the non-Islamic parts of the Saudi economy. The Saudis didn’t diversify the economy with this windfall. They didn’t launch new industries or broaden the tourist industry. We will see what the Saudis did - and still do - with their money in a moment.
Roundabout 9/11, 2001, each barrel of oil the Saudis exported cost $12. Five years later, in 2006, a barrel of Saudi oil cost $70! Five times as much as the 2001 price. Saudi Arabia exported about ten million barrels of oil a day in the mid-2000s. Not only that, but at the same time it received around half a million dollars a day, mainly from the United States. So the Saudi state had about an extra half a billion dollars a year in its pocket to play with. How did it play with it? By sending it to the world’s mosques, madrasses, etc. By building the world’s mosques, madrasses, etc. Actually, it was a little bit more than mosques and madrasses. They also funded - and still fund - Islamic lobby groups. They also funded - and still fund - Islamic think tanks. They do many Islamic things for many Islamic causes. One of which is the creation of Islamic terrorists. Another is the funding of Islamic terrorists. Are you getting the picture yet?
Not only did and does Saudi money flow to the four corners of the world, but non-Arab Muslims also came to Saudi Arabia for its reach pickings and a good dose of Wahhabi Puritanism. Indeed there would be no rich pickings for non-Arab Muslims if they didn’t also welcome Saudi Wahhabi Puritanism.
Immigrants to Saudi Arabia
For instance, in the mid 1970s all sorts of Muslim men went to Saudi Arabia. This included men with university degrees, professors, skilled workers and those who worked on the land. Many of these men came from the Sudan (across the water), Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and the Lebanon. In terms of numbers, Saudi Arabia (plus other Gulf States) contained 1.2 million immigrants in the mid 1970s. 60.5 of these immigrants were fellow Arabs. In 1985 the number of immigrants in Saudi Arabia had reached 5.15 million. This time only 30.1 percent were Arabs. 43 percent of them had come from the Indian subcontinent.
Now we can be more specific. If we take the year 1983 and Pakistani immigrants to the Gulf states in particular. These Pakistani Muslims sent $3 billion back to their families in Pakistan. That was far more than Pakistan had received in foreign aid that year.
These Pakistani immigrants went to Saudi Arabia to get a load of dosh for themselves and their families. They arrived back in Pakistan far more Islamic than they had been before. So social upward mobility came alone with increased Islamic zeal. Take the joke about the hijab and more specifically the burkha. Western Muslims are keen to tell us that when wearing the burkha they are honouring an ancient Muslim tradition. Yes, a Muslim tradition that goes all the way back to 1971 when Pakistani and other Muslims started to find work in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. That was when many of these non-Arab Western Muslims first discovered the hijab. And it was certainly the first time they had come across the full burkha. Their maids or servants even started calling the new pious and rich Pakistani Muslim women, hajja – a name reserved for those fortunate enough to have performed a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Cash to the Sudan
Another good example of Saudi Wahhabite financial clout can be found in the case of the Sudan.
In the Autumn of 1977, the Faisal Islamic Bank opened a branch in the Sudan. Like many Muslim leaders, Sudan's leader, Nimayri, welcomed the Saudi cash that was injected into the Sudanese economy. Around a decade later, the Faisal Bank was the second-richest business in the coutry (in terms of the money it held on deposit). The relevant point is that this bank was run not only by Muslims, but by Islamists. This shows us an interesting and important relation that exists between money/banking and miltant Islamism, which may well challange Islamic - specifically Shia - rhetoric about the 'oppressed' who suffer under 'the arrogant ones'.
This relationship was a two-way one. Apart from the Saudi Wahhabites exporting its Islamic doctrines and oil to the Sudan, Saudi Arabia also did well with the large number of immigrants from the Sudan – after all, Sudan is just over the Red Sea. Those Sudanese black immigrants to Saudi Arabia were treated as second-class citizens by the Saudi state. Indeed non-Arabic Sudanese Muslim immigrants also experienced Saudi racism and a lesser kind of Dhimmitude. Even Arabic non-Saudi Muslims would not have been treated as equals – such is the racism and arrogance of the Saudi Islamic sheikdom. (See the later section on Saudi slavery.)
Part Three: War
Israel - 1967
Many commentators have said that the last main blow to Arab nationalism came in 1967. In that year, in June, Nasser’s secular Egypt was defeated in the Arab-Israeli war, as were other Arab nations, including Syria. Not only that, but the Arab Muslims lost the Al Aqsa mosque of Jerusalem to the Israelis. This is Islam’s third-holiest shrine. This terrible defeat taught Arab Muslims that they had been defeated by ‘the Jews’ because of their deviation from the faith – from Islam. They had deviated towards nationalism, secularism and socialism. This was the ideal time for the Saudi Wahhabites to step in and capitalise on Muslim humiliation. Firstly, the Saudi state began to subsidise and rebuild the Syrian and Egyptian armed forces. But is was the spread of Wahhabism which was more important to the Saudi state.
And there was nothing like anti-Jewism… sorry, anti-Israelism to unite Muslim Arabs and give them something to live for. More precisely, the eventual or inevitable annihilation of Israel and the Jews in the Middle East was the something to live for.
On top of the 1967 Arab defeat, the Saudis also received another Allahsend. In July 1969, a mad Australian tried to burn down that very same Al Aqsa mosque. He didn’t succeed. Nevertheless, the attempt was enough for the Saudis and other Arabs. The Arab world was predictably enraged by this action. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia immediately organised an Islamic summit conference to discuss this and similar issues. It was attended by twenty-five Muslims countries, not all of them Arab.
It can be said that this was really when Hamas was born, or, I should say, Hamas-like militant Islamism, not later in 1987 (after the Palestinian Intifada). Faisal himself declared a jihad against Israel. It can be said that the nationalist Arab states had already declared a jihad against Israel in 1947/8 and after. However, Faisal's jihad was strictly Islamic, not a nationalist or Arabist 'jihad'. (Although, of course, it fused certain elements of Arabism or nationalism.) Faisal also pledged to liberate the Al Aqsa mosque from the Israelis.
Perhaps more important than this latest birth of militant jihadism, after 1967, was the growth of Islamic transnationalism. A transnationalism both fostered and funded by Saudi Arabia. The following is a list of some of the transnational Islamic organisations both funded by and based in Saudi Arabia around this time (many more were to come later):
i) The Islam Conference Organisation (or the Organisation of the Islamic Conference)
ii) The Islamic Development Bank
iii) The International News Agency
iv) The International Centre for Research in Islamic Economics
v) The Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs
Afghanistan – 1979…
It seems strange to think, post-9/11, that up until the late 1980s, the government of the United States saw the jihadists in Afghanistan, with their beards to the floor and traditional dress (which some adopted during or after university), who battled the Soviet ‘Evil Empire’, were basically seen to be a pro-West alternative to the revolutionary nutcases who had taken power in Iran in 1979. As far as our Saudi Arabia is concerned (as well as Pakistan), it too took a similar stance as the United States, though for slightly different reasons. The Saudi Wahhabites were as against the revolutionary Shiites in Iran and beyond as the Americans.
The other thing about the Saudis supporting the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union was that it was an attempt to hide the fact that the Saudi state was militarily, financially and even politically in bed with the ‘Great Satan’ – the United States. At that time, it was the Soviet Union, not the United States, which was seen as the ultimate enemy. Quite simply, this was because the Soviet Union had invaded a Muslim country – Afghanistan. Anything that the Americans were doing at that time was seen as (only) imperialism/colonialism or ‘neo’ this or that, not the direct or explicit invasion of a Muslim country.
Iraq – 1990…
The Saudi Wahhabite hegemony (to use a popular leftist word) was seriously hurt when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. What did the Saudi state do? It went crying to the Americans for assistance. After all, Saddam was also threatening Saudi as well as Kuwaiti oil. More precisely, on August the 7th, 1990, King Fahd, the Custodian of the Two Holy Palaces (Mecca and Medina) begged the United States for military assistance. And he got it. Several hundred thousand non-Muslim soldiers ‘invaded’ Saudi Arabia in what was called, Operation Desert Shield. The US soldiers not only saved Saudi oil but also saved the Saudi monarchy. However, this didn’t sit well with the new global Islamists and jihadists throughout the world, let alone with Iran and the Shiites. The Wahhabite hegemony, helped along by the Al-Saud family, was struck a real blow when they allowed a few hundred thousand infidel troops near the Two Holy Places. For instance, it was this, far more than Palestine and the existence of Israel, which really annoyed Osama bin Laden. And he repeatedly said as much over the following years.
The primary enemy of Saudi Arabia at this time was not the ‘infidel West’, or even the ‘great Satan’ (actually, this was/is Iran’s term for the US). It was, in fact, Shiite Iran. Despite the influence of the Iran Shiites on militant Islamism and Islamoterrorism throughout the world (from 1979 onwards), the Saudi Wahhabites had retained its Islamic hegemony on the Muslim world. One of the main ways they did this was by financing the Afghan jihad. It seemed that even the most extreme Sunni militants were happy with Riyadh at this time. (The Shiites, of course, were not happy.) Not only that, but the reactionary or conservative Wahhabites, as opposed to the revolutionary Shiites of Iran and elsewhere, had kept control of the pious or devout middle classes throughout the Muslim world. Not only did they succeed in the class struggle between the Wahhabite middle class and the urban Islamic militants (Shiite and otherwise). Politically Saudi Arabia also controlled things through the Muslim World League and the Organisation of the Islam Conference - a branch of the United Nations! The deal was simple for the world’s Muslim. If you follow the Wahhabite directives from Riyadh, you will get cash. Thus Wahhabism was spread throughout the world.
But don’t take my infidel word for all this. Take the words of a Muslim called ‘Saddam Hussein’. He called Saudi Arabia an ‘American protectorate’. It was an ‘unworthy guardian of the Holy Places’. And not only was Saddam a Muslim – he was a Sunni Muslim, just like the Wahhabites of Saudi Arabia.
Part Four: Inside Saudi Arabia
Other Religions in Saudi Arabia
As is well known, Saudi Arabia does not itself ‘embrace diversity’ or cuddle multiculturalism. Specifically, it does not allow the practice of any other religion on its soil. Those who called for the minaret ban in Switzerland recently said that they would only allow the building of more mosques in Switzerland if Saudi Arabia allowed its Christians to build churches, its Hindus to build temples, etc. in its own country. However, the Saudis have the best possible (Islamic) reason for banning other religions on its soil. The Prophet himself said:
‘Two religions cannot exist in the country of Arabia.’
Of course, in addition to this outright ban on other religions, all non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia have an inferior (or Dhimmi) status, according to Saudi Islamic law. For example, a Saudi non-Muslim (usually a low-paid menial worker) cannot testify against any Muslim.
Amnesty International clarified the situation (in July/August, 1993) for Christians in the following way:
‘Hundreds of Christians, including women and children have been arrested and detained over the past three years, most without charge or trial, solely for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs. Scores have been tortured, some by flogging, while in detention… The possession of non-Islamic religious objects – including Bibles, rosary beads, crosses and pictures of Jesus Christ – is prohibited and such items may be confiscated.’ (AINO)
It is not only Christians who have a hard time in Saudi Arabia, alternative Muslim groups do too. For example, it is a big ‘no no’ for the Bahai and Ahmadi Islamic sects. And it goes without saying that Shiites are not highly respected in Saudi Arabia (as they were not respected in Sunni-governed Iraq under Saddam Hussein). Again, Amnesty International has commented on the Saudi position on non-Sunni - or non-Wahhabi - Islamic sects. Take the Ahmadis:
‘Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but they are regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical… Ahmadis have been subjected to discrimination and persecution in some Islamic countries. In the mid-1970s, the Saudi Arabia-based World Muslim League [yes, the same organisation I have mentioned elsewhere] called on Muslim governments worldwide to take action against Ahmadis. Ahmadis are since then banned in Saudi Arabia.’ (ASA/33/15/91)
Many have argued that slavery persisted in Saudi Arabia (and the Yemen) until the 1950s. Then it began to be - officially - abolished. Even this late abolition was only a response to foreign influence. Indeed Islam has never taught or preached the abolition of slavery. R. Brunschvig wrote that the
‘fact, brought out in the Kuran, that slavery is in principle lawful, satisfies religious scruples. Total abolition might even seem a reprehensible innovation, contrary to the letter of the Holy Book and the exemplary practice of the first Muslims’.
(Slavery is recognised and accepted in the Koran. Muslims can cohabit with any of their female slaves (see sura 4.3). Muslims are allowed to take possession of married women if they are also slaves (sura 4.28).)
Actually, more recently and even today, workers from Southeast Asia employed in domestic service have been treated as slaves. That is, their passports are taken away from them and they are often forbidden to leave the house. They are also often locked in their rooms. To clarify just how recent this problem is, take the French magazine, L Vie (no. 2562), published on the 6th October 1994. It the article is said that 45,000 black Africans a year are still kidnapped and reduced to slavery in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States.
Foreign nationals are not only subjected to discrimination or even slavery, they are often beheaded too. For example, six Somalis (probably fellow Muslims) were beheaded for car theft in 2005. (What would have happened to them if they had called the Prophet a ‘paedophile’ or a ‘killer’? Allah knows.)
Saudi Arabia has had a handful of tiny spasms of internal protest and a few sporadic demands for more freedom. For example, in November 1991, a year after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and his consequent threat to Saudi Arabia itself, around seventy Saudi women decided to drive their own cars into the city centre of Riyadh. They did so to protest against a law which forbid women from driving cars. (Yes. A law which forbids women to drive!) However, what the women did was fully compatible with Islam. At least that’s what the women drivers said. These women were good Muslims. At least that’s what the women drivers said. Rather ridiculously, they even pointed out that the Prophet Mohammed’s wife, Aisha (whom he married when she was nine and he was in his fifties), had ridden her own camel! (I’m not sure if Aisha also drove her camel into the centre of Riyadh.) Not only that, these women drivers had the best interests of the Saudi monarchy at heart. At least that’s what the women drivers believed (or pretended to believe). However, what the women drivers said or thought was irrelevant. According to Sheik bin Baz, the main man of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia at the time, the women had gone directly against Islamic law and authority. They had also ‘disturbed the peace’. Indeed, according to many Saudis, these women drivers were nothing less than ‘communist whores’. As a result of this tiny act of almost-feminist rebellion, the women drivers were sacked from their respective jobs and generally repressed by the Saudi state.