Showing posts with label مصادرة الإسلام. Show all posts
Showing posts with label مصادرة الإسلام. Show all posts

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Saudi Arabia’s Impracticable Alliances

    February 25, 2016   No comments

Saudi Wahhabism at home and abroad and the arrogation of Islam

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

Abstract: Before WikiLeaks released the Saudi diplomatic cables in 2010, the rulers of Saudi Arabia had cultivated the image of being deliberate, moderate, and averse to confrontation. Since the start of 2011, the Saudi rulers have behaved in ways that annulled that perception. The Saudi rulers hosted the Tunisian dictator and refused to extradite him to face criminal and corruption charges, criticized the U.S. for not standing by Hosni Mubarak, turned down a coveted seat on the UNSC, sent its armed forces to crush a peaceful protest in Bahrain, armed Salafists to overthrow the Syrian government, engineered a political coup that displaced the democratically elected prime minister of Iraq--Nuri al-Maliki, and launched a brutal war on Yemen committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the process. Days before beheading a religious leader who spoke against the oppression of Shias, the deputy crown prince and minister of war of the kingdom announced the creation of an “Islamic military coalition,” consisting of 34 countries to combat terrorism. These are not the actions and temperament of deliberate, moderate leaders. These are the actions of impetuous, nervous, and paranoid autocrats who seem to be running out of options as their internal, regional, and global allies abandon them.


In order to forecast the future of the Saudi monarchy, one must understand its origins, culture, and friends and allies within and without the kingdom. Most of the territory known today as Saudi Arabia was under the suzerainty, if not the full control, of the Ottoman Empire since 1517 CE. The modern kingdom, however, has its origins in 1744, when the two Muhammads--Muhammad Ibn Saud and Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed an alliance to control the region near Riyadh and start their expansion to rule over almost all of the Arabian Peninsula. This alliance made the monarchical system, ordinarily frowned upon in conservative Islamic legal traditions, a viable form of government in a deeply conservative society. 

The second pivotal point started in 1938 after oil was discovered and the Saudi-U.S. alliance was born. This alliance, too, brought together two countries that, by most standards, reside in opposite extremes of political and cultural spectrums. The United States is a nation with a self-declared commitment to human rights, religious freedom, political pluralism, and civil liberty. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a country ruled by a regime that imposes the strictest social and political codes that prohibit women from driving cars or traveling unaccompanied by a family member, systemically discriminates among people on sectarian and religious grounds, bans political protest and public dissent, and imposes a criminal justice regime that is in conflict with international treaties and humanitarian law and conventions.
Yet, it is these unlikely alliances that the Saudi rulers have struck that provide the regime with relative stability at home and sweeping influence around the world.
While the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance defined the religious and political character of the kingdom, the Saudi-U.S. alliance spelled out the economic and security terms that guided the kingdom’s regional and international affairs. The Saudi-U.S.alliance was built on reciprocated leverage. The Saudi regime needed stability and legitimacy given its extremist religious creed and its staggering human rights record. The United States needed a reliable source of cheap oil to power its manufacturing-based, transport-dependent economy and life style. There was also an added benefit of this unlikely relationship: the presence of a U.S. ally, like Saudi Arabia, in the Persian Gulf region limited the Soviet Union’s reach into the region. 
When the Soviet Union’s increased influence in the Middle East was the primary threat to U.S. interests in the region, Saudi Arabia was crucial in firewalling the Arab world against Soviet intrusion. The Kingdom used both a religious discourse that deaminized communism and dramatized the threat of socialists’ takeovers, and oil-generated wealth to buy Arab regimes’ compliance.
With the exception of the pseudo socialist (or pseudo revolutionary) regimes in Egypt (during the rule of Nasser), Algeria (during the rule of Boumediane), Syria, Iraq (under Ba`athist regimes), and Libya (under Qaddafi), Saudi Arabia was able to use religion and money to keep other Arab regimes in the West’s camp. 
The Saudi assistance to U.S. went beyond the Arab world. The rulers of Saudi Arabia were instrumental in making sure that Pakistan was on the side of the United States during the U.S.-USSR proxy war in Afghanistan. Pakistan served as the ideological and military training ground of the Wahhabi-Salafi fighters recruited from all over the world to fight the Soviet Union in central Asia.
The U.S.-Saudi alliance also allowed the Saudi rulers and wealthy individuals to build and control Islamic centers in North America and Europe and use these centers to spread Wahhabism cloaked as orthodox Sunni Islam. The presence of Saudi-linked Islamic centers explains the disproportionate number of European citizens, as opposed to Muslims from other Muslim-majority countries, joining ISIL in Iraq and Syria in the last five years.  

ISIL condemned Saudi religious and political leaders in its recent publication, Dabiq, NO. 13.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Saudi alliance continued their joint efforts of undermining governments deemed unfriendly to either or both countries. To topple the revolutionary Shi`i regime that overthrew the Shah of Iran, whom the U.S. and UK intelligence services installed in the stead of the democratically elected government in the 1953 coup, U.S. administrations and the Saudi rulers worked together to instigate and support Saddam’s war on Iran from 1980 until 1988. The two governments collaborated to confront Saddam when he invaded Kuwait. Lastly, Saudi Arabia was instrumental in muting Arab opposition to U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, the outcome of the invasion of Iraq turned out to be catastrophic for the U.S and for the rulers of Saudi Arabia. One of that invasion’s byproducts was the creation of a path to political power for Iraqi Shi`as—the Iraqi majority long oppressed under the Ba`ath regime.

To manage this and many other side effects of the invasion of Iraq, the Saudi rulers, first, attempted to limit the power of the Shi`as by promoting and eventually implementing a political arrangement that gave Kurdish and Sunni minorities virtual veto powers either through the presidency or the parliament that paralyzed Shia-led governments. The so-called safeguards that were said to protect ethnic and religious minorities produced a very weak government and fractured institutions that continue to threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq. 
Weak government coupled with instability in Syria provided the kind of environment in which Combatant Salafists thrive. In the summer of 2014, the Salafist group known as ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), used the instability created by the protest movement in Sunni towns moved quickly and took over Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, and a number of other Sunni cities and towns in northern Iraq, linking them with territories the group controls in northeastern Syria. Subsequently, the group’s leaders declared that they have re-established the Islamic caliphate and adopted the name, the Islamic State. The group went on to absorb other smaller Salafi fighting groups in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and North Africa. Before the end of 2014, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, condemned the Saudi regime calling it the illegitimate, infidel Salul Clan. That declaration essentially damaged the bond between Salafism and Saudi Arabia. The state of Saudi Arabia is no longer the sole protector and enabler of Wahhabi-Salafism.
The illegal invasion of Iraq and the subsequent material and human cost increased Americans’ reluctance to intervene militarily, especially when there is no strategy for the day after regimes fall. Moreover, the wave of peaceful protests, popularly known as the Arab Spring, removed two of the regimes that were part of the so-called “moderate axis” and threatened every other regime in the Arab world, including the Saudi rulers. The fact that the U.S. was willing and able to let close allies, like Ben Ali and Mubarak, fall alarmed the Saudi rulers not because of perceived ingratitude to Mubarak and Ben Ali, but because they feared that the U.S. government could abandon them, too.
The Iran Deal that resolved the nuclear standoff between Iran and Western powers only increased the Saudi rulers’ anxiety. However, when Wikileaks released the Saudi diplomatic cables and revealed its secret dealings, the Saudi rulers decided to take off the mask of moderation and act aggressively, assertively, and without restraint.
To stay in power, and due to their peculiar alliances, the rulers of the Saudi kingdom need to pursue two paths that necessarily lead to different outcomes. They need to secure their people’s consent and international legitimacy at the same time. However, what they must undertake to appease the Saudi people, the majority of whom are by now fully indoctrinated in Wahhabi-Salafism, will necessarily alienate other Muslim and non-Muslim countries who suffered acts of terrorism perpetrated by followers of Combatant Wahhabi-Salafism. This paradox stems from the kind of arrangement the Saud clan has made with Wahhabi clerics during the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi rulers often accuse other governments, including the ones with a history of shared governance and the presence of democratic institutions--imperfect as that might be--of lacking legitimacy. Yet, they often reject criticism of their treatment of women, religious minorities, and lack of legitimacy as blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom. They often argue that that Saudi society, due to its religious and cultural heritage, has its own form of social contract that bestows the Saudi regime with legitimacy and sovereignty.
Culturally, Arab communities living in the Arabian Peninsula have generally recognized a tribal system that allows the most dominant clan to preside over all other clans granted that all other clans are represented in the advisory council, known as the shuraor ahl al-hall wa-‘l-’aqd.  
Religiously, the Saudi form of government echoes the 7th century Umayyad model whereby the most powerful of clans monopolized political power and the institution of religious scholars, `ulamā, dispensed religious decrees and counsel to the caliph. In this paradigm, the political leaders were legitimized by the religious scholars, but religious scholars depended on the protection and patronage of the political leaders. 
The Saudi rulers have decided from the outset to rely on only one traditional school of thought, Hanbalism, and adhere only to the advice of the most conservative modern authorities of that school of thought, Wahhabists. Modern Saudi society has been engineered to reflect Arabic tribal culture and live by Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which makes the kingdom very unique politically, religiously, and socially. The combination of Saudi Arabia’s economic power and ultraconservative religious discourse produced supremacist attitudes.
The political and military actions the Saudi rulers have undertaken in the past five years reveal serious flaws in defining problems, understanding global trends, and designing long term strategies to reform their political and religious institutions. In order to overcome some of the existential threats to the current regime, the Saudi rulers must learn, adapt, reform, and respect their neighbors. Their actions, thus far, however, are rooted in ignorance, arrogance, and sectarianism. 
1. The Saudi rulers have failed to understand that the post-digital media era is fundamentally different from the pre-digital media era. There is no amount of money that could enable any government to filter all information indefinitely.
2, The Saudi rulers want to preserve a culture and religious tradition that is in conflict with the traditions and practices of the rest of the Islamic world. The Saudi practices and the demands of the modern world are in conflict. They have to choose between being part of a diverse world and a unitary society. They cannot be part of the world and broader Islamic societies without reforming their way of life to accept other expressions of Islam as valid and to peacefully co-exist with other religious and non-religious communities.
3. The Saudi rulers want to remain relevant in the world and appear strong at home. To be strong at home, they have to live by a religious code that is shared with al-Qaeda and its derivatives. For them to earn the support of the public they have to take positions that would place them, ideologically and politically, to the right of ISIL. They understand that. That is why they beheaded 44 people in one day in the first month of 2016. That is unprecedented even by ISIL’s standards. To remain true to their religious and cultural norms, they have to maintain the theological position that the Shias are heretic, outside Islam. They understand that. That is why they beheaded the most prominent Saudi Shia on the same day they killed 46 Wahhabi-Salafi extremists.
4. The Saudi rulers want to appease their Wahhabi-Salafi religious establishment by appearing tough on heretic Shi`as. However, that same position creates problems for them with the world community. There is no place for supremacist ideas and practices in this ever more connected world. 
5. Their strategy is to cloak their disdain for Shi`as in the false claim that Iran is interfering in the affairs of Arab and Sunni Muslim countries. That strategy failed since no country cut diplomatic relations with Iran on that account. Instead, the small number of countries cut their relations or recalled their diplomats to protest the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic buildings, not to protest Iran’s condemnation of the beheading of the Shia scholar. Desperately, the Saudi rulers called for emergency meetings of the Arab League and OIC to rally Muslim countries against Iran, but none of the other 57 Muslim majority countries cut diplomatic relations with Iran. In fact, even Pakistan, a close ally of Saudi Arabia for decades, offered to mediate between the two countries; it did not side with the kingdom. Frustrated by the lack of solidarity from some Arab countries, the rulers of Saudi Arabia rescinded a decision to gift Lebanese military security agencies four billion dollars and threatened similar actions against other governments that threaten “Arab unity”, which meant not going along with Saudi directives. These actions backfired, prompting Morocco to refuse to host the year Arab League summit, citing discord and lack of consensus among leaders.
In the end, the Saudi rulers’ current strategy for staying in power is doomed to fail because it is built on too many contradictions. The harder the Saudi rulers work to appease the Saudi people at home the harder it becomes for them to convince the rest of the world that they are inclusive, non-sectarian, and serious about fighting terrorism. The anti-terrorism law the late king laid out in March 2014 was a cover for persecuting, and prosecuting peaceful dissenters. The law equated between a blogger who raises awareness for social justice and a genocidal fighter who sees himself in pursuit of a divine mission to purge the world of all who are not true Muslims. 
Similarly, the “Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism” will fail once its members realize that the Saudi rulers want to use it as a cover to pursue a sectarian agenda and an attempt to legitimize their rule within and outside the kingdom. The rhetoric of “hazm” seems to be directed at the Shi`as. The Saudi military forces avoided any level of confrontation with al-Qaeda and ISIL fighters in Yemen. In fact, since these groups did not exist in large numbers in Yemen before Saudi Arabia had begun its bombing campaign, and since they are now in control of a number of Yemeni cities and provinces, it stands to reason that the Saudi air force provided the cover and support to insert those groups in southern and eastern Yemen.
What is at stake?
The Saudi rulers’ actions in the region, their attempt to create coalitions of Islamic nations to define and confront terrorism, and the increased reach of Combatant Wahhabi-Salafists lead to the conclusion that the future of Islamic thought and practices and welfare of Muslims is at stake. The link between the brand of Islam that is espoused by al-Qaeda and its derivatives and that which is taught and practiced in Saudi Arabia is established beyond any measure of reasonable doubt. That version of Islam is a frozen reconstruct of some practices and thought from the eighth and ninth centuries. The religious clerics of that brand of Islam do not distinguish between the immutable theological creed and the circumstantial political and legal enunciations. Simply put, the Wahhabi-Salafi interpretation of Islam is not compatible with other expressions of Islam, including the teachings of Sunni Muslim jurists of Malikism, Hanafism, and Shafi`ism.
Should Sunni Muslims allow the Saudi rulers and their Wahhabi-Salafi muftis to define Islamic orthodoxy and orthopraxy, Islamic thought and practices will be rendered incompatible with international law treaties, universal declarations, and the requirements of modern life in this increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. 
This is not to suggest that Wahhabi-Salafism should be outlawed or eradicated because suggesting so will be an affirmation of al-Qaeda’s and its derivatives’ practices. Freedom of thought, conscience, and worship guarantee everyone, including Wahhabi-Salafis, the right to believe whatever religion or interpretation thereof they wish to follow. Indeed, if Saudi Arabian society wishes to believe and practice only Wahhabism, then the Saudi people should be able to do so, as long as they refrain from imposing their beliefs on others by force.
Muslim communities, especially the Sunnis, must challenge the Saudi rulers’ attempt to project themselves as the defenders and exemplars of true Islam, because Wahhabi-Salafism hardly represents historical Islam that inspired the Islamic civilization. Muslim scholars must speak clearly and forcefully against the teachings and practices that are abusive to human dignity. Sunni Muslim scholars, especially, must speak against the genocidal practices that have taken many lives and endangered the wellbeing of millions more, in their name.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Genealogy, Ideology, and Future of ISIL and its Derivatives

    November 16, 2015   No comments

Abstract: The organization known today simply as the “Islamic State,” or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh (English, ISIL), has historical and ideological roots that go beyond the territories it now controls. These deep roots give Daesh confidence that it will succeed in dominating the world, but give others reasons to believe that it will fail in controlling even a single nation. Mixing puritan religious and political discourses, ISIL managed to dominate all other armed opposition groups in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya) and has inspired individuals in many other countries (Egypt, Pakistan, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia) to carry out brutal attacks in its name.

Dogmatic Origins: Traditionism

In Islamic societies throughout history, Islam has been defined by one fundamental question: are religious foundational principles, as expressed in the Qur’an, created or eternal? For more than two centuries, Muslim religious scholars’ opinion, which informed political authorities, held that religious principles were created. Individuals seeking government jobs were required to answer a simple yes/no question: is the Qur’an created? The correct answer during the first two centuries was yes. This era, on balance, could be called the Age of Reason I, during which a school of thought led by a group of thinkers known as al-Mu`tazilah—generally categorized as Reasonists (Ahl al-ra’y)—dominated public life. 

With time, this elite theological and legal position, which was backed by the office of the caliph, grew stronger and became a tool for suppressing dissent. Resistance was inevitable. Some religious scholars refused to go along and produce the expected answer, choosing instead to say, “it was God’s words.” These figures were known as Traditionists (Ahl al-hadith), as opposed to Reasonists. While Reasonists held that reason and circumstance must play a role in interpreting and applying religious principles and imperatives, Traditionists believed that tradition cannot be superseded by reason or circumstance.

There are many other points of contention that divided Muslim communities during the formative period (first three centuries) of Islam along at least three sects (Ibadism, Sunnism, and Shi`ism) and eight legal denominations (Malikism, Ja`farism, Hanafism, Hanbalism, Shafi`ism, Zaydism, Isma`ilism, and Ibadism). However, the point of contention that truly explains current crises in Islamic societies is whether religious principles are tools to promote social justice and address social problems, or whether they are sacred principles that must be applied regardless of their effect on humans. Division over the primacy of religious principles cuts across sectarian and legal currents, most pronouncedly among the so-called Sunni communities.

Traditionism in the context of Islamic societies is best expressed in Hanbalism, founded by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in the first half of the third Islamic Century. Traditionism, called Salafism by its adherents, holds that the purity and authenticity of Islam is ascertained through an organic chain of authorities and institutions that connect today’s Muslim community to the original teachings and practices of Islam through the opinions and practices of the ancestors (salaf). The Salaf, thus understood, consists of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sahabah), the Followers of (or those who came after) the Companions (Tabi`in), the Followers of the Followers (Tabi`i al-tabi`in), and the masters of the schools of jurisprudence (Ayimmah, Mujtahidun). Although, in principle, Salafists contend that opinions of any of masters of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Malikism, Hanafism, Hanbalism, Shafi`ism) are equally authoritative, in reality, Salafist scholars privilege Hanbalism over all other schools of thought. To some extent, according to Salafism, the authentic sayings and practices of ancestors are as authoritative as the texts of the Qur’an itself. A true Salafist cannot rely on reason to override the opinion and practice of a Companion of the Prophet or a Follower of a Companion of the Prophet.

Ultimately, Salafism is a specific stream of Traditionist interpretation of Islam that relies on a selective chain of scholars that inform the broader base of adherents. The chain of Salafi scholars is not continuous. It is bridged by textual traditions that inform modern figures about opinions of their predecessors who might have lived a century or two apart. For example, modern Salafi figures like Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Umar Mahmoud Uthman (Abu Qutada al-Filistini), Isam al-Barqawi (Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi), Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi, Abdullah al-Muhaisini, Mustafa al-Jakiri al-Rifa`i (Abu Mus`ab al-Suri), Ibrahim Awwad al-Samura’i (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), cite works of individuals whom they never met like Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. In the end, modern Salafism is ancient Traditionism reconstructed from text-based historical events and sayings.

Today, the struggle that is fueling civil wars and sectarian tension is about the function and status of shari`a, one of the generic terms that refers to religious legal principles and imperatives, which are believed to be derived from the primary sources of Islamic traditions and practices. As it has been the case throughout the history of Islamic societies, what distinguishes Reasonist Muslims from Salafists is the answer to one general question: Is the shari`a a tool for realizing social justice on earth or are humans mere agents that must be sacrificed to impose the shari`a?

Political Origins: Umayyad Caliphate System

Salafism is about religious tradition and the preservation of that tradition in its literalist form. According to Salafi dogma, any deviation from established understanding of religious norms and practices is an innovation, and any innovation is strictly prohibited. The preservation of established tradition goes beyond religious texts. It is also about accepting the political order as is. For Traditionists, the caliphs were guardians of religious traditions. To raise doubt about any given caliph’s ethical and legal standing would amount to raising doubt about the authenticity and transcendence of religious truths. Therefore, Salafism does not dwell on the causes of the civil wars during the reign of the third and fourth caliphs, does not dwell on the transgressions and crimes of the Umayyads, and does not challenge the reign of the Saud clan over Arabia as long as the Saudi rulers act as protectors of pure Sunni Islam and guardians of holy places.

It is worth noting that Traditionism was most successful when it was allied with political rulers. Traditionists were strong when al-Mutawakkil adopted their teachings as Sunni orthodoxy. Salafists are strong now because of their alliance with the wealthy rulers of Saudi Arabia. State-enabled theology was their best path to project influence. Their disdain for reason limited their ability to influence public opinion through the deliberative processes, and because of that they have preferred a top-down process of imposing what they see as religious principles.

The most advantageous path to power and influence for Salafism is through the brute force of the sword or gun and strong alliances with powerful governments. By declaring the re-establishment of the caliphate, ISIL essentially declared Salafi independence from the Saudi patronage that sustained Salafism for nearly a century. Salafism is now enabled by the “Islamic State,” formerly known as the ISIL, which was formerly a branch of al-Qaeda.

ISIL’s Connections: U.S.-Saudi-Wahhabi Tripartite

In modern times, and in order to keep Salafists in check, the sponsors of the Traditionist creed created two streams of Salafism, each built on a distinct strategy: 

1. Religious purity/authenticity is ascertained through separation of religion from politics. This path created a form of secularism that recognized two parallel authorities—one religious and one political. These Traditionists formed al-Da`wa wa-‘l-tabligh, who went on proselytizing without engaging political issues. In return they were allowed to preach publicly and enjoy some governmental and private support. These groups, generally, belonged to what became known as Learned Traditionism (al-Salafiyya al-`ilmiyya). 

2. To meet some international challenges and to help project influence globally, the sponsors and sustainers of Traditionists also encouraged some Salafists to combat ungodly ideologies, like communism and atheism. They were taught that stopping the spread of communism and atheism, ideologies strictly prohibited in Islam because they deny the existence of God—according to Saudi religious scholars, was a religious obligation. These adherents subscribed to Combatant Traditionism (al-Salafiyya al-jihadiyyah). 

Eventually, the two groups complemented one another. Learned Traditionists provided religious context for ideological wars. They helped produced the body of literature, institutions, and networks that sustained Traditionism in general. When necessary, these ideologically trained adherents joined Militant Traditionists in defense of the community (ummah) from ungodly ideologies such as communism in Afghanistan—justifying the war against the Soviet Union, and secularism (`ilmaniyyah) in Algeria, Tunisia, and almost all other Muslim majority countries. They worked to impose religious order on corrupted Muslim societies from Morocco to Malaysia.

What we ought to remember, however, is that the US-Saudi alliance that empowered Militant Traditionists in Afghanistan produced Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The invasion of Iraq and the US-Saudi alliance against Assad in Syria produced ISIL. These are not abstract speculations. Even the architects of the Iraq war admit as much.  Tony Blair, Bush’s ally and strong supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq recently declared:

Of course you can't say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation [in Iraq] in 2015... There are elements of truth in the fact that the invasion is responsible for the rise of ISIS. –Tony Blair, CNN, October 25, 2015). 

The Future of ISIL and its Derivatives:

ISIL is the expression of a Traditionist position that is present in all Semitic traditions, if not all religions. As the data shows, Traditionists who do not believe in broad, free public participation in defining and applying religious traditions are strongest when enabled by the state or when relying on brute force to impose their will from the top down. This model cannot survive the test of time.

ISIL’s teachings and practices might be enough to sustain a culture. But it is not capable of sustaining a worldview or civilization. Combatant Traditionism in Islamic societies is a backward-looking ideology with no place for diversity, plurality, reason, art, or any other human invention that has no roots in the formative period of Islam. An ideology that aspires to establishing a monolithic community is in conflict with its own sources of authority and with human nature. Even the literal interpretation of some Islamic texts suggest that God does not wish to coarse all humans into accepting one faith: “Had your Lord wished it, He could have made all of the earth’s inhabitants, all of them, believers. Is it up to you, then, to force people to believe?” [Qur’an: Yunis, 99]; see also [Qur’an: Hud, 118-9]. 

To aim for an earth inhabited by people who follow a single creed and live by one law is to be delusional in aspiration and genocidal in practice. Neither religious tradition nor historical records support the Traditionists’ position and aims. 

The world in which we live has always been full of people with diverse ideas, diverse racial backgrounds, and diverse social orders. Throughout the history of Islamic societies, there has never been a caliphate that imposed one law and one orthodoxy and lasted beyond the reign of one caliph or one dynasty. Even the most idealized caliphal period, known as the Righteously Guided Caliphate, was full of dissent, tension, rebellion, revolution, and bloodshed.

During the righteously guided caliphate, the most prominent leaders of that era held that the principles derived from religious texts were intended to establish social justice, not to be blindly imposed. In other words, they understood that the shari`a is supposed to be in service of human beings, not that human beings can be sacrificed to impose the shari`a. The second caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, nicknamed al-Faruq for his commitment to fairness, invented an inheritance law principle that contradicted the explicit Qur’anic dictates. The principle of proportional distribution of legacy, `awl, diminished all the Qur’anic share otherwise due to Qur’anic heirs to accommodate grandparents in the presence of first and second generation heirs. Moreover, Umar reportedly suspended hudud rules during harsh economic times. 

Today, the conflict between theory and practice is evident even in Traditionism formulated and implemented by the same generation of adherents. In theory, Salafism united scholars and adherents from all over the world. Salafist ideologues prophesized that once a pure “Islamic state” is established, it will self-sustain (Baqiyah) and it will self-perpetuate (Mutamaddidah) until the end of time. Such self-assuredness enticed Traditionists from all over the world to make the journey to the lands under the control of ISIL in Syria and Iraq. However, months later, that influx of supporters decreased, the number of Syrian and Iraqi citizens who lived in or near the towns and cities under ISIL’s control left it all behind and sought refuge in European countries, far away from ISIL’s control and influence, prompting the latter to issue a religious edict prohibiting relocation to the land of unbelievers (Kuffar).

In 2014, ISIL and other Salafi affiliated armed groups in Syria went to war against one another prompting Salafi religious figures to call for a truce. A document entitled, Mubadarat al-ummah, drafter and signed by a number of Salafi figures instructed all parties to stop the infighting and put the matter in the hands of a shari`a court. When ISIL rejected the plan, even the most committed authorities of Combatant Traditionism issued opinions invalidating the procedure and substance of ISIL’s project to re-establish the Islamic caliphate. 

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the most militant Salafi combatant and successor of Usama Bin Laden rebuked ISIL’s leaders and declared their state null and void. The Jordanian Salafist, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (Isam al-Barqawi), who spent many years in prison for his support of Combatant Traditionism, also rebuked ISIL leaders and their state, arguing that they have poor understanding of Islamic tradition and he argued that “ISIL does not have a single scholar who trusted and supported them.” Many other Salafist scholars who previously supported al-Qaeda and its derivatives rejected ISIL’s caliphate, including, Abu Qatada al Filistini, Sami al-Uraydi, Sadiq al-Hashimi, Muslih al-Alyani, Abu Sulayman al-Ustrali, Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi, al-Mu`tasim Billah al-Madani, and Abdullah al-Muhaysini.

The Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi establishment’s authority of Salafism, also determined that ISIL, like al-Qaeda, is a deviant trend (fi’ah baghiyah) and that it must be fought and defeated. Many other scholars of Salafism held similar opinions on ISIL’s ideology and practices. If ISIL cannot enjoy any degree of consensus about its interpretation of Islam and its political theory, how could it secure the support and consent of other Sunni Muslims, especially those who are Reasonists, let alone adherents to other sects, religions, and seculars?

Another problem with the ideology espoused by ISIL and its derivatives is that it is an elitist, top-down vision of Islam because it is derived from textual evidence. Writing is not an activity that preserves the values and practices of ordinary people or the consensus of the community. Writing has been, for most of history, a mode of communication dominated by the elite, the wealthy, and the powerful. Writing and publishing is an expensive and complex mode of producing narratives and recording historical events. Historical written texts are not inclusive or diverse. To reconstruct Islam through the interpretation of a select group of ancient texts is to presume that those texts represented a broad consensus or authoritative preservation of Islam. They do not. Islam was once said to be the religion of an illiterate for the illiterate. Then it was co-opted by the elite aristocrats, like the Umayyads, in the second half of 7thcentury, and the Saud Clan, in the 20th century.

Salafism exists today because it aligned itself, directly and indirectly, with two of the most powerful political orders in the world: a regional power, Saudi Arabia, and a global power, the United States. Salafism’s reach and influence are deep because they are enabled by state agencies and the generosity of wealthy individuals from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. 

Today, the Saudi rulers’ belligerent arrogance is stunning. While their air force bombarded the impoverished Yemeni people for months killing scores of civilians and destroying schools and hospitals, they continue to argue their bizarre logic of equating the brutality of Assad’s government to the horror Daesh and its derivatives inflict on civilians around the world.

The Arab Spring put in motion a movement whose effects cannot be fully contained, reversed, or redirected. The Arab countries must adapt to a new reality where the people no longer fear the rulers. This problem is more complex for the rulers of Saudi Arabia. For nearly a century, they presided over a society with no civil institutions like opposition political parties, a free press, or non-governmental organizations—a society dominated by the corrupt clan government or by exclusionary Salafi religious institutions. Should the Saudi government fall, the only group that would be prepared to take power is the Salafist, a religious order that aspire to dominate all others who do not share its views and beliefs. 

The Saudi rulers’ refusal to eradicate Combatant Traditionism is, in many ways, another form of preserving and prolonging their own hold on power. The existence of Combatant Traditionism makes the Saudi regime appear “moderate,” the same way the rise of Daesh made other al-Qaeda derivatives, like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, seem “moderate.” However, Muslims, and the world community at large, must realize that they do not have to choose between Combatant Traditionism and the Saudi regime. Given the evident historical and ideological connections between the Saud clan and Combatant Traditionism, confronting both, the Saudi regime and Combatant Traditionism, at the same time, might be the only path to ending this petrodollar-empowered genocidal alliance.

The Saudi rulers could save themselves and their country from total destruction. They could stop blaming their neighbors, abandon their sectarian rhetoric, and allow scholars from other Sunni schools of thought to engage Salafism, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly over educational and religious institutions since the Kingdom was founded.

The rise of Combatant Traditionism might also be an opportunity for Muslim thinkers, scholars, and educators to revive Reasonism, the discourse that guided the development of Islamic thought and practices during the formative period (first two centuries of Islam). While Combatant Traditionism is attempting to transcend geographical border to impose a particular narrow understanding of Islam with blind zeal, those who believe in the universality of human dignity need to articulate their commitment to social justice in a way that transcends sectarian, ethnic, religious, national, and ideological fault lines. The Saudi rulers’ sponsored culture puts religious dogma above human dignity. Confronting that culture will launch a social justice driven movement within Islamic societies and lay a strong foundation for dignity-centered movement that transcends all other boundaries.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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