Tribal roots, obscurantist ideology The Aal Sauds from Dar’iyyah, a backward tribal outpost north of Riyadh, were one of many clans that dotted the desert landscape.
Despite the immense damage inflicted on Islam and its historic sites by the House of Saud, most Muslims remain blissfully oblivious of their true nature and the toxic ideology they preach. Part of the reason may be found in the Muslims’ innocent belief that the sanctity of the Haramayn — the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah — is somehow linked with the ruling family in the Arabian Peninsula. Some Muslims may even be impressed by the massive construction work underway around al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah and Masjid
al-Nabi in Madinah, although this is a recent phenomenon. Saudi propagandists eagerly promote the shiny new glass and concrete towers turning Makkah and Madinah into replicas of Las Vegas and New York as “signs of progress”. What is less well understood is the cost of such projects, not in dollars but in the permanent loss of the historic sites of Islam through their wholesale destruction. In a few decades, virtually nothing would be left of the history of Islam, its historic sites or the Haramayn’s link with the struggle of the noble Messenger (pbuh) to establish the din of Allah (swt) on earth.
How did the Saudi clan that originated in the remote corner of Nejd, Central Arabia — not the Hijaz where the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are located — take control of the Haramayn as well as the Arabian Peninsula? This is a sordid tale of intrigue, guile and indescribable cruelty perpetrated by the beduin hordes from Nejd in the name of “purifying” Islam. In their quest, they also found support from the British, starting in the early part of the last century.
The Aal Sauds from Dar’iyyah, a backward tribal outpost north of Riyadh, were one of many clans that dotted the desert landscape. Like most clans and tribes at the time, they lived by attacking and robbing other tribes as well as pilgrims’ caravans (the Saudis have developed more sophisticated forms of robbing pilgrims today but the practice nevertheless continues). Killing people and grabbing their women was common practice among the beduins. The Aal Sauds were one of many primitive tribes, which also included Banu Rashid, Banu Hashim and Banu Khalid, among others. They all vied for domination and control. In 1744, however, there occurred one of those freak developments that had a profound impact not only on the Arabian Peninsula but the entire Muslim world. Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792ce), a self-proclaimed preacher and qadi, moved to Dar’iyyah and struck an alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud, head of the Saudi clan. This proved a potent combination.
It is important to understand what Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab preached. He latched onto the idea of promoting tawhid — the Oneness of Allah (swt). Every Muslim believes in tawhid; this is the fundamental pillar of iman (faith-commitment). What he did was to denounce every practice that he did not agree with as shirk (the assignment of rival or competitive authorities in place of Allah – Â). He drew up a list of acts that if indulged in would make a Muslim a kafir or mushrik (for an example of this, one can see: Bayan al-najah wa-al-fakak min muwalat al-murtaddin wa-ahl al-shirk: al-Risalah al-Thaniya ‘Asharah, collected by Hamad ibn ‘Atiq al-Najdi in Majmu‘at al-Tawhid by Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab). Thus, Muslims that visited cemeteries to pray for the deceased, were denounced as committing shirk, hence legitimate targets for killing. Similarly, Muslims that showed respect for the great scholars of Islam or for spirituality were denounced as mushriks. Again, they were considered legitimate targets for killing. That the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to visit the Baqi‘ Cemetery in Madinah to pray for the deceased was and continues to be dismissed by these obscurantist zealots as irrelevant. For them, the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet – r), the Tabi‘in (that followed the Sahabah), their subsequent generations and Muslim scholars for more than 1,100 years since the time of the noble Messenger (pbuh) had not understood Islam correctly. It was only Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab who had finally discovered true Islam. The Wahhabi ideology, therefore, was the only pure and correct ideology.
While this peculiar ideology is commonly referred to as Wahhabism, it is an unfortunate label. His father, ‘Abdul Wahhab and brother Sulayman ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab were good Muslims. Neither approved of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab’s rantings and narrow interpretations of Islam. Suleyman in particular refuted his brother’s extreme views in a treatise, al-Sawa‘iq al-Ilahiyyah. Chiding the Wahhabis for their illogical stance, Sulayman writes (p. 54), “Wa taj‘alun mizan kufr an-nass mukhtalafatakum wa mizan al-Islam muwaffaqatakum: You assess or measure people’s faith by the degree of their agreement with you and their rejection of faith by the level of their disagreement with you.” It is interesting to note that Sulayman’s book is not available in most major Muslim cities in the world today. The Saudis have used their considerable wealth and influence — and continue to do so — to ensure such copies disappear as soon as they appear in any market. In contrast, books promoting the Saudis’ narrow interpretation of Islam are widely available and freely distributed by their paid agents and preachers.
Like most beduins at the time, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab also wandered into the desert. But unlike others, he did not go merely in search of food or water; he went, allegedly to seek knowledge. Wandering eastward, he went to the Persian Gulf, a more cosmopolitan region because of its contacts with the outside world, unlike his native Najd. For a while, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab dabbled in Sufism but ultimately he adopted the more harsh interpretations of a narrow ideology that came to be associated with him. It is commonly, but again mistakenly, assumed that his views were influenced by the 14th-century Islamic scholar, Imam Ibn Taimiyyah. The Wahhabis use those rulings of Ibn Taimiyyah that fit their narrow thinking but reject others. They use Ibn Taimiyyah’s name to gain legitimacy for their extremist views. Further, while they denounce taqlid (following some scholar’s opinion in matters of religion), they insist all Muslims must follow their extremist interpretations otherwise they are kafirs and, therefore, must be killed.
Most scholars in Riyadh and the larger Najd region rejected his views denouncing them as a heretic and outside the fold of Islam. Denounced by the ‘alims of Riyadh, ‘Abdul Wahhab was forced to move to Dar’iyyah where he found a receptive ear in Muhammad ibn Saud. They struck an alliance that proved lethal for the Ummah.
In his quest for power and domination over rival clans and tribes, Muhammad ibn Saud needed a religious crutch, while the preacher needed an audience and swords to impose his narrow views. The Saudi hordes, now charged with an extremist ideology, erupted from Dar’iyyah in 1745 and quickly subdued Riyadh. Islamic scholars in Riyadh and elsewhere that had opposed ‘Abdul Wahhab were summarily executed. Their primitive savagery and barbarism quickly brought the whole of Najd under control. Flushed with such victories, the Saudi-Wahhabi hordes now spread both west toward the Hijaz and east toward Karbala, Kufa and Baghdad. Muhammad ibn Saud died in 1762 and was succeeded by his son ‘Abd al-Rahman but the preacher, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab lived for another 30 years. Thousands of Shi‘is were butchered in Karbala and Kufa in 1803 and 1804. They also destroyed the mosque where Imam Husain is buried. The Saudi-Wahhabi zealots also murdered hundreds of Islamic scholars in Baghdad accusing them of spreading a distorted message of Islam because it did not conform to their extremist views. Even the children of these scholars were not spared because they would grow up to become “heretics” like their parents!
Similar pogroms were perpetrated in Makkah and Madinah. For the Saudi-Wahhabi zealots, any Muslim not subscribing to their narrow views was a “heretic” and his killing was, therefore, not only justified but mandatory. In 1802, they invaded Ta’if, a town 40km southeast of Makkah. When the people resisted, the marauders murdered every male inhabitant they could grab. When news of the Ta’if massacre reached Makkah and Madinah, the people opened their gates for the savages, hoping this would spare them the fate that befell the residents of Ta’if. The barbarians from Najd were not impressed by such gestures. After satiating their blood lust against the “kafirs” of Makkah and Madinah, they turned their attention to religious shrines and places of historical significance. The Baqi‘ Cemetery was a particular target of their wrath. As rulers of the Muslim world, the Ottoman Turks were responsible for the preservation and maintenance of these historical monuments. They had built domes over the graves of the Prophet’s (pbuh) companions and members of his family, including ummahat al-muminin (mothers of the believers) for easy identification. The Saudi-Wahhabi hordes smashed all these and vandalized the Baqi‘ Cemetery under the spurious pretext that these would lead to shirk. For more than 1,100 years this had not happened. All of a sudden Muslims were in danger of becoming mushriks by visiting the Baqi‘ Cemetery or the graves of the shahids of Uhud.
When news of the massacres at Ta’if, Makkah and Madinah and the Saudi-Wahhabis’ vandalism and desecration of Islamic sites reached Sultan Mehmud II in Istanbul, he was furious. He immediately ordered Muhammad ‘Ali, his viceroy in Egypt, to deal with the marauders and punish them for killing Muslims and desecrating Islamic sites. Thereafter, Makkah and Madinah were liberated from their clutches in 1813 but Dar’iyyah proved more difficult. It took another six years before Muhammad ‘Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, was able to defeat and drive the Saudi-Wahhabi hordes out. As punishment for their crimes, Dar’iyyah was razed to the ground; but unfortunately for later generations, Ibrahim Pasha did not pursue them further assuming that this was sufficient punishment for their crime. ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Saud took his demoralized followers down the Wadi Hanifah to Riyadh. Having defeated and driven out other clans from the area during their first eruption from Dar’iyyah, it was not difficult to re-establish control in Riyadh. But the Aal Sauds were vanquished when Banu Rashid, who had been driven out of Dar’iyyah, returned to exact revenge, expelling them in 1891. Banu Rashid extended its authority over much of Najd by making alliances with other clans and tribes.
‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Saud fled eastward and sought refuge with Mubarak al-Sabah in what is present-day Kuwait. While he sulked in his tent over the loss of Riyadh, one of his teenage sons, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, better known as Abdul Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman Aal Saud (founder of the Saudi Kingdom), excelled in raiding pilgrims’ caravans. He soon gained notoriety for ruthlessness and guile. In January 1902, Abdul Aziz launched a pre-dawn raid on Banu Rashid’s Mismak fortress in Riyadh. The governor of Riyadh, Shaikh Ajlan was killed and the garrison surrendered after a brief fight. Other skirmishes followed in which Abdul Aziz survived either through good fortune, as at al-Dilam (1903), or by bribing other tribes to betray Banu Rashid. In 1905, Abdul Aziz even pledged allegiance to Sultan Mehmud II in Istanbul but did everything in his power to undermine the sultan’s authority. In April 1906, the Aal Sauds and Banu Rashid clashed at Rawdah al-Muhannah. The Banu Rashid chief, also named ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, was killed. This was a loss not only for Banu Rashid but also a setback for the Ottomans who had backed the Banu Rashid.
Abdul Aziz Aal Saud understood another fact of life in the constantly shifting loyalties of the desert: since most clans and/or tribes were virtually equal in power, the only way to beat them was through external help. While the Ottoman Turks had exercised control over the area through their governors, their power was in decline as British colonialists marched in. Abdul Aziz was well aware of this as the British had already installed the Sabah family in Kuwait. They might do the same for him if he offered his services against the Ottomans. Britain, however, was more interested in the Hijaz at the time. Unlike the Persian Gulf, Britain’s interest in the Hijaz was not merely commercial. True, the Red Sea port of Jeddah is important but its real significance was political because of the Haramayn (Makkah and Madinah). It had to be wrested from Ottoman control.
A British military officer, Captain R.F. Burton (later Sir Richard Burton) had already expressed such views in the early 1850s following his visits to Makkah and Madinah under the guise of having converted to Islam. In 1881, the British Consul General in Jeddah, Zohrab, spelled out in even more clear terms the significance of the Hijaz and Hajj. He wrote to London, “[Certain persons] I am persuaded, proceed on the Hajj for political reasons (emphasis added). Mecca being free of European intrusion is safe ground on which meetings can be held, ideas exchanged… Up to the present time we have kept no watch on those who come and go… thus meetings may be convened at Mecca at which combinations hostile to us may form without our knowing anything till the shell bursts in our midst…”
The Hijaz had become a velayat (province) of the Ottoman State in 1840 and appointment of the sharif (governor-administrator) of Makkah had devolved to the Sultan in Istanbul. By the beginning of the 20th century, Britain had started to cultivate its own independent links with the sharif in an attempt to undermine Turkish authority.
Aware of such British plans, the Turks published a commentary in the Makkan paper, Hijaz, pointing to this plot calling it most “devilish” (Hijaz, No.1896, Safar 25, 1433ah (1914ce), p.1). The British plan proceeded apace with a number of its agents — T.E. Lawrence, Captain Shakespear, Sir Henry McMahon, Sir Percy Cox, et al — bribing Arabian chiefs with money and promises to make them rulers of the Arabian Peninsula if they would help Britain defeat the Ottomans. They found willing accomplices in Sharif Husayn ibn ‘Ali (of the Hashemite clan), Abdul Aziz Aal Saud and others. All of them were put on the British payroll and paid 20,000£ annually plus guns to attack Turkish troops in the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, the British pledged to create a homeland for the Jews in Palestine under the now infamous Balfour Declaration of November 1917.
The British had no intention of honoring their pledges to these naive Arabian chiefs. This was exposed following the overthrow of the Czar in Russia. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks stumbled upon the Sykes-Picot Agreement under which the British and French had agreed to divide the Middle East into their respective spheres of influence. Civil servants Mark Sykes of Britain and George Picot of France had secretly agreed in February 1916 on the division of the Middle East, completely ignoring promises made to the various tribal chiefs.
Following Turkey’s defeat in the First World War (their army had already been infiltrated by British agents and many Turkish officers had become freemasons), the British reneged on their pledges to the Arabian chiefs. Husayn ibn ‘Ali was furious at this betrayal; he had dreamed of becoming king of the entire Arabian Peninsula. In order to placate him, the British placed one of his sons, ‘Abdullah, as amir of Transjordan (breaking it from Palestine) and the other son, Faysal, as king of Syria from where he was soon driven out. The British then installed Faysal as king of Iraq (the monarchy in Iraq finally ended with the military coup of 1958 that killed the Hashemite ruler).
Abdul Aziz meanwhile worked hard to consolidate his home base. It appears, until then his interest was confined to his native Najd. Besides, the Hijaz already had an Ottoman-appointed governor who also enjoyed British support. Using his legendary guile, Abdul Aziz started to cultivate the Wahhabis (now called Ikhwan) who were based around al-Artawiyah. He encouraged them to settle near Riyadh, especially Ghot Ghot. He brought Wahhabi tribes like the ‘Utaybah, Mutayr and Ajman to settle there. He promised to implement the Shari‘ah (according to their narrow understanding) once they helped him establish the Islamic State in Najd. Abdul Aziz also continued his links with the British. Had the Wahhabi Ikhwan known of this, they would certainly have declared him a kafir and killed him. It was too late when they found out. From 1928–1931 they rose in revolt against Abdul Aziz but British planes, guns, money and military advice helped crush the Ikhwan revolt. The very people that had helped Abdul Aziz and his family in their early conquests and later helped him consolidate his hold over Najd were now betrayed and murdered by him with the help of the British kafirs!
In Turkey meanwhile Mustafa Kemal, a freemason, had come to power. He first abolished the sultanate in November 1922 and then on March 3, 1924, announced abolition of the khilafah as well, forcing Abdulmecid II (‘Abd al-Majid), the last nominal khalifah of the Muslims, into exile. This severed the last link, however tenuous, with the first Islamic State established by none other than the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in Madinah nearly 1,300 years earlier. Husayn ibn ‘Ali, then living in Transjordan, immediately pounced on this and declared himself khalifah hoping this would garner the support of the Muslims as well as force the hand of the British to accept him as ruler of all the Arabs. The Muslims of India had led a Khilafat Movement in hopes of preserving this institution during the period 1922–1924. But Husayn ibn ‘Ali’s declaration did not go down well with the Muslims; he was known as a British agent who led the Arab Revolt that had helped defeat the Ottomans. This in turn paved the way for the destruction of the khilafah altogether.
Abdul Aziz, ever the canny operator, realized that this was his opportunity to make a move. As an obscure figure, at least in view of the larger Muslim world, his links with the British were not widely known. He thought he could move against the Sharif of Makkah and that the Muslims would support him. This also suited the British since Husayn ibn ‘Ali had become troublesome especially after the British refused to make him ruler of all the Arabs. Britain agreed to Abdul Aziz’s attack on Makkah. The Saudi-Wahhabi hordes’ assault on Makkah was preceded by two other events: the massacre of 5,000 pilgrims from Yemen in July 1923 and the Saudis’ assault on Ta’if in September 1924. The Saudis slaughtered between 600 and 900 residents of Ta’if, including many that had sought refuge in masjids. Even the sanctity of masjids did not prevent their being attacked and killed. The Saudi hordes first slit people’s throats inside the masjids and then set fire to the buildings, all in the name of “purifying” Islam.
When the Saudis stormed Makkah, the terrified people fled to Jeddah and barricaded themselves inside their homes, news of the Ta’if massacre having reached them before the Saudi-Wahhabi hordes arrived. This was almost a repeat of the slaughter the Saudis had perpetrated in 1802. Husayn ibn ‘Ali had also fled Makkah for Jeddah before the Saudi marauders entered the city. Without British help, he could not resist the Saudi onslaught. The British put him on an old steamer into exile in Cyprus.
The Saudi hordes led by Abdul Aziz indulged in their customary brutality and destruction of the holy places. Many entered the sacred sanctuary of al-Masjid al-Haram wearing ihram while simultaneously armed with British-supplied guns. The Saudi-Wahhabis’ rallying cry had always been to “purify” Islam but they violated every tenet of Islam: sanctity of the Haram, no weapons, altercation or bloodshed in Makkah, and safety of the pilgrims. Even the mushriks at the time of the noble Messenger (pbuh), the mortal enemies of Islam, had more respect for these tenets but the Saudis that claim to be Muslims, openly flouted them.
When Makkah fell to his hordes, Abdul Aziz issued a disclaimer eschewing any claims to the throne of the Hijaz or the khilafah. He insisted he was content with his possessions in Najd but wanted to “rid the Hijaz and my people of the cruelty of the Sharif.” This was a lie. While the Sharif, Husayn ibn ‘Ali, may have been cruel, he could not match the cruelty and murderous zeal of the Saudi-Wahhabi hordes. Besides, Abdul Aziz was already planning to attack Madinah and captured it on December 5, 1925.
Within a few weeks (January 1926), while accompanied by the imam of al-Masjid al-Haram, Abdul Aziz declared himself “king of the Hijaz”. Even then he continued to indulge in duplicity and lies. Allah (swt) has condemned liars in the strongest terms in the noble Qur’an, “The curse of Allah is upon those that lie” (3:61). He said he was forced to declare himself king because of the “indifference of foreign Muslims” despite his repeated requests for advice about the management of holy places. Besides, the merchants and notables of Jeddah had asked him to become the king! Those leading the charge of “purifying” Islam have never seen fit to explain whether kingship is permitted in Islam. The Saudis and their court ‘alims that have opened a bid‘ah factory denouncing everything not to their liking are guilty of a mega-bid‘ah but their paid agents never broach this subject.
Until the Second World War, Abdul Aziz remained a British agent. With the emergence of America as a global power, Abdul Aziz quickly moved to become Uncle Sam’s loyal servant, a relationship that has continued to this day. For keeping the House of Saud in power, the Americans are given whatever they wish: oil, military bases and trillions of dollars in cash. The House of Saud has also cultivated close links with the ruling oligarchy in America, especially the House of Bush, and other families.
Abdul Aziz had also acquired multiple wives from whom he sired many children. Today the House of Saud has expanded to some 40,000 princes. Barring a few, the vast majority display the worst kind of behavior. They indulge in virtually every vice forbidden in Islam: drinking, adultery, gambling, stealing the country’s oil wealth and being subservient to the enemies of Islam. They conform to everyone and everything, except Allah (swt), nastaghfir-allah. Officially, the Qur’an has been declared the country’s constitution but the system of government is hereditry. When one king dies, he is succeeded by the next brother in line. One is forced to ask: if the Qur’an is the kingdom’s constitution, what Qur’anic ayah permits such succession, or the device of kingship as a legitimate method of representation in Islam? Did the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) or his successors, al-Khilafah al-Rashidah, declare themselves kings? If not, on what basis do the Saudis impose the system of kingship?
Theoretically, the kingdom is governed by Shari‘ah (Islamic Law) but it does not apply inside the walls of the numerous palaces where every vice takes place. Under the guise of applying the Shari‘ah, the Saudis have perpetrated the worst kind of zulm imaginable on ordinary people, especially poor workers and laborers from places like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Public beheadings are a frequent occurrence in Riyadh. In order to increase their terror potential, they are carried out after Jumu‘ah Salah. Offenders are often poor workers found guilty of importing a few grams of heroin. The “royals” steal billions of dollars and smuggle them out of the country, smuggle alcohol into the country, manage the drug trade from the crime syndicate on the eastern part of the country, and traffic poor women from all over the world for their carnal pleasures, but the law has never touched them. If the Shari‘ah were applied equitably, there would not be a single Saudi prince with a safe pair of hands. And if punishment for adultery were fairly and judicially instituted, there would not be enough stones in the kingdom to administer proper justice to the hordes of Saudi royals.
The Saudis have spent at least $87 billion propagating Wahhabism abroad during the past two decades, and the scale of financing is believed to have increased in the past two years. The bulk of this funding goes towards the construction and operating expenses of masjids, madrasas, and other religious institutions that preach Wahhabism. It also supports imam training; mass media and publishing outlets; distribution of textbooks and other literature; and endowments to universities (in exchange for influence over the appointment of Islamic scholars). Some of the millions of non-Saudis who live in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf have been influenced by Wahhabism and preach Wahhabism in their home country upon their return. Agencies controlled by the Kingdom's Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Da'wah and Guidance are responsible for outreach to non-Muslim residents.
Even for Muslims in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi ideology denies them basic rights. Conceived in 1744 by Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab, the lay preacher, it employed violent enforcers called mutawwi‘ or mutawwi‘un to ensure obedience. Nowadays the mutawwi‘un (religious policemen) allegedly enforce the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice. The mutawwi‘un are ruthless. On one occasion, they caused 15 schoolgirls to die on 3-11-2002 when a fire broke out in a school dormitory. Several girls tried to escape the burning building, but were met by members of the mutawwi‘un, who found the girls not dressed in appropriate attire. They beat the girls to send them back into the flames. The mutawwi‘un also prevented approaching firemen from putting out the fire.
The mutawwi‘un’s powers were slightly reduced in May 2006, but their repression continues. On 6-6-2006 a 70-year old Saudi woman was placed in jail because she went into a shop where only a male shopkeeper was present. The elderly and disabled woman was arrested by the mutawwi‘un because she had been “in close proximity to a man” (khalwah).
The mutawwi‘un are involved in destroying national monuments which had survived since the time of the Prophet (pbuh), lest they become places of pilgrimage. In 1998, the grave of Aminah bint Wahb, the Prophet’s (pbuh) mother, was destroyed. The house of Khadijah, the Prophet’s (pbuh) first wife, has been replaced with lavatories. Only 20 structures from the time of Islam’s Prophet (pbuh) now remain.
Muslims must seriously consider whether the Haramayn can be left in the hands of people with such low character. Are the Haramayn the common heritage of the Ummah or the private property of the Saudi hordes who are guilty of egregious crimes against Islam and the Muslims? We must seriously reflect on why our supplications are not answered by Allah (swt). The Ummah is suffering so much because we have allowed such people to take control of the most sacred places of Islam.
Unless the Haramayn — Makkah and Madinah — are liberated from the clutches of these recalcitrant thieves, adulterers, and despots, Allah’s (swt) mercy will not manifest itself in our lives. We need to look deeply into ourselves for some serious reflection.