There was a time, not long ago, when Aal-e Saud were at the forefront of the West’s drive to subvert Islam and the Muslim Ummah. During the 1970s, the Saudi monarchs distributed petro-dollars to mosques and Islamic centres all over the world, usually through international front-organizations, and hosted lavish conferences to discuss the future of Islamic civilization. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1978-79), and during the resulting surge in Islamic movements around the world, Saudi largesse promoted sectarian attacks on Shi’i Islam and persuaded many Muslim movements and intellectuals not to support the Islamic Revolution. For a time the Aal-e Saud tried to promote themselves as the leaders of Sunni Islam and de facto leaders of the Ummah, and called themselves “guardians of the Haramain”. Part of their role was to de-politicise Islam and persuade Muslims that the West are our allies, a civilizing force for progress, rather than our enemies.
So thoroughly discredited are the Saudis today that it is difficult to imagine that they could seriously claim such a position. Now, instead of strutting across the platforms of international Islamic conferences, they cower behind the curtains, hoping to escape notice. Even the organizations that they still fund, directly or indirectly, and who continue to promote a de-politicised agenda, now attack them (and the West) in public, simply to maintain a modicum of credibility. Meanwhile, the West barely pretends to treat the Arab kings, shaikhs and princes as equals, knowing that it would be a useless propaganda exercise; instead, their attitude of imperial overlordship is obvious. Instead of trying to influence hearts and minds in the Muslim world by manipulating Islamic symbols, the West now appears resigned to exercising influence only by power politics, and such pragmatic agents as the regimes in Egypt and Turkey.
It is perhaps true that many Islamic activists have stopped emphasising the role of the Saudis as much as they used to. This reflects the fact that they are no longer significant players; indeed, they are so exposed and so discredited that they are hardly worth wasting words on. Except at this time of year, perhaps: as Muslims gather in the Hijaz for the Hajj, we should not forget the Saudis’ role in distorting the meaning of the pilgrimage to the House of Allah.
Nearly 150 years ago, when Britain was the dominant power of Western imperialism, and the Hijaz was part of the Ottoman Empire, the British consul in Jeddah recognised the dangers posed by the Hajj. In a dispatch to London, which shaped British policy for decades, and has perhaps never been wholly forgotten, he wrote:
The point of real importance to England politically, I believe, is the Hejaz as the focus of Muslim thought and the nucleus from which radiate ideas, advice, instructions and dogmatic implications... Certain people proceed to Hajj for political reasons. Mecca, being free from 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 well form without our knowing anything until the shells burst in our midst... If this consulate could have a trusty Mussalman agent at Mecca, I believe a great deal of valuable information could be obtained... [Italics added]
Britain and other nineteenth-century imperial powers had good reason to fear the Hajj. Numerous Muslim anti-imperial movements were inspired or informed by their leaders’ experiences at Hajj. In 1822-23, Sayyid Ahmed of Rae Bareli performed Hajj; shortly afterwards he launched his jihad against British influence in India, which proved tragically short-lived. A few years later, the Hajj was the scene of a historic meeting between Imam Shamil of Daghestan and Shaikh Abdul-Qadir al-Jaziri, who was struggling against the French in north Africa. Such a meeting would be impossible today: neither would get a visa.
When the Prophet (saw) performed umrah in the seventh year of the hijra, he ordered the sahaba (ra) with him to bare their right shoulders as a show of strength while performing their tawaaf of the Ka’aba. Then, Makkah was ruled by the Quraish; today it is in the hands of a “trusty Mussalman agent” of the West. That this is the true nature of the Aal-e Saud is a reality that Muslims must never forget.