From Wahhabism to Daesh

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This episode traces the roots of Daesh terrorism to the Wahhabi school of thought which was nurtured and advocated by the Saudi family and Western imperialism since the 18th century.

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Still on Screen: Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: “This is from Allah, in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn.”

The Holy Quran (2:79)

Narration: Its sudden rise and expansion in 2014 has perplexed many; it has been devastating to those it comes in contact with and bloody to those under its control; armed with extensive weaponry, boasting an international fighting force and adept in the art of digital media propaganda, it has become the world's most feared terrorist group; Daesh.

Although Daesh has been sold as an Islamic movement, everything it professes and teaches stands against Islam and its teachings. In June 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi came out of nowhere to proclaim himself the ruler of all Muslims, Muslim scholars from the most moderate to the most militant all denounced him as a grandiose pretender as the world gaped at his men’s vicious killings.

There is a consensus among regional experts that Al-Baghdadi’s ruthless creed has roots in the 18th-century Arabian Peninsula. It was there the Saud clan formed an alliance with the puritanical scholar Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. And as they conquered the warring tribes of the desert, his austere, unorthodox interpretation of Islam became the foundation of the Saudi state. One of the main tenets of Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine is takfir or the practice of excommunication. Abd al-Wahhab denounced all Muslims who honored the dead, saints, or angels. He also banned any prayer to saints and dead loved ones, pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, religious festivals celebrating saints, the honoring of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad's birthday, and even prohibited the use of gravestones when burying the dead. Abd al-Wahhab argued that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader. He wrote, "Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated.”

The list of apostates meriting death included the Shia Muslims, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all.

Abd al-Wahhab's advocacy of these ultra radical views led to his expulsion from his own town and in 1741, after some wanderings, he found refuge under the protection of Ibn Saud and his tribe. Seizing on Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine Ibn Saud's clan now could do what they always did, which was raiding neighboring villages and robbing them of their possessions. Only now they were doing it not within the ambit of Arab tradition, but rather under the interpretation ofJihad. Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab also reintroduced the idea of martyrdom in the name of jihad. This scheme effectively bastardized the noble concept of greater jihad, as an inner struggle, and transformed it into a call for acts of terrorism. In 1801, they attacked the Holy City of Karbala in Iraq, massacring thousands of Shia Muslims, including women and children.

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Narration: Many Shia shrines were destroyed, including the shrine of Imam Hussein, the murdered grandson of Prophet Muhammad. A British official, Lieutenant Francis Warden, observing the situation at the time, wrote:

“They pillaged the whole of it [Karbala], and plundered the Tomb of Hussein... slaying in the course of the day, with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, above five thousand of the inhabitants.”

In the following years, Abd al-Wahhab's followers demolished historical monuments and all the tombs and shrines in their midst. In the end, they destroyed centuries of Islamic architecture near the Grand Mosque.

Much to Saudi Arabia’s embarrassment, the same thought has now been revived outside the peninsula by the so-called caliph, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the foundation of Daesh. There is nothing here that separates Wahhabism from Daesh. Since its emergence, this terrorist group has caused one of the greatest systematic destructions of Islamic sites in modern times. In Iraq and Syria, they continue their war on the region’s cultural heritage, attacking archaeological sites with bulldozers and explosives. If Daesh is detonating shrines, it has learned to do so from the precedent set in 1925 by the House of Saud with the Wahhabi-inspired demolition of 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannat Al Baqi cemetery in Medina. The shameful history of Wahhabism has returned with Daesh.

There is perhaps no greater threat to stability, security, and development in the Middle East & North Africa than the so-called Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant. Controlling a territory roughly the size of Great Britain and wreaking havoc in Syria, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan, the terrorist group continues to spread its hateful ideology and barbarism around the region and the globe. Dedicated to an untamed version of Wahhanbism, Daesh has been using the nefarious concept of “takfir” to do away with its opponents. Daesh has gone further to declare everyone who wears Western clothes or even has a shave as infidel and punishes them with death penalty. Such punishments can only be found within the areas controlled by Daesh and within the Saudi kingdom wherein Wahhabism hold sway.

The West is outraged at the atrocities committed by Daesh militants In the Western world, especially after the recent attack in Paris but it overlooks the fact that the fountainhead of all these inhumane crimes is Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic scripture favored by Saudi authorities In July 2013, the European Parliament identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism. The next step needs to be taken immediately; many lives are still at stake. 


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