Saturday, February 21, 2015

Is the Problem with Islam Today Wahhabism?


"Open letter to Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz"

Saudi Arabia should curb Wahhabi ideology to alleviate human suffering in the Muslim world

by Ani Zonneveld

Ani Zonneveld  (Photo Credit: Arzeen's Photography)


Dear King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz,

Assalamu-alaikum.

I am a 52-year-old Malaysian-born Muslim. I was raised in a harmonious interracial and interfaith society that accepted and respected other religious practices. The existence of different faith groups was viewed simply as different ways of connecting to the same God. Saudi Arabia started exporting its Wahhabi ideology in the 1970s, and it spread around the world, turning existing interpretations of Islam into one that is dogmatic and violent.

The result is a nearly unrecognizable form of Islam. It appears to get worse by the day. Murders, suicide bombings, sectarianism and religious hatemongering have become commonplace. We cannot continue on this path of religious-based mayhem in the name of Islam. The Muslim world needs a change. You are in the best position to take us out of this misery.

As a child, I remember celebrating Mawlid — the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday — with uplifting songs, prayers and even a parade. Now it is taboo to observe Mawlid even in America, and adherents to the Wahhabi brand of Islam would rather emphasize his death. The same clerics tell us we cannot critically engage with the Quran or use our God-given right to think in order to reconcile the contradictions that exist between the Quran and hadith, the collection of record of the prophet’s sayings that serve as a source of religious and moral guidance.

When I was growing up, weddings and community events were colorful and featured music and dance, without segregating the sexes. This is no longer the case in many Muslim communities. Music, dance and unsegregated gatherings are deemed haram, or forbidden. Artistic expressions must be Sharia-compliant, meaning no depiction of humans or animals.

The Quran liberated women from subhuman status, gave us rights to choose whom to marry, to work, to be in leadership positions and to ultimately live in full dignity. And yet in 2015, Wahhabi imams have relegated women to subhuman status by allowing husbands to cane their wives into obedience and promoting a version of Sharia that permits forced and child marriages and condones honor killings. Women have become sexual objects through forced veiling, which makes our voices, skin, hair and faces off limits, and even a handshake is deemed a potentially arousing sexual experience.

How is this Wahhabi chokehold different from the practice of burying daughters alive?

Our society is increasingly looking like the age of jahiliyya, or ignorance that preceded the birth of Islam. You have the power to change that by lifting the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, abolishing the male guardian system, granting full voting rights for women and promoting equality in all spheres of life for all people. This would deflate the theological foundation of the criminal beliefs of the ISILs, Talibans and the Boko Harams of the world.

There are many reform-minded Saudi men and women whom you should include in discussion rather than imprison them. This will have a profound effect on millions of women and men in the Muslim world and beyond.

Enough with the vilifying of minority sects and non-Muslims. You should sit down with the supreme leader of Iran and sign a covenant of peace till the end of time.

The divisive sectarianism and ideology of Islamic Sunni supremacy is sickening. We are tired of the infighting, the dehumanizing of “the other” at the minbar (mosque pulpit), the talk of takfir (excommunicating of fellow Muslims) and the slaughter of “the other” by assuming a God-like role as the judge and the punisher. There were no Sunni, Shia or other sects during Muhammad’s time, but there were believers of many faiths, nonbelievers and even pagans, all residing in dignity in your country — protected by the prophet.

The Quran teaches us all people are equal in the eyes of God: “We have created you men and women, into nations and tribes for you to learn from each other. Surely, the most honorable among you in the sight of God is the most righteous.” (Quran 49:13). Imagine a Saudi Arabia where all people can come together to exchange ideas freely and share in our humanity.

The Muslim world remains corrupted by power and money, the very dynamic Muhammad spoke against. Imagine a Muslim world void of corruption and endowed with good governance. Such an environment would ensure that the ISILs and Saudi dissidents would not flourish. There is nothing Islamic about the way many countries in the Muslim world are run today.

Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology is the root of all the ills in the Muslim world. You have the power to uproot it once and for all through your influence in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the hundreds and thousands of madrassas the kingdom funds. As host to millions from around the world during the annual hajj, the kingdom can send a message of change to Wahhabi-influenced ideologues.

We do not have a pope in Islam, but by adopting the official title of custodian of our two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, you have assumed a unique position of influence to shift our Muslim world onto a positive path.

I recognize that my letter is an idealistic plea. After all, you are a king with all the earthly needs one can imagine and so powerful that you have Muslim and non-Muslim nations at your feet. But do what Muhammad did: Promote equality and a just system that benefits all people. That is the true meaning of the straight path we recite in al-Fatihah.

With deepest sincerity,

Ani Zonneveld
Founder and president, Muslims for Progressive Values

This op-ed piece is a reprint from Al Jazeera America that was originally published on February 20, 2015.

21 comments:

  1. What a very powerful essay. I learned a lot by reading this. I hope it gets wide distribution. There is an excellent radio program here in the States on NPR called the Diane Rehm show. Would you consider sending it there?

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    1. Hi Marcia - Thanks for your suggestion. I have submitted it to the show.

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    2. Oh, very good. I'm a fairly faithful listener to that show so I hope Ms. Zonneveld is invited on.

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  2. Was there any reaction to this incredible letter? I would like to think that there are many in SA that agree with her words. Thank you for sharing. If these changes could be made, it would be a new world for all who live there.

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    1. Hi Lori - We have had an interesting discussion on my Facebook group about it. She really presents an interesting argument. I just hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears.

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  3. I would have to agree with the article. One does have to add that all the money the Saudi's have makes them dangerous. Their ideology is not much different in its way that Chasidic Judaism (another version of a religion that grew up among uneducated villagers), but the Jews don't believe in proselytizing. The Saudi government has spent many millions pushing their insular version of Islam and now it has metastasized close to home. It is just a shame that so many people have to get hurt.

    They need to understand why church and state became separate in the West. It wasn't because we were any better, but we made the mistakes hundreds of years ago.

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    1. Hi Jerry - I'm a firm believer in the separation of church and state. I don't know that it will ever happen here.

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  5. There are open discussions in America about the rise of a " western" form of Islam and what that will look like. I suspect Ani will play a part in that. Muslims born and raised outside the fundamentalist Islamic countries want their value systems honored as well. Both the Muslims serving in the US Congress are progressive democrats.

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  6. The separation of Church and State even in America is incomplete at best. Otherwise the struggle for GLBTQI rights , especially in terms of marriage, wouldn't be such a challenge.

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  7. we have to know who give weapons to tho terrorists,who help them getting money to finance them,who has interest to encourage these differences between shiaa,sounna and others religions where they can purchase easly these huge weapons/the responses to these questions and many others might lead to the reason of all this terrorism or wahabism witch leads to

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  8. Sister sorry to say that you need complete knowledge of Islam and teachings of Islam. This will help you to write a better letter than this one. From your letter it shows you need freedom from actual ideology of Islam. Few good things mentioned like the ongoing issues of Sunni and Shia. Surely King if play his role will be really wonderful. Music, dance etc this is never a part of islamic ideology. Celebrating Birth of Prophet or any one is never being part of Islamic teachings.
    In brief get further knowledge of Islam and check this article too about two reasons related to downfall of muslims - http://www.darsequran.com/index.php/articles/english-articles/129-two-causes-of-muslims-downfall

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    1. We'll, if you say so, but some of the best parties around here have been the Arabs and Persians with their traditional music and dancing....;-) yes, most of them were muslims.

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  9. Furthermore, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the heartland of Islam, the birthplace of its history, the site of the two holy mosques and the focus of Islamic devotion and prayer. Saudi Arabia is committed to preserving the Islamic tradition in all areas of government and society. Islam guides not only the lives of the people, but also the policies and functions of the government. The Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the Kingdom and Shari'ah (Islamic law) is the basis of the Saudi legal system.

    Saudi Arabia is a leader in the pursuit of worldwide Islamic solidarity. It hosts the Muslim World League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, institutions dedicated to preserving Islamic interests.

    In many respects, the Kingdom has been responsive to the needs of the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia contributes generously to the Islamic Development Fund, which provides assistance for community infrastructure projects; to the Islamic Development Bank, headquartered in Jeddah, and to the Islamic Organization for Science, Technology and Development. Saudi Arabian leaders also work tirelessly to promote peace and stability in Muslim and Arab countries and throughout the world.

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    1. Oh - you missed out Bombing an Independent Muslim country to create stability - and creating a Totalitarian State within its own borders and planting an Alien Version of Islam throughout the world

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  10. Kanumommy: People who were Muslims and what was actually practiced by the Prophet Mohammed S.A.W. are two different matters.

    Wahabbism is an inncorrect term used often, to describe extremist Sunni Islam. Wahabbism itself is the writings of one Muslim scholar who lived his life in Saudi, and most basically, his writings were about not worhsipping false idols, nothing about government law on citizens (Muslim and non Muslim) beyond that.

    I find it really sad that I am related (as I follow many of Ibn Wahab's ideas on the onenees of Allah) with ISIS murders of shia, Saudi government's treatment of women in law and general sunni extremist's Islam's narrow naroow veiw of women. This isn't, academically speaking, "wahabbism".

    However, it is marketed as such by persons from Saudi, and is enforced by Muslim people's own ignorance of the Arabic language,and their laziness when it comes to researching the Prophet's life, etc...

    But it isn't "wahhabism". We should come up for a new term for it, instead of misusing an old term to the detriment of actual contribution to Islamic thought, and prejudice against some scholarship.

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    1. Thanks! I am aware of the different schools of thought in Islam as well the differences in interpretation. It's the same in all major faith systems. Ms. Zonneveld helps run an Islamic group in California that is more aligned with what would be considered " American" values.

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  11. Last anon: however, Saudi Arabia fund extremists Imams and scholars in Masjids in other countries, like North America and Europe, inciting people to kill other Muslims who aren't deemed the same as them etc....

    Also, their shariah law is only partial. Women of the Sahaba had more rights and freedoms than Saudi women have. Also, non Muslims are not treated as they are to be treated, in ISlamic law. Things are enforced that had no earthly law and were not the Prophet's sunnah.

    That's the trouble. And it is confusing to less educated Muslims like the woman who wrote this letter (i.e. segregation of the sexes is only of a sexual or intimate nature---it is not of the intellectual or societal level in Islam---but that would confuse people wouldn't it,from what is written in that woman's letter, and what is perported and practiced in KSA).

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  12. I am this woman's age and I remember a time when Islam was very very different. There was not this constant roiling and terrorism going on, it felt as if it was more adaptable and less hardline. It started changing in earnest toward the mid to late 70's more prominently in the 80's. It felt as if Muslims became less willing to mix and became more insular...as if a wall had somehow been put up. I remember noticing the change in my neighborhood but not understanding what was actually happening and why neighbors were becoming less willing to engage socially. Along with this, women started wearing hijab more frequently and more than that they started wearing it younger. It was a small shift, but it was there. Fast forward 30 years and we can see the results of the exported Saudi Islam and the changes (not for the better) it has had across the world. IMO, being old enough to remember the difference, it has destroyed Islam's reputation around the world and more than that it is destroying Islam from the inside making Muslims very judgmental of others in their faith. God forbid one is a Sufi or Ahmadiyya. They aren't even considered Muslim. BUT they used to be much more accepted ( or tolerated) and less judged than they are today.

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    1. Anonymous - Thank you so much for your comment. I have had similar discussions with people who can remember back before the Saudi brand of Islam took hold - and to me it's very sad. There is nothing wrong or shameful about being part of the modern world. Times change. Technology changes. People change in their outlooks and viewpoints. Going backwards is not the answer. Thanks again for your input.

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  13. Mhhhhh time will judge soon

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