About two weeks back, when I attended a discussion with the US Middle East expert Steven Cook, there was one particular aspect of the conversation that held my attention for the major part. It revolved around the idea of Wahhabism or Salafism. When I heard these words for the first time, I couldn’t construe what the dignitaries meant; however, eventually I became conscious of the negative connotation that the terms held. I decided to write about it because I recognized how oblivious most of us are with a facet of Islam.
Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam, is a religious movement among some fundamentalist Islamic believers, with an objective to go back to the most primitive and puritanical Islamic sources of the Quran. According to the Wahhabi philosophy, Islam is not interpreted in its pure and the most elementary form on the basis of the Quran and Hadith by its followers and henceforth, the Wahhabi or Salafi advocates have been emphasizing on their puritanical interpretations which are believed to be precarious and anti-humanitarian by its detractors.
Wahhabism has its roots in Saudi Arabia where it has been the dominant faith for more than two centuries. All the mosques, madarsas, schools and universities in the country accentuate the Wahhabi or salafi school of thought and persuade people to endorse this ideology. A considerable Muslim population of many other countries practices Wahhabism and this proliferation in the numbers of Wahhabi followers is no less than a menace to the harmony and amity that we wish for to prevail. The Saudi authorities expend an enormous amount of money to support this theology in nearly all parts of the world where Muslims reside.
It’s imperative for each of us to be aware of the threat brought about by Salafism. According to its ideologies, a Muslim must follow the Quran literally and rigidly. They condemn mingling with other religions, worshipping idols and revering priests. The men are required to keep a beard, cover their head with a white religious cap and maintain trousers just above their ankle. The women must swathe themselves with hijaab. Going to shrines and dargahs is considered a sin (as they judge it to be comparable to idol worship) and it is incumbent upon the followers to read the Namaz at the stipulated hours, fast Ramadaan, visit only the Wahhabi mosques, uphold the Wahhabi school of thought wherever they go and castigate the infidels or opponents of Wahhabism. They stalwartly discourage music, dance, loud laughter and effusive weeping in funerals. Gender segregation is sternly supported. In brief, Wahhabism has the penchant to polarize Muslims towards their religion in a perilous approach so as to convince them to embrace only the ideologies of Wahhabi Islam and denounce the other faiths and their virtues. In a number of texts, people associate Wahhabism to Jihad and depict how the Wahhabis exercise aggression and sadism to rebuke the groups who are unlike them.
Narrowing down my research to India, I found out that in the past two decades, Wahhabism has seen a pointed increase in many parts of the country. Its authority in Kashmir has amplified robustly in the last two years. Many reports claim that Saudi charities have been endowing universities, schools and mosques in Kashmir with hefty financial grants to sway the Sufi Muslims into switching to a Wahhabi conviction. This money supposedly comes in through the Hawala channels and an additional element of the Saudi efforts involves sending students from these funded institutions to Saudi Arabia for advanced and deeper studies which in turn reinforces the Wahhabi principles amongst them as they subsist in a Wahabi country for a substantial amount of time.
The Wahhabis have been accused of aflaming and demolishing shrines and dargahs in varied parts of the world ultimately hurting the sentiments of a vast majority of Muslims who do not admire their philosophy. The Dastageer Sahib shrine in Srinagar caught fire last June. Its destruction led to several conflicts with the Salafis. The age-old Sufi Islamic traditions held by the Kashmiri Muslims are witnessing a dawdling yet hazardous transformation as days go by. In Sameer Khan’s* words, the Salafis cannot bear the vision of a Hindu and a Muslim praying together in a dargah. This spectacle rips them and perhaps, that is why they wish to tear apart all the ideas that muse on bringing together a myriad of cultures and virtues.
‘Does the government realize what is happening?’ Yes.
‘Do the natives identify what consequences this dodgy conversion might bring along?’ Yes.
‘Why do people attend Saudi funded institutions for education?’
It ensures cheap or free education and a vast number of opportunities for the otherwise neglected factions.
‘Why can’t the government do anything? Why can’t we stop Saudi Arabia from manipulating a united India?’
Because we depend on Saudi’s oil resources a great deal and we can’t spoil our affiliation with them.
Subsequently, we will let things take whatever course they can, cross our fingers and hope that Wahabism doesn’t knock down the very core of our nation.
As the subject reached a prompt and hushed conclusion that day, we left the room with a bitter apprehension and a relentless fear.
*Sameer Khan is a blogger, playwright, short-story writer, theatre artist and a freethinking Indian Muslim who opposes Wahabism. His inputs helped me gain additional insight on the issue.