Schwartz Letter to Financial Times: "Wahhabism Exists"
by Stephen Schwartz
Wahhabi comments are biased
From Mr Stephen Schwartz.
Sir, The assurances of the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud, (Letters, August 28), that the kingdom of the two Islamic holy sanctuaries, Mecca and Medina, is "fighting extremism" are welcome. But his comments about the official Saudi Wahhabi sect of Islam are opaque and biased, especially to Muslim observers.
Mr Al Saud responded testily to the entirely accurate observations of David Gardner ("Look beyond Saudi Arabia for Sunni leadership", August 8), who wrote about "Wahhabi orthodoxy, with its literalist and exclusivist rendering of Sunni Islam". The ambassador as much as erupted, writing: "What is "Wahhabi orthodoxy"? . . . Wahhabism is a convenient label dreamt up by the media."
Such an allegation is absurd. Saudi Wahhabism and its "lighter" Qatari version are known and supported or opposed throughout the Muslim lands and Muslim-minority communities of the west and east. Yet they remain limited in authority to the Arabian peninsula.
Mainstream Islamic clerics, muftis, theologians and academics, as well as scholars drawn from all the other religions, joined by historical commentators and journalists from Europe to Indonesia, have remarked and reported on Saudi Wahhabism since the Saudi raids into Iraq at the beginning of the 19th century.
Wahhabism exists. For evidence of this publicly-acknowledged reality, one need only consult page 29 of the 2013-2014 edition of The Muslim 500: The World's 500 Most Influential Muslims , a directory issued yearly by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC) in Amman, Jordan. It refers to "Wahhabism/Salafism" as "terms used interchangeably . . . Salafism is often simply known as Wahhabism".
RISSC is a reputable official source and is not composed of media dreamers or ideologues opposed to Wahhabism. Wahhabism remains a variant of Islam with a long and substantial bibliography in numerous languages. Mr Gardner's observations are, if anything, notably disinterested. Much more criticism of Wahhabism may be found in Muslim journals across the globe.
Centre for Islamic Pluralism,
Washington, DC, US