Wahhabism as a Tool of Colonialism*
By Montea Cristo
If Al Saud’s initial success could be owed to the spirit of violence, killing Muslims and plundering their assets, its subsequent achievement would undoubtedly be thanks to the British government’s economic, political and military aid. This is so that any analysis of the issue would be futile without considering the UK’s role.
Although Al Saud used the slogan of monotheism to justify its performance until the fall of the second Saudi and Wahhabi period, in the beginning of the third era Wahhabism itself turned into means of advancing Britain’s goals in the Islamic world.
In the past, cooperation between Wahhabism (belief) and Al Saud (politics and power) provided the grounds for development of the Wahhabi doctrine. In recent years, however, collaboration between political Salafism (Al Saud Wahhabism) and the UK and US colonialism replaced the former so that Saudi-UK relations are currently regarded as unique.
Indeed, the question is how a movement, which claims of monotheism and trimming religion and also considers as lawful blood, property and honor of Muslims and believers under the guise of fighting against polytheism, becomes accomplice with a colonial power such as Britain and preserves its interests along with the holy shrines?
The Basis for Wahhabi ideas grew in the shadow of power and politics. In the internal dimension, there is no doubt that the relationship between Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Saud, the emir of Al-Diriyah, guaranteed the survival of Wahhabism.
But another important question is that how could Wahhabism manage to resist barriers and pervade its invitation without strong beliefs and even charismatic leadership?
At that time, Wahhabism faced at least two major obstacles. First, the public and Muslim scholars’ opinion, according to which the movement by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was contrary to the principles of Islam. The opposition was so widespread that included even Wahhab’s father and brother.
Second, it faced opposition from local rulers. Emirates of Riyadh and Eynieh were in disagreement with the Wahhabis. Riyadh’s administration passed on between Saudi emirs for years. Following a success in clampdown on the Saudis, the Egyptian army sent Saudi emirs to Istanbul and beheaded them to set examples for false claimants.
However, in complete surprise, a thought that was unable to develop in its origin and was destroyed, took root in another country and grew in exile.
With a little reflection, it could be understood that deviant movements became able to persist and continue growth when they gained the support of Britain.
Britain, on which the sun never set before, realized in the beginning of the twentieth century that the time has passed from the old colonial era and also direct presence in its colonies. As a result, it decided to find ways in order to be present in other countries indirectly. Therefore, the method of colonialism changed in Islamic countries and the so-called neo-colonialism emerged.
One of the UK’s most important policies concerning the issue was to create discord and division among Muslims in order to prevent their convergence for Islamic unity and ultimately thwart the establishment of Muslim Ummah. The best strategy to reach that goal was generating factions and Takfiri movements among Muslims. Consequently, Britain pressed ahead with the creation and support of deviant movements.
The colonial policy was pursued in two axes. First, it focused on finding people who could follow the objectives of colonialism by forming fake faiths. Second, the policy centered around supporting deviant and anti-religion movements in the Islamic world, such as liberal, nationalist or Salafi movements that contradict transcendental teachings of the religion.
In regard with Wahhabism, the question is that did the British colonialism form the sect from the beginning and lead the deviant movement before the call by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab or did the UK recognize and revive divisive features, which are in line with its policies in Islamic countries, after Wahhab’s call especially in the third Saudi period?
Clearly, if Britain’s role in the creation of the sect could be denied, its part in the revival of the school after Wahhab’s death and his exit from the peninsula could not be ignored.
But of course, there is evidence, indicating the relationship between British spies and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in his studying time prior to unveiling his invitation.
In a book titled “Memoirs of Mr Hempher”, the British spy Hempher explains in details his relations with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the way to instill doubts and the approach to form Wahhab’s deconstructive character.
Meanwhile, some people disputed the book’s authenticity, saying it was written by opponents of Wahhabism and there was no such a person in the history. But the spread and admissibility of the book in scientific assemblies show that there are certain elements of truth in it. What confirms the accuracy of parts of the book’s content is data about Wahhab’s personality, beliefs and teachings.
In fact, having a look at the nature of Wahhabism’s call, we could obviously notice teachings of colonial schools, including excommunication of all Muslims, fight against their public beliefs, using doubts to create uncertainty and dispute in the Islamic community, permitting the blood of Shia and Sunni Muslims, destruction of Islamic monuments and sacred places that results in the loss of Muslims’ religious identity, and finally battle with concepts such as recourse, pilgrimage and building shrines over graves that cause separateness between future generations and previous outstanding teachings.
In political dimension, Wahhabism took steps completely in line with the UK’s objectives despite claims of fighting against polytheism and reviving monotheism.
Now, even if we admit that Britain played no role in the creation of Wahhabism and in the education of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, we could have no doubts at all about the UK’s part in the revival of the sect. Both arguments lead to one specific conclusion. Although the school of Wahhabism may not be inherently made by colonialism, it fully performed its job, which concentrated on implementing the goals of colonialism in the Islamic countries.