We’re currently approaching the middle of Ramadan, the sacred and spiritual month for the world’s roughly 1.6 billion Muslims. Ramadan is a month of peace, generosity and abstinence. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be — in theory.
This year, Ramadan is drenched in blood. From Mindanao, to Kabul, to Baghdad, to the UK, to Melbourne. Islamic State (also known as ISIS) may be on the run in Iraq and Syria, but ISIS is happily claiming credit for attacks on civilians of all colours and genders and creeds and ages. The families of Kirsty Boden in Adelaide and two victims from Melbourne (including a recently married Chinese-born man and a 12-year-old girl who attended an Islamic independent school) are in mourning.
What do the perpetrators have in common? We’ve been told that Australian perpetrators all have refugee backgrounds, hence we should ban Middle Eastern refugees. But then that would exclude those of Somali heritage, like the Brighton gunman. So, realising that “Middle Eastern” doesn’t cast the net wide enough, that leaves us with two other, broader commonalities:
- In the words of our Deputy Prime Minister, they all have testicles; and
- They are all Islam.
Why do I say they “are all Islam”? Because in the words of a front-page headline in a certain national newspaper, we will “fight Islam [for] 100 years”. The same newspaper’s cover headline a few days ago told us that Sunni Islam (the sectarian tendency of some 90% of Muslims) was to blame for terror plots.
I’ve been hearing this stuff for ages, since 1979 — the year of Iran’s theocratic revolution. Iran’s victorious theocrats called it an Islamic revolution, and Western media happily went along. In those days, Shia Islam (Iran’s majority faith) was the bogeyman. Sunnis were the good guys. Saudi Arabia was on our side and a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden helped us kick some serious Commie butt.
These days, Commies aren’t so bad (especially when they give donations to the Liberal Party and employ former Liberal finance ministers), Shia Islam has been tamed. But that Sunni Islam is a real beast.
But why Sunni Islam?
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“Oh, that’s easy”, I’m told by commentators and self-appointed “deradicalisation experts”: “It’s the Wahhabists” — a particular movement within Sunni Islam (otherwise known as Wahhabis).
Well, in my considered opinion, it’s the Wahhab-isn’ts. And I say this because so much of what I’ve read in the papers about the Wahhabis (also known as “Salafis” or “Salafists”) betrays a near complete ignorance of the nuances of sectarianism across Muslim communities.
But before I start, here’s a bullet point summary of Wahhabism taking into account its theological differences with other denominations as well as some contemporary considerations (I promise to make it simpler than this 370-page primer on Wahhabi Islam):
- Wahhabism was founded by a bloke from Najd named Shaykh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab. Many non-Wahhabis respect Abdul Wahhab but disagree with him, while others despise him and some even say his views took him outside the boundaries of Islam;
- Wahhabis despise being called Wahhabis. They prefer to be called the ahl as-sunna wal jamaah (or Sunni for short). Then again, so do many non-Wahhabis, including those who regard Wahhabis as non-Sunnis or even as non-Muslims;
- Wahhabis reject all innovation in worship. Then again, so do many non-Wahhabis, including those who regard Wahhabis as non-Sunnis or even as non-Muslims;
- Wahhabis tend to be of the view that it is wrong to engage in revolutionary overthrow of the government or off irhab (revolutionary violence and terrorism). Some Wahhabis disagree with this view. Most Sunnis (and Shias) agree with this view, including those who regard Wahhabis as non-Sunnis or even as non-Muslims; and
- Wahhabis follow the aqida of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Other Sunnis follow the aqida of either Imam Ashari or Imam Maturidi. Sunnis on the whole respect Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, though some deny he had his own aqida. Wahhabism is the official denomination of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia though most Saudis don’t seem to follow it. At least 15% of the population are Shia and they aren’t exactly treated nicely.
So I guess you’ve figured out that Wahhabis compete for the title of Sunni. Clear as mud?
And if all that confuses you, be happy to know that according to a 2005 study by Professor Riaz Hassan, Australian Muslims come from 183 different countries. Just about every sect and denomination mentioned above (and plenty more) can be found here. And they only make up 2.2% of the population. (Calm down, Pauline. Hardly any of them are refugees.)
So what does all this have to do with the price of fertiliser in Raqqa? You see, most terrorists aren’t theologians. ISIS is quite happy to send its foot soldiers on suicide missions. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS will take just about anyone, including someone whose preparation consists of reading The Koran for Dummies.
Seriously, I’m no fan of Wahhabi teaching. I was taught they were heterodox. But how can I, in all honesty, accuse them of being the same as ISIS when their scholars write fatwas against ISIS and their publishing houses produce detailed tomes attacking ISIS-style extremism? And when a Wahhabi leader gave key evidence for the prosecution in the Benbrika case?
Now we all know how tough Tony Abbott is on terror. He also loves Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who has jailed and/or tortured and/or murdered members of the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime. Guess who else loves Sisi? Yep, Egyptian Wahhabis. How lovely to see an ultra-conservative Catholic in bed with ultra-conservative Muslims.
The point is over 1.6 billion Muslims cannot agree either on Islam or on politics. Putting terrorism all down to religion makes little sense unless you yourself are a religious bigot with extreme views.
Expecting Muslims to “call out” terrorism is a recipe fit for imbeciles. Instead of making noise to satisfy imbecilic politicians, I’m sure we would all prefer Muslims continued doing what they are doing right now: quietly dobbing in the suspects and letting the intelligence and law enforcement experts do the rest. We need more counter-terrorism heroes like Salafi crown witness Samir Mohtadi. We could do with less divisive politicians, columnists and shock-jocks whose work benefits no one except ISIS.