|By Dr Alaa Alghamdi| In a modern, largely secular world, it is remarkable to observe how strongly the interplay between the original ‘big three’ Abrahamic religions, many hundreds of years old and stemming from a common root, still affect world affairs and attitudes toward them. To cite a somewhat whimsical analogy, Rick Riordan’s series of books about a character named Percy Jackson posits that the Greek gods of Olympus have not in fact faded into history but are embedded in modern cultures, and were the underlying cause of all the great conflicts of the twentieth century. Doubtless that notion when applied to Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo is pure fiction, but if we apply the same to the three Abrahamic religious, it begins to have a tinge of truth.
Or at least, that is the story we, and often the media, choose to tell ourselves. I still remember, while studying abroad, seeing a coloured headline across the cover of a national publication: “Islam – should the world be afraid?”
The world’s answer, in some quarters, sadly, as been ‘yes’. And there is no end to damage that this unfortunate assessment has caused – damage in terms of property, lives and reputation maimed or destroyed; in terms of fundamental human rights compromised or ripped to shreds.
If the world is ‘afraid’ of Islam in general, there is even greater fear directed to its fundamentalist form, Wahhabism. That much in and of itself may be understandable, but connotes a misunderstanding of the religion itself and of its orientation toward culture and politics.
Wahhabism is a pure, austere form and practice of Islam, based on a traditional interpretation of sacred texts. Wahhabism demands strict forms of behaviour and deportment, as do the pure practices of most of the world’s religions. It is the basis of some teaching of religion in Saudi Arabia because of its faithful adherence to sacred texts.
Wahhabism has been linked to the growth of terrorism – specifically, it has been suggested that it is the root of radicalized practices and is therefore to blame for terrorist groups such as Al-Queda and repressive fundamentalist law such as that practiced by the Taliban. The link between Wahhabism and either of these is tenuous at best – manipulated at worst.
As a pure form and understanding of Islam, Wahhabism may indeed have been at the root of radicals’ understanding of Islam. But that is like saying that a steel mine is the cause of gun violence in the United States, since guns are sometimes made of steel. Certainly they are. So are kitchen utensils, farming implements, and surgical tools.
Political systems that promote religious beliefs are the issue. In the hands of a system that seeks to wield power, any religion can become a weapon. The world has seen ample examples of that in both recent and ancient history. But Wahhabism itself is not the problem. We must examine systems of power and domination, and address their inefficacies in order to ensure a safer world.