The Salafis, the Ikhwan and the Saudi wild card
Examining the Saudi policy of setting the Salafis and Ikhwanis at each others’ throats at a time when foreign powers have their fangs embedded deeply into the flesh of the Ummah.
The information you are about to read would not be written and would not be published had we – the committed Muslims – been living in normal times. But these times are abnormal; or let us say we are living within turbulent events whose consequences will eventually be to our benefit. This may be a generation or two down the road. But the future is an Islamic one – we have no doubt about that. The intricacies to follow are for “in-house” reflection and thoughtfulness. They are not meant to harm any Islamic orientation or score points against any Islamic organization.
Tensions are running high among certain Islamic positions and between known Islamic paradigms. Our immediate concern in this article is not to cover the spectrum of differences that are out there. It is to bring light to two awkward Islamic trends that with a Saudi catalyst may turn into civil wars all over the Muslim world. What we mean by that are the Salafis and the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Ikhwan for short). These two groupings of revivalist types have their splinter conjunctives. And, outside the Arabic speaking countries, they have their counterparts. So it is very important now when foreign powers and internal finances lock hands to produce internecine warfare among those committed Muslims who should know better and act better-off to shed light on these two Islamic tendencies.
It may be fair enough to say that in the last century the two forerunners of the Ikhwan (Imam Hasan al-Banna) and the Salafis (Muhib al-Deen al-Khateeb) were charmed, tempted, or influenced by Shaikh Muhammad Rashid Rida. Shaikh Muhammad Rashid Rida (better known for his Tafsir al-Manar) hails from the Tripoli area of Lebanon (The center of Salafis in that country today). Who is Muhammad Rashid Rida in the political realm at that time? At one time he was the chairman of “The Syrian League”, the League that coronated prince Faisal ibn al-Huseyn as the king of Syria in 1920. Al-Huseyn is the notorious “Sharief Huseyn” who sided with the British against the Ottoman Sultanate during the First World War, and who was promised by the British in the event of victory to be the king of all the Arabians. When Muhammad Rashid Rida sensed Arabian treachery and British betrayal as well as Damascus falling to the French after the famous battle at Maysalun (July 1920) and its occupation of Syria, he moved to Cairo to edit his Islamic periodical called al-Manar. Muhammad Rashid Rida post-Maysalun was not the energetic and pan-Islamic Muhammad Rashid Rida before it: the student of Shaikh Muhammad ‘Abduh – himself the student of Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (Asadabadi).
It appears that the sequence of defeats encountered by Muslims from the long and drawn out battles of the Ottomans against the Europeans, the inability of Muslims to defy and defeat British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch colonialism constrained Muhammad Rashid Rida into a mental frame of mind that considers Islam to be what the Prophet (P) and al-Salaf al-Saleh (the pure predecessors) said and did. It appears that in Shaikh Muhammad Rashid Rida’s mind al-Salaf al-Saleh refers to the first generation of committed Muslims who lived and died for him (P). Or as some of the puritanical Salafis would word it: they lived with the Prophet (P) and died for Allah (SWT). Rida’s mentors Shaikh Muhammad ‘Abduh and al-Afghani extended the Salaf all the way to al-Ghazzali (at the end of the 5th hijri century). Apparently, the effects of French and British colonialism as they occupied and invaded one Muslim country after another caused Rida to fine tune the meaning of al-Salaf and part with his wise-men: ‘Abduh and al-Afghani. The civilizational paradox in every intellectual’s mind at that time was: Why did Europe advance while the Muslims went backwards? Rida took mental solace in the answer to that question by identifying with theSalaf and unloading all the cultural, intellectual, political, and military defeats of the Muslims because they failed to be part of that glorious Salaf. Rida could see zionism in the making, coming into Palestine through its British accoucheur, since he was a member of the Syrian-Palestinian delegation to Geneva in 1921.
Shaikh Muhib al-Deen al-Khateeb, a Damascene, like Rida was close to the Hashemites: Huseyn the father and Faisal the son who collaborated with the British against the Ottomans. Al-Khateeb was the senior editor of al-‘Asimah newspaper – the mouthpiece of the Faisal regime. He also, in the aftermath of the Maysalun vanquish, moved to Cairo and established the Salafi bookstore and publishing house (Al-Maktabah wa al-Matba‘ah al-Salafiyah). Al-Khateeb concentrated on educational rather than political issues, two of which were anti-Ataturkism and Christian missionary works. He took on other issues he considered to be anti-Salaf. Among them was his anti-Shi‘i spin. Due to the upheavals of those colonialist times three men were joined in Cairo as of 1928: Imam Hasan al-Banna, Muhammad Rashid Rida, and Muhib al-Deen al-Khateeb. They all sensed the danger of colonialism and the exploitation of stronger countries over weaker ones. Imam Hasan al-Banna referred everything and everyone to Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (P) or the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Therefore, the Salaf themselves are also referred to Allah and His Prophet. Imam Hasan al-Banna says: Everything that is attributed to the Salaf which concurs with the Qur’an and the Sunnah we accept. (See Al-Banna: Majmu‘at al-Rasa’il, Dar al-Andalus, Beirut, 1965, p. 8). There was also another very crucial difference and distinction between Imam al-Banna and al-Khateeb: al-Banna was convinced that the threat from colonialists and zionists was so preponderant and existential that it made it necessary for all the people of the Qiblah to close ranks and work together without getting involved in petty denominational arguments that may lead to potentially deadly sectarian fallout (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun: Kubra al-Harakat al-Islamiyah al-Hadithah, Is-haq al-Huseyni, Dar Beirut, 1952). Obviously, Imam al-Banna had a pan-Islamic vision that merges Sunnis and Shi‘is together against their common enemies.
Until the advent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran with its capable leadership, this Ikhwani-Salafi schism remained within closed circles and played out as arguments and disagreements. But then as the cadence of the Islamic Revolution began to have its impact in the area that extends from a liberated Islamic Iran to a zionist occupied Palestine the internal Salafi-Ikhwani contradictions began to break out into the open. Within this family quarrel and difference of opinion, the Saudi regime threw its financial weight – most of the times in favor of the Salafis and some of the time in favor of the Ikhwan. The ‘Iraqi Ba‘thist attempt to reintegrate Kuwait into ‘Iraq by military force; i.e., the 1990 ‘Iraqi occupation of Kuwait became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The overwhelming majority of the Ikhwan diverged from official Saudi policies when the Saudi regime invited, wanted, and welcomed imperialist American and European forces to come to Arabia with all their military might and forces to liberate Kuwait!
If the Saudi regime is able to cover up its duplicity, double-dealings, and hypocrisy through a world-wide favorable mass media it should not be able to get away with its pitting of Sunni Muslims against Shi‘i Muslims and its polarizing of salafi Muslims against Ikhwani Muslims. If we can’t learn from our own history then how are we to learn!? In 1948 al-Imam al-Banna supported the Yemeni Hizb al-Ahrar which included Zaidi Shi‘is and Shafi‘i Sunnis at the same time that king ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Aal Sa‘ud in conjunction with the Wahhabi/Salafis was supporting the Shi‘i Zaidi “Imam” Yahya who was killed and then supported his son Ahmad who was brought back to the Yemeni throne!
In this “give and take” survivalist politics by the Ikhwan and scheming politics by the Saudi regime, with most of the salafis in the Saudi pocket, these salafis got a shot in the arm when one of their primary figures who may be considered as their second founder Shaikh Nasir al-Deen al-Albaani – a Damascene also – lined up with the Saudi-salafi–Ikhwani axis against ‘Abd al-Nasir and then against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But then this internal union of convenience was seriously strained to breaking point due to their internal differences pertaining to Imam Khomeini, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and Hizbullah. The Saudi power-center was in favor of the Shah – a bona fide Shi‘i by Saudi definition and against Imam Khomeini, while the Ikhwan’s sympathies as suppressed as they were went to Imam Khomeini, a bona fide Shi‘i against the Shah an imperialist butt.
A reminder here – as reminders are of benefit to committed Muslims – the Ikhwan’s Cairo magazine al-I‘tisam the voice of the Ikhwan in its October issue of 1980 came out just after the ‘Iraqi imposed war on Islamic Iran with the following, accompanied by a picture of Saddam Huseyn: The Takriti comrade… the student of Michel ‘Aflaq wants to fabricate another new Qadisiyah against Islamic Iran.
As if there was not enough strain on Salafi-Ikhwani relations dating back to Muhib al-Deen al-Khateeb in 1947, another Syrian in the wake of the ascendency of Imam Khomeini coming to power (at this point if I were a Shi‘i I would be very open-eyed of Syrians who are cozy with the Saudi regime) by the name of Muhammad Soroor Zayn al-‘Abideen – a mathematics teacher from Hawran, Southern Syria, finds refuge in the Saudi kingdom after one of those periodic frictions between the Syrian Ikhwan and the Syrian Ba‘thist regime in 1965. In his new Saudi domicile this mathematics teacher lands a job in theWahhabi/Salafi stronghold of al-Qaseem. And here’s the point: he publishes a book under a pseudonym: ‘Abdullah al-Ghareeb at the end of 1979 titled: Wa Ja’a Dawr al-Majus (The Magi Are Coming) – in Arabic Magi is derogatory for Persian. This book amounts to a diatribe against Imam Khomeini (ra) and the Shi‘ah. This person was expelled from the Ikhwan, so he went on to put together a hybrid outfit that gained popularity in academic, student body, and educational circles in the American Saudi kingdom, later on referred to as “al-Surooriyah”. A popular cliche in the American supported kingdom is that this “Surooriyah”is outfitted with the gown of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and the trousers of Sayyid Qutb.
During the Kuwait crisis and Gulf war of 1990-91 all the myriad Ikhwani organizations and sub-organizations were in opposition to the Saudi regime except for most of the Ikhwan of the Arabian Peninsula along with the Syrian Ikhwani Abu-Ghuddah/al-Bayanuni faction. The Ikhwan could not stomach the Saudi plea for American imperialist military forces in the land of the Haramain. But that is how his majesty protects the Haramain and becomes its custodian! Surprise! In the confusing grey lines between the Ikhwan and the Salafis the Surooris sided with the Ikhwan. That, though, was in 1994. In this insecure triangular, the Salafis, Saudis, Ikhwan a newfangled entity was inbred. In 1998 Usamah bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri founded what is called in the mainstream media, al-Qaeda. This was envisioned as an international organization founded on al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah (Jihad in the spirit of the Salaf). The first a Saudi Wahhabi influenced by an Ikhwani, the Palestinian ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam; and the other an EgyptianIkhwani – a hard-core Qutbi as some would describe him. From all that they have done so far their enemy number one appears to be the Riyadh-Washington alliance. In this ostensibly hodge-podge of an alliance the bulk of the Wahhabi/Salafis are content with the Saudi king as their “waliy al-amr” – for practical purposes their “decision maker”. This internal rift finds its military and deadly expressions today in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Syria and Iraq.
In the combustible nexus of Ikhwan-Salafis-Saudis it is easy to have “hot-heads”, fanatics, mercenaries and agents provocateurs enter and then pull off something like 9/11 to implode that whole arrangement that never was cemented to begin with. Notice that none of the perpetrators of 9/11 were Ikhwan. Therefore, they fell in the area of the Salafis-Saudis. Salafism gave them their fanatacism and Saudism gave them their finances. The same intoxicant brew is at work throughout North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula. This is a very large trap for Muslims seeking self-determination, as many of the Muslims who are framed into this fanaticism go into it with sincerity and many of these types are accepting largesse out of dire need. The late prince Nayef was defining what Saudi Arabia is all about when he dumped words of defamation on the Ikhwan as being the core of all the problems that Arabia is facing. The fact of the matter is that US-zionist instigated policies are at the core of the problems facing Arabia, not the Ikhwan. And the bigotry that is built into the Wahhabi/Salafi psychology serves imperialist and zionist interests very well as we see in a radius extending one thousand miles around occupied Palestine.
Finally someone in Washington and Tel Aviv heeded the advice of the late Moroccan king Hasan who said: let the Islamic fundamentalists come to power, have them assume responsibilities of state so that they can prove that they are a failure. And that is what the “Arab Spring” was all about: give the Islamists enough rope so that they can hang themselves with it, or so they thought. The Saudi American royals came out swinging against the Ikhwan in elected president Mohammad Mursi’s term; they cooperated with the full backing of their financial kingdom with the Egyptian military brass, the remnants of the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian salafi Noor party, the Egyptian and Arabian seculars, in addition to the leftists and communists. All these were brought under the American manufactured Saudi umbrella to exterminate theIkhwan in General-cum-president al-Sisi’s words with the pecuniary kingdom’s treasury behind him. This is playing itself out in Libya with Saudi and American channels in support of their man Haftar there. The majority salafis in Tunisia are still a carrot and not a stick. The Saudis in Syria are in full blown support of the seculars and the leftists (dubbed ‘moderates’ in the Western press) against the Ikhwan. The SyrianJabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian-‘Iraqi ISIS have been placed on the official Saudi terror list because in Saudi-American-Israeli calculations they are unpredictable – so they cannot be given the benefit of any doubt.
In Syria there is a split between the Ikhwan and the “combatant salafis”. This is also true in Yemen and in Tunisia. In Egypt the scenario is even murkier as there is a split between the Ikhwan and the traditionalsalafis, and there is a split between the Ikhwan and the “combatant salafis”. In Libya the Ikhwan and the “combatant salafis” have closed ranks – so far – against Haftar.
The mental fog is beginning to clear up as the positions now are becoming well defined: there is a real clash between the Ikhwan and a Saudi kingdom in the Israeli orbit of interests. This clash has become a killing field in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In all these countries Saudi America and the Ikhwan are polar opposites. In Yemen, the Saudi politicians are in favor of the Ikhwani Islah Party as a utility – a fighting utility against the independent Houthi freedom-fighters. In other words, the Saudi regime is playing the Ikhwan against the Houthis.
The decades of Ikhwani association with the Saudi financial kingdom have taken their toll and blinded theIkhwan to their natural ally and true friend: the self-determination of the Islamic leadership and people in Iran. When will the Ikhwan be able to distinguish between enemy and friend? When will the Ikhwan know what Saudi Arabia is all about, and what Islamic Iran is all about? And until they come up with a unequivocal answer many innocent men, women, and children will perish throughout the Muslim world.
And, behold, there are indeed among you such as would lag behind, and then, if calamity befalls you, say, “Allah has bestowed His favor upon me in that I was not present with them!” But if good fortune comes to you from Allah, such a person is sure to say – just as if there had never been any question of love between you and him –: “Oh, would that I had been with them, and thus had a [share in their] mighty triumph!”