Abdar Rahman Koya
KUALA LUMPUR: Vocal activist Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa has dismissed a recent conference to promote “moderate Islam” organised by the Malaysian and Saudi Arabian governments, saying it was a “farce” and a desperate move by the Saudis to beef up their Wahhabi ideology as a “tolerant” brand of Islam.
Farouk, who chairs the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), said the two-day “Khayr Ummah” conference, where speakers spoke on the theme of stengthening Sunni Islam as well as moderation, was part of what he called the “Wahhabisation” agenda by the Islamic authorities.
The conference was also co-organised by Malaysian Ilmuan Association (Ilmu), a group whose members have in the past backed Saudi policies and spoken out against Shia Islam, the second largest school of thought in the Muslim world which has been a target of Wahhabi scholars.
“Just like the Wahhabi scholars in Saudi Arabia that pledged their support to their leaders, as long as they perform the prayer, the government of this country believes that this is an ideology that would save them from the wrath of the people over the massive corruption and leakages,” said Farouk, who was recently appointed as a research fellow at Indonesia’s Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Islam Sadra, a university that has been attacked by conservative Islamist groups in the country for its more liberal approach to Shia Islam.
Wahhabism is a term to describe the teachings of 17th century scholar Muhammad ibn Abd Wahhab, who sought to end practices deemed “un-Islamic” and who led a campaign for a return to a more austere version of Islam.
The movement colluded with the Saud family to help set up what is today known as Saudi Arabia, and the ideology has been dominant in Saudi Islamic institutions ever since.
Wahhabi ideas have inspired restrictions in Saudi Arabia such as the ban on women driving, and the rule that women travellers are accompanied by male family members.
Recently, Mohammad bin Salman, seen as Saudi Arabia’s monarch-in-waiting, called for an easing of Islamic rules in Saudi Arabia.
But Farouk said it was only political rhetoric from the Saudis, saying clerics from the peninsula had yet to change their animosity against Shia Muslims, who he said have been at the receiving end of Saudi-sponsored lobbies in many parts of the Muslim world.
For Farouk, Wahhabism is a bigger threat than the now-familiar complaint about Arabisation of the Malay culture.
He said the experience with Wahhabism in other Muslim-majority countries had not been positive, and would be even more damaging to a multi-religious society like Malaysia.
“Throughout history, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, there has never been a Wahhabi mosque. Now the majority or perhaps 90% of mosques are controlled by Wahhabi imams,” he said.
He said many mosques in Indonesia and Malaysia have now embraced Wahhabi teachings.
“The reason is the huge financial support from the Wahhabi organisations of Saudi Arabia or even the government of Saudi itself.”
He said Malaysia would stand to lose more from the rise of Wahhabism, due to its multiracial nature.
“This doctrine of the Salafists and Wahhabists has created so much disruption in a plural society like ours,” said Farouk, referring to a more complimentary name for followers of Wahhabism.
He gave the example of some Islamic scholars forbidding Muslims to wish non-Muslims during their religious festivals.
“What more of celebrating with your non-Muslim friends by visiting their houses during these ceremonies. Now we see less and less Muslims visiting their non-Muslim neighbours during these occasions,” said Farouk.
Even translations of the Quran were not spared in the “Wahhabi onslaught”, said Farouk.
“And some Qur’anic English interpretations like the famous Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation was revised and redacted to be in-line with their interpretation.”
He said while the effects of the Saudi lobby in Malaysia were already felt, the worst is yet to come in the form of a more violent response to Muslim minorities.
“But at the rate Shiites are vilified during every Friday sermon in this country, I do not think it will be very long when this will happen over here,” said the medical lecturer.
Farouk was possibly referring to a line recited during Friday sermons in mosques in Selangor, in which Shia Islam is labeled as heretical.
He said the spread of Wahhabism in the Muslim world was made easier by the political and military support from Western powers for Saudi Arabia, their strongest ally in the Middle East alongside Israel.
“The West was providing arms to the Saudis and they are using these arms to kill innocent civilians in Yemen for example. To me, Western greed is one of the major contributors in spreading the Wahhabi or Salafi ideology,” said Farouk.
He said Western interest in oil led to the US and some European governments ignoring the dangers of “this hateful and virulent ideology”.
“The Western countries are fighting the terrorists but somehow or rather, they are supporting the ideology that creates terrorism.
“The West cannot have it both ways. In order to eliminate terrorists, you need to stop the ideology that creates terrorism,” he said.