Thursday, August 11th, 2022 05:02:49

Saudi Export of Wahhabism to India

Updated: April 17, 2010 11:12 am

Ever since the Islamic rulers of the Indian subcontinent lost their power to the British, their protracted movement appears to be to restore their control over this region and keep the people under perpetual challenge as some of the Muslim leaders are still not ready to shed their medieval burden.

India & Saudi Arabia

With the Saudi monarchy becoming the custodian of two holiest shrines of Islam in 1924 with an independent kingdom since 1932, it has also emerged as the richest oil-exploring country in the world, taking upon itself to export its version of militant Islam that went by the name of Wahhabism. India was one of the target countries.

            Although, India never had cordial relations with Saudi Arabia, some analysts even thought that the relations between the two countries are set to improve with the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to that country on February 25 last. The point to be noted here is that seeking any help or signing any agreement for joint fight against terrorism with Saudi Arabia will not in any way prevent the frequent jihadi attacks against India that are perpetrated by the terror syndicates groomed with Saudi money in Pakistan.

            To understand the Wahhabi design of Saudi Arabia in India, one may like to look into the Islamists’ conquests that began from Arabian Peninsula to the ongoing terror war against non-Muslims. The desert warriors who never tried to understand the rational world view of love, peace and co-existence mistook civilisational evolution to be the history of conflict and cruelty. Accordingly, they never reconciled with the non-Islamic powers anywhere in the world particularly in the land from where Muslim rulers were driven out. This mindset is the key.

            The emergence of two Islamist reformers of eighteenth century, namely Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) in India and Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1787) in Arabian Peninsula, re-ignited the medieval fire of Islamism among the Muslims. While studying together in Medina they came up with a considered view that Islam would not survive without political power and suggested an aggressive drive for revival of hardline

conservative Islamism as the only solution to stop the decline of the glory of Islamic power in the Indian subcontinent. Although, the two reformers had some tactical differences over execution of their common goal to achieve Pan-Islamic Arab imperialism in the world, both of them are known as the co-founders of political Islam.

The Hanafi School and the Wahhabis

Waliullah, the follower of Hanafi school of Sunni Islam which is in a majority in this region was upset with the rise of Maratha power and the fading glory of Mugal Empire and therefore, tried to unite the Muslim society by establishing concordance between the conflicting schools of Islamic thought. He also presented an integrated view of the different branches of Islamic schools. His plan was to unite the different Islamist warlords of Indian subcontinent to crush the Hindus particularly the Marathas and Jats who had challenged the Islamic rule in the subcontinent. Since he saw the rise of Hindus as threat to the survival of Muslim power, he invited a Muslim plunderer Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1760 from Afghanistan to launch jihad against the Hindus.

            However, contrary to the tactical compromise formula of Waliullah with Shia and other tomb worshiping Muslims, Wahhab being the follower of Hanbali School of Islam and a hard core Sunni cleric treated them to be infidels. His sole objective was to Saudiise the Muslim society by pushing them to the extreme Arabic tradition and to bring them under a single command of a Bedouin Saudi warlord Mohammad ibn Saud with whom he had an agreement in 1744.

            Since then, the successors of Ibn Saud while pursuing Wahhabism and claiming as the sole upholder of Islam emerged as a force in Arabian Peninsula roughly from the beginning of eighteenth century. While Wahhab in alliance with Mohammad Ibn Saud laid the foundation stone of the Saudi Kingdom, Waliullah mobilised the Muslims in India against the rise of Hindus. The success of the jihadi concept of political Islam in the defeat of Marathas in 1762 and rise of Saudi-Wahhabi alliance as an independent kingdom left a deep jihadi dent on the psyche of the Muslim society of the Indian subcontinent.

            Following the British take over of the Mughal capital of Delhi in 1803, Shah Abdul Aziz (1745-1823) son of Waliullah who was carrying forward the legacy of his father adopted the integrated concept of both his father and Wahhab and declared Hindustan to be a Darul Harab (Domain of enmity). He also appealed to his followers to launch jihad for restoring Islamic power in the region. One Syed Ahmad Barelvi (1786-1831), who was one of the most trusted disciples of Shah Abdul Aziz mobilised his followers mostly from Bihar and Bengal and launched jihad against Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab in 1826. Though he was killed in the battle of Balkot in 1831, the Muslim clergies projected him an Islamic martyr and called him Syed Ahmad Shaheed (Martyr). Although, Sayeed Ahmad learnt the Wahhabi interpretation of militant Islam as a disciple of Shah Abdul Aziz, he is credited to have imported Wahhabism into the Indian subcontinent with Patna in Bihar as its centre.

            After the death of Sayeed Ahmed his staunch followers Wilayat Ali of Patna and his brothers carried forward the Wahhabi legacy of their leader. It is said that the Wahhabi clergies played an important role in igniting the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 against the British. However, after the collapse of the mutiny Wahhabis got a further set back as the British suspected them to be the conspirators and started persecuting them aggressively. In fact Wahhabis became the target of British power due to their jihadi ideology which they perceived as a threat to their stake in India. The demoralised group of Muslim clergies therefore adopted a tactical line and overtly maintained a distance from Wahhabis to guard themselves against British action but at the same time decided to institutionalise the revival of Islamic movement by educating the Muslim masses through Madrasa education.

The Deoband Movement

Accordingly, Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi who were the disciples of Sayyid Nazir Husain, a Wahhabist cleric from Delhi and founder of Ahle Hadith, an offshoot of Saudi

Wahhabism, founded a madrasa in Deoband which gradually turned into an umbrella organisation of Sunni Islamists for educating the poor strata of Muslims with an objective to recruit them as foot soldiers of Islam. This small madrasa later emerged as Deoband movement to restore the glorious past of Islamic power. Deobandi Ulema too adopted a tactical line to guard themselves against the British and made it a practice to reject their links with Wahhabism overtly. However, the synthesis of the political thought of Waliullah and Wahhab remained the ideological mascot of their movement. “The theology taught at Deoband was an uncompromising fundamentalism, mirroring that of Wahhabism.”

            Like Wahhabis, Deoband also “denounced the worship of saints, the adorning of tombs, and such activities as music and dancing. It waged a ceaseless war of words against Shias, Hindus, and Christian missionaries. It distanced itself from all that was progressive in Indian society; and it retained militant jihad as a central pillar of faith but focussed this jihad on the promotion of Islamic revival”. (The Hidden Roots of Wahhabism in British India by Allen Charles, Publication: World Policy Journal, Date: July 1, 2005).

            Apart from Deoband Movement, the feudal section of Muslims under the leadership of Sir Sayed Ahmad, a British loyalist, launched a parallel Aligarh Movement with the objective to get superior status of Muslims to the Hindus by accepting the British as their protectors. Subsequently, they founded the All India Muslim League which ultimately succeeded in truncation of the subcontinent and creation of Pakistan as a separate Islamic country.

            Although, the Muslim leadership was partly satisfied with the creation of Pakistan after the complete loss of power in 1857 to the British, a big chunk of leaderless Muslim population who stayed back in a Hindu-majority India was in a state of confusion. Taking advantage of the plight of Indian Muslims, the Saudi monarchy began its political game to get their support for legitimisation of its custodianship of the two holiest Islamic shrines that they had captured from the Hassimite clan of Prophet Mohammad, to protect the monarchy from non-Wahhabi Islamists, who are opposed to its trade relation and war pacts with Christian crusaders and also to prepare them for jihad to restore the lost Islamic power in this country.

            Its alliance with western powers particularly the USA is also a part of the strategy to keep the monarchy under protection of a world superpower. Accordingly, spending huge oil-earned money it has been continuously exporting the Wahhabi concept of militant Islam to Indian Muslims by buying the Islamic clergies of the region. The ruling party Indian National Congress on the other hand treated the Muslims as its vote bank and continued to remain in power with their support. In due course this virus of vote-bank politics affected all the political parties.

Islamic Revivalism in India

from 70s

Exploiting the weakness of the political class, Islamic clergies revived their dormant movement for Islamic revivalism which got a further boost with heavy increase in Saudi funding of Islamic institutions and organisations in 1970s when there was a global boom in oil price. In fact Saudi Arabia viewed the truncation of its ally Pakistan in 1971 and emergence of a secular Muslim country Bangladesh at the instance of Indian Army as a victory of non-Muslim power in South Asia against an Islamic country. Accordingly with a view to strengthening its hold over the Indian Muslims it planned to Wahhabise the latter aggressively with huge funding for repair of their dilapidated mosques, construction of new mosques and for establishment of new madrasas. Using its petro-dollar influence on Islamic institutions and organisations like Deoband, Ahle Hadith, Jamaat-e- Ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Tablique Jamaat it started wide propagation of Wahhabism in India. Thus, access of Indian Muslim organisations and institutions in Saudi zakat money not only saw a marked transformation in Muslim society in India but also gave them a new assertive confidence to raise their voice against the government on even irrational issues which did not fit in the frame of Islamism. Formation of Student Islamic Movement (SIMI), a front organisation of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in April 1977 at Aligarh was a new Wahhabi endeavour to mobilise the Muslim youths and students under Saudi influence.

Saudis Active Again during Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan

It was during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, that the jihadis from various Islamist establishments of the world joined the Saudi financed jihad with the support of USA and Pakistan. Saudi charities like World Muslim League, International Islamic Relief Fund, World Assembly of Muslim Youth and Muslim Brotherhood were instrumental in opening of huge number of madrasas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and also sent jihadi recruits from these madrasas in Soviet-Afghan war which lasted for a decade.

            In view of their covert link with the Wahhabi ideology of violent jihad, Islamist organisations/institutions in India maintained stony silence for a couple of decades over security-related threat of Wahhabi-sponsored terror war from across the country. Deoband, a premiere Islamic institution though organised a conference in April 2008 and condemned terrorism, it did not mention the name of any Islamist organisation like al-Qaeda and its terror outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba which were responsible for their terror acts in the country. Instead, the speakers criticised the police action against SIMI activists who were accused of terror violence in different parts of the country. Ironically, despite the arrest of many Indian Muslims for their alleged involvement in various terror explosions in the country, no Islamic clergy in India is ready to believe that the arrested Indian Muslims were involved in the terror war against India.

Petro-Dollar Influence

However, various reports suggest that Saudi Arabia with its petro-dollar influence on these Islamic outfits succeeded in making a visible Wahhabi dent among Indian Muslims. In fact some saner sections of Indian Muslims accept that the ongoing terror war against India has been launched by Wahhabi terror groups. One Mohammad Hamid from Nagpur said, “The terror that is being inflicted in India is not Islamic terror, but Wahhabi terror” (India Today, July 31, 2008). Similarly, one Shabib Rizvi, a professor at Rizvi College in Mumbai, was quoted as saying: “From just 28 websites eight years ago, there are over 1000 websites dedicated to spreading Wahhabi ideology.” (Ibid.)

            Except Ahl-i-Hadith which is a carbon copy of Wahhabism, none of the prominent Islamic institutions and organisations like Deoband , Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JEIH), Tablique Jamaat and Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) have ever accepted their link with Wahhabism. Therefore, it is difficult to pin-pointedly identify the Wahhabi groups in India.

            Although, Deobandi Ulema often deny their link with Wahhabism, the ground reality on the huge growth of Deobandi madrasas suggests that without the heavy financial support from oil-rich Arab lands such growth was not possible.

            Deoband, a well-organised Islamic institution, has a worldwide influence over educated sections of Muslims. In fact assuming the name of Darul Ulum (abode of Islamic learning) in 1879 it is now one of the top Islamic institutions in the world second only to Al Aqsa in Cairo. Today number of Deobandi madrasas in different parts of world has increased to over 30,000. (Charles Allen, a renowned historian of British India). With dissemination of a fatwa (Islamic decree) on every issue the Ulema of Deoband gradually inspired the Muslim masses with Wahhabi concept of Islam and sharpened their mind with Islamic duty to defend their faith wherever it was under attack and to support jihad launched in any corner of the world if it was for extending the frontiers of their religion. This is apparently the reason as to why the Indian Muslims are often found enraged and raise a war cry that “Islam is in danger” even when the Indian judiciary passes any judgment which the Wahhabi clergies misinterpret as un-Islamic.

            Their war cry against Supreme Court verdict in Shahbano case in 1984 which forced the then Congress Government to neutralise the verdict after constitutional amendment was the reflection of Wahhabi influence on Indian Muslims. Deoband has never disclosed its balance sheet including its financial source to the public. Since the Saudi sponsored charities are the main funding agencies operating in India for propagation of Wahhabism, a natural question would be: how can Deoband afford to run this vast institution which provides free boarding and lodging to its students

without entering into the ideological ring of Wahhabism?

            Similarly, the publication of a book in 1978 entitled Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab Ke Khilaf Propaganda Aur Hindustan Ke ‘Ulama-i Haq Par Uske Asrat (The Propaganda Against Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahhab and its Impact on the True “Ulama”) written by the late Manzur Nu’mani (d.1997), one of the leading Indian Deobandi ulema which was widely appreciated by the fellow Deobandis has “proved” that there is actually no ‘difference of principle’ (usuli ikhtilaf) between the Deobandis and the Wahhabis, and that to a very great extent they “are united”. The claim of a Deobandi jurist in this context also supports this view – “should it be proved that Osama was the mastermind behind the attacks of September 11, he would not be punished under Islamic law since his actions were the result of an independent, legal opinion issued by top jurists.” (“The Hidden Roots of Wahhabism in British India” by Allen Charles, World Policy Journal, July 1, 2005)

SIMI and Rise of Other Organisations

SIMI is another organisation which can be regarded as a true Wahhabi group operating in India since its formation in 1977. It was in fact a tactical move of JEIH to float a separate radical outfit dedicated to restore Islamic power in India and guard itself from any confrontation with the government. Although, till1986 all the presidents of SIMI were from JEIH, the latter publicly disowned it same year for tactical reason. Eulogising Osama bin Laden and other known leaders of terror outfits as the holy warlords undertaking jihad on behalf of the Umma also suggests that SIMI is devoted to Wahhabism. jihad, Muslim community as a consolidated group (ummah) and Caliphate being the core ideological concept of SIMI also proves its Wahhabi design. Its slogan that “Quran is its constitution, jihad is its path and martyrdom its desire” is similar to the Egypt born Wahhabi outfit Muslim Brotherhood. Although, it has been banned by Government of India due to its link with Wahhabi sponsored terror war in the country, another outfit called Indian Mujahideen has emerged as a replica of SIMI.

            Deoband related Tabligh Jamaat is another organisation which is known as Wahhabi. Yusuf Kandhalavi, son and successor of the founder of the Tablighi Jama at, Ilyas Kandhalavi, declared; “We are staunch Wahhabis”. ( Quarterly Issue No 19, February 2005). Saudi funded new Tablighi mosques in different parts of India also suggest the penetration of Wahhabism among Indian Muslims who are the followers of this Jamaat.

            Taking advantage of the secular democratic constitution of India and vote banking politics of Indian political parties, these Saudi backed radical Muslim bodies are blackmailing the latter and operating in this country from outside the political mainstream without any fear. The seismic shift towards Islamic conservatism as being seen among the Indian Muslims and their increasing dependence on madrasa educated leaders suggest that Wahhabism pushed them towards the jihadi spirit of political Islam.

            The main problem India is facing in fighting against Islamist terrorism is the hidden root of Wahhabism which protect the nursery of sleeping terror cells in various ghettos of the Muslim community. Majority of common Muslims may be against the jihadi interpretation of Wahhab but they are entrapped in such a whirlpool created by the mullahs in the roll of Saudi charities that they are left with no option but to succumb to their pressure. Unfortunately, even against the backdrop of the historical communal role of Indian Muslims under the instigation of their leaders during freedom movement which truncated the subcontinent, our political leadership continues to ignore the import of Wahhabism which is a strategic threat to its secular democracy.


Until and unless our political class irrespective of its party affiliation put a check on Saudi funding to the Islamic institutions and organisations and prevent the Indian Muslims from being entrapped in the militant ideology of political Islam, India which is already encircled in the fire ring of Wahhabi jihad for which militant jihadi warriors are regularly produced in Saudi-funded madrasas in our neighbouring countries, the country will remain vulnerable strategically. (SAAG)

By R Upadhyay

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