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Book Review
by Kaukab Siddique

An Iran-Oriented Attack on the Teachings Of Muhammad bin ĎAbd al-Wahhab
A Polemicist's Inability to See the Contributions of the Tawheed Movement

Wahhabism: A Critical essay by Hamid Algar, published by IPI, Oneonta, New York, 2002, 96 pages, $12.95.

In 1976, when I first started writing against the Saudi monarchy and the behavior of its funded preachers, Hamid Algar was a rare voice which also rose against the excesses of the Saudis. Time passed and the world changed. Who today needs to debate the fact that the Saudis are corrupt and that "Islamic scholars" have supported them in their corruption?

The problem with Hamid Algar's latest production is that it is 30 years too late. In the last three decades, Prof. Algar, a fixture at Berkeley University's insular world, has not shown development or new insights in his thinking. His latest production Wahhabism indicates that he is irremediably entrenched in the Iranian position: The world as sanctified by Qum.

Algar does not begin by telling the reader what were the teachings of Muhammad bin ĎAbdel Wahhab (perhaps for fear that these might prove too attractive to be later shot down). Instead, he begins by misnaming the teachings of the Imam as "wahhabism", a term which he pedantically admits is pejorative.

The book is merely an expression of hate. The author coyly admits: "It will be abundantly clear to the attentive reader that the present writer has little liking or sympathy for Wahhabism." (P.67) The purpose seems to be to denigrate the Imam and this is essentially achieved by Algar through a confused mish-mash of the development of relations between the Saudi and the Wahhabi so that the reader is unable to see if there is any difference between the two.

Here I too must confess a prejudice of my own. I might not have reviewed Algar's book (after all it is quite outdated in its main intent), if I had not seen that he has added his voice to that of the Bush administration and to the Zionist abuse of the Taliban. His references to the 9/11 attacks give the impression that President Bush's words of moral fervor about those stunning attacks on the American power structure are being repeated by Algar.

Any honest study of Muhammad ibn ĎAbd al-Wahhab's teachings would have extricated the historical aspects of the Imam's life from the philosophical ones of his teachings. TAWHEED is essential to these teachings and SHIRK is the basic problem the Imam addresses. The idea that one can pray to Allah via, or through, or by the blessings of a holy personality or saint is a basic problem Islamic reform and resurgence has to face.

Recently I visited the tomb of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani in Baghdad and found the people circumambulating around it and praying to the saint to help them (or praying to Allah via the saint) to get their needs fulfilled. The same situation is a common sight at the tombs of saints in Pakistan. If the people do not pray to Allah and are lead to believe that holy personages can be their via media to the Creator, they are bound to remain enslaved to superstitious and opium-type of religion.

One can perhaps agree with Algar that the zealots with the Imam went too far in physically attacking people engaged in superstitious rituals. The attack on Kerbala, as described by Algar, was certainly too extreme. However, to put the zealotry of the Imam's followers in context, Algar should have described the conditions of the Muslims of the time, how misled and ignorant they had become. Would Imam Hussain and Hazrat Ali have countenanced the activities which often go on in their names?

Algar denigrates the teachings of the Imam by claiming that these were very few, just one little book which is a mere collection of hadith. [Arrangement of hadith is one of the classical modes of transmission of knowledge. Ibn Hazm and other great Islamists could be similarly condemned if Algar's view of scholarship were to be accepted.] However, then we find Algar discussing the Imam's teachings: This is done without reference to any text; hence it cannot be accepted or refuted.

Algar's "essay" can be compared to Sale's translation of the Qur'an: an attempt at condemnation rather than illumination. Algar does give the reader one little glimpse into the writings of the Imam and then makes sure that there is no understanding created by first quoting a Sunni attack on the Imam and then a Shi'ite one, both weak and misleading.

Algar seems to be totally out of touch with developments within Saudi Arabia. The name OSAMA BIN LADEN does not even occur in his "essay." He seems to be aware of Al-Hawali and al-ĎAuda and makes patronizing remarks about these important scholars who have spoken out against the presence of American troops in Arabia. [He concedes that "validity is not to be denied to some at least of their theses" p.62.] Muhammad al-Mis'ari gets a little bit of commendation, partly because he has given "an interview to the Islamic Republic News Agency" of Iran. (P.65) For good measure, Algar condemns the Saudi scholars who were positive about the attack on the Twin Towers. He also taunts the Saudis who are disturbed by the Northern Alliance shaving off people's beards and throwing off hijab and opening movie houses.

When it comes to the Taliban, Algar swallows the Zionist and Iranian propaganda about the alleged massacre of Hazaras "and the enslavement of Hazara women as concubines." Supposedly a scholar and a researcher, he does not provide ANY EVIDENCE OR EVEN A SOURCE for these serious atrocity allegations. Algar here is being irresponsible to the extent that his motives need to be questioned.

Algar completely missed the honor and self-respect of the Taliban when they defied the Saudi orders to hand over Osama to the Americans. Instead Algar quotes from the pro-Zionist darling of the American media Ahmed Rashid to prove the (earlier) links between the Taliban and the Saudis.

Algar does work by double standards. Any Saudi contact with British agents is indicated with glee but then Algar does not mind quoting repeatedly from Mamoun Fandi who figures in the Zionist media when they need a Muslim name to attack the Islamic movement.

Algar might be living in an (Iranian) time warp. The suffering of Iraq, for instance, and the complication caused by the Saudi support for the American attack on Iraq does not figure in the book. Somehow, the issue of Iraq would have created a disturbance in the neat "essay" he has written.

Suffice it to say that Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab's insistence on TAWHEED and critique of SHIRK are valid and essential to the resurgence of Islam in our era. The methods his zealots used need to be placed in the context of the times in which he lived. The mission led by Muhammad Mustafa (pbuh) was taken over later by the Ummayads and Abbasids. Surely we cannot fault the Prophet (pbuh) for that change in the fortunes of Islam. If Iran is of key importance for Algar, should he not look at the bloodletting following the revolution as the zealots started "eating" the children of the revolution? Surely Algar is in no position to pontificate about an Islamic movement which is challenging America, Russia, Israel and India.

2002-06-08 Sat 15:27ct