In an interesting new development, the New York Times reports that the Saudis are making a shrine for a violent, intolerant and bigoted sheikh, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, in Dir`iyyah, near the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Dir`iyyah, which is essentially a suburb of Riadh, was ruled in the middle of the 18th century by a tribal sheikh named Muhammad ibn Saud. It was also the home base of the founder of Wahhabi Islam. As the Times notes, the two Muhammads made a deal that would eventually take over most of the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad ibn Saud would supply the warriors and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab would supply the ideology to justify the conquest. The combination was a one-two punch that succeeded over a number of generations to subdue the diverse communities in the region and force them to comply with an austere and unusual form of Islam.
Abdullah b. Abd al-Wahhab is the source of an attitude that, through the power of Saudi oil money, has become globalized among Muslim communities in much of the Muslim majority world and among many Muslims living also in the West. This attitude is bigoted, rigid, often hateful and vicious, and not normative to Islamic history and thought. But with the power of Saudi money, its supporters have bought their way into the hearts and minds of many unwitting Muslims, and threatened and persecuted many others who counter their version of Islam.
(When a colleague of mine was raising money to build a mosque in Los Angeles, a Saudi representative approached him and offered to fund it. The whole thing. My colleague was intrigued until the representative informed him that it was a package deal and included an imam whom the Saudis would import to run the operation. He declined.)
The irony of this new project is that Wahhabis have bulldozed dozens of shrines to more important, truly spiritual and inspirational leaders of Islam in the name of blotting out physical iconic sites that they accused of having become sites of idolatry.
But the Saudis are investing about a half-billion dollars in a Disney-like tourist attraction that essentially amounts to a shrine of their own in Dir`iyya, in homage to one of the least spiritual religious figures that Islam has ever produced.
They have demolished homes, blotted out burial sites and even flattened mosques. Among the sites demolished are the Jannat al-mu`alla, the ancient cemetery in Mecca and the graves of Prophet Muhammad’s mother Amina and of his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib; the house of Khadija, Muhammad’s first wife, which they replaced with a line of toilets; the house of his daughter Fatima in Medina, and the house of her husband Ali, Muhammad’s closest male relative; and they’ve even torn down countless mosques, such the mosque in honor of Muhammad’s foster-brother Hamza b. Abd al-Muttalib, the mosque of Muhammad’s youngest daughter Fatima (who was also an important transmitter of prophetic tradition), and at least a dozen others that commemorate various occasions or people in Islamic history.
And now, in an act of ultimate hypocrisy, we see the Saudis constructing their own idolatrous edifice in order to glorify the ideological source of their political power.