Some 200 Muslim scholars from Egypt, Russia, Syria, Sudan, Jordan, and Europe reject Saudi Arabia’s doctrine, adopt a reform programme: a TV channel (to counter al Jazeera), a "scientific" centre to condemn fundamentalist interpretations, and scholarships for students. Fr Samir Khalil looks favourably at this. For scholar Kamel Abderrahmani, there is no difference between Sunni Islam and Wahhabism.
Rome (AsiaNews) – The news has not hit the front-pages, but it is a harbinger of important developments. Wahhabism, the doctrinal foundation of Saudi Arabia’s version of Islam funded in many parts of the world thanks to Riyadh, it is not part of Sunni Islam. It is a "distortion" of Islam that leads to extremism and terrorism. Hence, "a radical change is needed to re-establish the true meaning of Sunnism". However, Saudi Arabia is already counterattacking, afraid that this might be the first step for the country and its imams to be burnt at the stake.
The astounding statement is in the final communiqué of a congress held in Grozny (Chechnya) on 25-27 August. The conference brought together about 200 Muslim religious leaders, Qur’anic scholars and Islamic thinkers from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, and Europe, figures like the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Chawki Allam, the Egyptian presidential adviser and representative of the religious committee in the Egyptian parliament Sheikh Oussama al Zahri, the Grand Mufti of Damascus Abdel Fattah al Bezm, the Yemeni preacher Ali al Jafri, the intellectual Adnan Ibrahim, and many others.
The purpose of the meeting was to try to define the identity "of the people of Sunnism and the Sunni community" in view of the growth of Takfirist-Wahhabi terrorism that claims to represent Islam and above all is trying to claim that it is the legitimate representative of Sunnism.
In the final communiqué, participants said that " Ash’arites and he Maturidi are the people of Sunnism and those who belong to the Sunni community, both at the level of the doctrine and of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence, as well as Sufis, both in terms of knowledge and moral ethics." As indicated by the list of the "people of Sunnism", Salafi Wahhabism preached in Saudi Arabia is excluded.
The exclusion of this branch of Islam, the statement said, is due to the need for "a radical change in order to re-establish the true meaning of Sunnism, knowing that this concept has undergone a dangerous deformation in the wake of efforts by extremists to void its sense in order to take it over and reduce it to their perception" of it.
Such a hard-line and direct anti-Wahhabi view is not new, but it is the first time that it is presented so explicitly. Last year, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar in Makkah called for a reform of Islam to rule out fundamentalist interpretations and their "false and ambiguous" as well as violent concepts.
The way to reform Islam
Some suggestions came out of the Congress in Grozny to correct current trends in Islam.
One proposal would see the creation of a TV channel in Russia to counter Al-Jazeera, and "convey to people a truthful message of Islam and fight against extremism and terrorism."
Another recommends the establishment of "a scientific centre in Chechnya to monitor and study contemporary groups . . . and refute and scientifically criticise extremist thought." The proposed name for the centre is Tabsir (clairvoyance).
One suggestion is to "return to the schools of great knowledge" (prestigious Al Azhar, Qarawiyinne and Zaytouna in Tunisia, and the Hadermouth), excluding Saudi religious institutions, particularly the Islamic University of Madinah.
Finally, scholarships would be provided for those who are interested in studying sharia to counter Saudi funding in this field.
Saudi Arabia counterattacks
Wahhabism was born in the 18th century. It is a radical and literalist Sunni doctrine founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, that was used by the founder of the Saudi kingdom, Mohammed bin Saud. It proposes the use of violence against all the enemies of Islam, including Muslims who do not share its interpretation (takfirism). Saudi Arabia, especially since the 1970s, has launched proselytising campaigns in Asia and Africa (and later in Europe) to spread this interpretation of Islam, building mosques and qur’anic schools, and sending its preachers.
Saud Arabia was quick to respond to the statement. Lebanon’s al-Manar newspaper spoke about an unprecedented media campaign to play up patriotism to defend "our nation." One goal is to humiliate Ahmed al-Tayeb, noting that the grand imam of Al Azhar " drank for a long time" the wisdom of the Saudi ulema "and now" in alliance with . . . Putin, he wants to exclude Saudi Arabia from the Muslim world".
The Congress in Grozny has been described as "disappointing" and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who hosted it, has been accused of being "a delusional Sufi". The imam and preacher at Riyadh’s King Khaled Mosque said that “The Chechen conference should serve as a wake-up call: the world is getting ready to burn us at the stake.”
Speaking to AsiaNews about the Grozny conference, Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit scholar of Islam, cannot hide his satisfaction. "At last! This is indeed an extraordinary thing. Egypt seems to have started it. At least, the request made in December 2014 by President al-Sisi to Al-Azhar University in Cairo seems to be finally getting some response.
"It is also interesting that it [the meeting] was held in Grozny, an Islamic city of less than 300,000, the capital of Chechnya, in secular Russia. But the most extraordinary thing is who was at this assembly, namely many people connected to Wahhabism!”
In the eyes of Muslims, perhaps this latter aspect makes the "divorce" between Sunni Islam and Wahhabism less credible. "If one looks closely and meticulously analyses the Sunnism, we will not see any fundamental difference between one and the other,” Kamel Abderrahmani, a Muslim linguist and scholar of Islam, told AsiaNews. Despite last week’s divorce, I firmly believe that the Sunnism and Wahhabism are one and the same. The only difference is the name."