Members of the Saudi royal family, and many other Saudis as well, are adherents of the Wahhabi cult, a fundamentalist sect of Islam.
The Wahhabi sect of Islam, to which the royal family of Saudi Arabia belongs, had its origins in the 13th century, but the cult became refined in the 18 century.
The Wahhabis take their name from Abd Al-Wahhab, a sheikh who lived in the early 18th century and taught a religious fundamentalism named "The Call to Unity" (ad Dawa lil Tawhid). This theology embraced absolute monotheism (a denial of any pluralistic theologies such as the Christian concept of a Trinity). It also declared that there was only one interpreter of the Quran (the Holy Book of Islam) and the Hadith (narrations of the "lived example" of the Prophet Muhammed). That interpreter was Abd Al-Wahhab himself.
Al Wahhab taught that true Muslims had to swear loyalty to their religious leader and to follow his teachings in all ways. It also required that those who wanted to be considered true Muslims must join Al-Wahhab in jihad (in his interpretation of jihad as a “holy war.”) The objective of this jihad was to convert or kill all Muslims whom Al-Wahhab considered apostate, unbelievers and blasphemers. Finally, Al Wahhab taught that members of this new sect must hate all those Muslims who did not follow his teachings.
The actual seeds of Wahhabism came from a thirteenth century sheikh, Ibn Taymiyya. During that period, many Sunni Muslims were rankling under Mongol rule. Ibn Taymiyya named himself as a mujtaheed, or one who, through enlightened reasoning, could interpret the sharia, the “path” of Islam. He redefined Islam, using a strict and literal interpretation of the Quran, and ruled against any changes in this interpretation.
Now a religious leader, loved by some Muslims, hated by others, Ibn Taymiyya was the first holy leader who interpreted jihad as a “holy war.”
He took two verses from the Quran and interpreted them to mean total and ceaseless war against anyone who was in the way of the destiny of Islam.
“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.”-The Quran, Chapter 2, verse 193
The second verse is from Chaper 8 of the Quran:
“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily God doth see all that they do.”
-The Quran, Chapter 8, verse 39.
There were four enemies of Islam, according to Ibn Tamiyya:
- Infidels (which included, presumably Christians, Jews and pagans). He did approve of peaceful coexistence with the infidels, eating with them, and even allowed Muslims to marry infidel women. He also granted clemency to those infidels captured in battle if they converted to Islam.
- Muslims who had “fallen away” and must be fought and killed if they did not return to the true path.
- Muslims who said they were practicing the faith, but practiced Islam improperly were to be killed without mercy.
- People who had left Islam, but who still called themselves Muslim. Ibn Taymiyya said that all these people should be treated mercilessly and killed under all circumstances and given no quarter.
At the time, many Muslims condemned Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings. Even today, Sunnis who belong to the much more moderate mainstream still reject his theology.
Among the relatively small Wahhabi sect and in Saudi Arabia particularly, Ibn Taymiyya is revered and honored, only second to Al Wahhab himself.
(Some information for this article is based on "God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and The Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, by Charles Allen, De Capo Press, 2006)