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Friday, July 29, 2016

Creating Frankenstein: The Impact of Saudi Export of Ultra-Conservatism in South Asia (Part 1)


By James M. Dorsey

Introduction

Continued doubts about the longevity of the Saudi ruling family are fuelled by its Faustian bargain with Wahhabism - a conser vative, intolerant, discriminatory and anti-pluralistic interpretation of Islam.[1]

It is a bargain that has produced one of the largest dedicated public diplomacy campaigns in history. 
Estimates of Saudi Arabia’s spending on support of ultra-conservative strands of Islam, including Wahhabism, Salafism and Deobandism, across the globe range from $70 to $100 billion. Saudi largesse funded fund mosques, Islamic schools and cultural institutions, and social services as well as the forging of close ties to non-Wahhabi Muslim leaders and intelligence agencies in various Muslim nations. In doing so, Saudi Arabia succeeded in turning s largely local Wahhabi and like-minded ultra-conservative Muslim worldviews into an influential force in Muslim nations and communities across the globe.[2]

The campaign is not simply a product of the marriage between the Al Sauds and the Wahhabis. It is central to Saudi Arabia’s soft power policy and the Al Sauds’ survival strategy. One reason, albeit not the only one, that the longevity of the Al Sauds is a matter of debate, is the fact that the propagation of Wahhabism is having a backlash in countries across the globe, as well as on Saudi Arabia itself. More than ever before, Wahhabism, and its theological parent, Salafism, are being put under the spotlight due to their theological or ideological similarities with jihadism in general, and the ideology of the Islamic State (IS) group in particular.

Speaking at a conference in Singapore, sociologist Farid Alatas noted that madrassas - often funded by Saudi Arabia or other Salafi and Wahhabi groups - fails to produce graduates trained to think critically. “They have not been exposed to [Muslim] intellectuals like Ibn Khaldoun,” Alatas said “That is the opportunity for Salafis and Wahhabis” in the absence of Muslim scholars who would be capable of debunking their myths he added. Alatas was referring to Abd al-Raḥman ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abi Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century historian, who is widely seen as one of the fathers of modern sociology, historiography, demography and economics.
Taking Wahhabism’s influence in Malaysia as an example, Alatas pointed to the uncontested distribution of a sermon by the religious department of the Malaysian state of Selangor, that asserted that women who fail to wear a hijab invite rape and resemble a fish that attracts flies.[3]

Such attitudes fostered by Saudi funding, as well as Saudi Arabia’s willingness to look the other way when its youth leave the kingdom to join militant groups, undermine Saudi Arabia’s international image and its efforts to create soft power. “It is often alleged that the Saudis export terrorism. They don’t, but what they have done is encourage their own radicals –a natural by-product of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s conservative brand of Islam – to commit their terrorist acts elsewhere. As the radicals leave, so does Saudi money, which funds their violent activities,” said former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Christopher R. Hill.[4] The estimated 2,500 Saudis who have joined IS constitute the group’s second largest national contingent.[5]

The problem for the Al Sauds is not just that their image is under attack and that their legitimacy is wholly dependent on their identification with Wahhabism; it is also that the Al Sauds since the launch of their Islamist campaign, have often been only nominally in control of it. As a result, the Al Sauds have let a genie out of the bottle that now leads an independent life and cannot be put back into the bottle. Wahhabi and Salafi-influenced education systems played into the hands of Arab autocrats, who for decades dreaded an education system that would teach critical thinking and the asking of difficult questions.

Saudi funding of conservative Islamic learning neatly aligned itself in Pakistan, which has an education system shaped by the partition of British India into predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. This emphasis on religious nationalism, where minorities are perceived as being inferior, involved a parochial definition of what it meant to be Muslim in Pakistan.[6]  The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported that Pakistani public school textbooks - circulated to at least 41 million children - contained derogatory references to religious minorities. The perception of minorities as threats was reinforced with the enhanced Islamisation of textbooks in the decade from 1978 to 1988, in which General Zia ul Haq-ruled Pakistan.[7]

“In public school classrooms, Hindu children are forced to read lessons about ‘Hindus’ conspiracies toward Muslims’, and Christian children are taught that ‘Christians learned tolerance and kind-heartedness from Muslims.’ This represents a public shaming of religious minority children that begins at a very young age, focusing on their religious and cultural identity and their communities’ past history. A review of the curriculum demonstrates that public school students are being taught that religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus, are nefarious, violent, and tyrannical by nature. There is a tragic irony in these accusations, because Christians and Hindus in Pakistan face daily persecution, are common victims of crime, and are frequent targets of deadly communal violence, vigilantism, and collective punishment,” USCIRF report concluded.[8]

“By imposing the harsh, literal interpretation of religion exported and promoted by Saudi Arabia, we have turned Pakistan into a drab, monochromatic landscape where colour, laughter, dancing and music are frowned upon, if not entirely banned. And yet Islam in South Asia was once characterised by a life-enhancing Sufi tradition that is now under threat. More and more, we are following the example set by the Taliban,” added Pakistani writer Irfan Husain.[9] A Pew Research survey moreover concluded in late 2015 that 78 percent of Pakistanis favoured strict implementation if Islamic law.[10]

Syed Imran Ali Shah whose father was murdered when he was a child, was 16 when in 1999 he was admitted to Mercy Pak School in Peshawar, an educational institution funded by Saudi-backed Mercy International Pakistan. Zahid al-Sheikh, the brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid al-Sheikh, was one of the charity’s executives in the second half of the 1980s and the 1990s, a time when Saudi Arabia joined the United States in financing the Pakistan-based resistance against the Soviets in Afghanistan.[11] 
Syed Imran says his radicalization was spurred by one of his teachers all of whom were in his words Wahhabis. The teacher argued the importance of jihad in his sermons.[12] Jihad never figured in the school’s curriculum but students learned to believe that the beliefs and practices of other sects were heresy. ”We teach students the aqeedah (creed) of every sect and tell them as to how and where that aqeedah is wrong so that we can guide them to the right aqeedah,” said Umer bin Abdul Aziz of the Jaimatul Asar madrassa in Peshawar.[13] Based on textual analysis of madrassa texts, scholar Niaz Muhammad warned that “no one should claim that their statements about the madrassa curriculum have nothing to do with sectarianism or other forms of religious militancy.”[14]

In a seminar moderated by Jordanian scholar Nadia Oweidat at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., on 3 May 2016, Ahmed Abdellahy, a reformed, former Egyptian jihadist, described being educated in a school system that divided the world into ‘us and them’. ‘Us’ were the Muslims who had been victimised by ‘them’. Abdellahy said he was taught that: ‘they’, the Christians, Westerners and “all the world is against us [Muslims] because we are better than them.” Abdellahy said. He said this was an attitude engraved in generations of children who were expected to accept it at face value. “When I was going to school, the role of the school was to stop you from questioning,” Oweidat added.[15] The inability of Abdellahy’s school teachers to answer students’ probing questions and a lack of available literature drove him to the Internet, where militant Islamists provided answers.[16]

The current backlash of Saudi support for autocracy and funding of the export of Wahhabism and Salafism, coupled with the need to radically reform the kingdom’s economy, means that the Al Sauds and the Wahhabis are nearing a crunch point, one that will not necessarily offer solutions, but in fact could make things worse. It risks sparking ever more militant splits, that will make themselves felt across the Muslim world and in minority Muslim communities elsewhere, in multiple ways.

One already visible fallout of the Saudi campaign is greater intolerance towards minorities and increased sectarianism in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia. In Pakistan, for example, a U.S. Foreign Service officer, noted that in Saudi-funded “madrassas, children are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy.”[17]

The recent shooting in the southern Philippines of Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni, a prominent Saudi Wahhabi cleric whose popularity is evident in his following of 12 million on Twitter, further suggests that the backlash for the kingdom is not just the Saudi government emerging as a target but also the ulema[18] - including ulema who are not totally subservient to the Saudi government. Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni is a product of the fusion between Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood that produced the Sahwa, a Saudi Salafist political reform movement. While Philippine investigators are operating on the assumption that the Islamic State (IS) group was responsible for the shooting, Saudi media were quick to report that Saudi authorities had warned the Philippines days earlier that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were planning an attack.[19]

A key to understanding the Saudi funding campaign is the fact that while it all may be financed out of one pot of money, it serves different purposes for different parties. For the Wahhabi ulema, it is about proselytization, about the spreading of Islam; for the Saudi government, it is about gaining soft power. At times the interests of the government and the ulema coincide, and at times they diverge. By the same token, the Saudi campaign on some levels has been an unparalleled success, on others, success is questionable and one could argue that it risks becoming a liability for the government.

Problematic Soft Power

It may be hard to conceive of Wahhabism as soft power, but the fact of the matter is that Salafism was a movement that had only sprouted miniscule communities in the centuries preceding the rise of Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, and only started to make real inroads into Muslim communities beyond the Arabian Peninsula 175 years after the death of the 18th century preacher. By the 1980s, the Saudi campaign had established Wahhabi Salafism as an integral part of the global community of Muslims, and sparked greater conservative religiosity in various Arab countries as well as the emergence of Islamist movements and organisations.[20] The soft power aspect of it, certainly in relation to the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has paid off, particularly in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh,  Pakistan and the Maldives, where sectarian attitudes and attitudes towards minorities, particularly Shiites, and Iran are hardening.

In Indonesia, for example, where recently retired deputy head of Indonesian intelligence and former deputy head of Nahdlatul Ulema (NU), one of the world’s largest Islamic movements that prides itself on its anti-Wahhabism, professes in the same breath his dislike of the Wahhabis and warns that Shiites are one of the foremost domestic threats to Indonesian national security. Shiites constitute 1.2 percent of the Indonesian population, including the estimated 2 million Sunni converts over the last 40 years. A fluent Arabic speaker who spent years in Saudi Arabia as the representative of Indonesian intelligence, this intelligence and religious official is not instinctively anti-Shiite, but sees Shiites as an Iranian fifth wheel.  In other words, the impact of Saudi funding and Salafism is such that even NU is forced to adopt Wahhabi language and concepts when it comes to perceptions of the threat posed by Iran and Shiites.[21]

Wahhabi influence has meant that “the nature of South Asian Islam has significantly changed in the last three decades,” said international relations scholar and columnist Akhilesh Pillalamarri.[22] 
Pillalamarri argued that “the result has been an increase in Islamist violence in Pakistan, Indian Kashmir, and Bangladesh. While governments in South Asia have not initially made the connection between Saudi Arabian money and the radicalization of Islam in their own countries, it is now clear that Wahhabism’s spread is increasing conservatism in South Asia…. As a result, many South Asians are now Wahhabis or members of related sects that practice a form of austere Islam similar to the type found in Saudi Arabia. One of these sects is a conservative movement known as the Deobandi movement, long one of the largest recipients of Saudi funding,[23] which, while indigenous to South Asia, is influenced by Wahhabism,” Pillalamarri said.[24] He was referring to the Deobandi school of Islam, the most influential sponsor of Islamic education in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt founded in the 19th century.[25]

Many of the madrassas were initially Pakistani state sponsored, particularly during Zia’s rule. The funding was part of Zia’s Saudi-backed aim to Islamise the country as a whole. “The global Islamic reassertion spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and Arab petro-dollars was making itself felt in Pakistan. 
There were unmistakable signs of the Saudi impact on Zia’s locally honed ideological agenda,” says South Asia scholar Ayesha Jalal.[26]  Zia would handout as gifts and awards the writings of Sayyid Abul-A’la Maududi, a Saudi-backed scholar whose Jamaati-i-Islami party advocated the creation of an Islamic state. Maududi, who was arrested in 1977, was released from prison by Zia’s predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at Saudi Arabia’s request. Maududi used his regained freedom to back the coup that would topple Bhutto and bring Zia to power. Maududi was reported to have met with Zia for 90 minutes before Bhutto was executed.[27]

Zia’s funding of the madrassas dried up when he suddenly died in 1988 in a mysterious plane crash. “We then had to turn to charitable donors at home and abroad for funds to meet our expenditure. How else do you expect us to finance our expenditure?” says Pir Saifullah Khalid, the founder of the Jamia Manzoorul Islamia seminary, a sprawling semi-circular complex of multi-storey classrooms and hostel blocks with a courtyard in the middle, in Lahore Cantonment’s Saddar area.[28]

The mushrooming of militant Deobandi, Wahhabi and Salafi mosques, often Saudi-funded, has led Pakistani authorities to link scores of madrassas to political violence.[29] Hundreds have been closed in the past years. The Crime Monitoring Cell of the police inspector general in Sindh has reported that in 2015, 167 madrassas were closed, of the province’s 6,503 with a collective student population of 290,000. It was also reported that there were another 3,087 unregistered madrassas that cater to approximately 234,000 students.[30]

Deobandis, like Wahhabis and Salafis, advocate theological conservatism and oppose liberal ideals and values, and like its theological cousins, run the gamut from those who are apolitical and focus exclusively on religion, to militant Islamists who empathise with jihadists and see seizure of power as the way to implement the Sharia and change social behaviour. These various ultra-conservative sects, irrespective of their attitude towards politics and violence, benefit from the fact that with the government’s failing to invest in quality public education, madrassas have turned into institutions of rote learning for the poor. These madrassas evade conveying understanding of the Quran, and are a far cry from the institutions of religious and scientific learning in the first centuries of Islam that produced intellectuals, scholars and scientists.

The luminaries of modern-day, ultra-conservative madrassas, include the likes of Sami ul Haq, the scion of a Deobandi cleric, and former senator who founded the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassah in the town of Akora Khattak in Pakistan.  Ul Haq is widely seen as the father of the Taliban. Ul Haq argued in a book published in 2015 that the Afghan Taliban provided good government, Osama bin Laden was an “ideal man” and that Al Qaeda never existed.[31] Ul Haq had vowed not to stop his students from interrupting their studies to join the Taliban and awarded Mullah Omar, the late Taliban leader, an honorary degree. The 2007 plot that led to the killing of prominent Pakistani politician and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was believed to have been hatched in meetings in Akora Khattak.[32] A senior Pakistani interior ministry official said that, all in all, “most of the terrorist attacks during the last three years could be traced back to madrassas.”[33] The militancy among Pakistani Deobandis persuaded more than 100,000 of the movement’s scholars to issue a fatwa (religious ruling) denouncing violence and terrorism as un-Islamic in 2008.[34]

Columnist Pillalamarri dates the expansion of Saudi and Wahhabi influence in Pakistan to the US-
Saudi sponsored jihadist resistance against Soviet occupation in the 1980s that created the basis for the funding of thousands of madrassas, that at the time often offered education, shelter and food to the most impoverished who otherwise may not have had an opportunity to go to school. “Initially, the mushrooming of Wahhabi and Deobandi groups worked to produce mujahedeen [freedom fighters] to fight in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Later, elements of the Pakistani government, notably the Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), saw the spread of Wahhabism as useful in creating jihadist proxies to influence Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir. As a result, despite the end of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1989, the influence of Wahhabism continued to grow in Pakistan,” Pillalamarri said.

Proselytization of Wahhabism was facilitated by an agreement in the 1970s between the Pakistani and Saudi governments to promote the Arabic language and Islamic literature in Pakistan.[35]  The influx of sectarian, anti-Shiite Wahhabi materials grew exponentially with the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The International Crisis Group (ICG) concluded that “Saudi patronage has played a particularly important role in promoting jihadi madrasas and jihadi culture in Pakistan.”[36]
Saudi-sponsored non-governmental organisations like the Muslim World League, which fell under the auspices of the kingdom’s grand mufti but was populated by Muslim Brotherhood operatives and aimed to spread Wahhabism beyond the kingdom’s borders, opened offices across the globe, including South Asia. Wahhabi texts, including translations of the Quran, and the writings of Maududi and Sayed Qutb, were distributed in Muslim communities in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the United States and Europe. Wahhabi imams (religious leaders) were dispatched to build madrassas with Saudi curricula offering free education to the poor. Wahhabi beliefs were at the same time exported when migrant workers returned home from the kingdom grateful for the opportunity to earn money to support their families.

Once back from the kingdom, many of the workers prayed in Saudi-funded mosques and adopted Wahhabi and/or Salafi practices. “People go to the Middle East and come back thinking a certain way. There's Wahhabi money flowing in,” states International Relations scholar Amena Mohsin, whose maid in Bangladesh returned from a visit to her village fully covered. “It gives her an increased status. In that area, near Chittagong, by and large everyone supports the Hefazat-e-Islam, a conservative group opposed to Bangladesh’s secular education and women’s rights policy,” she adds.[37] Hefazat was founded in 2010 by attendees of Wahhabi mosques in Bangladesh.[38]

Evident Risks

The risk embedded in the ultra- conservatism of Wahhabism and Salafism is further evident in Bangladesh, a secular Muslim state, with militant Islamists waging a brutal and murderous campaign against liberal and secular intellectuals, bloggers, and publishers, and carries out attacks on Christians, Hindus and Shiites. The attacks were largely the work of Islamic State and Al Qaeda operatives, but were built on the nurturing of a radical, intolerant environment by Saudi-funded institutions and Bangladeshi workers who had returned from the kingdom with a far more conservative and black-and-white worldview.

Saudi influence was also discernible in Bangladesh’s gradual move away from secularism, which was a pillar of the country’s first constitution after it broke away from Pakistan and became independent in 1971. The kingdom only recognised Bangladesh after the assassination of the country’s founder 
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. President Ziaur Rahman two years later removed secularism from the constitution, paving the way for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. Military leader General Hussain Muhammad Ershad completed the process in 1988 by making Islam the state religion.[39] The kingdom reportedly funded Jamaat-e-Islami, a leading Islamist party, whose leaders were charged with war crimes during the country’s war of independence.  Several Jamaat leaders were sentenced to death. Saudi Arabia lobbied unsuccessfully in 2013 to stay the execution of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, but refrained from doing so in 2015 in the case of Muhammad Kamaruzzaman and the party’s general secretary, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid. Analysts said the kingdom was willing to sacrifice its Bangladeshi political allies in a bid to ensure the country’s support in its regional power struggle with Iran.[40]

The cooperation with ISI and other Pakistani government agencies and officials turned Saudi Arabia from a funder into a player in domestic Pakistani affairs. Adel al Jubeir who at the time was an official of the Saudi embassy in Washington, told U.S. diplomats at a lunch in Riyadh during a 2007 visit to the kingdom by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf: “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants."[41]  US Charge D ’Affaires in Riyadh, Michael G. Foeller, reporting in a cable to the State Department on the Musharraf visit, noted that “the Saudis have an economic hold on Nawaz Sharif…. Sharif was reportedly the first non-Saudi to receive a special economic development loan from the SAG [Saudi Arabian Government], with which to develop a business”.[42]  He was at the time in the kingdom in exile. Sharif has since become Pakistan’s Prime Minister.

The degree to which Saudi paranoia about Shiites dictated the kingdom’s efforts to influence 
Pakistani politics through check book diplomacy was evident in State Department reporting on Saudi-
Pakistani relations in the waning years of the first decade of the 21st century. One cable, detailing discussions in 2009 between U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, quoted the UAE official as saying, 
“Saudi Arabia suspects that [then Pakistani President Asif Ali] Zardari is Shia, thus creating Saudi concern of a Shia triangle in the region between Iran, the Maliki government in Iraq, and Pakistan under Zardari.”  Feltman noted that, in response, there was a pattern of Saudi Arabia withholding pledges in international frameworks for financial support of Pakistan.[43]

A State Department cable a year earlier in 2008 quoted the Pakistani Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, D.C., Sarfraz Khanzada, saying that Saudi-Pakistani relations were "under strain" because the Saudis had no confidence in Zardari. Khanzada said Saudi financial assistance to Pakistan had dropped sharply. The Saudis had not provided "a single drop" of oil on promised concessionary terms. Instead, they had given Pakistan a single $300 million check, considerably less than in previous years. "Beggars can't be choosers," Khanzada had said, adding that the Saudis were "waiting for the Zardari government to fall."[44] Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Umar Khan Alisherzai, told U.S. diplomats in 2009 that “we have been punished by Saudi Arabia because our president talks to the Iranians.”[45]

Then Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef went a step further, advising U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke that the Saudis view “the Pakistan Army as the strongest element for stability in the country.” Bin Nayef described the Pakistani military as the Saudis’ “winning horse” and Pakistan’s “best bet.” The Saudi official said that instability in Pakistan or tension between Pakistan and India posed a threat to Saudi Arabia’s stability, because of the 800,000 Pakistani and one million Indians employed in the kingdom.[46]

Author and former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani estimated that Saudi Arabia donated more than $2 billion to the Islamist resistance against the Soviets.[47] The investment, alongside that of the United States and others, fundamentally changed Pakistani society and the country’s power structure. ISI, supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States, exploited its role as the recruiter, trainer and operations manager of the Afghan mujahedeen to expand and legitimise ISI’s role as a key arbitrator of Pakistani politics by manipulating the government’s allies and intimidating its opponents.[48]

Moreover, direct Saudi funding as well as support by the Muslim World League of Jamaat-e-Islami - the Pakistani wing of a movement founded in 1941 by theologian and philosopher Abul Ala Maududi - became a launching pad for Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism into then still communist Central Asia.[49] 

The movement’s Afghan wing was headed by figures who would play key roles in the ultimate defeat of the Soviets and the rise of Wahhabi-influenced conservatism and Islamism in the country. Burhannudin Rabbani, the theology professor, twice became President of Afghanistan. Rabbani’s students included Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legendary Tajik military commander in the fight against the Soviets and Afghanistan’s subsequent civil war, who was killed by Al Qaeda on the eve of 9/11; and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a two-time Prime Minister, whose Hezb-e-Islami party received the lion’s share of Saudi funding for the mujahedeen.[50]

Hekmatyar, the instigator of Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, that in Kabul alone killed more than 50,000 people, was best known for his targeting of those Muslims denounced as idolaters – just like the Wahhabis at the beginning of the 20th century. Hekmatyar spent "more time fighting other mujahedeen than killing Soviets,” quipped journalist and author Peter Bergen.[51] Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, a Saudi-funded Wahhabi Islamic Law scholar, politician and warlord, who split with Rabbani and Hekmatyar to form his own group of mujahedeen, is believed to have facilitated Osama Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan in 1986[52] after the Saudi was expelled from Sudan and assisted Masood’s assassins.[53]

Then Pakistani leader Zia-ul-Haq encouraged Saudi charities to build mosques and madrassas for the large number of Afghans fleeing the war to Pakistan as well as for Pakistanis themselves. With little prospect of employment, refugee camps became recruitment centres for Saudi-funded mujahedeen. Volunteers from across the globe were welcomed to train alongside the mujahedeen’s refugee recruits funded by the Muslim World League.[54]

To help Pakistan alleviate the cost of hosting large numbers of Afghan refugees, Saudi Arabia hired hundreds of thousands of Pakistani migrant workers whose remittances boosted Pakistan’s economic growth. Many of the workers eventually returned home imbued with Wahhabism’s conservative values. The same was true for Pakistani troops enlisted to assist in fortifying the kingdom’s security in a deal mediated by the United States. “Pakistani workers in the Gulf and their families became either sympathetic or indifferent to Islamization. The expatriate workers were also influenced by Islamist missionaries backed by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi establishment during the course of their stay in the Gulf states,” Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador, noted.[55]


Read further Part 2



[1] David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, London: I. B. Tauris, 2009.
[2]Sohail Nakhoda, Keynote: Workshop on Islamic Developments in Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 15 November 2015; Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad Bin Talal, “What Has Broken? Political, Sociological, Cultural and Religious Changes in the Middle East over the Last 25 Years”, S R Nathan Distinguished Lecture, Middle East Institute, 17 November 2015, https://mei.nus.edu.sg/themes/site_themes/agile_records/images/uploads/What_has_broken_v.8,_As_Given,_14.11.15.pdf.
[3]Farid Alatas, Reviving Islamic Intellectualism, Presentation at RSIS Conference on Islam in the Contemporary World, 28 April 2016, https://www.rsis.edu.sg/event/conference-on-islam-in-the-contemporary-world/.
[4]Christopher R. Hill, The Kingdom and the Power, Project Syndicate, 27 April 2016, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/us-saudi-arabia-strained-relationship-by-christopher-r-hill-2016-04.
[5]Ashley Kirk, Iraq and Syria: How many foreign fighters are fighting for Isil? The Telegraph, 24 March 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/03/29/iraq-and-syria-how-many-foreign-fighters-are-fighting-for-isil/.
[6]Sara Mahmood, Pakistan’s Public Education System: Narratives of Intolerance, The Diplomat, 13 May 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/pakistans-public-education-system-narratives-of-intolerance/.
[7]U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan, 2016, http://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/USCIRF_Pakistan_FINALonline.pdf
[8] Ibid. U.S. Commission
[9] Irfan Husain, Death of diversity, Dawn, 14 May 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1258146/death-of-diversity
[10] Pew Research, The Divide Over Islam and National Laws in the Muslim World, 27 April 2016, http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/04/27/the-divide-over-islam-and-national-laws-in-the-muslim-world/
[11] Nick Fielding and Yosri Fouda, Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen, Gloucestershire: Mainstream Digital, 2011, Kindle edition
[12] Umar Farooq, Moosa Kaleem, Nasir Jamal, Ghulam Dastageer and Saher Baloch, Concealed Truth: What is wrong with madrassas? Herald, 1 May 2016, http://herald.dawn.com/news/1153383
[13] Ibid. Farooq et al.
[14] Ibid. Farooq et al.
[15] New America Foundation, A Conversation With A Former Muslim Extremist, 3 May 2016, https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/a-conversation-with-a-former-muslim-extremist/.
[16]Ibid. New America Foundation
[17] US Consulate Lahore, Extremist Recruitment on the Risein southern Punjab, 13 November 2008, Wikileaks, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08LAHORE302_a.html.
[18]Joel Guinto, Philippines probes attack on IS-targeted top Saudi cleric, Agence France Presse, 1 March 2016, https://news.yahoo.com/philippines-probes-attack-targeted-top-saudi-cleric-061519615.html.
[19]Al Hayat, الفيليبينتكشفأسماءإرهابيينخططوالاستهداف «السعودية (Philippines identifies terrorists targeting Saudi), 1 March 2016, http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/14243379/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%AA%D9%83%D8%B4%D9%81-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%AE%D8%B7%D8%B7%D9%88%D8%A7-%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%81--%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9- 
[20]Ibid. Commins
[21] Interviews with the author in January and February 2016.
[22] Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The Radicalization of South Asian Islam: Saudi Money and the Spread of Wahhabism, Georgetown Security Studies Review, 20 December 2014, http://georgetownsecuritystudiesreview.org/2014/12/20/the-radicalization-of-south-asian-islam-saudi-money-and-the-spread-of-wahhabism/#_edn9
[23] Sushant Sareen, The Jihad Factory: Pakistan's Islamic Revolution in the Making, New Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corporation, 2005, p. 282
[24] Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The Radicalization of South Asian Islam: Saudi Money and the Spread of Wahhabism, Georgetown Security Studies Review, 20 December 2014, http://georgetownsecuritystudiesreview.org/2014/12/20/the-radicalization-of-south-asian-islam-saudi-money-and-the-spread-of-wahhabism/#_edn9
[25] Luv Pirri, The Past and Future of Deobandi Islam, CTC Sentinel, 3 November 2009, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-past-and-future-of-deobandi-islam
[26] Ayesha Jalal, The Struggle for Pakistan, A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014, p. 218.
[27]Haqqani 2005
[28]Ibid. Farooq et al.
[29]Ibid. Farooq et al.
[30] Crime Monitoring Cell, Update Details of Registered Madaris in Sindh Province, Home Department, Government of Sindh, undated
[31] Sami ul Haq, Afghan Taliban War of Ideology: Struggle for Peace, Islamabad: Emel Publications, 2015.
[32]Qaiser Sherazi, “Conspiracy hatched at Akora Khattak: FIA”, The Express Tribune, 26 May 2010, http://tribune.com.pk/story/16267/conspiracy-hatched-at-akora-khattak-fia/.
[33]Ibid. Farooq et al.
[34]Darul Uloom, Fatwa Against Terrorism, 26 February 2008, http://noblesseoblige.org/2008/02/26/.
[35] International Crisis Group, Pakistan, Madrassahs, Extremism and the Military, 29 July 2002, http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/pakistan/Pakistan%20Madrasas%20Extremism%20And%20The%20Military.pdf
[36]Ibid. International Crisis Group
[37]Samanth Subramanian, “The Hit List, The Islamist war on secular bloggers in Bangladesh”, The New Yorker, 21 December 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/12/21/the-hit-list.
[38]Ibid. Pillalmarri
[39]Shahidul Alam, “Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance”, Economic & Political Weekly, 21 March 2015, http://www.shahidulnews.com/tolerating-death-in-a-culture-of-intolerance
[40] Interviews with author of Bangladeshi journalist and political analyst, 3 January 2015.
[41] The Guardian, “US embassy cables: Saudi influence in Pakistan”, 1 December 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/130876.
[42]Ibid.  The Guardian
[43]The Guardian, “US State Department, US embassy cables: Saudis fear 'Shia triangle' of Iran, Iraq and Pakistan”, 3 December 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/201549.
[44] The Guardian, “US State Department, US embassy cables: Pakistani relations with Saudis 'strained'”, 1 December 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/173954.
[45] The Guardian, “US Embassy Riyadh, State Department cables: Saudis distrust Pakistan's Shia president Zardari”, 1 December 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/231326.
[46] The Guardian, US State Department, US embassy cables: Saudi royals believe army rule better for Pakistan, 1 December 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/207396.
[47]Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2010.
[48]Ibid. Haqqani
[49]Ibid. Haqqani
[50] Peter Bergen, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, New York: Free Press, 2002.
[51]Ibid. Bergen
[52] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, London: Vintage Books, p. 116-117.
[53]John Lee Anderson. The Lion's Grave, London: Atlantic Books, 2002, p. 224.
[54]Ibid. Haqqani
[55] Ibid. Haqqani

Creating Frankenstein: The Impact of Saudi Export of Ultra-Conservatism in South Asia (Part 2)


A Case in Point

The history of Tashfeen Malik is a case in point. Her experience and that of her family is indicative of the kind of tensions adherence to Wahhabism's narrow mindset can foster.  Malik moved with her parents to Saudi Arabia when she was a toddler. The two decades in Saudi Arabia persuaded the family to abandon their Sufi practices that included visiting shrines, honouring saints and enjoying Sufi trance music  - practices rejected by the kingdom's Wahhabism. The change sparked tensions with relatives in Pakistan, whom the Maliks accused in Wahhabi fashion of rejecting the oneness of God by revering saints. Syed Nisar Hussain Shah, an academic at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Malik’s native Pakistani town of Multan, whose madrassas are known as jihadist nurseries, where she studied Pharmacology, recalls Malik seeking assistance because her conservative norms clashed with more the comparatively more liberal values of her dormitory mates. “She told me, ‘my parents live in Saudi Arabia, and I am not getting along with my roommates and cannot adjust with them, so can you help me?’” Shah recalls.[i]

While in Pakistan, Malik studied Islam for 18 months at the Al-Huda Institute, a religious school with branches in Britain, the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka that propagates non-violent Wahhabism.[ii]  Students at Islamabad’s Islamic International University, whose mosque was donated by Saudi Arabia and whose foreign liaisons are primarily Saudi universities, are encouraged to attend religious classes at Al Huda.[iii] Cultural anthropologist Sadaf Ahmad describes Al Huda as a “school-turned-social movement.”[iv] Former students of Al Huda describe a curriculum that educates them in puritan Islam, encourages them to isolate themselves from the outside world and view it as hostile, and in some cases, brings vulnerable youth to the edge of radicalism. Al Huda’s Toronto branch closed its doors in December 2015 following news reports that four of its students had attempted to join IS.[v] After enrolling in Al Huda, Malik donned a hijab, refrained from communication with the opposite sex, and spent most of her time studying the Quran.[vi]

“Women would often weep, overcome by religiosity. We were constantly taught that this path was our choice, but also that not choosing it was the way of sin. Gradually, perhaps because I was far from my family, young and troubled, and my education in Britain had provided me with little secular knowledge, I was completely sucked in… Only in retrospect do I realise that essentially I’d been brainwashed into something resembling a cult… I feel that al-Huda’s literalist, conservative interpretation of Islam, which discouraged criticism or dissent, built a fire. It laid down the kindling, the twigs, the wood, ready for a match. And the flames swept in from two directions. First, from geopolitical events: the discourse of Muslim oppression that has gained force across the world, which Islamic State, among others, uses so powerfully. Yet it also requires an internal fire, something within an individual that will ignite fundamentalist theology into violent action. Most women who leave al-Huda institute are zealous for a while, but the sheer intensity requires so much emotional energy that it invariably fizzles out… This happened to me… Yet there was a time when I was lonely, isolated, a troubled girl with nothing but my all-encompassing faith, when I know that a spark could have been ignited within me. I walked on. Tashfeen Malik lit the fire,” said Aliyah Saleem.[vii]

“All her students, who you would think after coming closer to God, would become more tolerant and at peace, have always showed the opposite result. They became intolerant, judgmental and arrogant instead… There is no real proof to back the theory that Al-Huda brainwashed Tashfeen and others into terrorism, but one thing that is for sure is that Madame Hashmi’s [Al-Huda co-founder Farhat Hashmi] institute promotes unhealthy fanaticism and an orthodox manner of thinking. And that could very well turn one into a cold blooded murderer given just the right push; all in hopes to getting in heaven,” added former student Shamila Ghiyas, who had attended several classes given by Al-Huda co-founder Farhat Hashmi.[viii]

Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based columnist who specialises in education issues, argues that if Malik was radicalised while studying in Pakistan, “it was because she was exposed to ways of thinking that these schools have helped to promote. They require people to isolate themselves from modernity [outright] -  television is wrong, eating McDonald’s is wrong, mixing with the opposite gender is wrong.  And once you establish that isolation, then dehumanising people is easy…and if you leave someone there, you have left them on a cliff.”[ix]

For people like Malik raised in a Wahhabi environment, as well as those who were not, jihadism’s appeal is in part the absolutism that ultra-conservative strands of Islam project. Both apolitical or non-violent ultra-conservatism and jihadism see the acknowledgement of God’s oneness and His sovereignty as the prime drivers of a believer’s life. All other aspects of life, including family relationships, are secondary to that, which explains why adherents of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups often break from their families, as well as their past. Wahhabis dedicate their lives to prayer, study of religious texts and mosque attendance; jihadis add the dimension of holy war. Their dedication is rooted in Ibn Abd al Wahhab’s assertion that “worship of Allah cannot be performed until taghut (polytheism) is denounced and rejected.”[x]

Educational Vacuum

Al Huda and Malik’s example highlights the educational vacuum in Pakistan, that militant strands of Islam, including Wahhabism, Salafism and jihadism are able to exploit in a country with a poor educational infrastructure and one of the world’s lowest education budgets.[xi]  Pakistan’s some 26,000 madrassas graduate an estimated 200,000 students a year. [12] 

To be sure, the madrassas run the gamut in terms of theological orientation and quality. They also run from mud-walled structures with rote memorisation of the Quran at their core, to sophisticated institutions like Al Huda, to outright jihadi conveyor belts.  A Harvard Kennedy School study put enrolment in madrassas at only 7.5 percent of all children enrolled in Pakistani schools. It argued that enrolment had remained constant much of the first decade of the 21st century.[13] By contrast, the International Crisis Group estimated that 1.5 million students were enrolled in Pakistani madrassas in 2002.[14]

Nonetheless, a 2008 cable from the U.S. consulate in Lahore reported that “financial support estimated at nearly US $100 million  annually was making its way to (conservative) Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in the region from ‘missionary’ and ‘Islamic charitable’ organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, ostensibly with the direct support of those governments…”[15] U.S. diplomat Bryan Hunt estimated in the cable that up to 200 madrassas in southern Punjab, in towns like Multan as well in Dera Ghazi Khan - a juncture of all four of Pakistan’s provinces - and in the central city of Bahawalpur, served as recruitment grounds for militant Islamist groups.

The consulate’s principle officer, Hunt, reported in his cable to authorities in Washington that the funding had spawned a “network (that) reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas…to recruit children into the divisions' growing Deobandi and Ahl-el Hadith madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centres, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).” He said families with a large number of children who face financial difficulty as a result of inflation, poor crop yields, and growing unemployment are targeted for recruitment.[16]

Hunt said Gulf funding of charitable activities of charities that fronted for groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that had been proscribed by the U.S. Treasury, had increased the local population’s dependence on extremist groups and undermined the influence of moderate Sufi religious leaders.  Hunt said that the charities targeted boys up to the age of 15. The funds, the diplomat said, had officially been transferred to Pakistan to assist victims of a 2008 earthquake in Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province. “Locals believe that a portion of these funds was siphoned to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in southern and western Punjab in order to expand these sects' presence in a traditionally hostile, but potentially fruitful, recruiting ground.  The initial success of establishing madrassas and mosques in these areas led to subsequent annual ‘donations’ to these same clerics, originating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Hunt said”[17]

The U.S. diplomat suggested that the influence of officials in key positions in the Pakistan bureaucracy, who were sympathetic to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith, had thwarted efforts by Sufi and other religious scholars to persuade the government to crackdown on extremist funding. “The brother of the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, and a noted Brailvi/Sufi scholar in his own right, Allama Qasmi, blamed government intransigence on a culture that rewarded political deals with religious extremists.  He stressed that even if political will could be found, the bureaucracy in Religious Affairs, Education, and Defence Ministries remained dominated by (former president) Zia ul Haq appointees, who favoured the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith religious ideologies.  This bureaucracy, Qasmi claimed, had repeatedly blocked his brother's efforts to push policy in a different direction,” Hunt reported.[18]

Describing in detail how Saudi funds were put to work, Hunt reported that “the local Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith maulana (religious scholar) will generally be introduced to the family through these (charitable) organisations.  He will work to convince the parents that their poverty is a direct result of their family's deviation from ‘the true path of Islam’ through ‘idolatrous’ worship at local Sufi shrines and/or with local Sufi Peers.  The maulana suggests that the quickest way to return to ‘favour’ would be to devote the lives of one or two of their sons to Islam.  The maulana will offer to educate these children at his madrassa and to find them employment in the service of Islam.  The concept of ‘martyrdom’ is often discussed and the family is promised that if their sons are ‘martyred’ both the sons and the family will attain ‘salvation’ and the family will obtain God's favour in this life, as well.  An immediate cash payment is finally made to the parents to compensate the family for its ‘sacrifice’ to Islam. Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately Rs. 500,000 (approximately US$ 6,500) per son,” Hunt wrote.[19]

Hunt said the children were sent to one of up to 200 madrassas located in isolated areas where they are prevented to have contact with the outside world and inculcated with “sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy. Graduates from the school are either employed as clerics and teacher or move on to jihadist training camps.[20]

The infusion of Saudi money and Wahhabism into Deobandi schools, some of which have produced many of the Taliban’s leaders, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, the group’s supreme commander and spiritual guide who reportedly died in 2013; and Jalaluddin Haqqani, a powerful commander, has changed the very nature of the movement. ‘As Pakistan’s economy and politics have moved towards West Asia, and away from an Indian history and past, its various Islams have also been influenced by these trends. Pakistan’s version of Deobandi Islam is affected by Saudi Wahhabism, and hence it becomes difficult to argue that these madrassas are still in any sense Deobandi… Islam, even Pakistani and Afghani Islam, is now globalised, Wahhabised, as well as affected by geopolitical influences, which have a far-reaching impact on local and domestic Islam,” said scholar of International Relations, S. Akbar Zaidi.[21]

U.S. Democratic senator Chris Murphy took the example of a possible parent in a small town in northwest Pakistan, to depict her/his vulnerability. “You’re illiterate, you’re poor, you’re getting poorer by the day, unemployment in your village is sky high, inflation is making everything unaffordable, your crop yields have been terrible. And one day, you get a visit that changes your perspective. A cleric from a nearby conservative mosque offers you a different path. He tells you that your poverty is not your fault, but simply a punishment handed down to you because of your unintentional deviation from the true path of Islam. And luckily, there’s a way to get right with God, to devote your son’s life to Islam. And it gets even better, because the cleric’s going to educate your son in his own school, we call them madrassas, and not only will you not have to pay for the education, he’ll actually pay you… And when your son finishes school he’ll get employment in the service of Islam,” Murphy said.[22]

“And so for thousands of families in destitute places like northwest Pakistan, it’s a pretty easy choice,” Murphy said. “But as you go on, you lose contact with your son. Gradually, the school cuts off your access to him. When you do see him, now and again, he’s changing. And then one day it’s over. He’s not the little boy you once knew. He’s a teenager, announcing to you that the only way to show true faith to Islam is to fight for it against the kafir, the infidels who are trying to pollute the Muslim faith, and against the Westerners who are trying to destroy it. He tells you that he’s going off to Afghanistan, or Syria, or Iraq with some fellow students, and that you shouldn’t worry about him because God is on his side,” Murphy added.[23]

The parents try to find out what happened at the school for their son to become a jihadist. “You discover the textbooks that he read, that taught a brand of Islam greatly influenced by something called Wahhabism… I tell you this story because, as you know, some version of it plays out hundreds of times every day in far-flung places, from Pakistan to Kosovo, from Nigeria to Indonesia - the teaching of an intolerant version of Islam to hundreds of millions of young people. In 1956, there were 244 madrassas in Pakistan. Today there are 24,000. So these schools are multiplying all over the globe. And don’t get me wrong, these schools, by and large, they don’t teach violence. They aren’t the minor leagues for extremist groups. But they do teach a version of Islam that leads very nicely into an anti-Shia, anti-Western militancy,” Murphy said.[24]

The pervasiveness in Pakistan of Saudi-backed ultra-conservative-inspired militant Islamist ideology was on full display in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad when authorities opted to shut down all cell phone coverage during Friday prayers to prevent dissemination of a sermon by Maulana Abdul Aziz, rather than detain the jihadist imam. Abdul Aziz, dubbed Mullah Burqa after he tried to escape in 2007 from Islamabad’s Red Mosque at a time that it was besieged by Pakistani military troops, has since been banned from giving sermons. Eight years after the siege in which 75 people died, Abdul Aziz has re-emerged as a seemingly untouchable figure, even if militant groups like Teheek-e-Taliban better known as the Pakistani Taliban that he supports have been significantly weakened in a military crackdown. Abdul Aziz illustrated the degree to which Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism inspired ideology had gained currency in Pakistani society.[25]

So did two events in early in 2016: mass demonstrations in February and March protesting the execution of Mumtaz Qadri,  a jihadist who was an elite Force commando who was convicted to death for killing former Punjab governor Salman Taseer because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,[26] and for carrying out a suicide-bombing of a park in Lahore on Easter Sunday.[27] As emergency units rushed to the park where 70 people had been killed and some 300, mostly women and children, wounded police in Islamabad sought to control a 10,000-strong demonstration against Qadri’s execution. Jammat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban said the bombing was aimed at Christians even if the vast majority of the victims were Muslims.

Taken together, the two events suggested that Pakistan’s problem went beyond political violence, to encompass a deep-seated, ultra- conservative and intolerant interpretation of Islam that has taken root in significant segments of society, and has created an environment in which oppression, discrimination and violence against the other is legitimised. The Economist noted that, “the religious hatred it (Jammat-ul-Ahrar) represents has been assiduously cultivated in Pakistan for many years. Saudi money for the building of madrassas (religious seminaries) began to flood into Pakistan during the 1980s with the encouragement of the president at that time, General Zia ul Haq, a Deobandi follower, who saw the country’s Islamisation as his main mission. There are now some 24,000 madrassas in Pakistan, attended by at least 2 million boys. Nearly all adhere to the highly conservative Deobandi sect, whose beliefs are similar to Saudi Wahhabism.” Some analysts put the number of madrassas closer to 30,000. They note that while a majority fall in the realm of the Deobandi, a substantial number subscribe to other interpretations of the faith.[28]

The magazine quoted Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, as saying that 60% of the pupils at madrassas were “not involved in any training or terrorist activities.” In other words, 40 percent may be. “It’s a very complex feeder system. All the remaining 40% are not involved in terrorism or terrorist training, but they could be sympathisers, they could funnel part of their funds to terror outfits, they could aid and abet in various ways,” said Mahmoud, a Pakistani lawyer, businessman and author of a forthcoming book on Islam.[29]

In the book, Mahmoud recalls that “a bright young woman who worked with my aunt succeeded in penetrating a religious centre in the outskirts of Islamabad. The centre served as an orphanage and school for girls. It taught them a way of jihad. On occasion, young women, teenage girls, really, from the centre would be introduced to teenage boys from other centres.  If a boy was to be sent on a suicide mission, he would be married to a girl, and the couple would be allowed to consummate their marriage. The experience was intended to provide the boy a foretaste of the pleasures that awaited him in heaven, the girl an assurance of a place in heaven as the wife of a martyr.  If the boy did indeed complete his mission, the girl would be free to remarry. If the boy did not achieve martyrdom, the couple would be kept apart, in purgatory on this earth. Both boy and girl were provided strong incentives to push towards the event of suicide. The centre has been closed, but its cloistered, manipulative spirit endures.”[30]

The fallout of Deobandi philosophy – a “back to basics movement” in the words of British Deobandi Mufti Mohammed Amin Pando –   goes far beyond the realm of South Asia, embedding itself deeply in Muslim minority communities in Europe. A 2016 BBC investigative documentary traced jihadist thinking to a month-long visit to Britain in 1993 by Masood Azhar, a graduate of a Deobandi madrassa called Darul Uloom Islamia Binori Town in Karachi, who headed the Pakistani militant group Harakat ul Mujahedeen. Azhar, a portly bespectacled preacher, son of a Bahawalpur religious studies teacher and author of a four-volume treatise on jihad as well as books with titles like Forty Diseases of the Jews,[31] gave 40 lectures during his fundraising and recruitment tour in Britain, and was feted by Islamic scholars from Britain’s largest mosque network. More and more scholars joined his entourage as he toured the country before moving on to Saudi Arabia. His tour included Darul Uloom Bury (Bury House of Knowledge), a boarding school and seminary that was home to Sheikh Yusuf Motala, Britain’s foremost Islamic scholar.[32] A passionate and emotive speaker, women reportedly took off their jewellery and handed it to Azhar after listening to his speeches.[33]

Deobandis, the Muslim sect with the greatest reach in the U.K., control an estimated 40 percent of all British mosques that service an estimated 600,000 people. A substantial number of UK-trained Muslim scholars are graduates of Deobandi institutions. Deobandis trace their roots to a seminary established in 1866, in the Indian town of Deoband in the state of Uttar Pradesh, that was founded in the struggle against British colonialism. The seminary is widely viewed as one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning, although it consists of a host of departments that focus on the rejection of Christianity, Judaism, Shia Islam, Barelvism and a postgraduate course that teaches loathing of Ahmadis[34]  a sect is widely viewed by conservative Muslims as heretic, because it recognizes Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the messiah prophesied by Mohammed. .[35]  “The theology of the Deoband school…fosters social change and nurtures the ideals of political activism,” noted Islam scholar Ebrahim Moosa. Its adherents run the gamut from political quietists to moderate-minded social activists to militant Islamists like the Taliban.[36]
With Pakistan becoming a battleground in the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Deobandis, funded by Saudi Arabia, launched an anti-Shia campaign. 

The fiery Deobandi cleric Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, a madrassa graduate who became head of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), a Deobandi party, is reported to have maintained close ties to Pakistani intelligence[37] until he was killed in 1990 by Shiite militants. Jhangvi, who earned his spores with his agitation against the Ahmadis, [38]  founded Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba (Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions) with the sole purpose of combating Shiites. With Pakistani Shiites feeling empowered and emboldened by the Iranian revolution, Saudi Arabia was more than willing to generously fund the anti-Shiite campaign.[39]  As mentioned earlier, Saudi funds were largely routed through the Pakistani military and the ISI.[40] The Muslim World League also funded the prominent Indian Deobandi scholar, Muḥammad Manz̤oor Naumani, who compiled a book of anti-Shiite fatwas that included opinions of Pakistani scholars and was distributed in Pakistan.[41]

Marouf Dualibi, an Islamic scholar with close ties to Saudi King Fahd was dispatched by the kingdom to help General Zia introduce hudood, the Islamic legal concept of punishment as well as mandatory zakat, a charitable tax, and ushr, an agricultural levy that dates back to early Islam, as well as persuade the Pakistani leader to adopt anti-Shia laws.[42] A 1981 report by the Council of Islamic Ideology - an advisory body of clerics and scholars established to assist the Pakistani government in bringing laws in line with the Quran and the example of the Prophet Mohammed – reported that hudood laws were discussed by the Council and the Law Ministry “under the guidance of Dr. Maruf Dualibi, who was specially detailed by the government of Saudi Arabia for this purpose.”[43]

Pakistani security consultant Muhammad Amir Rana reported that Saudi Arabia in the first decade of the 21st century had donated US $2.7 million to the education department of the municipality of Jhang in Punjab, Jhangvi’s hometown, for the funding of madrassas.[44] The Saudi campaign aimed at pressuring the Pakistani government to designate the Shiites as non-Muslims and make Sunni Islam the basis for an Islamic state. This also served to boost the fortunes of the Deobandis, who until then had been a minor presence, at the expense of other Muslim groups, particularly the Sufis.[45]  “The Saudis injected conservative attitudes into Muslim societies. They infiltrated Muslim societies. It created many divisions and a sectarian culture. It has impacted Pakistan’s social fabric,” Rana said in an interview.[46]

Sipah-e-Sahab’s membership swelled to a million, including some 5,000 well-trained militants who waged a campaign of terror against Shiites. The group was backed by a fatwa issued by the Deobandi scholar Naumani, that declared Shiites to be non-believers and was endorsed by hundreds of scholars in India and Pakistan. Maulana Wali Hassan, the Deobandi grand mufti of Pakistan, banned Sunni Muslims from marrying Shiites, participating in Shiite funeral rites, burying Shiites in Muslim graveyards and eating meat from animals slaughtered by Shiites even in accordance with Islamic law.[47]

Saudi Arabia at the same time backed Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the internationally designated terrorist who founded Lashkar-e-Taibe, one of the largest and most of violent militant Islamist groups in South Asia, because of his longstanding ties to the kingdom and his  strong links to the Ahl-e-Hadith[48]  group that had maintained close bonds with ultra-conservatives like the Wahhabis and Salafis since its founding in the 1920s.[49] Saeed, a graduate of an Ahl-e-Hadith madrassa and the King Saud University in Riyadh, backed by Saudi money, founded Islamic schools in which potential jihadis not only studied Islam, but also acquired the computer and communication skills they would need in their militant Islamist career.[50]

Much of the British Deobandi community has in the wake of 9/11 sought to distance itself from the minority of primarily Pakistani scholars and madrassas that opt for an endorsement of violent jihad. Motala, , in an Urdu-language note to the BBC said that “during the last several decades, I have neither uttered Masood Azhar’s name in my speeches, even by mistake, nor mentioned his group, nor talked about any nihilistic terrorist action.”[51] The UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), however, concluded on the basis of an unannounced visit to DarulUloom Bury in January 2016, that its students had a deep understanding of "fundamental British values, such as democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths."[52]




[i] Declan Walsh, “Tashfeen Malik Was a ‘Saudi Girl’ Who Stood Out at a Pakistani University”, The New York Times, 6 December 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/world/asia/in-conservative-pakistani-city-a-saudi-girl-who-stood-out.html.
[ii]Al-Huda International, http://www.alhudapk.com/, 2016.
[iii]Amna Shafqat, “Islamic University Islamabad: My education in a Saudi funded university”, Pak Tea House, 11 February 2015, http://pakteahouse.net/2015/02/11/islamic-university-islamabad-my-education-in-a-saudi-funded-university/.
[iv] Sadaf Ahmad, Transforming Faith: The Story of Al-Huda and Islamic Revivalism among Urban Pakistani Women, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009.
[v] The Canadian Press, “Al Huda Institute Canada Shuts Doors Following Terror-Related Allegations”, 8 December 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/12/08/al-huda-institute-canada_n_8752790.html.
[vi]Sara Mahmood and Shahzeb Ali Rathore, “Online Dating of Partners in Jihad: Case of the San Bernardino Shooters”, RSIS Commentary, 18 January 2016, http://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/CO16006.pdf.
[vii] Aliyah Saleem, “Al-Huda school is an institute of Islamist zeal”, The Australian, 16 December 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/the-times/alhuda-school-is-an-institute-of-islamist-zeal/news-story/3e71ba2b82c906211b7b3b6bc9adc64d?nk=4780091fb72330ac3e9ee1237f733a6f-1450590181.
[viii]Shamila Ghyas, Al-Huda mightn't be linked to terrorism, but Farhat Hashmi's misogynistic and Shiaphobic institute is a hub of radicalization, The Nation, 10 December 2015, http://nation.com.pk/blogs/10-Dec-2015/al-huda-mightn-t-be-linked-to-terrorism-but-farhat-hashmi-s-misogynistic-and-shiaphobic-institute.
[ix] Tim Craig, Pakistan is still trying to get a grip on its madrassa problem, The Washington Post, 16 December 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/pakistan-is-still-trying-to-get-a-grip-on-its-madrassa-problem/2015/12/16/e626a422-a248-11e5-9c4e-be37f66848bb_story.html.
[x]Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Kitab Al-Tauhid, The Book of Monetheism, Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 1996, p. 20.
[xi] The World Bank, Government expenditure on education as % of GDP (%), 2016, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS.
[12] Naveed Ahmad, How Pakistan’s unregulated madrassa system sows division and religious strife, Religion News Service, 22 December 2014, http://www.religionnews.com/2014/12/22/pakistans-unregulated-madrassa-system-sows-division-religious-strife/.
[13] Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, AsimIjaz Khwaja and Tristan Zajonc, Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan
A Look at the Data, Harvard Kennedy School, December 2005, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/FS/akhwaja/papers/madrassa_CER_dec05.pdf.
[14] International Crisis Group, Pakistan: Madrasas, Extremism and the Military: Asia Report No 36, 29 July 2002, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/pakistan/036-pakistan-madrasas-extremism-and-the-military.aspx.
[15] Dawn, 2008: Extremist recruitment on the rise in south Punjab madrassahs, 21 May 2011, http://www.dawn.com/news/630656/2008-extremist-recruitment-on-the-rise-in-south-punjab-madrassahs.
[16]Ibid. US Consulate Lahore
[17]Ibid. US Consulate Lahore
[18]Ibid. US Consulate Lahore
[19]Ibid. US Consulate Lahore
[20]Ibid. US Consulate Lahore
[21] S. Akbar Zaidi, The Ulema, Deoband and the (Many) Talibans, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 44:19, 9-15 May 2009, p. 10-11.
[22] Council for Foreign Relations, Chris Murphy on the Roots of Radical Extremism, 29 January 2016, http://www.cfr.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/chris-murphy-roots-radical-extremism/p37471.
[23]Ibid. Council of Foreign Relations
[24]Ibid. Council of Foreign Relations
[25] Rod Nordland, Pakistani Military Deals a Blow to Jihadists but not to Ideology, The New York Times, 17 December 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/17/world/asia/pakistan-abdul-aziz-radical-islam.html.
[26] Dawn, Taseer's killer Mumtaz Qadri hanged, 1 March 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1242637.
[27] The Economist, Bomb in Lahore: The hard choice for Pakistan, 2 April 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21695903-country-threatened-not-just-terrorism-widespread-religious-extremism-hard.
[28] Email exchanges with the author on 2 April 2016 of Pakistani scholars.
[29] Email exchange with the author on 4 April 2016.
[30]Mahboob Mohammed, Enlightenment Jihad: The Struggle to Realize the Islamic Reformation, Draft manuscript of forthcoming book provided to the author.
[31]Pdf9.com, Molana Muhammad Masood Azhar's Books, 2016, http://pdf9.com/books-of-author-molana-muhammad-masood-azhar-aid-1220.html.
[32] Innes Bowen, Masood Azhar: The man who brought jihad to Britain, BBC News, 5 April 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35959202.
[33]Raffaello Pantucci, Maulana Masood Azhar in the British Jihad, Hurst, 24 January 2013, http://www.hurstpublishers.com/maulana-masood-azhar-in-the-british-jihad/.
[34] Owen Bennett-Jones, Deobandi Variations, Dawn, 21 April 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1253337/deoband-variations.
[35] Owen Bennett-Jones, Deobandi Variations, Dawn, 21 April 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1253337/deoband-variations
[36] Ibid. Moosa, p. 105
[37] Zahid Hussain, Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam, New York: Columbia University Press, 2008, p. 92.
[38] Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulema in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change, Princeton: Princeton University press, 2002, p. 119
[39] Hassan Abbas, Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror, London: Routledge, 2015.
[40] S. V. R. Nasr, Islam, the State and the Rise of Sectarian Militancy in Pakistan in Christophe Jaffrelot (ed), Pakistan: Nationalism Without a Nation? New Delhi: Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar Publishers & Distributors, 2002, p. 92.
[41] Khaled Ahmed, Who killed General Zia? The Express Tribune, 7 December 2012, http://tribune.com.pk/story/476508/who-killed-general-zia/
[42] Khalid Ahmad, Can the Taliban be far behind? Indian Express, 21 March 2014, http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/can-the-taliban-be-far-behind/.
[43] Council of Islamic Ideology, First Report on Islamization of Laws contained in The Pakistan Code: Vol.1-1836-1871, Islamabad: Council of Islamic Ideology, 1981.
[44]Ibid. Sareen, p. 282.
[45]Ibid. Abbas
[46] Interview with the author, 28 June 2016
[47] Muhammad Moj, The Deoband Madrassah Movement, Countercultural Trends and Tendencies, London: Anthem Press, 2015, p. 105-5.
[48]Ibid. Abbas
[49] Stephen Tankel, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
[50]Ibid. Abbas
[51]Ibid. Bowen
[52] Dale Haslam, Darul Uloom School in Holcombe 'promotes British values and balances secular curriculum with Islamic education' – inspectors, Bury Times, 2 March 2016, http://www.burytimes.co.uk/news/14313912.Bury_independent_school__promotes_British_values_and_balances_secular_curriculum_with_Islamic_education____inspectors/?ref=mr&lp=19.