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Murderous Monotheists By: Stephen Schwartz
Weekly Standard | Monday, October 04, 2004


FACED WITH the series of beheadings and other grisly crimes committed in Iraq by the followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Westerners may wonder why this gang should call itself "Monotheism and Jihad." The group's Arabic name, Tawhid wa'al-Jihad, is often misleadingly translated "Unity and Jihad," which could lead English-speakers to suppose that Zarqawi and company are acting in the name of a united Iraqi nation, or of Arab unity, or of solidarity among jihadists or Muslims generally.

But Tawhid does not mean "unity," much less "unification"; it means "uniqueness," as in the uniqueness of God the Creator. To understand the theology behind this word is to appreciate the identity of the "foreign fighters" around Zarqawi--himself born in Jordan--and the purpose of their kidnappings and beheadings.

All Muslims, of course, are monotheists. Islam rejects the multiple gods and goddesses of the pagan religions, and proclaims the creation of the universe by a single God. But in the 18th century, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi sect, asserted that Muslims had fallen away from true monotheism back into pagan unbelief: worship of multiple gods, or polytheism. Wahhabism, now the state religion of Saudi Arabia, continues to assert that Islam as practiced in nearly the whole of the global Muslim community outside the Saudi kingdom is actually apostasy.

The Arabic term for polytheism is shirk, or "assigning partners to Allah." According to the Wahhabi creed, in recent centuries, only the followers of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and their descendants have been true monotheists. All non-Wahhabis--whether nominally Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist--are steeped in shirk and deserve to be killed so that pure Wahhabi monotheism can reign supreme.

In this twisted view, the majority of Iraqis are guilty of shirk. Up to 70 percent of Iraqis belong to the Shia sect of Islam, and as such follow the guidance of their imams and ayatollahs, wise theologians recognized for their study and insight. According to the Wahhabis, to follow a supreme cleric or marja like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of the Iraqi Shias, is to place him on an equal level with God. Shias should therefore be killed as polytheists, their property confiscated, and their women dishonored.

Wahhabis also hate Shias because they erect elaborate tombs for their martyrs and outstanding clerics and pray at these graves. Wahhabis believe that the very existence of graveyards and tombs is a kind of double polytheism, in which the person memorialized in the grave is elevated to equality with God, and the gravestone or tomb becomes an idol; to pray in cemeteries is, in Wahhabi eyes, to commit an abomination. Thus, once the Shias are killed, their holy sites must be torn down and their graveyards desecrated.

For this reason, the beheadings carried out in the name of "monotheism" in Iraq are aimed not only at terrorizing Westerners, but equally at intimidating Shias. We must understand that Iraqi Shias know this, and will help us in the struggle to extirpate Zarqawi and his gangsters.

Wahhabis equally accuse Sufis of polytheism. Sufism is a spiritual Islamic tradition influenced by Christianity and Eastern religions that is the dominant form of Islam in much of the world, notably French West Africa, much of North Africa, the Balkans, Turkey, Central Asia, India, and Indonesia. Once again, the Wahhabis' virulent hatred is excited by the Sufi practice of discipleship, with sheikhs as teachers, and the Sufi devotion to praying at graves and maintaining the tombs of saints. Westerners sometimes believe that saints are absent from Islam. But they are not; in Kazakhstan, a country dominated by Sufism, a common, traditional prayer runs: "Thousands of saints in Turkestan / Thousands of saints in Turkestan / I pray for your aid."

Prayers to saints and to the Prophet Muhammad for intercession with the Creator, along with obedience to sheikhs and preservation of burial sites, make the Sufis, from the Wahhabi viewpoint, deserving of slaughter and pillage. Since Sufism is the dominant form of Islam among Iraqi Kurds, each beheading by the Zarqawi conspiracy threatens them.

Obviously, Jews and Christians do not fare well in the Wahhabi scheme. As the historian Bernard Lewis pointed out in his authoritative volume The Jews of Islam, the Ottoman caliphate recognized and honored the "unflawed monotheism" of the Jews. But the Wahhabis hated the Ottomans as patrons of Sufism and friends of Shiism. Indeed, the Wahhabis loathe the Jews for treating rabbis as religious authorities, and considered them fit only for beheading even before the state of Israel existed. They also deride the Jews for their love of life. Wahhabis brag that they love death.

Finally, there are the Christians, whom Wahhabis despise as practitioners of polytheism because of their faith in the trinity. Above all, their belief that Jesus was God's son and fully divine qualifies all Christians for murder, without argument.

Still, there is a special edge to the Wahhabis' hatred of non-Wahhabi Muslims. As Saudi Wahhabi bigots typically put it: We know the Jews and Christians are our enemies; but the Shias and Sufis are worse, because they want to change our religion. (As if Islam had been invented by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab 250 years ago!) This may explain the otherwise peculiar news report in mid-September that a Turkish hostage in Iraq, apparently a born Muslim, was released after he "converted to Islam." Wahhabis believe that mainstream, traditional, moderate, and normal Muslims must undergo a Wahhabi conversion to become real Muslims.

The principal writing of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab is entitled Kitab al-Tawhid, or the Book of Monotheism. Therein Wahhab proclaimed that Islam had become idolatry, and that he alone had found the perfect means of resolving this "grave problem": namely, the purging of the guilty, whose "blood and property" were no longer to be respected. Wahhab's poisonous tract, published in English translation in Riyadh in 1991, has been widely circulated in the United States, especially among young Muslims on college campuses.

There are additional political lessons here. Zarqawi's Wahhabism did not originate in the country of his birth; it is a Saudi invention. Saudi Arabia prides itself on being known as "the land of tawhid." The rhetoric of Monotheism and Jihad betrays the Saudi origin of the terror its acolytes sow far and wide. And in the mosques of Saudi Arabia, state-employed Wahhabi clerics continue to deliver Friday sermons inciting the faithful to "monotheism and jihad"--meaning, first and foremost, passage across Saudi Arabia's long northern border into Iraq to kill and die.

There is a grotesque footnote to this nightmare. As the historian J.B. Kelly has pointed out, Western academic and political apologists for the Saudi state and Wahhabism have often translated the Arabic term "muwahid'dun"--or "believers in tawhid," the Wahhabis' preferred term for themselves--as "unitarians." If certain powerful figures in the Middle East Studies departments at universities in the United States and elsewhere had their way, current headlines would read "Unitarians Behead Another American."

The final significance of the atrocities committed in the name of Monotheism and Jihad should be obvious: The monsters who perpetrate these crimes are not partisans of resistance to foreign occupation, or Iraqi patriots, or ordinary Muslims angered by a non-Muslim intrusion into an Islamic land. They represent Islamofascism in its purest, Saudi-backed form--ideological, fanatical, and nihilistic. War against them is war to the death, a war they have chosen and from whence, in the view of traditional Muslims, divine punishment awaits them.


Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of Wahhabism, Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.


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