Within Islam, there are sects, namely Sunni and Shi’a, and within those sects are different schools of thought. Salafism (from the word salaf, meaning to “follow” or “precede”) is a movement, rooted in Sunni Islam, based on a literalist, fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. These Muslims rely solely on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions as guides for correct Islamic practice. Everything else, they deem impure innovation. Following the same ideology, but specific to Saudi Arabia, is Wahhabism. Wahhabism has a fairly negative connotation within the Western world; however, this sect was highly influential and continues to be esteemed by the royal Saudi family.
This orthodox reform movement was founded by Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab, a Salafi scholar, during the eighteenth century in response to “what he perceived as the moral decline of his society” (Blanchard). Abdel Wahhab impacted the Arabian Peninsula through a serious of reforms, aiming to return to and strengthen monotheistic belief and unity under Islam. Before the wide acceptance of his viewpoint, Abdel Wahhab was opposed not only by advocates of “Islamic ignorance”, or jahiliyah, but also scholars. “A major factor was misunderstanding created by defaming forces motivated by political objectives” (Islahi). All of this changed once he gained the support of Muhammad ibn Saud, the emir, or chief, of Dar’iyah, who was revered for his skills as a warrior.
Muhammad ibn Saud had begun his dynasty in 1726 when he ruled over Dara’iyah. He met Abdel Wahhab in 1740 (after Abdel Wahhab was expelled from Uyayna) and was impressed with his strict religious ideals. Although Saud took on a military role and Abdel Wahhab was responsible for strengthening the movem...
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...di government, though the funding of mosques, schools, and charitable organizations, have promoted terrorism and intolerance of other religions and cultures (Blanchard).
Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are complicated to say the least. Saudi Arabia is a major exporter of oil and in order to “protect a stable and cheap supply of oil” coming to the U.S. and our allies, military bases have been set up. Although the U.S. is there to aid Saudi Arabia, “the presence of bases fosters opposition to the regime they are there to protect”—classic catch-22 (Okruhlik).
The term Wahhabi is not commonly used among followers of this sect, but rather by their opponents, such as other Arabs and European scholars. “Members of the movement describe themselves as muwahhidun, […] which means Unitarians” (Islahi). The core of that word, wahid, means “one” (Kamrava).