Wednesday, 19 November 2008

British Conspiracy Against Islam

All this hype on the latest James Bond movie reminds me of a little book I read a few years ago, Confessions of a British Spy and British Enmity against Islam. I first came across this book in 2001 at the masjid in Joensuu, Finland. A fellow postgraduate student from Turkey at the University of Joensuu had placed the book there because he was apparently uncomfortable with the influence of Salafi teachings among members of the congregation.

Confessions was allegedly written based on the memoir of a British secret agent named Hempher who served in various undercover operations in the Middle-East for the British government in the 19th century. The book presents in some detail what was arguably Hempher’s greatest mission: to engineer the destruction of the Ottoman Empire by empowering local rebellious groups. To gain control of the Arab Peninsular, Hempher sought the assistance of a local cleric and community leader Muhammad Ibn Abd Wahab from Najd, who went on to spread a puritanical and revivalist version of Islam known today as Wahhabism.

I do not wish to indulge too much on the content of the book (curious readers can access the entire book in PDF format by clicking on the full title of the book in the first paragraph). Sufficient to say its main thesis is, the Wahhabi movement and Salafi teachings are products of a British conspiracy initially designed to hasten the demise of the Ottoman Empire, and to sow a perpetual sense of ‘religious’ rivalry and antagonism among Muslims.

Of course, it would be naive (and stupid) to say that spies and espionage missions do not exist but to say that Wahhabism is a product of British conspiracy to me is more paranoia than reality. The fact is, the authenticity of Confessions has been put in serious doubt by both Muslim and non-Muslim researchers, which by right should render the book to a status of a work of historical fantasy and imagination. Nonetheless, the book remains very popular among Muslims especially among the young, idealistic and those with a political-reformist mentality.

Conspiracy theories are in abundance in the internet. I have to confess that I do occasionally go through them but I do so more out of curiosity and for entertainment. I used to attend a Salafi-Wahhabi study group and I clearly do not see how Salafism can be construed as something other than a genuine approach (among many approaches) to understand and practice Islam. What has given Wahhabism and Salafism a bad name are their alleged followers, those with extreme views and militant tendencies like Usama Bin Laden. Yes, Bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, and in Saudi Arabia Wahhabism and Salafism are dominant, but just because Bin Laden and some of his followers subscribe to these approaches, does that make Wahhabism and Salafism absolutely bad and dangerous?

Extremists exist everywhere, in Wahhabi-Salafi groups as well as among followers of other approaches. A friend of mine once received an 'advise' from a Salafi sister that he should stop wearing trousers because wearing trousers is an imitation of Western-kafir culture. I myself was once 'warned' by someone that if I do not make bai’ah to his sheikh hence joining his tarikah, I will be led astray by the devil and end up in hell fire. These are examples of people with extreme views who genuinely believe that they are in the right while others are wrong. Nevertheless, it needs to be emphasised that while most terrorists are indeed extremists, very few extremists are in fact terrorists. There are millions of Muslims in the world who subscribe wholeheartedly to the writings and words of Ibn Taymiyyah, Muhammad Ibn Abd Wahab, Nasaruddin Al-Albani and Abdul Aziz Bin Baz. The views of these respectable scholars to many are extreme (refer to the collection of articles at Mas'ud Ahmed Khan's homepage), but very few among their followers went on to become militants and terrorists.

My point is, the Wahhabism-British-conspiracy theory is in fact a myth, likewise the alleged association between Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda with Wahhabi political ideology as well as many other so-called conspiracies against Islam associated with various international organisations (a subject I wish to address in future postings inshaAllah). We can be followers of Wahhabism, Salafism, Sufism, Ikhwanul Muslimin, Jama’ah Tabligh etc. In the end, we are all Muslims, united by the same Tawhidic doctrine amid our differences in some specific aspects of belief and practice. Let’s stop this paranoia with conspiracy theories and the seeds of distrust that it carries.



BBC said...


Interesting article.

What is your definition of extremism?

I think Bin Laden was also influenced by Ikhwan ideology.

I still think there is some conspiracy exist against Islam.


Anonymous said...

Salam Br Zaki,

Saya rasa Wahabi dan Salafi itu adalah dua kumpulan berbeza.Mungkin ada sedikit persamaan tapi sejarah dan wadahnya berbeza.

Nak tanya soalan cepumas, dalam UIA ada spy tak? Pernah dgr rumours tapi tak tahu sahih ke tak.

Psych Minor

igUm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
igUm said...

People can become extremist sometime due to high self-motivation that they have while comprehensive knowledge about something that they idealized remains empty.

so when they are "burnt" with some "unlighted" info which is covered by so called true spirit of Jihad, they just take a few second before making violent actions :)

=peaceful threat=

Zaki Samsudin said...

Assalamu'alaykum warahmatAllah

Thank you all for your comments and questions.

On the definition of extremism, rather than giving an academic definition, I would define it as any form of belief that does not tolerate diffences of opinion. And their adherents would condemn those with different points of view.

I firmly believe that a Muslim should follow whatever approaches (Salafism, Sufism etc) that he/she is comfortable with. What I don't agree with is when a person who follows a certain approach begins to see him/herself as a better Muslim than others to the extent that he/she condemns and curses all of them.

On Bin Laden being influenced by Ikhwan, that could be true. However, one has to realise that there are a lot of Ikhwan splinter groups today, some of which are inclined towards militancy while others remain faithful to Hassan Al-Banna's more process-participatory approach. Anyways, Bin Laden is an enigma, a figure that I find shadowy whose real ideological background remains blurry.

On Wahhabi and Salafi being different, of course. To use both terms interchangebaly wasn't quite accurate. However, I was mainly referring to the Wahhabi-Salafi approach from Saudi which has the elements of both the Wahhabi religious-political ideology and the Salafi religious-revivalist-puritanical approach.

On spies in UIA, I think an email comment by a respectable and highly connected friend of mine said it best:

"UIA is an important Islamic institution, and every intelligence agency should be smart enough to keep an eye on it. Liberal institutions are always far more dangerous, because they are ideologically fit to withstand the western propoganda and lifestyle. This is why i am almost sure that there are and will be spies in UIA."

Indeed there are many runours about that but I don't think we have any evidence (understandably) to prove that.



Hanna Kinnunen said...

Hei Zaki!

It has been ages since the last time we met, but came to think of you having decided to visit Malaysia in December/January. To my surprise a quick Google search and hey presto, your (very interesting) blog! Are you still in KL? Would be lovely to get in touch with you and maybe even get some useful travel tips from a local :)

Kind regards from wintery Helsinki,

Zaki Samsudin said...

Dear Hanna,

Thank you for visiting my blog. Kiitos!

It's great to hear that you are visiting Malaysia. Please email me at to tell me more about your travelling plans. I would be more than happy to help out in whatever way I can. Yes, I am in Kuala Lumpur. It would be great to see you again after six years.

Best regards,