JUNE 26 — To many, the report of fifteen Malaysians killed in Syria after joining in terrorist activities with Islamist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), are rather shocking. This was the figure given by Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations in New York, in a press conference on June 18, 20141. They were asking, how could this happen? Why militants are coming from ‘a self-claimed moderate’ Malaysia?
Simple answer; the embrace of Wahabism in Malaysia is a source of radicalisation among Muslims here. In 2001, the PBS news programme Frontline noted that Saudi Government has been franchising Wahabism all over the globe; disguising their operation by funding charity work, education and religious institution. A transcript of PBS programme entitled ‘Saudi Time Bomb?’ reported how over the past few decades, “Saudi charities established hundreds of religious schools, or madrassas, from Malaysia to Uzbekistan, from the Sudan to Pakistan”2.
It is a fact that Malaysia is a ‘Saudi Arabia strategic ally’ in many ways”. For example, Malaysian Prime Minister thanked Saudi for “distributing an additional cash profit of US$8.15 million (RM26.2 million) to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad” in March 2011. Following this ‘distribution’ of cash during Bahrainis uprising in 2011 (author’s note: as a reminder most Bahrainis are Shi’ites), Malaysia promised to “fully back all sovereign decisions taken by our GCC allies which have the aim of safeguarding stability and security in the region to ensure harmony and peace for their citizen.” Malaysian Prime Minister also labelled the revolutionaries in Bahrain as “terrorist that undermines the stability and security of the country3.”
The embrace of Wahabism by certain sectors in Malaysia is certainly worrying. Permitting Wahabism in the society is like planting risk at the backyard. There are two typologies regarding Wahabite’s tendency to obtrude their thoughts. First, without physical and military strength, Wahabites are imposing violence doctrinally, intellectually and psychologically; these by attacking those who differ from them as apostates, polytheists and infidels. Secondly, once they have their physical and military strength; the accusations were followed by physical violences by amputations, beatings and even killings. Ironically, Wahabites claimed that what they did is a dakwah (Islamic missionary) and amar makruf nahi mungkar (promoting good deeds and prohibiting wrong-doings) as an essence of Islamic teachings. Wahabites are hardliners who cannot tolerate other views than theirs.
All this while, to avoid the radar, Wahabism movement has been exporting hatred towards Shi’ism. With collective religious hatred conducted by the State agencies towards the Shi’ites, Wahabism slipped in the society undetected. At the same time, the demonisation of Shi’ites radicalise huge section of Muslims society, and this can be easily done since Sunnites do not have proper leadership compared to the Shi’ites. Therefore, the empty space of religious guidance can be easily filled in by the Wahabites preachers with all their dogmas and doctrines. All this is made easy through huge financing. This phenomenon had been predicted in a way since 2007 by Curtin Winsor J.R in his paper ‘Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and the Spread of Sunni Theofascism’. He stated that Saudi government is responsible for funding ‘radical Islam’ all over the Muslim world, and Malaysia is one of its target:
“While Saudi citizens remain the vanguard of Islamic theofascism around the world, the growth potential for this ideology lies outside the Kingdom. The Saudis have spent at least US$87 billion propagating Wahhabism abroad during the past two decades, and the scale of financing is believed to have increased in the past two years as oil prices have skyrocketed. The bulk of this funding goes to the construction and operating expenses of mosques, madrassas, and other religious institutions that preach Wahhabism. It also supports the training of imams; domination of mass media and publishing outlets; distribution of Wahhabi textbooks and other literature; and endowments to universities (in exchange for influence over the appointment of Islamic scholars)4.
The lack of a formal ecclesiastical hierarchy within Sunni Islam renders traditional religious institutions weak in the face of well-funded Wahhabi missionary activities. Most Sunni Muslims look to their local imams for religious guidance. In poor countries, these imams and local leaders often find it difficult to resist the siren song of small amounts of Saudi aid that accompany Wahhabist missionaries in poor. Moderate imams do not have a comparable source of financial patronage with which to combat its spread.
Important fronts in this campaign are in south and southeast Asia, where the majority of the world’s Muslims live. In Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and southern Thailand, Wahhabis have co-opted (or replaced) village and neighbourhood imams, and there is a fresh stream of converts returning from stays as guest workers in Saudi Arabia. The children of poor converts are often taken to Saudi Arabia for “education” and many are returned as cannon fodder for use by Wahhabi terrorist fronts”.
With hatred towards Shi’ites create human rights violations, radicalisation of local Muslims breeding right wingers and religious department going rampant out of control; the temperature of potential religious militancy is rising. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria and Iraq were easily manipulated by independent ‘ustazs’ as necessary war between Sunni and Shi’ites; soon heavens and martyrdom became commodity. Thus it is not surprising anymore that Malaysia has turned to be sowing ground for militants.
One fact forgotten in Malaysia is that the Shi’ites pose less threat to the national stability compared to the Wahabites. In 2010, Malaysian Home Minister at the time, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein confirmed this, saying, “the Shi’ites are not a threat from security point of view.” However, as mentioned above, the Wahabites preachers have strategise to divert people’s attention. The public totally forgot that in the same year, ten terror suspects were arrested here and the “suspects were believed to be followers of the orthodox Wahabi sect”. This was reported in New Sunday Times on 31st January5. Today, Malaysian-made militancy made headlines all over the world, damaging Malaysia’s moderate image. It is time for the Government to give serious attention to the Wahhabi movement and no longer be fooled by them. Malaysia needs to clean herself from this plague as ‘theofascism’ is a threat to a multi-faith multi-racial country like Malaysia. Above all, Malaysian leaderships needs to enhance their international relations knowledge.
Dr Mohd Faizal Musa
Research Fellow Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation
National University Of Malaysia
Wisma Putra: 15 Malaysian ISIS militants allegedly killed in Syria. The Malay Mail Online. 24th June 2014. Available at http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/wisma-putra-15-malaysian-isis-militants-killed-in-syria#sthash.EgfhO3dQ.dpuf visited on 24 June 2014.
Saudi Time Bomb?. PBS Frontline. 15th November 2001. Available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/etc/script.html visited on 14 September 2011.
Malaysia Supports Saudi Arabia & GCC's Peace Initiatives In Bahrain. Bernama Report. 22 March 2011. Available at http://web6.bernama.com/bernama/v3/news_lite.php?id=572665 visited on 1 April 2011.
Jr, Curtin Winsor. 2007. Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and the Spread of Sunni Theofascism. Mideast Monitor 2(1). pp. 1-14. Available at http://www.mideastmonitor.org/issues/0705/0705_2.htm visited on 4 November 2011.
Bendahara, Alang & Shi Lan, Lee. 2010. Suspects are Wahabi Followers. New Sunday Times. 31st January.