The Jihadi Who Kept Asking Why

(New York Times) Elizabeth Rubin - The Saud dynasty and the Wahhabi clerics mutually reinforce each other's authority. It's been that way since the 18th century, when Muhammad Ibn Saud, a tribal ruler in the untamed deserts of central Arabia, struck a bargain with Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a puritanical religious reformer. They would purge Islam of the idol worshiping that had slipped into Bedouin religious practices, unify the competing tribes, and conquer the Arabian peninsula. The Sauds lost and regained power over the centuries, but that religious-political covenant has endured and is the source of today's Saudi system. The oldest brothers of King Fahd, who for more than a quarter century have controlled the Ministries of the Interior and Defense, the National Guard and the governorships, are divided about how to change their kingdom to rid it of the extremism that leads to terrorism, without upsetting the powerful Wahhabi clerics. An unlikely group of onetime religious jihadists have recently stepped into the midst of this debate. The ex-jihadists are fluent in Islam and, more important, in the lingo of the underground terrorists. Mansour Al-Nogaidan is the most daring of these reformists, a 33-year-old former radical imam and a columnist for Al Riyadh, who for the past three years has argued that Wahhabism is the source of the political and cultural problems in the kingdom.

2004-03-08 00:00:00

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