Earth & Conservation

How Saudi Arabia Exports Ultra-Conservative Islam

Saudi Arabia's state sponsored religion is Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative form of Islam. How is the country spreading Wahhabism globally?

In December of 2015, German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel made headlines by publicly accusing Saudi Arabia of financing terrorists in the West. Specifically, Gabriel claimed the country was funding Wahhabi mosques, which represent a strain of ultra-conservative Islam associated with extremism.

In today's Seeker Daily report, we look at the connection between Saudi Arabia and the controversial religious movement known as Wahhabism.

The relationship has deep historical roots. In the mid-18th century, cleric and scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab established a sect promoting a strict version of Islam that does not deviate whatsoever from Sharia law. He eventually partnered with local ruler Muhammad ibn Saud to form the first Saudi emirate.

Saud took over military and political matters while al-Wahhab dictated all religious authority in the state. This initial partnership has adapted and endured for more than 300 years as descendant of both bloodlines maintained the alliance.

RELATED: Why Are Saudi Arabia And The U.S. Allies?

In the 20th century, the Saudi Arabia began to use its massive wealth to promote the construction of Wahhabi mosques around the world. According to some sources, the country has bankrolled more than 1,500 mosques in the last 50 years and spent more than $100 billion dollars promoting Wahhabism globally.

Saudi Arabia's efforts to promote their state-sponsored religion has generated much alarm over the years. Despite the kingdom's claims that it does not condone terrorist actions, it actively supports a strain of Islam that promotes extremism. Wahhabism's brand of ultraconservative Islam is also practiced by groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Many Belgians blamed the Saudi-sponsored Grand Mosque for the flare up in religious extremism leading up to the attacks in Brussels.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Gabriel said that Wahhabi mosques, funded by Saudi Arabia, represent a national security threat.

"We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over," Gabriel said. "Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia and many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities."

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

The Conversation: Explainer: What is Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia?

The Independent: Saudi Arabia 'funding Islamic extremism in the West', German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel claims

New York Times: ISIS' Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Austere Saudi Creed

Deutsche Welle: Brussels' Great Mosque and ties with Salafism