Saudi Arabia’s highest cleric declares Iran’s Shi’ite Islam to be non-Muslim. Iranian leaders including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei claim it’s Saudi Wahhabis who are not Muslims, and say they’re unfit to guard Mecca.
CounterJihad, Sept. 8, 2016:
The highest ranked cleric in Saudi Arabia has declared that Iran’s Shi’ite Islam is not a true form of the faith. The two states are already fighting enthusiastically through proxies in Yemen and elsewhere. The undiplomatic language can only escalate tensions between the countries.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said[,] “We have to understand that they are not Muslims. … Their main enemies are the followers of Sunnah (Sunnis)[.]”… He described Iranian leaders as sons of “magus”, a reference to Zoroastrianism, the dominant belief in Persia until the Muslim Arab invasion of the region that is now Iran 13 centuries ago.
Following the statements by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called into question Saudi Arabia’s right to continue to control the territory containing the cities of Mecca and Medina. Each are considered holy cities by Muslims, indeed the two holiest places on earth.
“The evil family tree of the Saudi dynasty does not have the competence to manage the holy shrines,” Khamenei said.
Al al-Sheikh’s remarks drew an acerbic retort from Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said they were evidence of bigotry among Saudi leaders. “Indeed; no resemblance between Islam of Iranians & most Muslims & bigoted extremism that Wahhabi top cleric & Saudi terror masters preach,” Zarif wrote on his Twitter account.
Ironically, these accusations that the other does not practice a true form of Islam only underlines the degree to which these are both Muslim countries. As we at CounterJihad pointed out when the Islamic State attacked Medina, the accusations of not being a Muslim — a practice called takfiri — is a classic gambit in radical Muslim movements. Our resident Islamic scholar explained the history of the practice at greater length on another occasion:
ISIS certainly represents a train of thought in the 1,400 year old Islamic tradition, even if it is an extremist train of thought that has not enjoyed prominence in Islamic history. As a matter of fact, the takfiri mentality is not a novelty in the 1,400 year old Islamic tradition. One need only look back to the last century to see this takfiri mentality in the likes of influential thinkers as Abul ‘Ala Maududi (1903 – 1979 A.D.), and his protégé Sayyid Qutb (1906 – 1966 A.D.), the main theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood. One could look two centuries back and arrive at the takfiri attitude of Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (1703 – 1792 A.D.). One could go even further back—centuries ago—to the likes of Ibn Taymiyyah (1263 – 1328 A.D.), a darling of Islamists the world over, to see the same attitude.
So the takfiri mentality of ISIS is not a novelty in Islamic history. It should be noted that although it is true that Muslims generally shied away from declaring apparent Muslims as non-Muslims (which is why al-Azhar shies away from declaring ISIS members as non-Muslims), it is nonetheless true that the takfiri mentality follows a centuries-old strain of thought. And it is not just maverick Islamic jurisprudents who theorized and applied this takfiri attitude; whole Muslim states did as well. As Rudoph Peters, a Dutch scholar of Islam who has written multiple treatises on Jihad, states,
Due to the collapse of Islamic political unity, often two Muslim states would be at war with one another. In such situations muftis would usually find cause to label the enemies either as rebels or as heretics, thus justifying the struggle against them.
Throughout Islamic history, governments and opposition movements have declared their Muslim adversaries to be heretics or unbelievers (takfir, declaring someone to be a kafir, unbeliever) in order to justify their struggle against them.
Thus, the dispute over who is a ‘real’ Muslim is itself a marker of the fact that both aspirants are indeed part of the Islamic political and theological tradition. And it is a unified, theological and political tradition. That fact makes it difficult for opponents of the political tradition, which contains many oppressive elements especially for women, as well as religious and sexual minorities. The unity of the politics with the theology makes it easy to paint such opponents as if they were objecting to the religion rather than to the politics. This defensive mechanism often insulates even brutal states like Iran and Saudi Arabia from the full scale of criticism that their oppressive practices deserve.
What in fact is happening is that two nation states are fighting for primacy in the Islamic world. They are likely to divide it between them, and then to suffer friction all along the borders of their zones of influence. The takfiri language only marks this out as a conflict within Islam, although one likely to have consequences for anyone involved in the region.