Are Wahhabis Sunnis? Chechnya Conference and Saudi anger…
More than 200 Muslim scholars came together in Grozni, Chechnya, for a conference on Islamic issues. They attended from Russia, Syria, Turkey, India, the UK, Lebanon, South Africa, Jordan… and Egypt had a very strong presence.
So what’s special about this, you may be wondering? This is perhaps one of the first times that mainstream Sunni scholars distanced themselves so clearly from Wahhabis, and everyone noticed… But to better understand the significance, here is the broader context to keep in mind…
The conference “who are the real Sunnis?”
The 3-day conference, organized by Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, and which actually took place about a week ago, was called “Who are Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah?” Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah is the full name that Sunnis give to their school of thought. In other words, the title of the conference was “who are the real Sunnis?”
This conference is creating all sorts of buzz. As we speak, the Internet is brewing with tweets and articles, especially from Wahhabi and Saudi scholars, hoping to attract the world’s attention to the “coup” that is being staged against them by the evil false scholars, who are conspiring against the poor victims that they are.
The reason for these attacks? Wahhabis were snubbed. No Saudi or Wahhabi scholars were invited to the conference! (except one relatively known scholar; Hatem al ‘Awni) This, despite it being international, and invitations having been extended to many of the major figures of the different schools of Sunni Islam, except the Wahhabis. Why, you may ask? Simply because the conference wanted to make a stand against the ideology of those who encourage terrorism, hatred, and calling everyone who disagrees with their perverted, backward, and narrow mentality “heretic.”
Instead, the conference saw the participation of Ahmed el-Tayeb, the current grand imam of Al-Azhar, and previous president of Al-Azhar University, as well as previous Grand Mufti of Egypt.
The conclusion of the conference was to provide an answer to the question “Who are the Sunnis?” It stated
“Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah are the Ash’arites, Muturidis in matters of belief, and the followers of the four schools in law, as well as the adherents to pure Sufism in knowledge, manners and purification.”
The participants considered this conference to be
“an important and necessary turning point to correct the dangerous and sharp deviation that has taken place in the definition of Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah, as a result of the attempts of the extremists to hijack this noble title and allow it exclusively for themselves, excluding its true adherents from it.” Following this conclusion, they also recommended the establishment of a national television channel at the level of Russia, and whose objective would be to “communicate the true image of Islam.”
The conclusion, recommendation, and the choice of participants enraged the Saudi and Wahhabi scholars, in addition to Saudi journalists, and princes. Saudi Arabia’s highest group of religious scholars, the Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia, issues a statement indirectly criticizing the conference by
“warning against any attempts to create rifts between Islamic groups.”
Saudi political analysts and journalists were writing that
“the participation of el-Tayeb in a conference that has excluded the Kingdom from the title of Sunnis necessitates that we change our relationship with Egypt. Our country is more important. Let Sisi’s Egypt fall into destruction.”
“The Chechnya conference took place under the oversight of the Russian and Iranian intelligence services to exclude the Kingdom from the Sunnis. And yet, the Imam of Al Azhar signs stupidly and innocently. Most miserable of allies!”
Many referred to the conference simply as a major betrayal. A known Wahhabi scholar, Adil Al Kalbani, tweeted:
“let the Chechen conference serves as a warning to us that the world is gathering firewood to burn us.”
One academic analyst writes
“The manner in which the imam of Al Azhar is rewarding Saudi Arabia for its immense services to Al Azhar, how he has allied with Putin to kick Saudi Arabia out of the Islamic world… these need a psychotherapist.”
Notable deliberate exclusions include Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian scholar who has been instrumental in the promoting the ideologies and policies of the Saudi Arabia and its allies, and who currently resides in Qatar.
He released a statement on his site declaring
“I was disturbed by this conference because of its objectives and its title, as well as the type of those who were invited to attend and participate in it, as it should have disturbed any scholar of Islam who is loyal and sincere towards his community… The concluding remarks of the conference, instead of aiming to unify the followers of Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah as one in the face of the devious groups in Islam, and who are supported politically by the world, and aided with money and weapons, rejects the use of Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah on the scripturalists and Salafis among the Wahhabis, when they are an important constituent among Sunnis. […] We did not hear a word of objection from those who have appointed themselves as representatives on behalf of Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’ah against what Iran and those who do its dirty work — such as Hizbollah militias in Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen – are doing in terms of killing, looting and destruction, as well as sending the missionaries to Africa to misguide the Sunnis. And not a word is uttered against what Russia or those in its orbit are doing.”
Al Azhar issues a statement explaining that el-Tayeb did not exclude the “scripturalists” and always tries to be inclusive in all his participations and speaking engagements because he believes in the importance of unifying the differences within Sunnism without excluding anyone. But this statement seems to have been in vain so far.
As for the Hassan Farhan al Maliki, a well known and moderate scholar, he wrote that
“excluding Ibn Taymyiah’s branch is not an exclusion of all Salafism. However, Ibn Taymiah’s branch has grown a lot, and it considers the other Sunni schools as forbidden innovations. You reap what you sow. […] the conference remains sectarian, but it emphasises the importance of standing up to the extremists and exposing their use of Islam as a pretext and instrument for the spilling of the blood of those who are Muslims and those who are peaceful/innocent.”
It would not be surprising to see very soon, an international and prestigious conference funded by Saudi petrodollars, to counter the conclusions of the Chechnya conference, in order to re-establish its “Islamic leadership,” as it often refers to it.
I hope that this entry helps you navigate a complex map of foreign names, fragmented groups, and historically charged events, when trying to understand present day tensions…