Oh, the difference fundamentals make! The fundamentals of the powerful and prominent Wahhabi form of Islam are very, very different from the fundamentals of conservative American Christianity. It helps to define those differences in order to understand the clash of cultures that is apparent throughout the world and coming to the U.S. unless things change.
The Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, based in Saudi Arabia in that country’s rich and powerful monarchy and spreading throughout the world, is nothing if not “fundamentalist” when it comes to the Holy Qur’an. The belief system started with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, 1703-1792, a preacher and activist who opposed what he saw as a softening and turning away of Islam in his society. Wahhabism is sometimes called “the firebrand version of Islam.” Wahhabis believe the Qur’an is perfect and holy, in and of itself, and that true Muslims should never have any other religious rites or practices or sacred sites other than what they perceive to be purely Qur’anic in nature. They criticize less-conservative Muslims for doing things they perceive as blasphemy and apostasy, when to those Muslims, the things they are doing are OK under Islam. Nowadays, some people whose views are very close to Wahhabism call themselves Salafi instead, to avoid the negative connotations.
The enmity between the Wahhabis and the Shi’a Muslims may date to 1801 and 1802, when the Wahhabis captured the Iraqi towns of Karbala and Najaf and destroyed the tombs of Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, and Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali bin Abu Talib. They did so because they thought too many of the Muslims in the area were violating the precepts of the Qur’an in venerating those dead heroes, seeking their intercession, visiting their tombs and so forth. The Wahhabi viewed that as idolatry, but the Shi’a did not, and still resent the destruction of those important sites today. Note that in the current time it is the Wahhabis who are destroying artwork, sculptures, shrines, mausoleums and other antiquities of Islam and other religions across the Middle East, to the shock and horror of the art history world and the public as a whole.
Wahhabi society practices a very strict jurisprudence based on sharia law, which is very different from familiar principles in the U.S. Constitution. For example, there’s no such thing as “freedom of speech” or “freedom of religious expression” under the Wahhabi interpretation of sharia law, and even the most scholarly criticism of Muhammad, the Qur’an or Islamic principles is severely punished as shirk, or idolatry. Individuals are not as safe from government search and seizure because of the lack of a concept of private property in the American view of it. Wahhabis avoid Western dress, discourage sports, don’t often spend much time with non-Wahhabi Muslims, and are very strict about women’s place being in the home and separated from men when in public. Wahhabi men wear the white flowing thobe, or robe, with a red and white checkered or white head scarf called a Ghutrah, while Wahhabi women are in black abayas in public in which only their hands and eyes can be seen. Wahhabi ideology has created, and Wahhabi dollars finance, such terrorist movements as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Critics say that Wahhabi Islam is the reason for the growing perception around the world that radical Islam wants to wage jihad and take over the world, while admirers say that it should be called “revivalist Islam” and “activist Islam,” because it is seeking to restore the Islam that the prophet Muhammad organized and envisioned.
It is thought that in the Persian Gulf region, there are 5 million Wahhabis, 28.5 million Sunni Muslims, and 89 million Shi’a Muslims. But the Wahhabi influence far exceeds its numbers. The U.S. State Department estimates that the Wahhabi faith, working through the Saudi monarchy, has financed more than $10 billion of mosque construction and preaching content development for American mosques, plus many other donations to charitable foundations around the world, with an intention to replace the more mainstream Sunni Islam with the more radical and austere Wahhabism.
In the same way as Wahhabis could be called the “puritans” of Islam, fiercely adherent to the Qur’an in a literal sense, fundamentalist Christians believe that all you really need to know and love Jesus Christ is the Holy Bible. These conservative Christians decry churches that veer away from what the Bible clearly defines as necessary to a Christian life, and call those other things “extra-Biblical” and amounting to blasphemy and apostasy. To them, killing another person is never, ever, justified except in self-defense, a just war, or in duly-carried-out capital punishment. They staunchly uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, especially their guarantee of freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, private property rights, civil rights, and many other ideas which are anathema to Wahhabi Islam. Women are of equal eternal value and have equal civil rights as men in conservative Christianity. The “fundamentals” of Christianity are explicitly stated in the Bible: belief in the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Blood Atonement on the Cross, the Bodily Resurrection, the inerrancy of the scriptures, Bible reading and study, prayer, tithing, communion, and above all, trying to live by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. Fundamentalist Christian men and women also tend to dress modestly, but not as modestly as the Wahhabi Muslims, and especially in the past although commonly in modern-day life as well, conservative Christians have frowned on cultural activities such as teenage dancing, rock ‘n’ roll, R-rated movies, pornography, sexual immorality, and so forth.
Wahhabi Muslims who see the degenerate side of American society must conclude that Christianity is very, very bad or at the very least powerless, since so many people who say they are Christians ignore the basic rules of Christianity, and have sunk into depravity and abomination.
In the same way, conservative Christians who see the violence and beheading and pedophilia and jihad espoused by Wahhabi Muslim leaders; the intolerance for any other religious belief system, including less conservative Islam; and the oftentimes shocking misogyny and subjugation of women, must conclude that the more a person adheres to the Qur’an, the more evil, intolerant, frightening and hateful that person becomes.
Who is right? Maybe both. Maybe neither.