Wahhabism is a fundamentalist movement, named after Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703-1792). It remains the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
Wahhabis hold that some Muslim groups such as Shia Islam follow novel or non-Islamic practices. Wahhabi theology advocates puritanical and legalistic stances in matters of faith and religious practice. They see their role as a movement to restore Islam from what they perceive to be innovations, superstitions, deviances, heresy and idolatry. There are many practices that they believe are contrary to Islam.
Wahhabism was a considered a small sect within Islam until the discovery of oil in Arabia in 1938. Enormous oil revenues provided the means to spread the beliefs of Wahhabism throughout the Middle East. Saudi laypeople, government officials and clerics have donated many tens of millions of dollars to create Wahhabi-oriented religious schools, newspapers, and outreach organizations.
US government and other experts have reported that Islamic extremism is on the rise and that the spread of Islamic extremism is the preeminent threat facing the United States. In addition, various sources alleged that Saudi Arabia is one source that has supported and funded the spread of Islamic extremism, or Wahhabism, globally.
The intelligence agencies, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the US Agency for International Development are implementing various efforts to identify, monitor, and counter the support and funding of the global propagation of Islamic extremism. The intelligence agencies and DOD are carrying out identification and monitoring efforts, primarily in counterintelligence and force protection.
According to reports, the State Department and USAID are carrying out efforts to counter the global propagation of Islamic extremism, with State’s efforts focused primarily on traditional diplomacy, counterterrorism, and public diplomacy and USAID’s efforts focused on development programs to diminish underlying conditions of extremism.
According to the General Accounting Office they are preparing a classified report to be subsequently released with a more complete description of US efforts to address the global spread of Islamic extremism. A number of sources have reported that Saudi private entities and individuals, as well as sources from other countries, are allegedly financing or supporting Islamic extremism.
For example, a Treasury official testified before Congress that Saudi Arabia-based and -funded organizations remain a key source for the promotion of ideologies used by terrorists and violent extremists around the world to justify their agenda. However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, the Commission found no persuasive evidence that the Saudi government knowingly supported al Qaeda.
The government agencies also told GAO staff that Islamic extremism is being propagated by sources in countries other than Saudi Arabia, such as Iran, Kuwait, and Syria. The agencies are still examining Saudi Arabia’s relationship, and that of other sources in other countries, to Islamic extremism.
The Saudi government has announced and, in some cases, undertaken some reform efforts to address Islamic extremism. For example, the government is undertaking educational and religious reforms, including revising textbooks and conducting a 3-year enlightenment program, to purge extremism and intolerance from religious education. However, US agencies do not know the extent of the Saudi government’s efforts to limit the activities of Saudi sources that have allegedly propagated Islamic extremism outside of Saudi Arabia.
Sources: General Accounting Office, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, National Security Institute, National Association of Chiefs of Police Terrorism Committee