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Religion and Politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State


The book Religion and Politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State is an exceptional book written by scholars such as Mohammed Ayoob and Hasan Kosebalaban in the year 2009. The work is a brilliant in-depth examination of the history of the state of Saudi Arabia, its political activities, and the role of religion in all of this. The author describes Saudi Arabia as a dessert country located in the Middle East and has an immense significance in the Islamic world as both the Holy Cities, Makkah and Medina are located in Saudi Arabia.


In the beginning of the book, the author puts forth a very interesting narrative that with the development in infrastructure and technology, the interplay of religion and politics has also increased a lot over the past decades. This fact totally negates the assumption in International relations that countries moving towards development and modernization tend to become more secular and liberal rather than religious and conservative. This land of Saudi Arabia is of high significance because of the fact that it encompasses the two most holy and sacred sights of the Islamic world and that all the religious Islamic population have held this country with high regards. There are over 1.2 Billion Muslims around the world and over 28.3 billion of them reside in Saudi Arabia. The Influence is very mammoth in the terms that the state of Saudi Arabia has declared itself as an Islamic state and that no law can be implemented if it is not in accordance with the teachings of the Quran and Sunna.

Religion and Politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State

In this second part of the book, author state that religion in Saudi Arabia gradually developed from a primordial nature to a more instrumental nature where instrumentalism was seen in the decision made by the Saudi leaders with regards to modernization and infrastructure development. Also, making alliances with those countries such as US and west for security and economic purposes for increasingly witnessed.

Describing the historical context, the author tells us that Saudi Arabia has emerged on the map of the world by establishing itself as a nation state in 1932 but since then the bond between religion and politics has been very strong. The reason for this bonding can be identified only by studying the history of the land. If we go back in time to the year 1744, a strong relationship was established between Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab, a religious scholar, and Muhammad ibn Saud who was the ruler of the land of Nejd— an area located in the central Arabia. The politics of Saudi Arabia was such that the whole Arabic Peninsula was mostly controlled by nomadic tribal societies. The narrative propagated by Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab was that the people of these tribal societies have gone far away from the teaching of the Holy prophet and have left the concept of Tawheed. He saw those people worshipping idols, sacred trees, and other such deities. Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab went to these people and tried a lot to convince those people to come back to the way of the prophet. Without any political support, he kept on striving and struggling for this purpose but in the end, he failed miserably. This made him realize that religion and politics are such that they cannot be separated if you want to achieve success in the former or the latter.

Thus, believing that, without the support or the coercive power of the political establishment or the state, religion is in danger, and without the institution of a revealed law, the state is in danger of becoming a tyrannical organization. When Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab saw that the house of Al Saud was ambitious for power, he promised them power and legitimacy if they would help him spread the word of Tawheed in the land of Arabia. Thus, the Al Saud control of the land started increasing and the authority was finally realized when in 1932, when Saudi Arabia was finally declared as a nation State. 

The in the next part, the author describes that after the establishment of Saudi Arabia as a nation state, the interplay of religion and politics has been a prominent factor on the Land of the country. A mutual dependency was created by this interweaving of the religious and political institutions and organizations. On the one hand, there are the Muwahidun (Followers of Tawheed Doctrine) who have always looked towards the house of Al Saud as their promoters and protectors and the prime task of these Muwahidun is the same as the task initiated by Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab which was to spread the concept of Tawheed to the infidels of the foreign land. This meant that they were always looking to expand. And on the other hand, there was the Al Saud regime which also held the religious institutions with a great deal of importance because without the religion transcending the tribal and local structures it was very difficult for the Al Saud regime to establish itself. Thus, to legitimize the state, the House of Al Saud had to rely on the Ulema. It was very important for the state to gain a legal as well as religious sanction because the overall population of the land is very much religious and they never want to see themselves being controlled or governed by someone who is against the laws and rules set forth by the Al-mighty and his prophet. So, religion became a matter of immense significance for the house of Al-Saud. But on the other hand, the Wahabi doctrine or the doctrine for spreading towhead was meant to funded by the Al-Saud regime. So, religion became a strengthening tool and a crucial component for strengthening the countries national identity.

Religion and Politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State


In the end, the author points out that 23 articles in the 1992 Basic Laws declare that the country will abide by the Quran and Sunnah, Islam is declared as the official religion of the state, and that the official criminal law will be in accordance with the Sharia law. The creation of political parties is also banned in the state thus giving the Royal family a very strong legitimacy in the sense that they are the only supreme authority in the state and that the state can use the religion as a tool for manipulation as well. The article also gave the legal right of sons of ibn-e-saud to rule the land of Arabia according to the basic law. The king is said to be the absolute ruler the sharia law is there to limit his authority and power and Saudi traditions are also there to marginalize the power and authority that the king possess we can analyses and asses the intertwining of religion and politics by reflecting upon the act of King Fahd who was the ruler of Saudi Arabia from 1980 to 2005, when he insisted on replacing his title from his “majesty” with the “custodian of the two Holy Mosques” thus in the absence of any political participation from any political party or other institution, religion has become a major and most significant source of legalization and legitimization for the rule of the Al-Saud regime or the Saudi royal family. This has led to various attempts by the rulers to maneuver religion to justify the state actions.

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Hamza Yaqoob

Hamza Yaqoob is a Pakistani author and journalist. He is an IR Graduate with expertise in South China Sea affairs. He is the Editor-in-chief of Revelation World PK, and currently working as a Senior Technical Writer at a Real Estate firm in Islamabad.

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