The New York Times has published another in its "Secrets of the Kingdom" series on Saudi Arabia, this time delving into the Saudi monarchy's complicated political/religious pact with Wahhabi Islam.
The ultra-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam has had quite a widespread impact on global Islam, and by extension, the non-Muslim world -- as I've noted here before.
This installment of the intermittent series -- which I've touted previously -- offers up no real secrets to those who pay serious attention to the Middle East. Still, the piece and the series in general -- a package of in-depth backgrounders picking apart different aspects of Saudi domestic policy and external influences -- strikes me as akin to a public service.
It's a highly readable primer for the uninitiated, and a detailed reminder for those of us who think we know something about the Saudi leadership's duplicitous ways. While not written by religion journalists, the series provides material every religion journalist should know.
Just how pervasive has the Saudi influence been? Here's a block from the new Times piece addressing this:
Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the United States government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world. “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” he said.
The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.