Heritage Events Podcast


The Power of Counter-Narratives: Sufi Islam and the Rise of Wahhabism

The rise of Wahhabism has had a significant impact on the Middle East and beyond. This strict interpretation of Islam, which originated with an 18th century preacher based in the Arabian Peninsula named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, argued that Islam had strayed from its pure path and a purge of more modern elements was required. Al-Wahhab also considered the Ottoman Caliphate governing Arabia at the time to be corrupt and the creation of an Islamic state which would implement ‘pure’ sharia law a necessity. Al-Wahhab’s ideas gained traction and were eventually adopted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In turn, Saudi Arabia pumped Wahhabi Islam not only around the Middle East but also into the West via its lavish funding of mosques and schools preaching al-Wahhab’s vision. The Wahhabist belief in a sole, pure version of Islam meant that other strains of Islam - such as the liberal humanist Islam that has at times been associated with Sufism - were opposed. This mindset endures, with Sufi graves destroyed and Sufi traditions sought to be wiped out by extremists to this day. This event will assess the impact of Wahhabism on the Middle East and South Asia. It will focus on the role of Sufism in potentially undermining Wahhabism, the tradition of inter-faith harmony in South Asian countries and the role of inter-faith dialogue in challenging extremist ideology.

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