What makes the muslims angry

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
—Barack Obama, 44th President of USA

THE  year 1979 holds special importance. It was the year that saw two  significant happenings in the Muslim world. The events occurred in two  states holding contrasting views on Islam but triggered by a common  enemy, the US. One was the hostage crisis in the Shiite ruled Iran,  which was covered quite extensively by the press, the other being the  lesser known and reported uprising at Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca,  the city under the control of Sunni Muslims.

There  was a fundamental difference though between the two events. The embassy  takeover in Tehran was a student initiative against the US for its  meddling in the country’s politics. The siege of Mecca was the rebellion  of a Muslim group against the policies of the ruling family in Saudi  Arabia which were influenced by the US.

The  rebellion in Mecca combined with the events in neighboring Iran forever  changed the equation of Muslims with the US, and the west in general.

Act I, Tehran

On  November 4, 1979, some 400 Iranian students decided to stage a sit-in  at the American embassy in Tehran. It was a demonstration both against  the Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s meeting in Algiers with  Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, to  discuss common security issues and the Shah’s admission to America for his cancer treatment.

The  protest soon turned into a takeover of the embassy and its staff as  more radical elements took over. The captives were paraded blindfolded  before the world’s media.

Ayatollah  Khomeni at first wanted the students to be taken out by force, but later  changed his mind riding on the popular mood and supported their cause. He even denounced the embassy as a ‘nest of spies’. Con  Coughlin writes how it influenced the Islamic revolution in Iran, “The  American embassy siege proved to be a defining moment both for Khomeini  and the Islamic revolution. Whereas previously he had sought to control  the wilder excesses of the revolution, such as limiting the number of  executions, now he fully embraced the concept of revolutionary action,  and gave the student revolutionaries free rein to confront the negative  influences of imperialism, liberalism and democracy.”[1]

The  move was also initially opposed by two prominent student activists –  one of them (surprisingly) was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Tarbiat Modarres  University. Both eventually joined ranks with the majority.

Although  the hostage crisis was a student initiative, it found mass support in  Iran because of the role US played in the past politics of the country.  America helped depose the elected and popular government of Mohammad  Mosaddegh in 1953. Iranians never really forgave the US for it.

The  embassy staff of 52 Americans was held hostage for a total of 444 days.  It damaged relations between Washington and Tehran permanently.

Act II, Mecca

The Mecca uprising was the revolt of a group of Muslim extremists against their own rulers.

Juhayman  ibn Saif al Uteybi, a retired corporal in the Saudi National Guard, was  the chief architect of the events that unfolded in Mecca on November  20, 1979.

His role in the uprising  was an outcome of the anger that has been building inside him for some  time. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that his name itself means ‘Angry  Face’ in Arabic.

During the mid 1970s Juhayman lived in Medina trying to model his life on the ways of the Prophet 14 centuries earlier. He was not alone.

Robert  Lacey sheds light on such individuals, “Those who opted for  back-to-basics called themselves Salafi, because they sought to behave  as salaf, literally the pious ancestors of one of those three early  generations that were mentioned with such approval by the Prophet. A  group calling itself Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba, “the Salafi  Group That Commands Right and Forbids Wrong,” had been active in Medina  for some time, and Juhayman joined it when he came to town, plugging  himself into some of the Kingdom’s strongest and most ancient traditions  of piety.”[2]

Medina’s Salafi Group was created around 1965.

For  Juhayman, wherever he looked he could detect bida’h (any Islamic  innovation). By now his rejectionist thinking found a few takers. They  started referring to themselves as Al-Ikhwan (the Brothers). The word  itself had a dangerous resonance with the Saudi past. It was also  Juhayman’s legacy.

A confrontation  with Sheikhs though resulted in the security forces running after the  Ikhwan for interrogation. Juhayman was on the run.

Unable to meet his followers, Juhayman turned to the written and spoken words. His printed words (“The Letters of Juhayman”) survived and have long influenced Muslim extremists over the years.

His  grievance was that al-Saud had exploited Islam to guarantee their  worldly interests, and have brought evil and corruption upon the Muslims  by paying allegiance to the Americans.

It  was in late 1978 that Juhayman started having dreams about the Islamic  Messiah – the Mahdi or rightly-guided one – who would come down to earth  to correct the problems of mankind. His dreams even revealed the  identity of the Mahdi as one of his own followers, Muhammad Abdullah Al-Qahtani. Juhayman soon married his sister.

This  was also the time when Juhayman was ready to confront the rulers by  violent means. His armed men took control of the Grand Mosque on the  First day of Muharram (first Islamic month) in the Islamic year 1400,  which translates to November 20, 1979.

The siege finally ended on December 4 as the last of the remaining rebels were captured by the government forces.

The  bitter struggle saw 127 government soldiers perish and 450 injured.  Some 117 rebels including Muhammad Abdullah were killed. Twenty six  worshippers also lost their lives.

The  outcome surprised even Juhayman. Yaroslav Trofimov in his definitive  account of the events says, “As Juhayman was led away, one of the  officers asked him again why he had desecrated the holiest shrine. The  reality of utter defeat began to sink in. “If I had known it would turn  out this way, I wouldn’t have done it,” Juhayman muttered in  response.”[3]

It would take several months to undo the physical damage to the Grand Mosque.

The Brothers in Islam

The founder of modern Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was ably supported  by warriors from the Bedouin tribes who called themselves Al-Ikhwan.  For them to support the Saudi cause was to engage in Jihad and that made  them ferocious warriors.

As the  empire got established the Ikhwan were told to settle down peacefully.  But being the Bedouin warriors, they continued their raids suspecting  their former leader to have made peace with the British.

Abdul  Aziz spent more than a year in vain to strike a deal with the Ikhwan.  The showdown finally came in March 1929 in the open plain of Sibillah,  north of Riyadh. The Ikhwan were given one last chance to surrender but  they ignored and attacked. In response Aziz’s men opened fire. Hundreds  of men and their camels perished that day.

Among those who survived the onslaught was Muhammad ibn Saif al-Uteybi, father to Juhayman.

Birth of Political Islam

The  siege of Mecca was the first major challenge to the ruling group in  Saudi Arabia since the Ikhwan rebellion. It brought into open the rising  tension between the state and its own religion.

Madawi  Al-Rasheed explains, “It was vital to devise a formula for reconciling  the state’s immense wealth with the austerity of Wahhabi* Islam. The  incompatibility between religious dogma and royal pomp and the  vulnerability of the royal family to attacks from within the ranks of  the most loyal supporters (the religious establishment) shocked inside  and outside observers who considered Saudi Arabia one of the most stable  states in the Middle East. The constant search of the Saudi state for  ways to accommodate the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ crumbled with the siege of  the mosque.”[5]

It also forced the  rulers to grant more powers to the ulama (Islamic scholars) and Islamic  activities more political space in the early 1980s. The ulama seized the  opportunity to reinforce the strict Wahhabi rules on ritual observance  and moral behaviour.

It was also the  beginning of a new era where the banner of Islam was unfurled for  political means. Thomas Hegghammer talks about its ramifications,  “However, the ‘Wahhabism’ and the ‘pan-Islamisation’ of 1980 Saudi  Arabia represented two distinct processes with different causes and  results. While the first was a purely domestic process promoted by the  Najdi Wahhabi ulama and resulting in social conservatism, the latter had  international ramifications, was promoted by the Hijaz-based  organisations such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and produced  political radicalism. Nevertheless, both processes left more political  space for Islamist activism of all kinds. The political opportunity  structure for Islamist activists – especially those seeking to mobilise  people for the jihad in Afghanistan – thus became highly beneficial.”[6]

The  Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted several Islamic  organisations to issue calls for jihad against the occupiers. This gave  the conflict a whole new religious dimension.

Saudi  involvement in Afghanistan was unprecedented and it exceeded even the  assistance for the Palestinians. It also saw the Kingdom graduate from a  passive and financial to an active and military approach to  pan-Islamism. This was made possible by US approval, the access to  Pakistani territory, and the willingness of the Afghans.

Iran,  sharing its border with Afghanistan, saw this as an opportunity to  increase its influence in the area. It backed the Afghan Northern  Alliance, which included the Shiite Hizb-l Vahdat representing the  Hazaras (a local minority Shia tribe).

The  invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein forces gave another opportunity to  the fundamentalists. Fearing a possible Iraqi attack on its own soil,  Saudi Arabia welcomed foreign forces in 1990 to help defend the country.  This was also the time when some sahwa** members began to speak out  against the monarchy. Under pressure the government looked out for ways  to compensate the lost credibility.

The opportunity came in the form of the Bosnian war of 1992.

Saudi was not alone in making the most of it. Iran and Sudan, too, tried to exploit the Bosnian crisis to gain regional control.

In  fact Iran made good use of its long-standing links with Bosnian  political leaders to provide substantial material support for the war  ravaged country.

The roots of Political Islam were firmly established by now.

The Role of Wahhabism

The  rigid views of Wahhabism and the patronising it received from the Saudi  rulers in the past, fostered Muslim fundamentalism. The doctrine  considers Muslim sects like the Shiites and the Sufis as heretics. It  even inspired people like Juhayman to take up arms against the royal  family.

Although Juhayman was  beheaded soon after the uprising, his ideals and vision survived long  after. The baton was passed on to another misguided flag-bearer of  Islam, Osama Bin Laden. Like Juhayman, Osama too, had issues with Saudi  ties to the US.

It came as no  surprise to many that 15 of the 19 al-Qaida jihadists involved in the  9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The sad news was followed by a  discovery of a huge arms cache in Riyadh and subsequent attacks on  residential compounds in 2003. The terror continued in the country so  much that by the December of 2004, some 176 policemen and civilians  (mostly foreigners) had lost their lives.

The  events showed a scary trend. The home-grown fundamentalists were  turning into terrorists. The rulers of the state had to take swift and  strict measures.

Dr. Sherifa Zuhur  gets the point across, “Saudi Arabian officials decried al-Qa’ida’s  actions in the United States, and have captured and killed operatives,  arrested more than 600 suspects, forced key clerical figures to recant  their radical views on television, recalled more than 1400 imams who  were counselled on their divergent opinions, and took a variety of  measures to diminish the financial support of terrorist organisations.  The government also announced modest political reforms that began with  voter registration from 2004-05, and municipal elections in 2005 which  will enhance political participation.” [7]

The  tentacles of the Osama factory are now reaching Iraq, Sudan, Somalia,  Yemen and Indonesia, among others. It misses no opportunity to unleash  terror on countries and people in the name of God.

The Israeli Angle

The  Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the stumbling block in the  stability of Middle-East and a cause for Arabs to take up arms. For  years now it has been the driving force behind Muslim fundamentalism  across the globe.

The difficulty in resolving the issue has only frustrated the parties involved.

The  sad part is those who were once the land owners are now refugees in  their own land. More than 300,000 Jews immigrated to the then British  Mandated Palestine between 1923 and 1938. Now compare this with the 3.5  million Palestinians displaced because of the 1948 and 1967 upheavals  (500,000 alone during the Six-Day War in 1967).

Millions  of Palestinians refugees are today dispersed throughout the  Middle-East, many in camps in neighboring countries. They are still  searching for a way to coexist with the nation that is responsible for  the mess.

According to Amnesty  International 2011 Report, in 2010, Israeli authorities demolished 431  structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a 59 per cent increase  over 2009. At least 594 Palestinians – half of them children – were  displaced, while more than 14,000 Palestinians were affected by  demolitions of water cisterns, wells and structures relating to their  livelihoods.

The Israeli military  killed 1,510 Palestinians in 2006-09. Of these, 617, including 104  children aged under 18, were not taking part in any hostilities when  they were killed.[16]

The Arab and Muslim worlds remain split between rejectionist forces and those willing to recognise Israel in the name of peace.

As  for Israel it continues to enjoy strong support from both the Democrats  and Republicans in the US. No US president ever questions the country’s  so-called security needs.

Both  Clinton and Bush failed to strongly take up the case of settlement  expansion and certain occupation practices, which have nothing to do  with security, with Israel.

Barack  Obama generated so much hope in the Muslim world with his landmark  speeches, but, he too couldn’t do much to help resolve the  Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Flawed US  policies in the past gave ample opportunities to other state actors  with their own agendas. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia attempted to broker a  Palestinian unity government without Washington’s help. Iran responded  by strengthening its ties to Syria and Hamas, thereby increasing its  influence in the region.

The Gaza  blockade and the Israeli West Bank barrier have only added to the woes  of Palestine. Indirectly it has fuelled the strong sentiments of the  Arabs and Muslims elsewhere against the state of Israel.

Engaging the Extremists

The  West over the years has followed a flawed policy of “engaging the  moderates and shunning the extremists.” You ignore a person and you  ignore his cause. By ignoring such individuals we harden their stand. It  makes them look out for alternate ways to make their voices heard.  Unfortunately, violence is one such means which makes maximum impact.

We  need to condemn violence in any form. No second thoughts there! We also  have to understand that killing one Osama Bin Laden would not help.  Osama has become more of a symbol of resistance to the so called  jihadists. You kill Osama and there are hundreds ready to take his place  and promote the cause.

Occupying  lands in the name of security threats will offer only temporary  solutions and would strengthen the resolve of the jihadists.  Incidentally it is also this angle which extremists, like Osama, relish.

In  an interview given to CNN in 1997 Osama said, “If there is a message  that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the  mothers of the American troops who came here with their military uniform  walking proudly up and down our land while the scholars of our country  are thrown in prisons. I say that this represents a blatant provocation  to 1250 million Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned  for their sons, then let them object to the American government’s policy  and to the American president. Do not let themselves be cheated by his  standing before the bodies of the killed soldiers describing the freedom  fighters in Saudi Arabia as terrorists. It is he who is a terrorist who  pushed their sons into this for the sake of the Israeli interest.”[9]

The  best way to approach them is to find their ideological mentors and  engage them. A dialogue on any given day is a much better start.

This in itself is no mean task and a definite policy shift has to be exercised in the name of peace by the West.

Bridging Divides

The  Muslims today are angry more than ever. But we need to separate anger  from madness (of a few). Wherever the anger is justified it needs  corrective measures.

1979 is history,  but it could very well repeat itself. And with the power of the  electronic media today the situation could be worse.

The  West for its part needs to engage the Muslims more than ever before.  Most importantly dialogues should be insulated from any act of violence.  As we have seen in the past, the rise of Islamophobia only helps the  extremists!

The US needs to rethink  its policy of dictating other countries’ affairs in the name of national  security. Afghanistan and Iraq are in a mess but the terror threat  continues, not to mention the millions who lost their lives and the  million others rendered homeless.

Sheikh  Salman al-Oadah echoes the sentiments of fellow Muslims in the region,  “And if the West considers September 11 as an affront to civil security  in the West, then we can share with it that feeling and even the stance  of rejecting attacks against civil security throughout the world. But it  is important for the West to realize that civil security in the Islamic  World has not seen stability for decades and a lot of the impediments  to civil security have come about under the umbrella of Western policy  and quite possibly due the direct actions of the West.” [10]

The  once mighty British Empire also collapsed under the pressure of putting  foot at too many places. You can’t win people over by occupying their  lands!

The Palestine-Israel conflict  is one issue that will influence any peace initiative between the  Muslims and the West. For long it has been a stumbling block in the  stability of the Middle East. You resolve that and half the work is  done.

The US handling of this crisis  also is faulty and needs serious rework. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott  Lasensky stress this point, “The United States also has tried mistakenly  to cherry-pick Palestinian negotiating partners, sometimes seeking to  bypass more senior figures whom Washington perceives as intransigent.  This approach tends to backfire; when we try to pick our winners, our  diplomacy often loses.”[11]

Israel has also to be pressured into an inspection of its nuclear arsenal.

The  two main players in the Middle-East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, influence  most of the Muslim world today. The tension between them is a direct  outcome of the desire to control the region and their different  religious beliefs. This is also a sad reflection of the divide between  the Muslims in general.

Saudi Arabia  needs to promote more tolerance in its society. An outright rejection of  beliefs not conforming to the majority is the first step in promoting  hatred. Qur’an itself speaks against it. In verse 118, chapter 11, the  books says, “If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one  People: but they will not cease to dispute.”

There is also no denying the fact that the Saudi society is gradually changing and the new rulers must be credited for it.

The  difficulty the rulers face is in striking a healthy balance between  admonishing the violent opposition and co-opting those with similar  views. Religious sensibilities have to be taken into due consideration  before making any policy shift.

This  is not an easy task as Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “Saudi Arabia’s  specific Islamic tradition, namely Wahhabi teachings, did not encourage  an easy immersion in modernity in the twentieth century. From the very  beginning, the ruling group stumbled across several obstacles when they  introduced the most simple of technologies (for example cars, the  telegraph and television among other innovations). Objections from  conservative religious circles were overcome as a result of a  combination of force and negotiations. Social and political change  proved more problematic and could not be easily implemented without  generating debates that threatened the internal stability of the country  and alienated important and influential sections of society.”[5]

How successful would they be in the long run only time will tell!

The  Saudis need the US support to guard themselves against a powerful  neighbour in the form of Iran, something that has not gone down well with  many in the Kingdom.

Iran needs to engage in dialogues rather than raising tempers with the now familiar diatribe of Ahmadinejad.

There  are unsubstantiated claims by certain countries in the Middle East of  Iran’s role in their internal affairs. The country needs to put more  confidence building measures in the wake of its nuclear program.

Iran  is also facing some problems internally. Post election, as the events  at home show, there is a growing dissatisfaction of the young population  with the power the clergy enjoys. The Shah’s toppling was not possible  without the student uprising. Those in charge should never forget this  simple fact.

The US needs to respect  the regime in Iran (whosoever) and sit with it. Surely the lessons of  the past have not been learned. Stephen Kinzer endorses the view,  “Today, as anti-Iran rhetoric in Washington becomes steadily more  strident, it is urgent that Americans understand how disastrous the last  US attack on Iran turned out to be. They might also ponder the question  of what moral responsibility the United States has to Iran in the wake  of this painful history.”[12]

The answer to that has the potential to change US-Iranian relations.

Barack  Obama talked about a new beginning in his landmark speech given at the  Cairo University in 2009, “We have a responsibility to join together on  behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer  threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where  Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and  nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments  serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are  respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we  can only achieve it together.”

The  average Muslim, too, is sick and tired of seeing his faith questioned  every time some extremist blow himself to pieces in the name of Allah.  They also seek a new start where they are free in their lands and are  judged by their own actions.

The world has seen enough violence in the name of religion and security. Let’s give peace a chance!



*Members  of the Wahhabi movement prefer to call themselves Muslims, or  muwahhidun (those who insist on the unification of the worship of Allah)  or Ahl (community of) At-Tawhid (Monotheism). The teachings of the  reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi  (“following the forefathers of Islam.”)

**Sahwa movement emerged  in Saudi Arabia during the late 1960s. It was a well organised political  movement that pride itself on religious orthodoxy.

1. Con Coughlin, Khomeini’s Ghost (London: Pan Macmillan, 2010), 177.

2.  Robert Lacey, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists,  Modernists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (New York: Viking Penguin,  2009), 18.

3. Yaroslav Trofimov, The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine (New York: Anchor Books, 2008), 214.

4.  As’ad AbuKhalil, The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism,  and Global Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).

5. Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 11.

6.  Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism  Since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 24.

7.  Sherifa Zuhur, “Saudi Arabia: Islamic Threat, Political reform, and the  Global War on Terror,” Strategic Studies Institute (2005), 13, accessed  October 28, 2011,  http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=598.

8. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, Updated Edition, 1999).

9.  “Osama bin Laden Interview – CNN,” FindLaw, accessed October 28, 2011, news.findlaw.com/cnn/docs/binladen/binladenintvw-cnn.pdf.

10.  Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, “How We Can Coexist”, Islam Today, Jan 01, 2002, accessed October 28, 2011,  http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-417-2952.htm.

11. Daniel Kurtzer  and Scott Lasensky, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership  in the Middle East, (Washington: United States Institue of Peace, 2008),  38.

12. Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and  the Roots of Middle East Terror, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons),  xxiii.

13. “A History of Conflict”, BBC,  accessed October 28,  2011,  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_ip_timeline/html.

14.  Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and  the Bin Laden Brotherhood (USA: Duke University Press, 2002, Revised and  Updated).

15. Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran  Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam  (New York: Grove Press, 2006).

16. “Amnesty International Annual  Report 2011: The state of the world’s human rights,” Amnesty  International, accessed October 28, 2011,  http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/israel-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-2011#section-67-5.

4 thoughts on “What makes the muslims angry”

  1. Extremely well researched and written article Inam. My knowledge in these matters is almost negligible hence I wouldnt comment on any of the researched facts but what comes to my mind is that it is high time we (Muslims) stop defending ourselves / our religion / the acts being done in the name of religion by fellow Muslims etc. Religion since ages has been a factor for intolerance in the society. The minute we understand and accept the basic philosophy that \’religion\’ is a very personal thing, I dont see a reason why then we should not develop tolerance for each existing religion in this Universe. If a few Muslims in the name of religion are doing bad, the best policy is to just ignore them instead of coming out and announcing and pronouncing to the world that all Muslims are not bad and that Islam is a religion of peace and all. No. We need to stop doing that. Instead what we need to do is work towards eradicating this narrow mindedness and fanaticism from the minds of Muslims specially women coz they are ultimately the ones who are responsible in raising families.

  2. Well balanced article…. As a Muslim each one us should understand that majority of our problem can be sorted only if we unite as Muslims and not divided as sunni,shia,salafi,wahabi,Irani ,Saudi etc etc…. Its ok to hold a diffrent view ,that is always welcome but it should not be at the cost of innoccent lives…..

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