Where did al Qaeda (the self-appointed leadership of worldwide islamic terrorism) come from? What is the source of its rage against the West in general and the United States in particular? To fully understand today’s events we have to go back into history once more and pick up religious, political and economic threads that are all part of the story. The story of al Qaeda begins in the desert sands of the Hijaz, the western part of the Arabian peninsula, in the 7th Century of our era. Whether or not you believe that God had His hand in the rise of Islam, it cannot be denied that Muhammad was one of the most significant change agents in the history of the world. The energy unleashed by his religious experience turned the Arab people from idolatrous bandits to one of the greatest civilizations the world had known up until that time. The Islamic Empire was the great superpower of the Middle Ages and played a dominant role in world affairs right up to time of the so-called Enlightenment (18th Century).
Then something went wrong with the islamic dream. Some scholars trace the beginnings of decline as far back as the islamic reaction to the Crusades, others trace it back to social developments in 13th Century Spain. The energy unleashed by Muhammad’s vision was dissipated by narrow thinking. Scholarship that had transformed the arts, the sciences and literature became focused on maintaining the status quo. The Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the rebirth of ancient Greek and Roman ideals created the kind of energy in Europe that had characterized the early islamic empire. The torch of science and learning somehow passed to the West, and the power and wealth of the world went with it. By the 18th Century of our era the islamic world was in serious intellectual, political and economic decline. By the mid-19th Century it was largely “colonized” by the West and has never recovered.
In the face of this long-term decline, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) founded an islamic “back to the Bible” type of movement. He wanted to restore the pure Islam of the desert, free of all later additions and innovations. In other words, he taught that all the resources needed to restore the greatness of Islam lay in the past. This is the basic conviction shared by today’s Muslim “fundamentalists.” Much like Fundamentalist Christians and historic Adventists, they seek to restore the faith to its former greatness by careful attention to the teachings of the faith’s pioneer(s). The key to Islam’s salvation lies in replicating her past. The Muslim world has deviated from pure Islam and only a return to its origins would safeguard it from domination and exploitation by the West. This “Wahabism” is closely entwined with the Saudi royal family (the House of Saud) that came to rule the Arabian peninsula in the wake of World War I. This is the intellectual atmosphere in which Osama bin Laden and his compatriots were raised.
The second foundation for the development of al Qaeda occurred in 1938, with the discovery of the world’s largest supply of easily accessible crude oil. Up until this time, the primary source of income in the Saudi kingdom came from servicing pilgrims in Mecca, Islam=s holiest city. But even the first shipment of oil produced wealth beyond all expectation. This isolated country with no other exportable product now became a major factor in global politics. The stage was set for the events of the late 1970s. To be continued. . .