|Saudi Ultra-Conservative Islam being challenged ?|
The conference, sponsored and attended by some of Saudi Arabia’s closest allies, suggests that Saudi funding of ultra-conservative worldviews may be meeting its match in more liberal interpretations of Islam backed by the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, an Islamist with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently convened some of Islam’s most prominent leaders to determine the theologically and politically explosive question of who is a Sunni Muslim.
Professing to be a Sufi, a more mystical interpretation of Islam, Kadyrov lacks the religious credentials beyond his native Chechnya where he was recently re-elected with 98% of the vote.
Kadyrov’s ability to bring together an illustrious group of Muslim scholars highlights successful behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the United Arab Emirates to counter Salafism.
This, despite the UAE’s close collaboration with Saudi Arabia as a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and in the war in Yemen. It also shines a light on Russian efforts to cultivate Muslim religious leaders.
Participating in the Grozny conference were, among others, the imam of the Al-Azhar Grand Mosque in Cairo, Ahmed El- Tayeb, Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, former Egyptian Grand Mufti and Sufi authority Ali Gomaa, a strident supporter of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Al Sisi’s religious affairs advisor, Usama al-Azhari, the mufti of Damascus Abdul Fattah al-Bizm, a close confidante of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and influential Yemeni cleric Habib Ali Jifri, head of the Abu Dhabi-based Islamic Tabah Foundation who has close ties to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed ibn Zayed al-Nahyan.
In a frontal assault on Saudi-backed ultra-conservative movements such as Wahhabism, Salafism and Deobandism, the conference charged that the label Sunni had been hijacked by heretics whose deviant practices distorted Islam.
In defining Sunni Islam, the conference explicitly excluded Wahhabism, the Saudi state’s adopted version of Islam, as well as Salafism and Deobandism from its definition.
The assault is all the more significant given that Saudi Arabia has over the last four decades invested tens of billions of dollars into promoting globally ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam.
The conference suggests that the UAE, together with Russia, is succeeding in countering the Saudi effort that has enabled ultra-conservatism to make significant inroads into Muslim communities across the globe.
The heavy Egyptian presence suggests further that the UAE, which together with Saudi Arabia is Egypt’s foremost financier, has effectively driven a wedge between the kingdom and the Arab world’s most populous state.
It also serves as evidence that Russian efforts to woo mainstream Muslim as well as Islamist leaders have begun to pay off despite Moscow’s support of the Assad regime in Syria.
In a political fete, Russia managed to gather four years ago leaders of a host of Islamist stripes, including Saudi-backed Salafists, Muslim Brothers and Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah at one table.
Russian officials have stressed that conservative Russian Orthodox values are similar if not identical to puritan Islamic ones.
Read more: UAE Vs. Saudi: Fighting for the Soul of Islam - The Globalist