chapter  2
29 Pages

Narrative construction and leadership

Every ideology is conditioned by the prevailing socio-political particularities of its time. Ideas are not born in a vacuum; they are the products of the dialectical relationship between agent and structure. As discussed before, we cannot separate the agency from the structure, because they mutually produce each other: structures produce agencies and agencies produce structures. Accordingly we cannot be indifferent towards the prevailing structures at the time that the Wahhabi agency was in formation. Indeed, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s ideas were products of his environment. Thus, exploring the socio-political environment in which he lived may help us to have a deeper understanding of the creed’s initial hopes, inspirations and anxieties as these were translated into a religious discourse. It was in the eighteenth century that Wahhabism, as a distinct religio-

political expression, came to the attention of the Muslim world, within and beyond the Arabian Peninsula. Although in many ways Wahhabism was the product of its own time and was shaped by various driving forces in Najd, it offered hardly any original thought. In fact, as a belief system, it opposed any sign of originality and innovation in faith. Like many other revivalist movements it wanted to ‘restore’ the true foundations of the religion. Its frame of reference was the past and it had a vision of building a future based on ‘authentic’ Islamic values. Indeed, many of the perspectives championed by Wahhabism had been

debated and advocated by other religious agents through the centuries, but the structural conditions of the eighteenth-century Arabian Peninsula allowed Wahhabism to establish itself as a recognizable religious narrative. In many ways Wahhabism became the loudspeaker for the previously advocated religious perspectives. Thus, Wahhabism was a continuation of a religious trend, which became more visible after being adopted by the House of Saud. Although this chapter primarily aims to address the notions of narrative

construction and leadership, it is imperative to widen our historical lens, in order to achieve a better understanding of the religious foundation that is at the heart of the politics of truth management in modern Saudi Arabia. We have to go briefly beyond modern Saudi Arabia to trace ideas that affected who the

movement and seeded an ideological foundation for what is recognized today as the modern Saudi state. This chapter will attempt to provide a brief historical context for Wahhabism. It also aims to shed light on the structural conditions of the time, which allowed the new religious agency to flourish. This chapter will attempt to show the Wahhabi construction of narrative and elaborate important dimensions of its perspectives. Furthermore, it will discuss the role of the House of Saud and how it offered effective leadership to promote Wahhabism as the official ‘truth’. This chapter will cover the initial Saudi-Wahhabi conflictual steps for state building until the official formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.