PETALING JAYA: A Saudi-based organisation involved in a soon-to-be-launched “centre for peace” hosted by the Malaysian government is part of a decades-old apparatus by Riyadh to promote its brand of Islam as well as extremist ideologies.
The Muslim World League (MWL), an organisation heavily funded by Riyadh over the decades and which carries out activites to promote the Saudi regime’s Islamic image abroad, is said to be among those involved in the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP).
Prime Minister Najib Razak recently said that the centre, borne out of talks between Malaysian and Saudi officials, will have a permanent building on a 16ha site in Putrajaya.
Details about the centre’s specific role are vague as is its need for such a vast space that roughly equals more than a dozen Olympic football fields.
It is understood that the centre is also associated with Negeri Sembilan-based Islamic Science University of Malaysia (Usim) in Nilai, which welcomed the establishment of KSCIP on its campus.
A statement by Usim, issued in the wake of the visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz to Malaysia last March, said KSCIP was jointly established by the defence ministries of both countries as well as MWL, popularly known in the Arab world as Rabitah al-Alam al-Islami.
But MWL has a history of promoting Wahhabism, or Salafism as its proponents prefer to call it. Wahhabism emerged in the 1800s in the Arabian peninsula, and embraced by the Saud family to establish present-day Saudi Arabia.
The controversial strand of Islam is based on a literal interpretation of the Islamic texts, and has been closely linked to many of its more militant offshoots including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and more recently the Islamic State (IS), from which the Saudi rulers have taken pains to distance themselves.
The doctrine, while commonly misunderstood as part of Sunni Islam, is infamous among rights groups for its views about women, which inspired a Saudi ban on women from driving and from them travelling without being accompanied by a male family member.
An independent global Arabic newspaper, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab), recently reported that MWL had also strongly backed the Saudi-led embargo on Qatar as well as the publication of a list of names accusing prominent individuals and organisations of backing terrorism.
One notable individual in the list is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a world renowned authority on Islamic jurisprudence, who in 2009 was honoured by the Malaysian government with its Maal Hijrah Award for contributions to Islam.
Last month, MWL was active again backing Riyadh’s policies, announcing that it was cutting ties with the Doha-based scholar following accusations that he supported “terrorism”.
Links to Taliban, IS
MWL has for years acted as Riyadh’s chief mouthpiece in the Muslim world.
Flushed with Saudi petro-dollars for decades, it has financed the construction of large-scale Islamic centres in European cities and promoted Islamic propagation activities in Asia and Africa.
These include publishing Islamic magazines, organising Islamic courses and distributing millions of copies of the Quran, whose translated versions in local languages are endorsed by Saudi scholars.
In 2001, just a month after the 9/11 attacks, Newsweek reported that MWL and its charity affiliate, International Islamic Relief Organization, were used by Osama bin Laden – the Saudi-born militant who was killed by US Special Forces in 2011 – to finance his operations.
The magazine reported that the organisations were left off the list of groups sanctioned by Washington “in order to avoid embarrassing” the Saudi regime, considered the US’s strongest proxies in the Middle East.
More recently, following a spate of terrorist attacks in Britain, a report named MWL as being involved in Islamic extremism.
The report, “Foreign Funded Extremism in the U.K.”, released early this month by conservative think tank Henry Jackson Society, named MWL and its sister organisation World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).
Among others, the report said WAMY “has had a long history of involvement with the promotion of violent Islamist extremism and the distribution of hateful literature” in Britain.
“Equally, MWL has had officials and member organisations linked with both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” the report added.