What percentage of the population in Saudi Arabia are Wahhabis?

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By Kristy Tolley

Understanding Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

Wahhabism is a conservative and puritanical branch of Sunni Islam that originated in the 18th century in the Arabian Peninsula. It was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who sought to purify Islamic practices by adhering to the literal interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith. Wahhabism became the official doctrine of the Saudi dynasty, which has ruled Saudi Arabia since its foundation in 1932. Today, Wahhabism plays a significant role in shaping Saudi Arabia’s culture, politics, and foreign policy.

History of Wahhabism and its influence in Saudi Arabia

Wahhabism emerged in the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century as a response to what its followers saw as the corruption of Islamic practices. It gained popularity among tribes in central Arabia, who saw it as a way to unify and strengthen their communities. Wahhabism became the official doctrine of the Saudi dynasty, which was founded by Muhammad ibn Saud in 1744 with the support of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Since then, Wahhabism has played a crucial role in shaping Saudi Arabia’s culture, politics, and foreign policy. The Saudi government has used its wealth to promote Wahhabism around the world by building mosques and funding Islamic schools and charities.

Demographics of Saudi Arabia’s population

According to the World Bank, Saudi Arabia’s population was around 34.8 million in 2020, with a 2.3% annual growth rate. The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, with a small Shia minority. Other religious groups, such as Christians and Hindus, make up less than 1% of the population. The Saudi Arabian government does not officially collect data on religious affiliation, and citizenship is tied to religion, with only Muslims being eligible for citizenship.

Estimating the percentage of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia

Estimating the percentage of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia is challenging due to the lack of official data on religious affiliation. Some estimates suggest that the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim population adheres to Wahhabism, while others put the figure at around 50%. The exact percentage of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia remains uncertain.

Sources for estimating Wahhabi population in Saudi Arabia

Estimates of the percentage of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia vary depending on the source. Some non-governmental organizations and scholars estimate the percentage of Wahhabis based on their own research and surveys, while others rely on anecdotal evidence or government data on religious institutions. The Saudi Arabian government does not officially collect data on religious affiliation, which makes it challenging to estimate the percentage of Wahhabis accurately.

Controversies surrounding the estimation of Wahhabi population

Estimating the percentage of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia is controversial, as it is difficult to determine who qualifies as a Wahhabi. Some scholars argue that the label "Wahhabi" is overused and misapplied to conservative Sunni Muslims who do not necessarily adhere to the strict interpretation of Wahhabism. Others argue that the government deliberately downplays the number of Wahhabis to avoid criticism from the international community.

Factors that affect the spread of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

Several factors have contributed to the spread of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, including the government’s support for the doctrine, the country’s oil wealth, and the influence of conservative religious leaders. The Saudi government has used its oil wealth to promote Wahhabism around the world, building mosques and funding Islamic schools and charities. Conservative religious leaders also play a significant role in shaping public opinion in Saudi Arabia.

The role of education in promoting or limiting Wahhabism

Education plays a crucial role in promoting or limiting Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government’s education system has been criticized for promoting Wahhabi ideology and neglecting critical thinking and creativity. Some scholars argue that the lack of diverse educational opportunities in Saudi Arabia has contributed to the spread of Wahhabism. However, in recent years, the Saudi government has made efforts to reform its education system and promote more moderate Islamic teachings.

The impact of Wahhabism on Saudi Arabia’s society and politics

Wahhabism has had a significant impact on Saudi Arabia’s society and politics. It has shaped Saudi Arabia’s culture, laws, and social norms, promoting a strict interpretation of Islamic practices and values. Wahhabism has also influenced Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, with the Saudi government using its oil wealth to promote the doctrine around the world. However, Wahhabism has also faced criticism from some Saudis who see it as repressive and restrictive.

The relationship between Wahhabism and terrorism

Wahhabism has been linked to terrorism, with some terrorists citing Wahhabi ideology as a justification for their actions. However, scholars disagree on the extent to which Wahhabism is responsible for terrorism. Some argue that Wahhabi ideology alone does not explain the complex social, political, and economic factors that lead to terrorism. Others argue that the Saudi government’s support for Wahhabism has contributed to the spread of extremist ideologies.

Conclusion: The significance of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia today

Wahhabism remains a significant force in Saudi Arabia today, shaping the country’s culture, politics, and foreign policy. The exact percentage of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia remains uncertain, but it is clear that the doctrine has had a significant impact on the country’s society and politics. While some Saudis see Wahhabism as a source of pride and identity, others criticize it as repressive and restrictive.

Recommendations for further research on Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

Further research on Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia could explore the extent to which Wahhabi ideology influences Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and how it shapes the country’s relationship with the international community. Research could also examine the role of education in promoting or limiting Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and how the Saudi government’s efforts to reform its education system have impacted the spread of the doctrine. Finally, research could explore the impact of Wahhabism on Saudi Arabia’s social and cultural norms and how it affects the country’s youth.

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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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