The World Muslim League: Agent of Wahhabi Propagation in Europe

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 9

Documents recently published in Arabic on the Muslim World League (WML) website, an organization funded by the Saudi government, indicate that Wahhabi clerics are increasingly targeting Europe as an ideological recruiting ground. The WML was created in 1962 in Mecca [1] and in due course became a primary tool for disseminating Wahhabi ideology worldwide. While Wahhabi doctrine is exclusionary and extremist, it does not necessarily condone or promote terrorist acts. The fear is, however, that Wahhabi doctrine and institutions could serve as gateways to more violent organizations.

The Muslim population in Europe has grown rapidly over the past 50 years; estimates vary between 13 and 20 million Muslims now living in the EU, and as many as 52 million in Europe when Southeastern Europe, Turkey, and Russia are included. [2] Broadly speaking significant segments of this population are alienated and thus susceptible to radicalization, particularly by the remnants of the Egyptian Ikhwan and Algerian Islamic militants.

In the mid-1980s, Saudi Arabia began to openly support and finance an ideological assault to spread Wahhabism. This policy was essentially a response to the Iranian revolution which put Shi’a Islamism at the forefront of the global Islamic movement. Anxious to curtail Iranian ambitions, the Saudis embarked upon the most extensive missionary campaign in history, effectively exporting Wahhabism to the four corners of the globe.

Saudi Arabia officially permits the dissemination of WML’s propaganda, which is often radical and vehemently anti-American. Former CIA director R. James Woolsey estimates that the Saudis have spent nearly $90 billion since the mid-1970s to export their ideology into Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike. [3]

The WML has been paying special attention of late to Europe, emphasizing the role Saudi Arabia has played in assisting Muslims and promoting Islam in that continent. The tone of research documents recently posted on the WML website suggest that as far as Wahhabi clerics are concerned, Europe is considered a promising area for further Islamization. An article originally published in Arabic in the “al-`Alam al-Islami” (The Islamic World) section of in December, 2004, entitled “Leading Role of Saudi Arabia in the Dissemination of Islam’s Holy Heritage in the West” by Al-A’zab Abdel Khalil describes the research of Dr. Sheikh Ra’fat Gunaimi, director of the Egyptian Research Institute of Asia at the Az-Zakazik University. [4] In his research paper, Dr. Gunaimi asserts that “Saudi Arabia plays the leading role in the distribution of sacred Islamic ideas in the West.”

Dr. Sheikh Ra’fat Gunaimi emphasizes that Muslim countries should help and protect Muslims living abroad as this is: “…necessary for the preservation of the essence of Islam in the western states where, since the times of colonialism, many products of a spiritual heritage and valuable historical Islamic monuments are stored.”

Dr. Sheikh Ra’fat Gunaimi writes that “Islamic minorities live in all countries of modern Europe. Their ethnic roots are different – Arabs, Turks, Asians, Africans… and all of them maintain their cultural and social identity, although in some respects they are influenced by the European environment in which they live. Nevertheless they are connected with historical motherlands, whence they arrived.”

Dr. Sheikh Ra’fat Gunaimi recognizes that Muslim minorities in Europe live in safety and do not face any brazen oppression from Europeans. “Muslim minorities in Europe try to adapt to their European presence and set up and organize the Muslim establishments there. And they hope their co-religionists in the Arabian and Muslim countries will stretch a helping hand to them and give them support in strengthening Islam in Europe.”

Dr. Sheikh Ra’fat Gunaimi provides the Muslim World League’s data about “the Islamic reserve” in Europe, some of which is presented below:

Austria: Muslims in Austria are mostly natives from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Broadly speaking they are represented by an organization called “The Islamic Cultural Society”.

Germany: The majority of Muslim workers in Germany are from Turkey and Northern Africa, and they mostly live in industrial regions.

Belgium: Natives of Northern Africa comprise 2 % of the national population. In August 1974 the Belgian parliament ratified a royal decree that recognized Islam as a state religion. Soon afterwards a huge Islamic Cultural Center was established in Brussels with Saudi money.

France: Muslims here are mostly from North Africa and constitute the largest Islamic community in Europe.

Malta: The population of the island is 350,000, 40,000 of whom are Muslims, thus constituting 11 % of the general population.

Given that youths now make up the majority of the Muslim population of Europe, Wahhabi missionaries and propagandists expend a lot of energy in accessing and indoctrinating young people. They also aspire to introduce their outlook and vision in school curricula textbooks. An article entitled: “International conference dedicated to improve the image of Islam in European schools’ curricula” from the Muslim World League website states that representatives of eight international organizations that participated in the Cairo conference came together to correct “negative perceptions of the Arabic – Islamic culture” in textbooks of European schools. [5]

When Wahhabis talk about misperception of Islam by non-Muslims they almost always attribute this to mistranslation and distortion of the Qur’an and other sacred texts. Dr. Salakh Ramadan, a professor from the Al-Azhar University drew participants’ attention to the fact that “Italian history textbooks are influenced by anti-Islamism.” Moreover Dr. Mohammed Mansur, another professor at Al-Azhar University, criticized Austrian textbooks for presenting Islam as “a collection of Christian and Judaic doctrines that the Prophet Mohammed got acquainted with during his commercial voyages.” All participants at the Saudi sponsored conference were unanimous in their opinion that they had to do their utmost “to revise the western perception of Islam and explain Islamic positions on present problems.” They also reiterated and reinforced Saudi Arabia’s claims to be the leading power in Islam; a power that strives to keep the faith “pure” and free of innovation.

Wahhabi propagandists have correctly identified European mosques as their main stronghold; institutions which are at times even beyond the reach of law enforcement bodies. It is thus not surprising that Wahhabi organizations strive to place sympathetic imams and other figures of authority at the helm of mosques. This kind of penetration enables them to introduce the Wahhabi agenda in an incremental, systematic and effective manner. In another article on the WML website entitled “Swiss Muslims are looking for ways to train their own Imams”, the Paris-based author Ali Salekh gives direct instructions on how to insert Wahhabi imams in European mosques without arousing the suspicions of European authorities. Salekh maintains that “…an Imam should be familiar with all aspects of life and in this or that country in order to provide fatwas that on the one hand comply with the Shari’ah, and on the other take into consideration real conditions of life in this or that country.” [6]

Wahhabis understand well that after 9/11, life for European Muslims has changed in many respects, not least because Muslims are now subject to greater suspicion and scrutiny. Wahhabis advise Muslims to “avoid actions that may cause suspicion and anxiety among the native population,” and to choose their imams and other figures of authority on the basis of their knowledge of local conditions, laws and values. Moreover they stress that the imams should be politically active. According to Ali Salekh, “…an Imam or a preacher in the west should not restrict his actions to the management of a mosque or issuing fatwas to the community.” Salekh advises that aside from these classical duties European imams should work and establish links with local organizations, governmental bodies, research centers and with all segments of the local population in order to promote the Islamic “mission” in Europe.

The broadly ineffective and negative policy of European governments toward their Muslim citizens from the 1960s-80s was replaced in the 1990s by a policy of appeasement towards the Muslim extremist organizations. Arguably this has been the single most important factor in the growth of Wahhabism and other forms of extremist Islam in Europe. Therefore it is not altogether surprising that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Europe. It is also not surprising that perhaps as many as 700 insurgents in Iraq are European Muslims. Among them was Abu Muhammad al-Lubnani, the most senior emir of the Zarqawi network, who made his way to Iraq from Denmark and recently perished there.

Dr. Evgenii Novikov, an expert on Islam and on the politics and economics of the Persian Gulf region, is a Senior Fellow of The Jamestown Foundation.


1. “Muslim World League (PO Box 537, Makkah) was founded in 1962 (1381/82 AH) to promote Islamic unity.” From the Saudi Arabia Information Resource Website

2. For more information, see “Islam in Jail: Europe’s Neglect Breeds Angry Radicals” By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, December 8, 2004.

3. Presentation at the American Enterprise Institute: Saudi Government Propaganda in the United States: Avowed Ally or Secret Enemy? February 16, 2005.

4. “Daur al-ra’id li-saudiyyah fi nashar samahat al-Islam fi-l-gharb” (Leading Role of Saudi Arabia in the Dissemination of Islam’s Holy Heritage in the West) Al-`Alam al-Islami, (The Muslim World). Issue # 1868, December 6, 2004.

5. Al-`Alam al-Islami, (The Muslim World). Issue # 1868, December 6, 2004.

6. Ibid.