Commins breaks no new ground, but he has produced a succinct and insightful survey of puritanical Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia. He covers history, doctrinal issues, the symbiosis of the ruling family with the Wahhabi clergy, and everyday Islamic practice in the realms of education, moral standards, law, charity, and gender. Commins is scrupulously nonjudgmental. He stresses, as have others, that the deal between the clergy and the House of Saud remains solid: the Wahhabis continue to eschew any kind of political challenge in return for state sponsorship of their school of belief and practice. As a result, Commins notes, Wahhabism has been superimposed for two centuries on a society that was traditionally much more plural, with important roles for Shiites and Sufi mystics. Because the kingdom is the protector of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and because of Saudi Arabia’s enormous oil wealth, Wahhabism has been punching above its weight in the Muslim world. There is an inherent tension, however: the kingdom relies on the United States to protect its oil wealth, and the Wahhabis view such reliance as tantamount to apostasy.
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