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Implications Of Saudi Funding To Western Academic Institutions

GENERAL http://www.isic-centre.org

07 February 2006



Recent news reports claim that the Saudi prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Al-Saud, a nephew of the late King Fahd, has donated $20 million each to Harvard and Georgetown universities in the US. These funds will be used to expand the Islamic studies programmes of both universities, promote the study of Islam and the Muslim world, and support interfaith understanding. The prince also gave a total of $15 million to the American universities in Cairo and Beirut for establishing centres for American studies. [1]

The prince is an international businessman, listed by Forbes magazine as the fifth richest person in the world. His wealth is estimated at $14 billion and he controls a worldwide empire in investment, banking, construction and leisure. His $10 million contribution to a September 9, 2001 victims fund was rejected by then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the prince suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed to the terror attacks.

Prince Al-Waleed has recently bought 5.46% of the voting shares of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s diversified international media and entertainment empire that includes Fox News Channel (FNC). Fox had been reporting on the Saudi role in the promotion of Islamist terror, and it is thought that the prince may hope to dampen any potential criticism by his investment. [2][3] It is claimed that Fox News Channel recently changed its coverage of the Muslim riots in France after he called the network to complain. The Dubai based Khaleej Times quotes the prince as saying:

I was in America watching Fox News when I saw a news report being labelled as Muslim riots. I immediately called up Fox Murdoch and informed him that it was wrong to label any riot caused by whatever reason as Muslim. After a short while, there was a change, and the news report about Muslim riots was simply labelled as riots. [4]


The prince’s recent financial gifts to Western academic institutions follows a pattern of Saudi funding for Western institutions that have the potential to influence Western perceptions in favour of Islam and of Saudi interests. Such funding has become an urgent Saudi project since the September 11, 2001 attacks in which the majority of the terrorists (15 out of 19) were of Saudi origin. Following the attacks, Saudi sponsorship of radical Islamism came under growing scrutiny, and Saudi relations with the US and other Western countries suffered a setback as Western media and public increasingly linked Saudi Arabia to Islamist terrorism. Many observers agreed that Saudi Arabia was the main source of funding for Islamist extremist organisations. Western intelligence services following the financial trails of terror funding found that Saudi government and private finance had for many years been funding the infrastructure of radical Islamist groups, as well as Islamic mission (Da‘wa, i.e. propagation of the faith) and the promotion of the Wahhabi brand of Islam worldwide.

Saudi Arabia’s massive public-relations campaign intends to recapture its lost image in the West as a force for moderation and stability. In addition to the funding of Western institutions, it has lately developed a scholarship programme for Saudi students studying in the US, offering 5,000 students a full four-year scholarship including living allowances. This programme aims at improving the Saudi image in the US and reducing the widespread hostility to the US among the Saudi public. [5] Strong anti-West and anti-US bias is evident in Saudi mosque sermons, school textbooks, publications and media.

Western governments, dependent on Saudi oil and needing Saudi Arabia as an important ally in the Middle East, continue to stress its moderating influence and opposition to terrorism. The reality is that, since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has poured large amounts of its oil riches into the worldwide expansion of the strict and narrow Wahhabi form of Islam that is deeply hostile to any reformation and reinterpretation of Islam. It also has supported the most radical Muslim groups around the world, thus escalating their power and their slide into terrorism. Wahhabism had been a marginal extremist sect, but as a result of the oil money influx since the 1970s it has become part of mainstream Islam, redefining Muslim views worldwide. Extreme Wahhabi doctrines and attitudes – branding non-Muslims as infidels, judging other Muslims as apostates (this process of judging is called Takfir), and its emphasis on violent Jihad – helped it to forge alliances with similar-minded Islamist groups and lay the ideological basis for Islamist terrorism. [6]

Saudi Arabia itself has recently come under attack from radical Islamist Salafi-Jihadi groups and is now trying hard to join the war on terrorism. Its security forces are busy fighting their erstwhile terrorist allies and it has promised to restrain extremist anti-Western rhetoric and reform its textbooks and educational curriculum. Its moderate rhetoric has undoubtedly increased in recent years and it has killed many of its home-grown terrorists in confrontations with Saudi security forces. However, its Wahhabi ideology and commitment to the worldwide spread of its version of Islam makes it very difficult to effect a clear separation between Wahhabism and Jihadi terror. The regime’s legitimacy is still based on its Wahhabi heritage which includes the Takfiri and Jihadi elements basic to Islamist terrorism.


Observers note that the rapid build-up of semi-official Saudi charities occurred after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the takeover of the main mosque in Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year. Many of them contend that these charities were used to spread Saudi Wahhabi Islam worldwide as a response to the perceived new threats to Saudi legitimacy. This effort was supplemented by funding from other Arab oil-rich states in the Gulf, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait. The Kingdom also funded Islamist terror groups, giving both protection money to induce them not to attack targets in Saudi Arabia, and also contributions to fund the waging of Jihad against perceived enemies of Islam, especially in Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly spent over $70 billion since 1979 on overseas aid, more than two-thirds of it on its campaign to spread Wahhabism across the world. This programme included the founding of thousands of mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools) as well as Islamic centres that have served as support networks for Wahhabi ideology and for Jihadi movements. Funding for the Afghan Jihad was part of this wider campaign, and Saudi charities have funded radical groups and movements as well as educational and social welfare activities across Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union and the West. [7]

The Saudi drive to spread the Wahhabi form of Islam is channelled through a variety of Islamic organisations and charities controlled by the Saudi government. Among them are the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD); the Muslim World League; the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC); the International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIIRO); the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY); Al-Haramein; Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) and many other private charities operated by wealthy Saudis. The larger organisations and charities are mostly headed by leading members of the Saudi state, often members of the royal family. [8]

The official Saudi newspaper in English, Ain al-Yaqeen, published an article on March 1, 2002 describing the Kingdom’s efforts at supporting Islam worldwide. It claimed that the Kingdom had spent “astronomical” sums of many billions establishing thousands of mosques, madrassas and Islamic centres in non-Muslim countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia, Africa and Asia. Among the biggest projects was the King Fahd Islamic Center in Malaga, Spain. In addition, the Kingdom has established a number of academic chairs in some of the most respected universities in the developed world in order to “encourage understanding of the true nature of Islam by explaining clearly Muslim beliefs and by correcting misconceptions and misrepresentations”. Especially mentioned are the King Abdul Aziz Chair in Islamic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara; the King Fahd Chair in Islamic Sharia Studies at the College of Law at Harvard University; the King Fahd Chair in Islamic Studies at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) at the university of London and the provision of a resident professor for the Prince Naif Department for Islamic Studies at the University of Moscow. [9]

The King Fahd website claims that King Fahd’s personal efforts alone in this field of the propagation of Saudi-style Islam has resulted in the establishment of some 210 Islamic Centres, more than 1,500 mosques, 202 colleges and almost 2,000 Muslim schools worldwide. [10] Some of these funds are directed at Western academic and research institutes, in order to “challenge and expose the caricature of Islam which is widely promoted by sections of the Western media”. [11] Some specific beneficiaries of the late King’s generosity in the United States include the American University of Colorado; the American University of Washington; Duke University, North Carolina; Howard University, Washington; Johns Hopkins University, Maryland; Middle East Institute, Washington; Shaw University, North Carolina; Syracuse University, New York.


Saudi Arabia’s state religion is Wahhabism, a narrow form of Islam hostile to reforms in Islam and ideologically akin to radical Islamism. Generous Saudi funding of institutions in the non-Muslim world, and especially in the West, has a long history and is driven by the Saudi state and the royal family. While Saudi sources claim that the funding is given to help remove Western misunderstandings of Islam, evidence suggests that much of the motivation is founded in Islamic doctrines of mission (Da‘wa) and holy war (Jihad) and aims at the spread of Islam (especially in its Wahhabi form) and its political dominance around the world. More recently it has been apparently employed in improving the Saudi image in the West and regaining its influence there, as both were severely damaged by the impact of the 11 September 2001 attacks.


[1] – Caryle Murphy, “Saudi Gives $20 Million to Georgetown”, The Washington Post, 13 December 2005.

[2] – Wes Vernon, “AIM Report: Radical Arabs Seek Influence Over U.S. Media”, 6 December 2005, Accuracy in Media, viewed 22 December 2005; http://www.aim.org/aim_report/4220_0_4_0_c/

[3] – Frank J Gaffney Jr. “Fox’s Saudi Prince”, FrontPage Magazine.com, 30 September 2005, viewed 22 December 2005. http://www.frontpagemag.com/articles/printable.asp?id=19652

[4] – Asma Ali Zain, “Media should not be allowed to rule in Iraq: Prince Waleed”, Khaleej Times Online, 6 December 2005, viewed 22 December 2005. http://www.khaleejtimes.com/displayarticle.asp?section=theuae&xfile=data/theuae/2005/december/theuae_december146.xml

[5] – Joel Brinkley, “More Saudi Students in U.S.”, The New York Times, 18 December 205.

[6] – David E. Kaplan with Monica Ekman & Amir Latif, “The Saudi Connection: How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network”, U.S. News & World Report, 15 December 2003.

[7] – David E. Kaplan with Monica Ekman & Amir Latif, “The Saudi Connection: How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network”, U.S. News & World Report, 15 December 2003; Dore Gold, Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism”, Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2003, pp. 119-155.

[8] – Dore Gold, Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism”, pp. 119-155; David E. Kaplan with Monica Ekman & Amir Latif, “The Saudi Connection: How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network”, U.S. News & World Report, 15 December 2003.

[9] – “Huge Saudi Efforts in the Field of Establishing Islamic Centers, Mosques and Academies All Over the World”, Ain Al-Yaqeen, 1 March 2002.

[10] – King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz website, Introduction, viewed 22 December 2005. http://www.kingfahdbinabdulaziz.com/main/m000.htm

[11] – King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz website, viewed 22 December 2005. http://www.kingfahdbinabdulaziz.com

The Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity (ISIC) is a Christian research centre focusing on current trends in Islam and their effect on non-Muslims.


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