- Part-time faculty member at Boston College and Brandeis University
- Apologist for Saudi Wahhabism
The daughter of a Christian pastor, Natana DeLong-Bas was born in Pennsylvania, graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, and earned both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Georgetown University. In 2002 DeLong-Bas and her former Georgetown professor John Esposito, whom she holds in very high regard, co-authored the book Women in Muslim Family Law. DeLong-Bas identifies yet another Georgetown professor, John Voll—former associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding—as her “mentor.” Today DeLong-Bas is a part-time instructor in Theology at Boston College, and also serves as a lecturer in Near East & Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Moreover, she works with the British Council’s “Our Shared Future” project, which aims to promote “a new emphasis on mutual respect and civility” between Muslims and Christians. DeLong-Bas's academic specialty is Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's ultrafundamentalist Islamic sect and state religion which has inspired al-Qaeda and its variants.
DeLong-Bas was not widely known prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but she established a name for herself soon afterward as an academic expert claiming that the purportedly extremist nature of Wahhabism had been overstated. In 2003, for instance, she argued in The Boston Globe that the writings of Wahhabism's founder, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, were actually moderate and unthreatening to non-Muslims.
DeLong-Bas further fleshed out this view in her 2004 book Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, in which she portrays Wahhabism as being ideologically compatible with modern feminism. She contends, among other things, that al-Wahhab authorized jihad only as a self-defensive measure to repel military aggression; that he advocated for “the maximum preservation of human life even in the midst of jihad as holy war”; and that he called for “a balance of rights between men and women” as well as “tolerance of other religions.” Notably, Islam scholar Stephen Schwartz writes that DeLong-Bas's book “seemed to have been rushed into print with official Saudi support.” He observes, for instance, that the author expressed gratitude for the backing of such notables as a Saudi prince, the son of a notoriously extreme member of the Wahhabi clerical class, and the director of the King Abd al-Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives in Riyadh.
In late 2006, DeLong-Bas gave an interview to the Saudi newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat in which she said: “I think that the Western media and the world have given Osama bin Laden more weight [than he has in reality] and exaggerated in depicting the danger he poses. Likewise, I do not find any evidence that would make me agree that Osama bin Laden was behind the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. All we heard from him was praise and acclaim for those who carried out the operation.” When she was subsequently asked to clarify her views, DeLong-Bas acknowledged that “of course” bin Laden was involved in the 9/11 attacks: “He's the CEO of al-Qaeda and the leader of their political agenda. All I claimed was that he didn't have anything to do with the logistics or the planning of the attacks themselves.”
According to DeLong-Bas, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna “was not a jihadist or an extremist,” but sought only to delineate “how to be a true Muslim in everything one does and says.” “I think one of the biggest misconceptions that most people have of jihad,” the professor expounds, “is that it necessarily is some kind of fight or that violence has to be part of it. [But in fact] jihad is supposed to be restoring a broken relationship.”
In a similar vein, DeLong-Bas contends that “extremism does not stem from the Islamic religion,” but rather from “the political conditions in the Islamic world, like the Palestinian issue … [the issue of] Iraq, and the American government's tying [the hands of] the U.N. [and preventing it] from adopting any resolution against Israel.” These, the professor maintains, “have definitely added to the Muslim youth's state of frustration, which then pushes them to—as they understand it—help their brothers do away with the aggression against them, in the various Islamic countries.... That is why I believe that religion has nothing to do with this.”
By DeLong-Bas's reckoning, American efforts “to implement democracy in the Middle East ... did not rise to the level of what Hamas has achieved” vis à vis “political and reformist activities in the fields of medical care and education.”
In a January 2013 article, DeLong-Bas praised the Arab Spring movement (which had given rise to Islamic extremism and jihadism in numerous places) for having helped Arab women “lear[n] the power of collective action and the strength that uniting their voices can bring.”
That same year, DeLong-Bas's research was heavily devoted to exploring “major voices countering the jihadist message throughout the Arab world.” She also coordinated a joint effort with other authors around the world to provide “historical and contemporary coverage of the roles women have had and continue to play in Islamic tradition.”
As of early 2014, DeLong-Bas was collaborating with the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives in Saudi Arabia and IDC Publishers in the Netherlands to publish portions of the Foundation’s historical manuscript holdings related to the history and development of Islam from the 18th-20th centuries.
For additional information on Natana DeLong-Bas, click here.