When Mustaqim Azmi made the grueling sea journey from India to Jeddah on his first hajj in 1953, he felt like a rich man landing in a poor country. Bedouins crowded the docks to welcome their Muslim brothers coming from the subcontinentand to catch the stale roti bread the passengers had saved for them. "They were so hungry," Azmi recalls. But with OPEC's founding and the rocketing of oil prices following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Saudi Arabia became one of the world's wealthiest nations. "Today, we're the poor ones," says Azmi, now general secretary of the All-India Ulama Council. "We are the ones needing help from Saudi Arabia."
Donations can come at a price, however. Every year, some $6 billion leaves the Arab kingdom, mostly from private charities, to build mosques and Islamic schools, feed Muslim children and deliver life-saving drugs to Muslims from Mozambique to Mindanao. That's commendable work, but along with the money comes Saudi Arabia's second-most-important export to the world: its austere and feudal 18th century brand of Islam, Wahhabism. At a mosque and madrasah in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, for example, head imam Jain Jali was replaced by a Saudi-trained cleric who had access to much-needed funds from benefactors in Saudi Arabia. Now, Jali's less orthodox kind of Islam is no longer preached, and community women must wear head scarves and long-sleeved tops. "If you have a Saudi graduate for an imam," says Jali, "he's going to push Wahhabism."
Besides the religious and social fallout, there's the terrorist factor. Often it's hard to track where donations end up. For example, last September, Dhaka police raided a Riyadh-based international nongovernmental organization, al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, acting on a tip that Bangladeshi branches had been recruiting madrasah students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Al-Haramain's records showed that it had received $2.4 million from Saudi Arabiaproof that Saudi alms aren't always used in the most benevolent manner.