A few years back, Wahhabism was identified by the European Parliament as the main source of global terrorism and has become increasingly influential, partly because of Saudi money and partly because of Saudi Arabia's central influence as protector of Mecca.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia's Western allies urged the country to invest in mosques and madrassas overseas during the Cold War, in an effort to prevent encroachment in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union.
The crown prince’s 75-minute interview with the US-based newspaper took place on March 22, the final day of his US tour.
“Investments in mosques and madrassas overseas were rooted in the Cold War, when allies asked Saudi Arabia to use its resources to prevent inroads in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Post.
Successive Saudi governments lost track of the effort, he said, and now “we have to get it all back.”
He went on to say funding now comes largely from Saudi-based “foundations”, rather than from the government. During the interview, he also touched on Islam and his interpretation of the religion.
“I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it,” he said.
Bin Salman said lengthy discussions with clerics have been positive and are “why we have more allies in the religious establishment, day by day.”
On his reform efforts at home, including giving women the right to drive and have more rights outside the home, the crown prince said he has worked hard to convince conservative religious leaders such restrictions are not part of Islamic doctrine.
Elsewhere in the interview, the Saudi crown prince said it would be “really insane” for him to trade classified information with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, or to try to use Kushner to promote Saudi aims within the Trump administration.
Bin Salman denied US media reports that he had claimed Kushner was “in his pocket,” or that, when the two met in Riyadh in October, he had sought or received a green light from Kushner for massive arrests of allegedly corrupt members of the royal family and Saudi businessmen that took place in the kingdom shortly afterward, Washington Post wrote.
He also said Saudi Arabia owns about 5 percent of the world’s uranium reserves adding “if we don’t use it, it’s like telling us don’t use oil.”
Bin Salman then talked about the prospects for economic growth in the Middle East, saying it could be “the next Europe” if a series of problems can be resolved.
He described the US move to recognise Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital as “painful” and added the move has made a deal under US auspices far more difficult.
The crown prince also spoke about the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition continues to launch a bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in an attempt to reinstate ousted Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi as president. The conflict has killed thousands, displaced many more, driven the country to the brink of famine, and led to a major cholera outbreak.
The interview with the crown prince was initially held off the record. However, the Saudi Embassy later agreed to let the Washington Post publish specific portions of the meeting.