Bin Gregory notes that:
Wahhabism is the ideology of discontent. A study just waiting to be conducted is to compare affilliation with wahhabism to lack of religious upbringing [outside of the gulf, of course]. My own observation is that wahhabism appeals more to those who were irreligious in their youth and are then “converted”, and those who come from irreligious households, where it plays into that perennial youthful vice of condemning your elders. It’s hard to imagine the appeal of a creed that says the last thousand years of Islamic practice are corrupt to anyone with respect for the piety of their forefathers.
This is an interesting take on Wahabism. As a Muslim, I can offer some anecdotal evidence about this. The extremist and/or Wahabi strain of Islam, in my personal experience, is found mostly among people who are born-again Muslims. They can be Muslims born and raised in the West who found religion as a sort of rebellion from the mild religion/culture of their parents. They can be immigrants from Muslim countries who found religion as a reaction against Western society. There are also increasingly people in Muslim countries who are finding an extreme form of Islam somewhat late in life after a somewhat irreligious existence.
As I was growing up I have seen the emergence of extremist political Islam and have seen it become somewhat fashionable among especially the middle class to adhere to stricter and more extremist views of Islam. I think one of the reasons extremism is spreading in the Muslim world is that the field has been left open for extremist leaders. There are not many moderate Muslim intellectuals and leaders spreading their message or spending money at even a fraction of what the Wahabis do.
This post is getting long. So I’ll discuss my thoughts on the reasons for the emergence of extremist Islam, especially from the perspective of Pakistan (where I was born and raised), in a later post.