[T]he most detailed and interesting claim that a Western power sponsored fundamentalist Islam is the elaborate plot devised by Turkish Sunni Muslims to explain how the British government in the early 1700s planted a spy named Hempher who conceived of and spread the Wahhabi doctrine.* To make a long story short, Hempher's instructions called on him to disguise himself as a Muslim and to weaken the Ottoman Empire by whatever means he could. While he did resort to such aides as "alcohol and fornication," his main instrument was political: the sowing of dissension. "When the unity of Muslims is broken and the common sympathy among them is impaired, their forces will be dissolved and thus we shall easily destroy them." If he could manage this, Britain's ascendance would then be assured, and its citizens could expect lives of "welfare and luxury."
Hempher's first mission to divide the Muslims was also his most successful. He began by locating a capable but impressionable young man named Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab of Najd. "Muhammad of Najd was the sort I had been looking for. . . . I established a very intimate friendship with [him]. I launched a campaign of praising him everywhere." Together, these two began reinterpreting the Qur'an in a way very much at odds with traditional Islam.
Hempher proceeded to bring Muhammad more fully under his control by setting him up with one of the Christian women specifically sent out from London to seduce Muslim youth. Together the two pseudo-Muslims "began to pull the shawl of belief slowly off the shoulders of Muhammad of Najd." Hempher "never left him alone" but insisted on keeping a close eye on his ward. They discussed theological and political subjects, and Muhammad fell ever more under the Briton's influence. As Hempher reports with satisfaction, he "was following the path I had drawn for him." Finally, "this ignorant and morally depraved man" fulfilled his puppeteer's wishes and decided the time had come to found a new sect, the tenets of which had been set out in London. In short order, Muhammad founded the Wahhabi doctrine that still today prevails in Saudi Arabia. Hempher exulted in the moment, secure in his knowledge that Muhammad would thereby "demolish Islam from within."
This success achieved, London sent Hempher orders to move on, now to make trouble among the Shi'a. Although the Ottoman sultan had been "kind and generous" to the Shi'a of Iraq, Hempher managed to turn them against the sultan by joining their circles of religious instruction. Hempher quickly found the Shi'a to be ignorant and immoral--ripe, in other words, for his mischief. But he also found them "sound asleep" and unwilling to revolt against the authorities in Istanbul.
Having not succeeded on this second mission, Hempher was duly recalled to London. There he studied a fascinating book titled How Can We Demolish Islam. Hempher also learned that he was only one of 5,000 British agents assigned with the same mission of weakening the Muslims, and that the government planned to increase the number of agents to 100,000 by the end of the eighteenth century: "When we reach this number we shall have brought all Muslims under our sway." At that happy moment, Islam will be rendered "into a miserable state from which it will never recover again."
Armed with this new knowledge, Hempher returned to the field, where he again connected with Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, instructing him in the distinctive doctrines of Wahhabism (such as the rejection of mausoleums). Hempher stayed two years more with Muhammad, under the guise of being his slave. In 1730, Hempher orchestrated Muhammad's revolt against the Ottomans. To help the cause, 11 other Arabic-speaking British officers turned up, and they, too, paraded themselves as Muhammad's slaves. Thus did the Wahhabi variant of fundamentalist Islam come to dominate most of the Arabian peninsula through an elaborate conspiracy.
* This account derives from M. Sıddık Gümüş [a pseudonym for Huseyin Hilmi Isik], Confessions of a British Spy, 3d ed. (Istanbul: Hakikat Kitabevi, 1993). It is widely available on the Internet, including at http://mitglied.lycos.de/somuru/kaynakca/hempher/, http://www.sunna.info/antiwahabies/wahhabies/htm/spy1.htm, and http://www.sunna.info/antiwahabies/wahhabies/htm/spy2.htm.