UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



This branch of Islam is often referred to as "Wahhabi," a term that many adherents to this tradition do not use. Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun ("Unitarians", or "unifiers of Islamic practice"). They use the Salafi Da'wa or Ahlul Sunna wal Jama'a. The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi, that is, "following the forefathers of Islam."

The basic text of this form of Islam is the Kitab at-tawhid (Arabic, "Book of Unity"). Central to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's message was the essential oneness of God (tawhid). The movement is therefore known by its adherents as ad dawa lil tawhid (the call to unity), and those who follow the call are known as ahl at tawhid (the people of unity) or muwahhidun (unitarians). The word Wahhabi was originally used derogatorily by opponents, but has today become commonplace and is even used by some Najdi scholars of the movement. Most Wahhabi people live in Saudi Arabia. Almost all people in Mecca and Medina belong to this school.

The Caliphate was brought into being by the implementation of Islam for about three decades. They called this shortlived experiment Khilafat Rashidah, the rightly-guided Caliphate, implying thereby that the rulers that followed were misguided. Fundamentalists seek the restoration of the Islamic State i.e. the Khilafah, and by electing a Khaleefah and taking a bay'ah on him that he will rule by the Word of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta'Ala) i.e. he will implement Islamic laws in the country where the Khilafah has been established.

Wahhabism [Wahabism] is a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and interpretation that had been acquired over the centuries. The followers of Abdul Wahab (1703-1792) began as a movement to cleanse the Arab bedouin from the influence of Sufism. Wahhabis are the followers of Ibn 'Abd ul-Wahhab, who instituted a great reform in the religion of Islam in Arabia in the 18th century. Mahommed ibn 'Abd ul-Wahhab was born in 1691 (or 1703) at al-Hauta of the Nejd in central Arabia, and was of the tribe of the Bani Tamim. He studied literature and jurisprudence of the Hanifite school. After making the pilgrimage with his father, he spent some further time in the study of law at Medina, and resided for a while at Isfahan, whence he returned to the Nejd to undertake the work of a teacher.

Aroused by his studies and his observation of the luxury in dress and habits, the superstitious pilgrimages to shrines, the use of omens and the worship given to Mahomet and Mahommedan saints rather than to God, he began a mission to proclaim the simplicity of the early religion founded on the Koran and Sunna (i.e. the manner of life of Mahomet).

The practical doctrine of the Muslim reformer — that tho persons and goods of all unbelievers were the divinely-appointed lawful spoil of the faithful, and that all who had lapsed from the primitive purity of the faith—Sunnis, or Sbiaahs, and lb ad iy ah alike, all, in fact, except true Wahhabis—were worse than infidels, and were to be slaughtered, enslaved, and plundered as a religious duty — this teaching found willing disciples.

To understand the significance of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's ideas, they must be considered in the context of Islamic practice. There was a difference between the established rituals clearly defined in religious texts that all Muslims perform and popular Islam. The latter refers to local practice that is not universal. The Shia practice of visiting shrines is an example of a popular practice. The Shia continued to revere the Imams even after their death and so visited their graves to ask favors of the Imams buried there. Over time, Shia scholars rationalized the practice and it became established. Some of the Arabian tribes came to attribute the same sort of power that the Shia recognized in the tomb of an Imam to natural objects such as trees and rocks.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women. When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab focused on the Muslim principle that there is only one God, and that God does not share his power with anyone -- not Imams, and certainly not trees or rocks. From this unitarian principle, his students began to refer to themselves as muwahhidun (unitarians). Their detractors referred to them as "Wahhabis"--or "followers of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab," which had a pejorative connotation. The idea of a unitary god was not new. Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, however, attached political importance to it. He directed his attack against the Shia.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's emphasis on the oneness of God was asserted in contradistinction to shirk, or polytheism, defined as the act of associating any person or object with powers that should be attributed only to God. He condemned specific acts that he viewed as leading to shirk, such as votive offerings, praying at saints' tombs and at graves, and any prayer ritual in which the suppliant appeals to a third party for intercession with God. Particularly objectionable were certain religious festivals, including celebrations of the Prophet's birthday, Shia mourning ceremonies, and Sufi mysticism. Consequently, the Wahhabis forbid grave markers or tombs in burial sites and the building of any shrines that could become a locus of shirk.

His instructions in the matter of extending his religious teaching by force were strict. All unbelievers (i.e. Moslems who did not accept his teaching, as well as Christians, &c.) were to be put to death. Immediate entrance into Paradise was promised to his soldiers who fell in battle, and it is said that each soldier was provided with a written order from Ibn 'Abd ul-Wahhab to the gate-keeper of heaven to admit him forthwith. In this way the new teaching was established in the greater part of Arabia until its power was broken by Mehemet Ali. Ibn'Abd ul-Wahhab is said to have died in 1791.

The teaching of ul-Wahhab was founded on that of Ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328), who was of the school of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Copies of some of Ibn Taimiyya's works made by ul-Wahhab are now extant in Europe, and show a close study of the writer. Ibn Taimiyya, although a Hanbalite by training, refused to be bound by any of the four schools, and claimed the power of a mujtahid, i.e. of one who can give independent decisions. These decisions were based on the Koran, which, like Ibn Hazm, he accepted in a literal sense, on the Sunna and Qiyds (analogy). He protested strongly against all the innovations of later times, and denounced as idolatry the visiting of the sacred shrines and the invocation of the saints or of Mahomet himself. He was also a bitter opponent of the Sufis of his day.

The Wahhabites also believe in the literal sense of the Koran and the necessity of deducing one's duty from it apart from the decisions of the four schools. They also pointed to the abuses current in their times as a reason for rejecting the doctrines and practices founded on Ijma, i.e. the universal consent of the believer or their teachers. They forbid the pilgrimage to tombs and the invocation of saints. The severe simplicity of the Wahhabis has been remarked by travellers in central Arabia. They attack all luxury, loose administration of justice, all laxity against infidels, addiction to wine, impurity and treachery.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's mission in his own district was not attended by success, and for long he wandered with his family through Arabia. Realizing that he needed political support and authority to effectively reverse the status quo, Ibn Abdul-Wahhab presented his program of reform to the governors of the central Arabian city-states. He began by approaching Othman ibn Mu'amar, the governor of Uyayna, his home state. Ibn Mu'amar was receptive to Abdul-Wahhab's ideas and allowed him to preach within the city. As word of the movement spread, however, strong pressure to silence Ibn Abdul-Wahhab came from powerful tribes in the region who viewed change as a threat to their decadent lifestyle. Fearing invasion, Othman ibn Mu'amar felt compelled to ask the reformer to leave Uyayna.

At last he settled in Dara'iyya, or Deraiya (in the Nejd), where he succeeded in converting the greatest notable, Mahommed ibn Sa'ud, who married his daugther, and so became the founder of an hereditary Wahhabite dynasty. This gave the missionary the opportunity of following the example of Mahomet himself.

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God's laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God's laws and live in conformity to them.

Under 'Abd ul-Azlz they instituted a form of Bedouin (Bedawi) commonwealth, insisting on the observance of law, the payment of tribute, militaiy conscription for war against the infidel, internal peace and the rigid administration of justice in courts established for the purpose. Wahhabis consider Wahhabism to be the only true form of Islam. They do not regard Shi'as as true Muslims are particularly hostile to Sufism.

It is clear that the claim of the Wahhabis to have returned to the earliest form of Islam is largely justified. The difference between ul-Wahhab's sect and others is that the Wahabis rigidly follow the same laws which the others neglect or have ceased altogether to observe. Even orthodox doctors of Islam have confessed that in Ibn 'Abd ul-Wahhab's writings there is nothing but what they themselves hold. At the same time the fact that so many of his followers were rough and unthinking Bedouins has led to the over-emphasis of minor points of practice, so that they often appear to observers to be characterized chiefly by a strictness (real or feigned) in such matters as the prohibition of silk for dress, or the use of tobacco, or of the rosary in prayer.

Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab died in 1792.

The Wahhabi ulama reject reinterpretation of Quran and sunna in regard to issues clearly settled by the early jurists. By rejecting the validity of reinterpretation, Wahhabi doctrine is at odds with the Muslim reformation movement of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This movement seeks to reinterpret parts of the Quran and sunna to conform with standards set by the West, most notably standards relating to gender relations, family law, and participatory democracy. However, ample scope for reinterpretation remains for Wahhabi jurists in areas not decided by the early jurists.

The 1920s marked the beginnings of modern Arabia. 'Abd al-'Aziz understood the potential advantages Western technology offered; the importation of a fleet of automobiles and, later, the building of airstrips gave him the means of reaching distant parts of his territory in a fraction of the time required previously. He also ordered the creation of an extensive information network based on the wireless telegraph, through which he was able to extend his "eyes and ears" across the country. However, some of his followers were less than enthusiastic, and their leader spent much time and effort explaining personally the value of the telephone in particular. 'Abd al-'Aziz finally overcame their opposition by inviting skeptics to listen to recitations from the Qur'an being read down the phone line.

Aware that the fledgling nation would be ill-equipped to function in the 20th century without industrial modernization, 'Abd al-'Aziz was eager to embrace technology; however, he was no less aware that change had to be selective and gradual if it was to be accepted by the citizenry. Arabist and historian Leslie McLoughlin pointed out that "it was the insight of Ibn Sa'ud that slow change without disabling disputes was better than speed of change with great disruption."

Under Al Saud rule, governments, especially during the Wahhabi revival in the 1920s, have shown their capacity and readiness to enforce compliance with Islamic laws and interpretations of Islamic values on themselves and others. The literal interpretations of what constitutes right behavior according to the Quran and hadith have given the Wahhabis the sobriquet of "Muslim Calvinists." To the Wahhabis, for example, performance of prayer that is punctual, ritually correct, and communally performed not only is urged but publicly required of men. Consumption of wine is forbidden to the believer because wine is literally forbidden in the Quran. Under the Wahhabis, however, the ban extended to all intoxicating drinks and other stimulants, including tobacco. Modest dress is prescribed for both men and women in accordance with the Quran, but the Wahhabis specify the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women, and forbid the wearing of silk and gold, although the latter ban has been enforced only sporadically. Music and dancing have also been forbidden by the Wahhabis at times, as have loud laughter and demonstrative weeping, particularly at funerals.

The Wahhabi emphasis on conformity makes of external appearance and behavior a visible expression of inward faith. Therefore, whether one conforms in dress, in prayer, or in a host of other activities becomes a public statement of whether one is a true Muslim. Because adherence to the true faith is demonstrable in tangible ways, the Muslim community can visibly judge the quality of a person's faith by observing that person's actions. In this sense, public opinion becomes a regulator of individual behavior. Therefore, within the Wahhabi community, which is striving to be the collective embodiment of God's laws, it is the responsibility of each Muslim to look after the behavior of his neighbor and to admonish him if he goes astray.

In the 1990s, Saudi leadership did not emphasize its identity as inheritor of the Wahhabi legacy as such, nor did the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the Al ash Shaykh, continue to hold the highest posts in the religious bureaucracy. Wahhabi influence in Saudi Arabia, however, remained tangible in the physical conformity in dress, in public deportment, and in public prayer. Most significantly, the Wahhabi legacy was manifest in the social ethos that presumed government responsibility for the collective moral ordering of society, from the behavior of individuals, to institutions, to businesses, to the government itself. King Fahd ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud repeatedly called for scholars to engage in ijtihad to deal with new situations confronting the modernizing kingdom.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list