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Wahhabism (Arabic: وهابية, Wahhābiyyah) is an ultra-conservative sect or branch of Sunni Islam, (though some people dispute that a Wahhabi is a Sunni). It is a religious movement among fundamentalist Islamic believers, with an aspiration to return to the earliest fundamental Islamic sources of the Quran and Hadith, with inspiration from the teachings of Medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and early jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
Initially, Wahhabism was a popular revivalist movement instigated by an eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) from Najd, Saudi Arabia. He began his movement through peaceful discussions with attendees of various shrines and eventually gained popular support by convincing the local Amir, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar, to help him in his struggle. Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab advocated a popular purging of the widespread practices by Muslims being what he considered to be impurities and innovations in Islam.
Mohammed bin Abd Al-Wahhab's teachings have become the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia. The movement claims to adhere to the correct understanding of the general Islamic doctrine of Tawhid, on the "uniqueness" and "unity" of God, shared by the majority of Islamic sects, but with an emphasis on advocating following of the Athari school of thought only. Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was influenced by the writings of Ibn Taymiyya and questioned the prevalent philosophical interpretations of Islam being the Ash'ari and Maturidi schools, claiming to rely on the Qur'an and the Hadith without speculative philosophy so as to not transgress beyond the limits of the early Muslims known as the Salaf. He attacked a "perceived moral decline and political weakness" in the Arabian Peninsula and condemned what he perceived as idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation.
The terms Wahhabi and Salafi and ahl al-hadith (people of hadith) are often used interchangeably, but Wahhabism has also been called "a particular orientation within Salafism", considered ultra-conservative and which rejects traditional Islamic legal scholarship as unnecessary innovation. Salafism, on the other hand, has been termed as the hybridation between the teachings of Ibn Abdul-Wahhab and others which have taken place since the 1960s.
The movement gained unchallenged precedence in the Arabian Peninsula through an alliance between Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the House of Muhammad ibn Saud, which provided political and financial power for the religious revival represented by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. The writer El Khabar Ousbouî suggests the popularity of the Wahhabi movement is in part due to this alliance and the funding of several religious channels.
According to Saudi writer Abdul Aziz Qassim, "It was the Ottomans who first labelled Abdul Wahhab's school of Islam in Saudi Arabia as Wahabism". The term was later expanded by the presence of Britain in the Middle East. Nevertheless Qassim says, "We don't like to call it the Wahabi movement but rather the reform or Salafi movement of the Sheikh".
Zain Imran's teacher Abdallah ibn Ibrahim ibn Sayf introduced the relatively young man to Mohammad Hayya Al-Sindhi in Medina and recommended him as a student. Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and al-Sindi became very close and Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab stayed with him for some time. Scholars have described Muhammad Hayya as having an important influence on Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, encouraging him to denounce rigid imitation of classical commentaries and to utilize informed individual analysis (ijtihad). Muhammad Hayya also taught Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab to reject popular religious practices associated with walis and their tombs that resembles later Wahhabi teachings. Muhammad Hayya and his milieu are important for understanding the origins of at least the Wahhabi revivalist impulse.[not in citation given]
Mohammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab studied in Basra (now in southern Iraq) and is reported to have developed his ideas there. He is reported to have studied in Mecca and Medina while there to perform Hajj before returning to his home town of 'Uyayna in 1740.
After his return to 'Uyayna, ibn Abd-al-Wahhab began to attract followers, including the ruler of the town, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. With Ibn Mu'ammar's support, ibn Abd-al-Wahhab began to implement some of his ideas such as leveling the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, one of the Sahaba (companions) of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, and ordering that an adulteress be stoned to death. These actions were disapproved of by Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr of the tribe of Bani Khalid, the chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif, who held substantial influence in Nejd and ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was expelled from 'Uyayna.
Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was invited to settle in neighboring Diriyah by its ruler Muhammad ibn Saud in 1740 (1157 AH), two of whose brothers had been students of Ibn Abdal-Wahhab. Upon arriving in Diriyya, a pact was made between Ibn Saud and Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, by which Ibn Saud pledged to implement and enforce Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab's teachings, while Ibn Saud and his family would remain the temporal "leaders" of the movement.
One of their most famous and controversial attacks was on Karbala in 1802 (1217 AH). There, according to a Wahhabi chronicler `Uthman b. `Abdullah b. Bishr:
[Wahhabis] scaled the walls, entered the city ... and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. [They] destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn [and took] whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings ... the grille surrounding the tomb which was encrusted with emeralds, rubies, and other jewels ... different types of property, weapons, clothing, carpets, gold, silver, precious copies of the Qur'an."
In 1818 they were defeated by Ottoman forces. However they eventually seized control of Hijaz and the Arabian peninsula after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, safeguarding their vision of Islam and in the process founding Saudi Arabia as a nation based around the tenets of Islam as preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
The Saudi government established the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a state religious police unit, to enforce religiously conservative rules of behaviour.
From the OPEC Oil Crisis to 2003, the Saudis had spent at least $87 billion propagating Wahhabism abroad at a rising rate. The bulk of this funding goes towards the construction and operating expenses of mosques, madrasas, and other religious institutions that preach Wahhabism. It also supports imam training; mass media and publishing outlets; distribution of textbooks and other literature; and endowments to universities (in exchange for influence over the appointment of Islamic scholars). Some of the hundreds of thousands of non-Saudis who live in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf have been influenced by Wahhabism and preach Wahhabism in their home country upon their return. Agencies controlled by the Kingdom's Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Da'wah and Guidance are responsible for outreach to non-Muslim residents and are converting hundreds of non-Muslims into Islam every year.
The Wahhabi subscribe to the primary doctrine of the uniqueness and unity of God (Tawhid). The first aspect being belief in Allah and His Lordship that He alone is the believer's lord or Rabb. The second being that once one affirms the oneness of worship to Allah and Allah alone. The third is belief and affirmation of Allah's Names and Attributes.
Wahhabi theology is very precise in its creed or Aqeedah where the Quran and Hadith are the only fundamental and authoritative texts taken with the understanding of the Salaf. Commentaries and "the examples of the early Muslim community (Ummah) and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs (AD 632–661)" known as Athar narrations are used to support these texts, hence the name of the school of theology given as Athari, but are not considered independently authoritative.
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab further explains in his book Kitab al-Tawhid, which draws directly on material from the Quran and the narrations of the Prophet, that worship in Islam includes conventional acts of worship such as the five daily prayers; fasting; Dua (supplication); Istia'dha (seeking protection or refuge); Ist'ana (seeking help), and Istigatha to Allah (seeking benefits and calling upon Allah alone). Therefore, making du'a or calling upon anyone or anything other than God, or seeking supernatural help and protection that is only befitting of a divine being from something other than Allah alone are acts of "shirk" and contradict the tenets of Tawhid.[page needed] Ibn Abd al-Wahhab further explains that Muhammad during his lifetime tried his utmost to identify and repudiate all actions that violated these principles.[page needed]
The most important of these commentaries are those by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in particular his book Kitab al-Tawhid, and the works of Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was a follower of Ahmad ibn Hanbal's school of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) like most in Nejd at the time, but "was opposed to any of the schools (Madh'hab) being taken as an absolute and unquestioned authority".[page needed]
However Ibn Abd al-Wahhab did not totally condemn taqlid, or blind adherence, only at scholarly level in the face of a clear evidence or proof from a hadeeth or Qur'anic text. Although Wahhabis are associated with the Hanbali school, early disputes did not center on fiqh and the belief that Wahhabism was borne of Hanbali thought has been called a "myth".
Wahhabi beliefs leave no space for tolerance or acceptance of any other religion other than Wahhabism. Amb. Winsor (chairman and owner of the American Chemical Services Company) describes Wahhabism as Sunni Theofascism that imposes its beliefs on others by force.
Wahhabism denounces the practice of total blind adherence to the interpretations of scholars, at a scholarly level, and of practices passed on within the family or tribe. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was dedicated to champion these principles and combat what was seen as the stagnation of Islamic scholarship which the majority of Muslims had seemingly fully adhered to without question, through taqlid of the established Ottoman clergy at the time.
His idea was that what he perceived to be blind deference to religious authority obstructs this direct connection with the Qur'an and Sunnah, leading him to deprecate the importance and full authority of leaders at the time, such as the scholars and muftis of the age. When arguing for his positions, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab would use translations and interpretation of the verses (known as ayat in Arabic) of the Qur'an that were contrary to the consensus amongst the scholars of the age, and positions against which there had been consensus for centuries. This methodology was considered extremely controversial at the time, in opposition to established clergy of the era, and was refuted as being erroneous by a number of scholars. However the Wahhabi movement saw itself as championing the re-opening of ijtihad, being intellectual pursuit of scholarly work clarifying opinions in the face of new evidence being a newly proven sound or sahih hadeeth, a discovered historical early ijma (scholarly consensus from the early Muslims) or a suitable analogy, qiyas, based on historical records; in contrast to the witnessed saturation of Islamic jurisprudence that no longer considered ijtihad to be a viable alternative to total scholarly taqlid, being total submission to previous scholarly opinion regardless of unquestionable proof that contradicts this.
A popular misconception associated with the movement of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab is the condemnation of the legal schools of jurisprudence, however documentation of a letter correspondence by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab recorded by his son Abdallah refutes this accusation.
And also we are upon the madhhab of Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal in the matters of jurisprudence, and we do not show rejection to the one who made taqleed of one of the four Imaams as opposed to those besides them... And we do not deserve the status of absolute ijtihaad and there is none amongst us who lays claim to it, except that in some of the issues (of jurisprudence), when a plain, clear text from the Book, or a Sunnah unabrogated, unspecified and uncontradicted by what is stronger than it, and by which one of the four Imaams have spoken, we take it and we leave our madhhab ... And we do not investigate (scrutinize) anyone in his madhhab, nor do we find fault with him except when we come across a plain, clear text which opposes the madhhab of one of the four Imaams and it is a matter through which an open and apparent symbol
... Thus, there is no contradiction between (this and) not making the claim of independent ijtihaad, because a group from the scholars from the four madhhabs are preceded choosing certain preferred opinions in certain matters, who, whilst making taqleed of the founders of the madhhab (in general), opposed the madhhab (in those matters).
This was seen as a revival of the tradition recorded whereby the early students of the scholars of the Madh'habs would leave their teacher's position in light of a newly found evidence once the hadeeth had been collected.
"... and this is not contradictory to the lack of the claim to ijtihaad. For it has been that a group of the imaams of the four madhaahib had their own particular views regarding certain matters that were in opposition to their madhhab, whose founder they followed." 
However some modern day adherents to wahhabism consider themselves to be 'non-imitators' or 'not attached to tradition', and therefore answerable to no school of law at all, observing instead what they would call the practice of early Islam. However, to do so does correspond to the ideal aimed at by Ibn Hanbal, and thus they can be said to be of his 'school' however only a scholar would be capable of this level of ijtihad and most Salafi scholars warn against this for the uneducated laymen.
Adherents to the Wahhabi movement take their theological viewpoint with an aspiration to assimilate with the beliefs of the early Muslims, being the first three generations otherwise known as the Salaf. This theology was taken from exegesis of the Quran and statements of the early Muslims and later codified by a number of scholars, the most well known being the 13th century Syrian scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, into what is now known as the Athari theological creed. This was upheld by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in his various works on theology.
And it is that we accept the aayaat and ahaadeeth of the Attributes upon their apparent meanings, and we leave their true meanings, while believing in their realities, to Allaah ta'aalaa. For Maalik, one of the greatest of the 'ulamaa' of the Salaf, when asked about al-istiwaa' in His Saying (ta'aalaa): "Ar-Rahmaan rose over the Throne." [Taa-Haa: 5] said: "Al-istiwaa' is known, the "how" of it is unknown, believing in it is waajib, and asking about it is bid'ah." 
Some criticism accuses this school as being anthropomorphic however Ibn Taymiyyah in his work Al-Aqidah Al-Waasitiyyah refutes the stance of the Mushabbihah (those who liken the creation with God: anthropomorphism) and those who deny, negate, and resort to allegorical/metaphorical interpretations of the Divine Names and Attributes. He contends that the methodology of the Salaf is to take the middle path between the extremes of anthropomorphism and negation/distortion. He further states that salaf affirmed all the Names and Attributes of God without tashbih (establishing likeness), takyeef (speculating as to "how" they are manifested in the divine), ta'teel (negating/denying their apparent meaning) and without ta'weel (giving it secondary/symbolic meaning which is different from the apparent meaning).
Ibn Abd-Al-Wahab's aversion to the elevation of scholars and other individuals helps explain the preference of so-called "Wahhabis" for the term "Salafi". Among those who criticize the use of the term "Wahhabi" is social scientist Quintan Wiktorowicz. In a footnote of his report, Anatomy of the Salafi Movement, he wrote:
Opponents of Salafism frequently affix the "Wahhabi" designator to denote foreign influence. It is intended to signify followers of Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and is most frequently used in countries where Salafis are a small minority of the Muslim community, but have made recent inroads in "converting" the local population to the movement ideology. … The Salafi movement itself, however, never uses this term. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find individuals who refer to themselves as Wahhabis or organizations that use "Wahhabi" in their title or refer to their ideology in this manner (unless they are speaking to a Western audience that is unfamiliar with Islamic terminology, and even then usage is limited and often appears as "Salafi/Wahhabi").
In the 1950s, the term "Wahhabi" was used to refer to "puritan Muslims" in the US. According to Riadh Sidaoui, habitual use of the term Wahhabism is wrong, and the concept of Saudi Wahhabism should be substituted[clarification needed]
Other observers describe the term as "originally used derogatorily by opponents", but now commonplace and used even "by some Najdi scholars of the movement".
Allegedly the first people to oppose Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab were his father Abd al-Wahhab and his brother Salman Ibn Abd al-Wahhab who was an Islamic scholar and qadi. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's brother wrote a book in refutation of his brothers' new teachings, called: "The Final Word from the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sayings of the Scholars Concerning the School of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab"), also known as: "Al-Sawa`iq al-Ilahiyya fi Madhhab al-Wahhabiyya" ("The Divine Thunderbolts Concerning the Wahhabi School").
In "The Refutation of Wahhabism in Arabic Sources, 1745–1932", Hamadi Redissi provides original references to the description of Wahhabis as a divisive sect (firqa) and outliers (Kharijites) in communications between Ottomans and Egyptian Khedive Muhammad Ali. Redissi details refutations of Wahhabis by scholars (muftis); among them Ahmed Barakat Tandatawin, who in 1743 describes Wahhabism as ignorance (Jahala).
In 1801 and 1802, the Saudi Wahhabis under Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud attacked and captured the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq and destroyed the tombs of Husayn ibn Ali who is the grandson of Muhammad, and son of Ali (Ali bin Abu Talib), the son-in-law of Muhammad (see: Saudi sponsorship mentioned previously). In 1803 and 1804 the Saudis captured Mecca and Madinah and demolished various venerated shrines, monuments and removed a number of what was seen as sources or possible gateways to polytheism or shirk - such as the shrine built over the tomb of Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad. In 1998 the Saudis bulldozed and allegedly poured gasoline over the grave of Aminah bint Wahb, the mother of Muhammad, causing resentment throughout the Muslim World. Shi'a and other minorities in Islam insist that Wahhabis are behind targeted killings in many countries such as Iraq, Pakistan and Bahrain.
The Sufi Islamic Supreme Council of America founded by the Naqshbandi sufi Shaykh Hisham Kabbani classify Wahhabbism as being extremist and heretical based on Wahhabbism's rejection of sufism and what they believe to be traditional sufi scholars. Kabbani allegedly thanked UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in 2005 for the role the UK played in the Middle East, saying: “We are glad to see changes taking place in the political mechanisms in the Middle East. We hope to see an end to tyranny and we are happy to observe a strong upsurge in freedom of speech, freedom of belief and political openness in the region.” 
Wahabbism is intensely opposed by some Hui Muslims in China, primarily by the Sufi Khafiya, some Hanafi Sunni Gedimu and a number of Jahriyya. The Yihewani (Ikhwan) Chinese sect founded by Ma Wanfu in China was originally inspired by the Wahhabi movement however the group reacted with hostility to Ma Debao and Ma Zhengqing, who attempted to introduce Wahhabism as the Orthodox main form of Islam. They were branded as traitors of foreign influence, alien to the native popular cultural practices of Islam in China, and Wahhabi teachings were deemed as heresy by the Yihewani leaders. Ma Debao established a Salafi / Wahhabi order, called the Sailaifengye menhuan in Lanzhou and Linxia, separate from other Muslim sects in China. Salafis have a reputation for radicalism among the Hanafi Sunni Gedimu and Yihewani. Sunni Muslim Hui avoid Salafis, including family members. The number of Salafis in China is so insignificant that they are not included in classifications of Muslim sects in China.
The Kuomintang Sufi Muslim general Ma Bufang, who backed the Yihewani (Ikhwan) Muslims, persecuted the Salafi / Wahhabi Muslims. The Yihewani forced the Salafis into hiding. They were not allowed to move or worship openly. The Yihewani had become secular and a Chinese nationalist organisation, and they considered the Salafis to be "Heterodox" (xie jiao), and "people who followed foreigner's teachings" (wai dao). After the Communist revolution the Salafis were allowed to worship openly until a 1958 crackdown on all religious practices.
As proof, the Shaykh also cites a letter in which Abd-al-Wahhab writes;
We do not negate the way of the Sufis and the purification of the inner self from the vices of those sins connected to the heart and the limbs as long as the individual firmly adheres to the rules of Shari‘ah and the correct and observed way. However, we will not take it on ourselves to allegorically interpret (ta’wil) his speech and his actions. We only place our reliance on, seek help from, beseech aid from and place our confidence in all our dealings in Allah Most High. He is enough for us, the best trustee, the best mawla and the best helper. May Allah send peace on our master Muhammad, his family and companions.
A study conducted by the NGO Freedom House found Wahhabi publications in mosques in the United States. These publications included statements that Muslims should not only "always oppose" infidels "in every way", but "hate them for their religion … for Allah's sake", that democracy "is responsible for all the horrible wars... the number of wars it started in the 20th century alone is more than 130 wars," and that Shia and certain Sunni Muslims were infidels. In a response to the report, the Saudi government stated, "[It has] worked diligently during the last five years to overhaul its education system [but] [o]verhauling an educational system is a massive undertaking."
A review of the study by Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) complained the study cited documents from only a few mosques, arguing most mosques in the U.S. are not under Wahhabi influence. ISPU comments on the study were not entirely negative however, and concluded:
American-Muslim leaders must thoroughly scrutinize this study. Despite its limitations, the study highlights an ugly undercurrent in modern Islamic discourse that American-Muslims must openly confront. However, in the vigor to expose strains of extremism, we must not forget that open discussion is the best tool to debunk the extremist literature rather than a suppression of First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
What connection, if any, there is between Wahhabism and Jihadi Salafis is disputed. Natana De Long-Bas, senior research assistant at the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, argues:
The militant Islam of Osama bin Laden did not have its origins in the teachings of Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and was not representative of Wahhabi Islam as it is practiced in contemporary Saudi Arabia, yet for the media it came to define Wahhabi Islam during the later years of bin Laden's lifetime. However "unrepresentative" bin Laden's global jihad was of Islam in general and Wahhabi Islam in particular, its prominence in headline news took Wahhabi Islam across the spectrum from revival and reform to global jihad.
Noah Feldman distinguishes between what he calls the "deeply conservative" Wahhabis and what he calls the "followers of political Islam in the 1980s and 1990s," such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad and later Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. While Saudi Wahhabis were "the largest funders of local Muslim Brotherhood chapters and other hard-line Islamists" during this time, they opposed jihadi resistance to Muslim governments and assassination of Muslim leaders because of their belief that "the decision to wage jihad lay with the ruler, not the individual believer".
The Wahhabi teachings disapprove of veneration of the historical sites associated with early Islam, on the grounds that only God should be worshipped and that veneration of sites associated with mortals leads to idolatry. Many buildings associated with early Islam, including mazaar, mausoleums and other artifacts have been destroyed in Saudi Arabia by Wahhabis from early 19th century through the present day. This practice has proved controversial and has received considerable criticism from Sunni and Shia Muslims and in the non-Muslim World.
According to observers such as Gilles Kepel, Wahhabism gained considerable influence in the Islamic World following a tripling in the price of oil in the mid-1970s and the progressive takeover of Saudi Aramco in the 1974–1980 period. The Saudi government began to spend tens of billions of dollars throughout the Islamic World to promote Wahhabism, which was sometimes referred to as "petro-Islam". Estimates of Saudi spending on religious causes abroad include "upward of $100 billion", between $2 and 3 billion per year since 1975." (compared to the annual Soviet propaganda budget of $1 billion/year), and "at least $87 billion" from 1987-2007
Its largesse funded an estimated "90% of the expenses of the entire faith", throughout the Muslim World, according to journalist Dawood al-Shirian. It extended to young and old, from children's madrasas to high-level scholarship. "Books, scholarships, fellowships, mosques" (for example, "more than 1,500 mosques were built from Saudi public funds over the last 50 years") were paid for. It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university. Yahya Birt counts spending on "1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools".
This financial power has done much to overwhelm less strict local interpretations of Islam, according to observers like Dawood al-Shirian and Lee Kuan Yew, and has caused the Saudi interpretation to be perceived as the correct interpretation in many Muslims' minds.
Khaled Abou El Fadl attributed the appeal of Wahhabism to some Muslims as stemming from
An analysis by START of the Global Terrorism Database reveals an increase from a few hundred in 1976 to 10,000 acts in 1983.
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