Wahhabi movement

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Wahhabism (Arabic: وهابية‎, Wahhābiyyah) is a radical religious movement or offshoot branch of Islam [1][2] variously described as "orthodox", "ultraconservative",[3] "austere", "fundamentalist", "puritanical"[4] (or "puritan"),[5] an Islamic "reform movement" to restore "pure monotheistic worship",[6] or an "extremist movement".[7] It aspires to return to the earliest fundamental Islamic sources of the Quran and Hadith with different interpretation from mainstream Islam, inspired by the teachings of medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and early jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal.[8]

The majority of the world's Wahhabis are from Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.[9] 22.9% of all Saudis are Wahhabis (concentrated in Najd).[9] 46.87% of Qataris[9] and 44.8% of Emiratis are Wahhabis.[9] 5.7% of Bahrainis are Wahhabis and 2.17% of Kuwaitis are Wahhabis.[9]

A number of terrorist organizations adhering to the Wahhabi movement include al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and, more recently, ISIS.[10] The radical takfiri beliefs of Wahhabism enables its followers to label non-Wahhabi and mainstream Muslims as apostates along with non-Muslims, thus paving the way for their bloodshed.[11][12] In July 2013, European Parliament identified the Wahhabi movement as the source of global terrorism and a threat to traditional and diverse Muslim cultures of the whole world.[13] Many buildings associated with early Islam, including mazaars, mausoleums, and other artifacts, have been destroyed in Saudi Arabia by Wahhabis from the early 19th century through the present day.[14][15]

Initially, Wahhabism was a revivalist movement instigated by an eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) from Najd, Saudi Arabia,[16] who was opposed by his own father and brother for his non-traditional interpretation of Islam.[17] 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,[18] advocating a purging of the widespread practices by Muslims that he considered impurities and innovations in Islam.[1] He eventually convinced the local Amir, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar, to help him in his struggle.[19] The movement gained unchallenged precedence in most of 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 alliance created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where Mohammed bin Abd Al-Wahhab's teachings are state-sponsored and the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

The terms Wahhabi and Salafi and ahl al-hadith (people of hadith) are often used interchangeably,[20] but Wahhabism has also been called "a particular orientation within Salafism",[1] considered ultra-conservative and which rejects traditional Islamic legal scholarship as unnecessary innovation.[21][22] 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.[23]

Definitions and etymology[edit]


Some definitions or uses of the term Wahhabi Islam include


Wahhabis under the leadership of Abdullah bin Saud destroyed the tomb of Hussein bin Ali (Muhammad's grandson and an important figure in both Sunni and Shia Islam), furthermore Islam's holiest shrines in Makkah and Madinah were damaged and innocent civilians were put to death when they objected to it.[14][15] Abdullah bin Saud was captured, put on trial and executed in Istanbul by Sunni Ottomans.[33]

According to Saudi writer Abdul Aziz Qassim, it was the Ottomans who "first labelled Abdul Wahhab's school of Islam in Saudi Arabia as Wahhabism". The British also adopted it and expanded its use in the Middle East. In the US the term "Wahhabi" was used in the 1950s to refer to "puritan Muslims", according to Life magazine.[34]

Wahhabis do not like—or at least did not like—the term. Ibn Abd-Al-Wahab's was averse to the elevation of scholars and other individuals, including using a person's name to label an Islamic school.[35] According to Robert Lacey "the Wahhabis have always disliked the name customarily given to them" and preferred to be called Muwahhidun. English translation of that term, "Unitarians," however causes confusion with the Christian denomination (Unitarian Universalism) and other terms have not caught on. Like the Christian Quakers then, Wahhabis have "remained known by the name first assigned to them by their detractors."[36]

According to social scientist Quintan Wiktorowicz, "Wahhabi" has also been used by its opponents "to denote foreign influence", particularly in countries where they are "a small minority of the Muslim community, but have made recent inroads in "converting" the local population to the movement ideology".[31]

According to Saudi author Abdul Aziz Qassim, the name Wahhabis prefer is "the reform or Salafi movement of the Sheikh".[37] Wiktorowicz also urges use of the term Salafi, maintaining

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").[31]

However, authors at Global Security and Library of Congress state the term is now commonplace and used even by Wahhabi scholars in the Najd,[1][38] often called the "heartland" of Wahhabism.[39]

American scholar Christopher M. Blanchard distinguishes between the two by using Wahhabism to refer to "a conservative Islamic creed centered in and emanating from Saudi Arabia," and Salafiyya to refer to "a more general puritanical Islamic movement that has developed independently at various times and in various places in the Islamic world."[35]


As a religious revivalist movement that works to bring Muslims back from what it believes are foreign accretions that have corrupted Islam,[40] and believes that Islam is a complete way of life and so has prescriptions for all aspects of life, Wahhabism is quite strict in what it considers Islamic behavior.

While other Muslims might urge abstinence from alcohol, modest dress, and salat prayer, for Wahhabis prayer "that is punctual, ritually correct, and communally performed not only is urged but publicly required of men." Not only is wine forbidden, but so are "all intoxicating drinks and other stimulants, including tobacco." Not only is modest dress prescribed, but the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women (a black abaya, covering all but the eyes and hands) is specified.[38]

Practices that have been forbidden by Wahhabi preachers include performing or listening to music, dancing, fortune telling, amulets, television programs (unless religious), smoking, playing backgammon, chess, or cards, drawing human or animal figures, acting in a play or writing fiction (both are considered forms of lying), dissecting cadavers (even in criminal investigations and for the purposes of medical research).[41] Common Muslim practices Wahhabis believe are contrary to Islam include listening to music in praise of Muhammad, praying to God while visiting tombs (including the tomb of Muhammad), celebrating mawlid (birthday of the Prophet)[42] building of minarets or use of ornamentation on or in mosques.[43] The driving of motor vehicles by women is allowed in most countries but Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia.[44][45][46]

Following the preaching and practice of Abdul Wahhab that coercion should be used to enforce following of sharia, an official committee has been empowered to "Command the Good and Forbid the Evil" (the so-called "religious police") [47][48] in Saudi Arabia—the one country founded with the help of Wahhabi warriors and whose scholars and pious dominate many aspects of the Kingdom's life. Committee "field officers" enforce strict closing of shops at prayer time, segregation of the sexes, prohibition of the sale and consumption of alcohol, driving of motor vehicles by women, and other social restrictions.[49]

Wahhabism emphasizes "Thaqafah Islamiyyah" or Islamic culture and the importance of avoiding non-Islamic cultural practices no matter how innocent they may appear,[50][51] on the grounds that the Sunna forbids imitating non-Muslims[52] Foreign practices sometimes punished and sometimes simply condemned by Wahhabi preachers as unIslamic, include celebrating foreign days such as Valentine's Day[53] or Mothers Day.[50][52] shaving, cutting or trimming of beards,[54] giving of flowers,[55] standing up in honor of someone, celebrating birthdays (including the Prophet's), keeping or petting dogs.[41]

Wahhabism puts great store in behavior and appearance, robes for men long enough to cover the ankle are considered an example of unseemly pride, although not forbidden.[citation needed]

Like many conservative Muslims, Wahhabis believe that the different physiological structures and biological functions of the different genders mean that each sex is assigned a different role to play in the family. As a consequence Wahhabis believe Islam forbids wives' traveling or working outside the home at any particular job without their husband's permission—permission which may be revoked at any time. [56] As mentioned before, Wahhabism also forbids the driving of motor vehicles by women.

Despite this strictness, senior Wahhabi scholars of Islam in the Saudi kingdom have made notable exceptions in ruling on what is haram. Foreign non-Muslim troops are forbidden except when the king needed them to confront Saddam Hussein in 1990; gender mixing of men and women is forbidden, and fraternization with non-Muslims is discouraged, but not at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Movie theaters and driving by women are forbidden except at the ARAMCO compound in eastern Saudi, populated by workers for the company that provides almost all the government's revenue.[57]

And more general rules of what is permissible have changed over time. After vigorous debate religious authorities allowed the use of paper money (in 1951), the abolition of slavery (in 1962), education of females (1964), and use of television (1965).[58]


Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab[edit]

Further information: First Saudi State

Mohammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab studied in Basra and is reported to have developed his ideas there.[59][60] He is reported to have studied in Mecca and Medina while there to perform Hajj[61][62] before returning to his home town of 'Uyayna in 1740.

In 'Uyayna, he began to attract followers—including the ruler of the town, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar—and carry out some of his religious reforms including the leveling the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab (one of the Sahaba (companions) of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad), and the ordering of 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.[63]

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.

Alliance with the House of Ibn Saud[edit]

T. E. Lawrence was sympathetic to Salafi elements in the Arabian Peninsula that intended to oust the Ottoman Empire.

Beginning in the last years of the 18th century Ibn Saud and his heirs would spend the next 140 years mounting various military campaigns to seize control of Arabia and its outlying regions.[64]

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."[65]

In 1818 they were defeated by Ottoman forces.[64] 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.[66]

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.[28]

According to some observers, as of the late 1990s and first decade of 2000, a split has developed in the Wahhabi/Salafi movement between those who support obedience to the House of Saud on the one hand, and those who focus on jihad (Salafist jihadists) against the US and (what they believe are) other enemies of Islam, supporting a removal of the House of Saud.[47][67]

Memoirs of Mr. Hempher (Confessions of a British Spy)[edit]

Memoirs of Mr. Hempher, The British Spy to the Middle East (also known as Confessions of a British Spy) is a forged document purporting to be the account by an 18th-century British agent, Hempher, of his instrumental role in founding Wahhabism, as part of a conspiracy to corrupt Islam.[68] It first appeared in 1888, in Turkish, in the five-volume Mir'at al-Haramayn of Ayyub Sabri Pasha.[68][69] It has been described as "an Anglophobic variation on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.[70] It has been widely translated and disseminated, and still enjoys some currency in Iraq,[69][70][71] and elsewhere.[72]


The Wahhabi subscribe to Sunni Islam (though some people dispute that a Wahhabi is a Sunni).[73] and the primary doctrine of the uniqueness and unity of God (Tawhid);[18][74] the first aspect of which is 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 being the 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.[32]

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.[75][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.[75][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.[citation needed] 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".[75][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.[76] Although Wahhabis are associated with the Hanbali school, early disputes did not center on fiqh.[77]


According to ibn Abdal-Wahhab there are three objectives for Islamic government and society: "to believe in Allah, enjoin good behavior, and forbid wrongdoing." This doctrine has been sustained by Wahhabis since his death in missionary literature, sermons, fatwa rulings, and explications of religious doctrine.[38] According to Muhammad ibn Abdal-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.[38][78] Wahhabis have traditionally given their allegiance to the House of Saud, but a movement of "Salafi jihadis" has developed among those who believe Al Saud has abandoned the laws of God.[47][67] Wahhabis are similar to Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in their belief in Islamic dominion over politics and government and the importance of dawah (proselytizing or preaching of Islam) not just towards non-Muslims but towards erroring Muslims. However Wahhabi preachers are conservative and do not deal with concepts such as social justice, anticolonialism, or economic equality, expounded upon by Islamist Muslims.[79]

Condemnation of "priests" and other religious leaders[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[80][81][82] 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.[83]


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.[84]

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.[85]

"... 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." [86]

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.[87]


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.[88]

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." [86]

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).[89][90]


One of the more detailed estimates of religious population in the Persian Gulf is by Michael Mehrdad Izady who estimates, "using cultural and not confessional criteria", only than 4.56 million Wahhabis in the Persian Gulf region, about 4 million from Saudi Arabia, (mostly the Najd), and the rest coming overwhelmingly from the Emirates and Qatar.[9] Most Sunni Qataris are Wahhabis (46.87% of all Qataris)[9] and 44.8% of Emiratis are Wahhabis.[9] 5.7% of Bahrainis are Wahhabis and 2.17% of Kuwaitis are Wahhabis.[9]

Notable leaders[edit]

There has traditionally been a recognized head of the Wahhabi "religious estate", often a member of Al ash-Sheikh (a decedent of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab) or related to another religious head. For example, Abd al-Latif was the son of Abd al-Rahman ibn Hasan.

In more recent times, a couple of Wahhabi clerics have risen to prominence that have no relation to ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

International influence and propagation[edit]

Explanation for influence[edit]

Khaled Abou El Fadl attributed the appeal of Wahhabism to some Muslims as stemming from

Scholar Gilles Kepel, agrees that the tripling in the price of oil in the mid-1970s and the progressive takeover of Saudi Aramco in the 1974–1980 period, provided the source of much influence of Wahhabism in the Islamic World.

... the financial clout of Saudi Arabia had been amply demonstrated during the oil embargo against the United States, following the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. This show of international power, along with the nation's astronomical increase in wealth, allowed Saudi Arabia's puritanical, conservative Wahhabite faction to attain a preeminent position of strength in the global expression of Islam. Saudi Arabia's impact on Muslims throughout the world was less visible than that of Khomeini's Iran, but the effect was deeper and more enduring. .... it reorganized the religious landscape by promoting those associations and ulemas who followed its lead, and then, by injecting substantial amounts of money into Islamic interests of all sorts, it won over many more converts. Above all, the Saudis raised a new standard -- the virtuous Islamic civilization -- as foil for the corrupting influence of the West.[96]

Funding factor[edit]

Estimates of Saudi spending on religious causes abroad include "upward of $100 billion",[97] between $2 and 3 billion per year since 1975. (compared to the annual Soviet propaganda budget of $1 billion/year),[98] and "at least $87 billion" from 1987-2007[99]

Its largesse funded an estimated "90% of the expenses of the entire faith", throughout the Muslim World, according to journalist Dawood al-Shirian.[100] It extended to young and old, from children's madrasas to high-level scholarship.[101] "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.[102] It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university.[103] Yahya Birt counts spending on "1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools".[98][104]

This financial has done much to overwhelm less strict local interpretations of Islam, according to observers like Dawood al-Shirian and Lee Kuan Yew,[100] and has caused the Saudi interpretation (sometimes called "petro-Islam"[105]) to be perceived as the correct interpretation—or the "gold standard" of Islam—in many Muslims' minds.[106][107]

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Criticism by other Muslims[edit]

Generally, Sunni and Shia Muslims regard Wahhabism as the ideology which gave birth to many terrorist organizations that have perpetrated violent acts against them and innocents since the extremist movement was established. Several Sunni and Shia scholars have also condemned and opposed the ideology calling it twisted, violent and against Islam.

Initial opposition[edit]

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. Salman Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was moved to write a book in refutation of his brothers' new teachings, known as, The Final Word from the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sayings of the Scholars Concerning the School of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab.[17]

In "The Refutation of Wahhabism in Arabic Sources, 1745–1932",[108] 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).

Shi'a criticism[edit]

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.[109][110][111] Shi'a and other minorities in Islam insist that Wahhabis are behind targeted killings in many countries such as Iraq, Pakistan and Bahrain.

Sunni/Sufi criticism[edit]

Ibrahim Pasha and his Ottoman Army fought against the First Saudi State that was hostile to the Hanafi school of thought.

Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a is a Somali paramilitary group consisting of Sufis and moderates opposed to the radical islamist group Al-Shabaab. They are fighting to prevent Wahhabism from being imposed on Somalia and protecting the country's Sunni-Sufi traditions and generally moderate religious views.[112]

The Syrian professor and scholar Dr. Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti criticises the Salafi movement in a few of his works.[113]

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.[114][115][116] 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.” [117]

Wahabbism is opposed by Hui Muslims in China, primarily by the Sufi Khafiya, 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.[118] Salafis have a reputation for radicalism among the Hanafi Sunni Gedimu and Yihewani. Sunni Muslim Hui avoid Salafis, including family members.[119] The number of Salafis in China is so insignificant that they are not included in classifications of Muslim sects in China.[120]

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.[121]

The Deobandi Alim Abd al-Hafiz al-Makki has argued that Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab viewed authentic sufism in a positive light comparing it to the sciences of tafseer, hadith, and fiqh.[122]

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.

Wahhabism in the United States[edit]

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.[123][124] 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."[125]

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.[126] 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.[126]

Militant and political Islam[edit]

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.[127]

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".[128]

An analysis by START of the Global Terrorism Database reveals an increase from a few hundred in 1976 to 10,000 acts in 1983. In 2012, it found more than 8,500 terrorist attacks killed nearly 15,500 people, and six of the seven most deadly terror groups were affiliated with al Qaeda.[129]

However, Karen Armstrong states that Osama bin Laden, like most extremists, followed the ideology of Sayyid Qutb, not "Wahhabism".[130]

Destruction of Islam's early historical sites[edit]

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.[131] 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.[14][15] This practice has proved controversial and has received considerable criticism from Sunni and Shia Muslims and in the non-Muslim World.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ although most Sunnis dispute this and tend to disassociate themselves with adherents to the Wahhabi Ideology.(source: http://www.sunnah.org, Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Extremism, by Zubair Qamar, condensed and edited by ASFA staff)
  3. ^ Our good name: a company's fight to defend its honor J. Phillip London, C.A.C.I., Inc – 2008, "wahhabism is considered in particular an ultra-conservative orientation".
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  7. ^ http://www.sunnah.org, Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Extremism, by Zubair Qamar, condensed and edited by ASFA staff
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  10. ^ PBS Frontline. "Analyses – Wahhabism". Retrieved 27 January 2012. "For more than two centuries, Wahhabism has been Saudi Arabia's dominant faith." 
  11. ^ http://www.scarrdc.org/uploads/2/6/5/4/26549924/bederkawahhabism.pdf
  12. ^ http://m.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2013/0813/Boko-Haram-appears-to-take-new-tactic-Kill-Muslims-as-they-pray-video
  13. ^ http://www.dawn.com/news/1029713
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  17. ^ a b The book is also known as The Divine Thunderbolts Concerning the Wahhabi School, (Al-Sawa`iq al-Ilahiyya fi Madhhab al-Wahhabiyya), source: Kingdom without borders: Saudi political, religious and media frontiers. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  18. ^ a b Esposito 2003, p. 333
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  20. ^ "Wahabi & Salafi". alahazrat.net. Retrieved 2014-03-22. "Throughout history there have been different names for this Sect, but in the eighth century, one of their leaders use to call himself Salafi. Even today, this Sect has four names SALAFI, WAHABI, NAJDI and AHL-HADITH - although today they prefer to call themselves Salafi." 
  21. ^ Washington Post, For Conservative Muslims, Goal of Isolation a Challenge
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  45. ^ Roy, Olivier (2004). Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. Columbia University Press. p. 239. "The Taliban, despite their similarity to Wahhabis, never destroyed the graves of pirs (holy men) and emphasised dreams as a means of revelation, which is not a Wahhabi trait." 
  46. ^ Shaykh `Abdul-`Aziz ibn `Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al Al-Shaykh, The General Mufty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "Interpretation of dreams and being wary of expansion in this matter". Portal of the General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta. Retrieved 23 March 2014. "[from Fatwa] ... Moreover, the interpretation of dreams is not part of the general knowledge that, if spread among Muslims, benefits them through providing a better understanding of correct beliefs and actions. Rather, it is as the Prophet (peace be upon him) described it, i.e. Ru'yas are glad tidings. In this regard, some of the Salaf (righteous predecessors) stated: "Ru'ya pleases and never harms a believer." Having said this, the field of interpreting dreams has expanded to the extent that there are now special programs on satellite channels, phone lines that reply to inquiries from the public, columns in newspapers and magazines, and places in clubs that aim to attract people and unjustly consume their wealth. All these practices are a great evil and trifle with this type of knowledge, which is part of prophethood." 
  47. ^ a b c Kepel, Gilles (2004). The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West. Harvard University Press. p. 158. "Ibn Taymiyya and Abdul Wahhab counseled the strictest possible application of sharia in the most minuscule aspects of daily life and the use of coercion on subjects who did not conform to dogma. As Wahhabism began to exert its influence, a religious militia, the mutawaa -- bearded men armed with cudgels (and today, riding in shiny SUVs) -- was organized in Saudi Arabia to close down shops and office at prayer times five times a day." 
  48. ^ Glasse, Cyril (2001). New Encyclopedia of Islam (Revised Edition ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 470. "Wahhabism is noted for its policy of compelling its own followers and other Muslims strictly to observe the religious duties of Islam, such as the five prayers, under pain of flogging at one time, and for the enforcement of public morals to a degree not found elsewhere." 
  49. ^ Saudi Arabia's religious police 'contains extremists'| 4 February 2014|
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  51. ^ Afshin Shahi. The Politics of Truth Management in Saudi Arabia. "Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab condemned many traditions, practices and beliefs that were an intergral part of the religious and cultural consciousness of the Muslim community." 
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  53. ^ Many celebrate Valentine’s Day in secret| Saudi Gazette.
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  56. ^ Brooks, Geraldine (1995). Nine Parts of Desire. Doubleday. p. 161. "[from the religious editor of the Saudi Gazette circa 1986-1995] There are legal and moral rights that become consequential on marriage. Because of their different physiological structures and biological functions, each sex is assigned a role to play in the family ... it is the husband who is supposed to provide for the family. If he cannot gain enough to support the family .. both ... may work for gain. However:
    1. The husband has the right to terminate a wife's working whenever he deems it necessary;
    2. He has the right to object to any job if he feels that it would expose his wife to any harm, seduction or humiliation;
    3. The wife has the right to discontinue working whenever she pleases." 
  57. ^ House, Karen Elliott, On Saudi Arabia : Its People, past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future, Knopf, 2012, p.9
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  67. ^ a b Husain, Ed (2007). The Islamist : Why I joined Radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left. Penguin Books. p. 246. "In contemporary Wahhabism there are two broad factions. One is publicy supportive of the House of Saud, and will endorse any policy decision reached by the Saudi government and provide scriptual justification for it. The second believe that the House of Saud should be forcibly removed and the wahhabi clerics should take charge. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are from the second school." 
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  78. ^ House, Karen Elliott (2012). On Saudi Arabia : Its People, past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future. Knopf. p. 27. "Not only is the Saudi monarch effectively the religious primate, but the puritanical Wahhabi sect of Islam that he represents instructs Muslims to be obedient and submissive to their ruler, however imperfect, in pursuit of a perfect life in paradise. Only if a ruler directly countermands the comandments of Allah should devout Muslims even consider disobeying. `O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. [surah 4:59]`" 
  79. ^ Lacey, Robert (2009). Inside the Kingdom : Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia. Viking. p. 56. "The ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood were similar to those of the Salfis and also of the dawah wahhabiya (Wahhabi mission) -- to reestablish the order of Allah and to bring about the perfect Islamic states. But the rhetoric of the Brotherhood dealt in change-promoting concepts like social justice, anticolonialism, and the equal distribution of wealth. Politically they were prepared to challenge the estabishment in a style that was unthinkable to mainstream Wahhabis, who were reflexively defferential to their rulers, and enablers, the House of Saud." 
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