Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab

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Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab al-Tamimi (1703 C.E. – 1792 C.E.) (Arabic:محمد بن عبد الوهاب التميمى) was an Arab theologian born in the Najd, in present-day Saudi Arabia and the most famous scholar of the movement within Islam known as the Wahhabi movement. He considered this movement an effort to purify Islam by returning all Muslims to what he believed were the original principles of Islam, as typified by the as-salaf as-saliheen (the earliest converts to Islam) and rejected what he regarded as corruptions introduced by Bida (innovation, reformation) and Shirk (idolatry). Specifically, during his time, he denounced various sects of Sufism. He is considered by some to be a great reformer of Islam, while others regard him as the "father of Islamic terrorism." Some consider his ideas irrational and unoriginal, merely reinteprating discredited interpretations of the Qu'ran while advocating a society mirroring that of Arabia during the first century after the Hijra. They argue that his teachings are little more than the primitive, intolerant views of a fanatic, running counter to the rich body of historical Islamic thought. Others believe he was an innovative and learned scholar whose revival of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence has served the umma at large. He has had a tremendous impact on modern Islam, particularly affecting Muslim attitudes toward non-Muslims. A number of leading figures in recent Islamic terrorism such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi have been influenced by his teachings.

Al-Wahhab revived interest in the works of the Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya; The followers of this revival (see Islamism) are often called Wahhabis, but they reject the usage of this term on the grounds that Al-Wahhab's teachings were the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed, not his own. Thus, they refer to themselves as Salafists or Muwahhidun, meaning, "the monotheists."



The early life of Muhammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab remains fairly uncertain despite the existence several studies on the subject. Historians at the time had no interest in the life of an obscure, young scholar and most of the contemporary journals do not cover it. Thus, there are only two official histories of Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab and his religious movement, Ibn Ghannam's Tarikh Nadjd and Ibn Bishr's Unwan al-Madjdj fi Tarihk Nadjd.

Three points should be taken into account regarding these sources for the early life of Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab. First, they rarely mention specific dates of events. Secondly, both authors were Wahhabis themselves and therefore had a political and religious agenda to consider. Finally, each was written after the death of Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab.

In the year 1744, Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab began to attract followers in the small town Al-Uyayna, within the Najd region (the central region of modern Saudi Arabia). Lacking a base of support at the time, Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab's teachings were challenged by Sulayman Ibn Muhammed al-Hamidi of the Banu Khalid, the chief of al-Ahsa and Qatif. The latter threatened the ruler of the city that he would not pay him a land tax for his properties if he did not kill Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab - which he declined to do, although Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab was forced to leave.

Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab made a name for himself through a series of actions. First, after he returned to al-Uyayna, he persuaded the ruler of the town to destroy a sacred tomb revered by local Muslims, citing the Prophet Muhammed's teaching that forbade idol-worship. Secondly, he ordered that an adulteress be stoned to death, a practice that had become uncommon in the area. Additionally, he practiced the Islamic concept of rihla fi talab al-'ilm, "traveling the land in order to seek knowledge." The full extent of such travels remains uncertain.

It is known if Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab spent some time in Basra (within modern day Iraq), and it is assumed that as a devout Muslim he traveled to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina before traveling to Basra. Official sources on Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab's life put his visits to these cities in different chronological order.

Almost all sources agree that his reformist ideas were formulated while living in Basra, where he became somewhat famous for his debates with the Islamic scholars there, and wrote the Kitab Al Tawhid ("The Book of Unity"). Dates are missing in a great many cases, so it would be impossible to reconstruct a chronology of his life up until 1743, when the Meccan Epistle was written.

The Egyptian Islamic scholar Abd al-Wahhab Ibn Ahamd Barakat al-Shafi'i al-Azhari al-Tandatawi wrote an early criticism of Muhammed's reforms in the book, Kitab Rad' al-Dalala wa Qam al-Djahala ("The Book of the Prevention of Error and the Suppression of Ignorance.") Oddly, Tandatawi did not specifically name Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab in the text, but referred to him as Sheik al-Nas. This is seen as either either an effort to not humiliate Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab or to simply not draw unwanted attention to the Wahhabi movement. Tandatawi wrote that he received word of Muhammed's teachings through word-of-mouth and letters from local "authorities." The content of Tandatawi's arguments also suggest this, as they do not appear to be based on any writings of Muhammed's, instead disputing his general ideas, quoting a considerable number of Qu'ranic verses.

Another critic of Muhammed Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab at the time was major sufi theologian, Ali al-Shafi'i al-Basri al-Shahir bi'l-Qabbani. A historian at the time, Ibn Turki, considered Qabbani to be among the four most prolific refuters of Wahhabism, particularly because - unlike Tandatawi - he had actually read Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab's writings. Qabbani wrote two texts criticizing Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab, the Fasl al-Khitab fi Radd Dalalat Ibn Abd al-Wahhab ("the unmistakable judgement in the refutation of the delusions of Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab,") and the Kashf al-Hijab an Wadjh Dalalat Ibn al-Wahhab ("lifting the veil from the face of the delusions of Ibn al-Wahhab,"). Qabbani later wrote a formal, anti-Wahhabi tract, citing both sources.

During his life, Muhammed Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab forged a pact with Najd chieftain Muhammad Ibn Saud, ensuring that regions conquered by the Saudi tribe would be ruled according to Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab's peculiar teachings on Islam. Ibn Saud and his heirs would spend the next 140 years mounting various military capaigns to seize control of Arabia and its outlying regions. The most successful of these, backed by British support, would establish the present-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, providing the Wahhabi movement with a state. Vast wealth from oil discovered in the following decades, coupled with Saudi - and thus Wahhabi - control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have since fueled Wahhabi missionary activity. With Saudi treasure at their disposal, the Wahhabi muftis and imams who hold monopoly control over the nation's Islamic jurisprudence and serve as arbiters of acceptable social practice in the Kingdom have waged a successful campaign of proselytization abroad through the establishment of madrassas that teach the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. These schools, scattered throughout majority Muslim regions of the world and in Muslim communities in Western nations, are seen by some as fermenting vats for modern Islamist terrorists and holy warriors. Such schools in the Pashtun region that straddles the Pakistani-Afghani border were the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

There are primarily two great mistakes critics of Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab make.

First, it seems most critics are extremely ignorant concerning his name, by constantly refering to him as "Al-Wahhab." Arabic speakers will quickly pick up on the mistake, but for those that do not, Al-Wahhab is one of God's names, according to Islam. Ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab is the correct name, because, first, he was not 'Abd Al-Wahhab himself, but rather the son of 'Abd Al-Wahhab. One should note that Ibn means "son" and "Abd" means "Servant." As such, he can be correctly refered to as Muhammad, the son of the servant of 'Al-Wahhab.

The second mistake critics make is calling anyone who shares his beliefs "Wahhabis." If anything, those critics should call them "Muhammads," because "Wahhabi" or even "Al-Wahhab" has never been his name.

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[1] Gold, Dore. Hatred's Kingdom, New York: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2003. [2] Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Inside Jihad U.: The Education of a Holy Warrior," The New York Times Magazine. June 25, 2000. [3] Traboulsi, Samer. Die Welt des Islams, Nov2002, Vol. 42 Issue 3, p373, 43p; (AN 9117682)

External links


See Confessions of a British Spy

See also: Islam, Islamist, Wahhabism

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