Q: Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. I would like to know the historical background of Wahhabism? In what way does their ideology differ from that of the rest of the Muslim community?
A: Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear brother in Islam, we are greatly pleased to receive your question which shows the confidence you place in us. We implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.
Concerning its historical background, Wahhabism is a faith-based, political and reformist movement attributed to its founder, Imam Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab.
Wahhabism is one of reformation movements that emerged during the time that the Muslim world at large suffered from a great intellectual setback.
So it was originally established by its founder to focus mainly on purging Islam of its decadence, alien ideas that mean nothing more than polytheism, in addition to reviving the fervor of days gone by. That is, the main goal of the movement is to call all Muslims back to pure Tawhid (Monotheism) and to stick to the teachings of the Qur’an, and the Prophetic Tradition.
Reviving the ideas of the two notable Islamic figures: Sheikh Ibn Taimiyah and his disciple, Ibn al-Qayyim, as well as upholding the juristic opinions of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, both in credal and juristic matters, are also part of the goals of this group.
Its foundation and prominent members:
1- Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab Al-Mashrafi At-Tamimi An-Najdi (1115-1206 AH /1703-1791 CE). He was born in a town called `Uyaynah to the north of Riyadh.
He studied Hanbali Jurisprudence, tafsir (Qur’anic Interpretation) and Hadith from his learned father; in fact, he memorized the Qur’an by the age of ten.
He went to Makkah to perform Pilgrimage, then to Madinah to obtain more knowledge about Islam. There he met Sheikh Muhammad Hayat As-Sandi (who died in the year 1165 AH), the author of the book Al Hashiyah `Ala Sahih Al-Bukhari. He was greatly influenced by this renowned scholar.
He went to Iraq in the year 1136 AH/ 1724 CE, but was forced to leave Basrah for Ahsa’, then he went to Huraymila’, a village of Najd, because his father had moved there and stayed with him.
After propagating (pure) monotheism in Huraymila’, he returned back to `Uyaynah, and explained his reformist movement to its governor, `Uthman ibn Mu`ammar. The latter, upon responding to his call, assisted him in demolishing all the graves and bringing down the dome over the grave of Zayd ibn Al-Khattab. Together, they carried out the prescribed punishment for adultery on a woman who had confessed to it.
Then Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab went to Dar`iyyah, a place taken by the Su`ud dynasty as its administrative base.
2- Prince Muhammad ibn Su`ud
Muhammad bin `Abdul Wahhab made an alliance with Imam Muhammad ibn Su`ud to spread this thought which now dominates the whole Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and forms the ideological and philosophical basis of the kingdom.
Beliefs and Principles:
1. Although the founder belonged to the Hanbali School of Jurisprudence, he used to sidestep it whenever he found evidence that sounded more convincing to him. Hence, the Salafi call does not follow a specific school in respect to its principles but it follows the views of the Hanbali Juristic School in respect to minor issues.
2. This Salafi movement calls for the revival of Ijtihad (personal reasoning) after it has been abandoned since the fall of Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate.
3. It emphasizes the necessity of returning to the teachings of Allah’s Book (the Qur’an) and the Sunnah and not to accept any thing with regard to belief unless it is based on a clear-cut evidence from both these sources (i.e., the Qur’an and Sunnah).
4. It adopts the method of Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah when it comes to understanding a certain evidence and forming a certain ruling thereupon.
5. It also calls for refining the concept of monotheism (Allah’s Oneness) and calls upon Muslims to adopt what the early Muslims would believe in that regard.
6. It propagates the belief in the Divine attributes and names of Allah, by believing in the names and attributes that Allah Almighty has described Himself with and that which the Prophet (peace be upon him) attributed to Him, without thinking that He has a shaped body or how He lives and without giving a certain interpretation to the verses that include attributes of Allah.
7. It also calls for believing that it is Allah Almighty alone that is worthy of worship. Allah Almighty says: “Serve Allah and shun false gods” (An-Nahl: 36)
8. It revives the obligation of jihad.
9. It calls for abolishing the innovations and superstitions spread because of ignorance and lagging behind, such as:
– visiting a certain grave claming that it is the grave of the Prophet’s Companion Dirar ibn Al-Azwar, and asking him to fulfill their requests,
– visiting a specific dome claiming that it belongs to Zayd Ibn Al-Khattab,
– visiting a certain tree they claim to be of Prophet’s Companion Abu Dujanah
10. The sect also believes that tawassul (invoking Allah through an intermediary) is of two kinds: one is desirable, that is, supplicating Allah by virtue of His Glorious Names, and the other is innovative, that is, supplicating Allah Almighty through, for instance, the person of the Prophet (peace be upon him), or through the persons of so-and-so sheikhs or saints and their closeness to Allah Almighty.
11. The movement prevents building tombs and decorating or lightening them and the like.
12. It calls for firmly opposing the extreme views of the Sufis and the innovations they have introduced to the religion of Islam.
13. It prohibits saying anything about Allah Almighty without knowledge. Allah Almighty says: “Say: My Lord forbiddeth only indecencies, such of them as are apparent and such as are within, and sin and wrongful oppression, and that ye associate with Allah that for which no warrant hath been revealed, and that ye tell concerning Allah that which ye know not.” (Al-A’raf: 33)
14. The things about which the Islamic Shari`ah is silent (as to whether they are lawful or not) are not up to people to decide upon, and so, no one is licensed to say that such things are obligatory or unlawful or desirable or undesirable. Allah almighty says: “O ye who believe! Ask not of things which, if they were made known unto you, would trouble you…” (Al-Maidah: 101)
15. It believes that giving up a clear evidence with regard to some issue and citing instead a contreoversial, allegorical one is a method followed by misled people or groups like Ar-Rafidah and the Kharijites. Allah Almighty says: “But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it.” (Al `Imran: 7)
16. The Prophet stated that what is lawful is plain and that which is unlawful is plain and between the two of them are doubtful matters. Therefore, no one can claim that every issue can be judged in clear, decisive terms.
17. On shirk (associating partners with Allah or polytheism), Sheikh Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab maintained that it is of three kinds:
a- Major shirk, which relates to the aspects of worship, intention, obedience and showing fidelity to people.
b- Minor shirk, which relates to the act of showing off, pursuant to the Prophet’s words: “Showing-off, even in a minor way, is a form of shirk.”
c- Hidden shirk, in which a believer may fall inadvertently, according to the following Hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “Shirk is more hidden in this Ummah (i.e. Muslims) than the crawling of the black ant, on the soundless rock, in the tenebrous night.”
18. The movement is keen to awaken the Ummah intellectually and remove the stains of several decades of ignorance, backwardness, and blind imitation.
Finally, Sheikh Muhammad `Ali Al-Hanooti, member of the North American Fiqh Council, adds:
“Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab is a great scholar who wanted to wake people so that they would go back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. He was reliable in his knowledge, devotion and methodology.”
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