The Kharijites and Their Impact on Contemporary Islam 5

During the last 300 years one of the most controversial figures to emerge on the landscape of Islam is Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab.

Documentation on his birth and death dates conflicts somewhat, but most of his life was lived during the 18th century from approximately 1703-1792CE. He was born in Uyayna in the Najd area of present day Saudi Arabia. He was also born into the Tamim branch of the Banu Shinan tribe. His quest for knowledge took him to Madina, Iraq, and Syria. It appears, however, that the dominant influence on his thought was that of Taqiyyiddin Ahmad ibn Taimiyya (d. 1328CE). Nevertheless, there are significant divergences from ibn Taimiyya in his own perspectives – particularly with regard to what does or does not constitute shirk (idolatry).

What is known about him too, is that he invoked the ire of two of his prominent Shaikhs in Madina, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Sulaiman al-Kurdi and Shaikh Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi. Moreover, his father, `Abdul Wahhab and his brother, Sulaiman ibn `Abdul Wahhab vigorously expressed their opposition to his views. In fact his brother composed a work called al-Sawaiq al-Ilahiyya fi al-Radd `ala al-Wahhabiyya (Divine Flashes in the Refutation of the Wahhabis).

Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab might have remained an insignificant figure had it not been for an alliance forged between himself and a contemporary of his – the Najdi tribal chief of a small but growing urban clan in the market town of Diriyya, Muhammad ibn Sa`ud. The alliance was cemented in two ways. First, by an essay Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab wrote to Ibn Saud entitled Kashf al-Shubahat `an Khaliq al-‘Ard wa l-Samawaat (Clarifying the Obscurities Surrounding the Creator of the Heavens and Earth); and second, by the marriage of the daughter of Ibn Sa`ud to Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab.

The essay was a massive attack on the Iman (faith) and Islam of Muslims stretching from his time to approximately 600 years back in history. While efforts have been made to exonerate Ibn `Abdul Wahhab – discussed in the next segment – from his more grievous excesses, the evidence simply remains too overwhelming to dismiss his role in the fostering of the extremism that has since dogged the Muslim world. Nonetheless, Muhammad ibn Saud adopted this work that declared most of these Muslims infidels and unbelievers. On this fundamental premise that all Muslims – apart from themselves – were now mushrikin (polytheists) and kuffar (unbelievers) they declared the surrounding lands inhabited by Muslims as one huge Dar al-Harb (Abode of War). The Hijaz was a typical example and a typical victim.

There are, needless to say, many perspectives on this alliance. Let us look at two; one in favour, the other critical.

The first one is that of the late Ismail a`l-Faruqi (who was killed, along with his wife, in rather unfortunate circumstances in his home).

In his introduction to his own English translation of Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawhid (The Book of Divine Unity) he states:

What was indeed extraordinary was the coincidence of the `alim and the prince, Muhammad ibn Su`ud, who felt the need for each other, and who saw the wedding of idea to arm as key to a new page in history. Such was the greatness of the two men that they saw the fateful wedlock of one’s mind with the other’s sword as a duplicate of another bay`ah or covenant entered into by the Prophet (s) and the Ansar, Muslims of Madinah, at al-`Aqabah on the eve of the Hijrah. The `alim and the prince utilized many of the same words used to seal the Prophetic covenant. The theater where all this took place was Dar’iyyah, a village in east central Arabia.

In these dramatic and romanticised terms Faruqi continues to extol, throughout his introduction, the virtues of this alliance. Moreover, he reinvents the Najd as one of the “isolated corners of the Muslim world” that has been untouched by the “encounter between the Muslim East and the Christian West taking place in Eastern Europe.” They were free, as it stood, from the impact of the West on the Caliphate in Istanbul.

Through this reinvention the stage is set for the Najd to appear as a carbon copy of the “isolatedness” of Arabia during the time of the Prophet (s). The stage is set, in other words, for an acceptance of a renewed and purified version of Islam as a mirror image of the time of the Prophet (s). This facile attempt of Faruqi’s simply does not work. The social conditions prevalent during the time of Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab’s Najd and those of the Najd during the time of the Prophet (s) and the Kharajite rebellion against Sayyidina `Ali were not significantly different.

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