The Kharijites and Their Impact on Contemporary Islam 5

It would have been more appropriate and more instructive for Faruqi to compare these two conditions rather than that of Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab’s Najd and the conditions prevalent in the Hijaz at the time of the Prophet (s). For example, we know that Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab emanates from the same clan that formed the most powerful base of the Kharajites during the time of Sayyidina `Ali, namely, the Banu Tamim. It would, therefore, have been of immense interest to examine any ideological linkages that might have existed between the Kharajites of then and the ideological conditions prevailing in the Najd during Muhammad `Abdul Wahhab’s time. After all – and this is one of their great virtues – Arabian tribal life is known for its integrity in oral traditions. Moreover, both the principles and consequences of his version of “Tawhid” were almost identical to those of the Kharajites. We shall return to these themes and their impact on 20th century Islam later.

Let us look at another more critical view. In his Islams and Modernities Aziz al-Azmeh states:

The most direct aspect of the social alliance between divines and Saudi princes is the direct political role of the former. Though it may be true that the original compact between Muhammab b. `Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad b. Su`ud at Dir’iyya, the first Saudi capital, was the one in which the divine was the ‘senior partner’, this is only so in the sense that it was he who was in charge of the legal system. Yet the pre-eminence of the Al Shaykh, the descendants of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab, in the legal and religious institutions of successive Saudi states is a factor connected with both their position in family alliances and their capacity to formally charter transfers of power.

Further on he observes:

By requiring subjection in principle to the authority whose voice is Wahhabism, this doctrine simultaneously renders these subjects open to the dictation of cultural and societal relations whose ground and condition are this authority. In short, Wahhabite fundamentalism puts forward a model whose task is to subject local societies with their customs, authorities, devotions, and other particularities to a general process of acculturation which prepares them for membership in the commonwealth whose linchpin and exclusive raison d’etre is the absolute dominance of the house of Su`ud.

This, in my opinion, is a far more accurate interpretation of the realities of Wahhabite politics than Faruqi’s romanticised version of a renewed and liberating form of Islam emerging from the untainted and untouched soil of an “isolated” Najd.

Nevertheless, the politics in the Arabian Peninsula are not as simple as both its detractors and supporters often imagine. Wahhabism itself has undergone a number of revisions; and with revisions come conflict. This is clearly indicated by the present tension between the Saudi state – which promotes itself as a moderate form of Wahhabism – and its more extremist Wahhabite opposition in the form of Dr Safar al-Hawali and his supporters on the one hand, and the Muhajirun movement stationed in London on the other. In addition the Wahhabites and the Tabligh Jama`at – which has the Kitab al-Tawhid of Muhammad Abdul Wahhab as its founding inspiration – are also anathema to one another.

It is not Wahhabism that sustains the present Saudi state. It’s a strong economy fuelled by oil and massive foreign interests that maintains its integrity. Meanwhile the Wahhabite propaganda machinery persists in trying to “acculturate” the rest of the Muslim world into acceptance of its “purified” version. While we are definitely not blind to the politics of the situation, our chief concern remains to examine the impact of Wahhabism on 20th century Islam and Muslims. In the next segment we shall look at the rise of Wahhabite power and the principles that informed that movement.

Part 6

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions

© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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