The Kharijites and Their Impact on Contemporary Islam 6

The actual unfolding of the much vaunted “monotheism” of Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab had none of the sublimity ascribed to it by Isma`il Faruqi in his introduction to Ibn `Abdul Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawhid.

From the outset the emergence of Wahhabism was distinctly violent and ferocious in form. Given the nature of their brand of Tawhid (better described as a form of “monomania” rather than monotheism) it was not surprising that amongst the first acts inspired by their pious wrath was the desecration of shrines. Under the leadership of Sa`ud b. `Abdul Aziz these desecrations took place in Makkah and Madinah during the years 1803 and 1805 respectively. Prior to that, in 1802, they captured Kerbala that houses the shrine of Sayyidina Husayn (r).

In 1805 – after fifteen years of warfare – a somewhat tired Sharif of Makkah, Ghalib, entered into a negotiated settlement with Ibn Sa`ud who went on to rule the Hijaz until 1813. Nevertheless, the unremitting attempts of the Wahhabites to control, not only the Arabian Peninsula, but also its surrounding areas including Iraq, Syria, Oman, and Yemen, was cause for massive concern to the Ottomans. The Ottomans, who, at the time, had admittedly little to be said in their favour, felt that they had had enough. Muhammad `Ali of Egypt and his son Ibrahim Pasha were assigned by the Ottomans to remove the Wahhabites from the Hijaz. This they did in 1813. In 1818 Ibrahim Pasha attacked and devastated Dir’iyyah. The Wahhabites withdrew from Dir’iyyah, and, under the leadership of Turki, set up their new capital in Riyad.

This Muslim internecine fighting, however, was not to stop there. It was during this period too that the Wahhabis committed one of the worst atrocities in recent Muslim memory. That atrocity, recorded in many works, was the massacre of Muslims in Taif. This is one incident that many with Wahhabite inclinations would like to see buried. While it is not unIslamic to forgive the worst of barbarities, to forget them – or, even worse – to consciously want to bury them, is to strip oneself of human integrity and morality. We might as well start by claiming that atrocities elsewhere in the world do not happen. As Muslims we need to be bold enough to face our own indecencies and even bolder in examining its causes.

Nevertheless, it must not be assumed that these Wahhabite attacks on Muslims either averse to or expounding a different interpretation of Islam implied that they were completely united in their own quest. On the contrary, like all forms of political adventurism where power is the sole candidate there is bound to be voracious infighting. A typical example of this infighting occurred after the death of Faysal b. Turki in 1865. Between 1865 and 1877 there was an astonishing eight changes of political leadership in the house of Saud.

This reckless pursuit for power was probably spurred on by the fact that Muhammad `Abdul Wahhab’s position was that political leadership was legitimate no matter what the means employed to gain such leadership. The ends, according to his dictum, were everything; the means simply irrelevant – even if those means were meant to be writ in blood. 1891, however, saw the expulsion of the Sa`uds from Riyad. The one responsible for this was Muhammad al-Rashid of Hail who vehemently opposed Wahhabite doctrine. The Sa`uds took refuge in Kuwait.

In 1901 there was a change of fortune for the Sa`uds. `Abdul `Aziz b. Sa`ud led a party of forty in a daring raid on the governor of Riyad. The raid was a success and the governor killed while on his way to the Masjid to perform Fajr prayers. With this Riyad once again fell to the Sa`uds. `Abdul `Aziz was appointed king, consolidated the Najd, and steadily started to increase the scope of his power. In 1924 he captured the Hijaz, then the Asir region, until he finally consolidated the boundaries of present day Saudi Arabia. The blessings of oil were on their side that was discovered in Dhahran in 1938. `Abdul `Aziz signed an agreement with the USA-based Standard Oil of California to exploit the newly found oil reserves.

Despite the destructive nature of Wahhabism, `Abdul `Aziz was, nonetheless, an insightful leader that managed to return a measure of security to a country that was by then the victims of all sorts of social dangers. Not least of them being the hazardous nature of the Hajj that had its pilgrims plagued by a variety of highwaymen that derived their annual sustenance from pillaging the hard-earned wealth of those pilgrims. He also had a tough time introducing telephones to wary Bedouins who were initially convinced that these were instruments of Satan.

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