Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Extremism

The Al-Sa`ud and Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab – the founder of Wahhabism

Wahhabism is named after the its founder, Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab (1703-1792), and has its roots in the land now known as Saudi Arabia. Without this man, the al-Sa`ud ‎, one of many clans spread over the Arabian peninsula, would not have had the inspiration, reason, and determination to consolidate the power that they did and wage “jihad” on people they perceived to be “polytheists” – those who attribute partners in worship to Almighty God. How intimately close was al-Sa`ud’s association with Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab? Robert Lacey eloquently illustrates this association:

Until [Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab’s] coming the Al Sa`ud ‎ had been a minor sheikhly clan like many others in Nejd, townsmen and farmers, making a comfortable living from trade, dates and perhaps a little horse-breeding, combining with the desert tribes to raid outwards when they felt strong, prudently retrenching in times of weakness.  Modestly independent, they were in no way empire builders, and it is not likely that the wider world would ever have heard of them without their alliance with the Teacher.[2]

The al-Sa`ud are originally from the village of ad-Diriyah, located in Najd, in eastern Arabia situated near modern day Riyadh, the capital of Sa`ud‎i Arabia.  Ancestors of Sau’ud Ibn Muhammad, whom little is known about, settled in the area as agriculturists and gradually grew in number over time into the clan of al-Sa`ud .

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab was raised in Uyainah, an oasis in southern Najd, and was from the Banu Tamim tribe. He came from a religious family and left Uyainah in pursuit of Islamic knowledge.  He traveled to Mecca, Medina, Iraq, and Iran to acquire knowledge from different teachers.  When he returned to his homeland of Uyainah, he preached what he believed to be Islam in its purity – which was, in fact, a vicious assault on traditional Sunni Islam.

The orthodox Sunni scholar Jamil Effendi al-Zahawi said that the teachers of Ibn `Abdul-Wahhab, including two teachers he had studied with in Medina – Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi and Shaykh Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi – became aware of his anti-Sunni Wahhabi creed and warned Muslims from him. His shaykhs, including the two aforementioned shaykhs, used to say:  “God will allow him [to] be led astray; but even unhappier will be the lot of those misled by him.”[3]

Moreover, Ibn `Abdul-Wahhab’s own father had warned Muslims from him, as did his biological brother, Sulayman Ibn `Abdul-Wahhab, an orthodox Sunni scholar who refuted him in a book entitled al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyya fi al-radd `ala al-Wahhabiyya [“Divine Lightnings in Refuting the Wahhabis”].  Ibn `Abdul-Wahhab was refuted by the orthodox Sunni scholars for his many ugly innovations. Perhaps his most famous book, Kitab at-Tawheed (Book of Unity of God) is widely circulated amongst Wahhabis worldwide, including the United States. His book is popular in Wahhabi circles, although orthodox Sunni scholars have said that there is nothing scholarly about it, both in terms of its content and its style.

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

© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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