Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Extremism

Zubair Qamar

Ibn Taymiyah: the Wahhabi founder’s role model

It is worth giving an overview of a man named Ahmed Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328) who lived a few hundred years before Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab. The Wahhabi founder admired him as a role model and embraced many of his pseudo-Sunni positions. Who exactly was Ibn Taymiyah and what did orthodox Sunni scholars say about him? Muslim scholars had mixed opinions about him depending on his interpretation of various issues. His straying from mainstream Sunni Islam on particular issues of creed (`aqeedah) and  worship (`ibadat) made him an extremely controversial figure in the Muslim community.

Ibn Taymiya has won the reputation of being the true bearer of the early pious Muslims, especially among reformist revolutionaries, while the majority of orthodox Sunnis have accused him of reprehensible bid’ah (reprehenisible innovation), some accusing him of kufr (unbelief).[4]

It behooves one to ask why Ibn Taymiyah had received so much opposition from reputable Sunni scholars who were known for their asceticism, trustworthiness, and piety. Some of Ibn Taymiyah’s anti-Sunni and controversial positions include:

(1) His claim that Allah’s Attributes are “literal”, thereby attributing God with created attributes and becoming an anthropomorphist;

(2) His claim that created things existed eternally with Allah;

(3) His opposition to the scholarly consensus on the divorce issue;

(4) His opposition to the orthodox Sunni practice of tawassul (asking Allah for things using a deceased pious individual as an intermediary);

(5) His saying that starting a trip to visit the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) invalidates the shortening of prayer;

(6) His saying that the torture of the people of Hell stops and doesn’t last forever;

(7) His saying that Allah has a limit (hadd) that only He Knows;

(8) His saying that Allah literally sits on the Throne (al-Kursi) and has left space for Prophet Muhammad (s) to sit next to Him;

(9) His claim that touching the grave of Prophet Muhammad (s) is polytheism (shirk);

(10) His claim that that making supplication at the Prophet Muhammad’s grave to seek a better status from Allah is a reprehensible innovation;

(11) His claim that Allah descends and comparing Allah’s “descent” with his, as he stepped down from a minbar while giving a sermon (khutba) to Muslims;

(12) His classifying of oneness in worship of Allah (tawheed) into two parts:  Tawhid al-rububiyya and Tawhid al-uluhiyya, which was never done by pious adherents of the salaf.

Although Ibn Taymiyah’s unorthodox, pseudo-Sunni positions were kept away from the public in Syria and Egypt due to the consensus of orthodox Sunni scholars of his deviance, his teachings were nevertheless circulating in hiding. An orthodox Sunni scholar says:

Indeed, when a wealthy trader from Jeddah brought to life the long-dead ‘aqida [creed] of Ibn Taymiya at the beginning of this century by financing the printing in Egypt of Ibn Taymiya’s Minhaj al-sunna al-nabawiyya [italics mine] and other works, the Mufti of Egypt Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i, faced with new questions about the validity of anthropomorphism, wrote: “It was a fitna (strife) that was sleeping; may Allah curse him who awakened it.”

It is important to emphasize that although many of the positions of Ibn Taymiyah and Wahhabis are identical, they nonetheless contradict each other in some positions. While Ibn Taymiyah accepts Sufism (Tasawwuf) as a legitimate science of Islam (as all orthodox Sunni Muslims do), Wahhabis reject it wholesale as an ugly innovation in the religion. While Ibn Taymiyah accepts the legitimacy of commemorating Prophet Muhammad’’s birthday (Mawlid) – accepted by orthodox Sunni Muslims as legitimate – Wahhabis reject it as a reprehensible innovation that is to be repudiated.

Ibn Taymiyah is an inspiration to Islamist groups that call for revolution. Kepel says, “Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1323) – a primary reference for the Sunni Islamist movement – would be abundantly quoted to justify the assassination of Sadat in 1981…and even to condemn the Saudi leadership and call for its overthrow in the mid-1990s”.[5]

Sivan says that only six months before Sadat was assassinated, the weekly Mayo singled out Ibn Taymiyya as “the most pervasive and deleterious influence upon Egyptian youth.” Sivan further says that Mayo concluded that “the proliferating Muslim associations at the [Egyptian] universities, where Ibn Taymiyya’s views prevail, have been spawning various terrorist groups.” Indeed, a book entitled The Absent Precept, by `Abd al-Salam Faraj – the “spiritual” leader of Sadat’s assassins who was tried and executed by the Egyptian government – strongly refers to Ibn Taymiyya’s and some of his disciples’ writings. Three of four of Sadat’s assassins willingly read a lot of Ibn Taymiyya’s works on their own.[6]

Ibn Taymiyah is also noted to be a favorite of other Salafi extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Syed Qutb. Ibn Taymiyyah’s student, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, is also frequently cited by Salafis of all colors.

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


© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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