Some Reflections on the Wahhabiyah Movement

Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab wrote on various Islamic subjects such as theology, exegesis, jurisprudence and on the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). His works were collected and published in twelve volumes under the title of Mu’allafat al-shaykh al-Imam Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab by the Islamic University of Imam Muhammad Ibn Sa’ud.

In his works, Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab denounced a number of beliefs and practices prevailing among the Muslim society. He begins his discourse by stressing the unity of God. He underlines the doctrine of tawhid, God’s uniqueness as omnipotent Lord of creation. He stresses the unity of God in deserving worship and absolute devotion of the servants. He regards the associations of persons or things with the Lord as a violation of the doctrine of God’s Oneness. Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab condemns the intercession, tawassul, which was applied and practised by a large number of Muslims during their prayer to God. He warns the believers against showing excessive devotion to saints and against the use of saints’ graves as places of worship for tawassul. He considers these external elements polytheism, shirk. He seeks to purify the Muslim community from any such kind of external elements by returning to the ways of the Prophet (pbuh) and the first generations of pious Muslims. Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab states that the true Islam is that of the first generations (al-Salaf al-Salih) and protests against all those later innovations as superstitious accretions which brought what he calls ‘new gods’ into Islam. As a result of this attitude to Sufi tradition, the Wahhabis felt that it was an obligation upon them to destroy all the existing alien components. Accordingly, they attacked the graves of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh), tombs of saints, or anything associated with popular veneration like trees or stones. An obvious example of this zealous hatred was seen when the Wahhabis plundered Karbala, a Shi’ia holy city, and destroyed Husayn’s tomb. [5]

Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab rejected all kinds of innovations, defined by him as any doctrine or action not based on the Qur’an, Sunnah or on the authority of the Companions. Among the innovations are practices such as celebrating the Prophet’s birth, the use of rosary, adding minarets and ornaments to mosques, etc. Following practices may lead the believer to shirk according to the Wahhabis:

To visit the tombs of saints to gain God’s favour.

To introduce a name of a prophet, of a saint or of an angel into prayer.

Seeking intercession from any being but God.

Interpretation of the Qur’an by ta’wil.

According to Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s system, attendance at public prayer is obligatory, smoking of tobacco is forbidden and subject to punishment, shaving the beard and the use of abusive language are also to be punished.

With regard to fundamental basis of Islam, Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab places a great emphasis on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. He attacks the blind acceptance of authority in religious matters in general, thus comes to oppose the earlier ‘uluma’ who lack independent thinking. He finds it essential to go beyond the medieval authorities to the Sunnah of early generations. Rejecting qiyas, he recognizes only two major authorities: the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) along with the precedents and the ijma’ of the Companions. In Wahhabi mentality, a number of concepts were given a prior importance such as tawhid, shirk and bid’at (innovation) mentioned above.

Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab distinguishes between dar al-Islam and dar al-harb extending the scope of dar al-harb to some other Muslim countries which he regards as having ‘unlawful’ societies. Therefore those who live in dar al-harb where there is no freedom have to perform hijrah, emigrating from every country in which shirk and kufr are apparent. Another usage of hijrah appears in Wahhabi texts as a spiritual understanding which necessitates keeping away from all sinful things, forbidden by God and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) (Helm, p. 87).

Any kind of political division of the ummah and civil war were regarded as fitnah, social disturbance. The first fitnah appeared under ‘Ali’s Caliphate when the Kharijites left him. Wherever a fitnah occurs, it must be abolished by declaring a jehad, holy war. The followers of Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab had been indoctrinated to believe that the opponents of the Wahhabi cause were enemies of Islam who should be fought against (Yessini, p. 64).

Involvement of the Wahhabis into Politics: Religion and State

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