Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Extremism

Zubair Qamar

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Tawassul and Tabarruk

Nuh Keller, an orthodox Sunni scholar, defines tawassul as “supplicating Allah by means of an intermediary, whether it be a living person, dead person, a good deed, or a name or attribute of Allah Most High”. I remember doing tawassul in 1989 at Imam Abu Hanifah’’s tomb, the noble and renowned Islamic scholar whose ijtihad the majority of Sunni Muslims follow. Although I had not studied much about Islam and the practices of tawassul at that time, I had been told by trustworthy Muslims that using pious individuals as intermediaries when asking Allah for something was a blessed opportunity that I couldn’t afford to miss.  I had also visited the tomb of the great sufi and saint Abdul-Qadir Jilani and performed tawassul over there.  An example of tawassul is: ““Oh Allah, I ask you to cure my illness by means of the noble status of Imam Abu Hanifah (s).”

When doing tawassul, the source of blessings (barakah) when asking Allah through an intermediary is Allah – not the intermediary.  The intermediary is simply a means to ask Allah for things. Although it is not necessary for a Muslim to use a pious intermediary when asking Allah, it is recommended because it was a practice of Prophet Muhammad (s), the Companions (ra), and of the great scholars of Islam (ra). It is not only prophets and saints (in their graves) that are used as means to asking Allah. A Muslim can also ask Allah through relics (tabarruk) that belonged to pious people, and may even use amulets with verses on the Qur’an on them as a means of asking God for protection from evil. It is not the means that provides protection, but Allah.

Wahhabis reject a type of tawassul accepted by orthodox Sunni Muslims

Although Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Wahhabis believe that tawassul by one’s good deeds, a name or attribute of God, or intercession by someone who is alive and present is permissible, Wahhabis accuse Sunnis (and Shi’ites) of committing shirk (attributing partners in worship to God) when doing tawassul through an intermediary who is not alive or present (in the worldly life). That is, to a Wahhabi, tawassul through an intermediary who has died and is in his grave is ugly blasphemy. This is critical to know because this is the primary reason why Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab and the Al-Sa`ud ‎ criminals that collaborated with him massacred many Muslims in the Arabian peninsula.  Muslims had been doing this form of tawassul for over 1,000 years but the Wahhabis believed it was blasphemy that had to be exterminated by the sword.  What Wahhabis were doing in actuality was massacring orthodox Sunni Muslims, even though they foolishly believed they were fighting against evil blasphemers that didn’’t deserve to live.  Wahhabis were not following the footsteps of the pious Salaf, but the footsteps of Ibn Taymiyyah who a couple of hundred years before them denounced that particular form of tawassul as sinful. Wahhabis today forbid Muslims from doing tawassul through Prophet Muhammad, and have enforced strict rules around his grave in Medina, Saudi Arabia. It is for this reason that Wahhabis forbid Muslims from visiting the graves of pious Muslims, and have destroyed markings on graves to prevent Muslims from knowing the specific spots where saints are buried. Yet, it is interesting to note the hypocritical nature of the Wahhabis when they had refused the demolishing of the grave of Ibn Taymiyah in Damascus, Syria to make way for a road. Somehow, this is not “polytheism” to them, but it is “polytheism” for the majority of the Islamic community.

The flawed Wahhabi understanding of tawassul: confusing the means with the Giver

Wahhabis wrongly accuse orthodox Sunnis of committing shirk (polytheism) when asking God for something using an intermediary, whether the means is a pious human being in his grave,  objects (tabarruk), or seeking protection from God using amulets with verses of the Qur’an written on them (ruqya).   The Wahhabi believes that asking God for something through a means is the same as worshipping the means itself. That is, for people who do tawassul through a pious saint in his grave is asking the pious saint – and not God – for things. People who do tabarruk through a relic of Prophet Muhammad (s) are asking the relic –and not God – for blessings, and people who wear ruqya are asking the ruqya itself for protection – and not God. When a Muslim visits the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) grave and calls on the Prophet (s), “Oh Prophet,” (Ya Rasulullah), the Wahhabis accuse such a person of worshipping the Prophet (s) and refuse to accept the understanding that the Prophet himself is a means to asking God for things. Such an act to Wahhabis drives a Muslim out of the realms of the religion of Islam. In sum, the Wahhabis believe that such people are worshipping creation alongside God, and are therefore guilty of polytheism – attributing partners in worship to God.

The now deceased former Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, defends Ibn Abdul-Wahhab’s accusation of polytheism that he had heaped on the Muslim masses and his resorting to “jihad” by saying that Muslims had gone astray because they had “worshipped” things are than God:

The people of Najd had lived in a condition that could not be approved of by any believer. Polytheism had appeared there and spread widely. People worshipped domes, trees, rocks, caves or any persons who claimed to be Awliya (saints) though they might be insane and idiotic.

There were few to rise up for the sake of Allah and support His Religion. Same was the situation in Makkah and Madinah as well as Yemen where building domes on the graves, invoking the saints for their help and other forms of polytheism were predominant. But in Najd polytheistic beliefs and practices were all the more intense.

In Najd people had worshipped different objects ranging from the graves, caves and trees to the obsessed and mad men who were called saints.

When the Sheikh [Ibn Abdul-Wahhab] saw that polytheism was dominating the people and that no one showed any disapproval of it or no one was ready to call the people back to Allah, he decided to labour singly and patiently in the field. He knew that nothing could be achieved without jihad (holy fighting), patience and suffering [italics mine].[11]

Orthodox Sunnis, however, have never claimed to worship the means, but only God. Because Wahhabis didn’t tolerate this, they massacred thousands of Muslims who they saw as being “polytheists” in Arabia. In actuality, they were Sunni Muslims who were following Islam in its purity as taught by the pious ancestors that lived in the time period of the Salaf.  

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

© 2016 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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  1. […] worship and reverence to God alone. The authentic carriers of Islam from the time of the Prophet (s)[1] until now.” Calling them Wahhabis implies that they learned ideas from a man – Muhammad ibn […]

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