Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and the Wahhabi movement

By Mawlana Zameelur Rahman

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) was a controversial figure, whose ideas, beliefs and practices have received both great praise and great disdain. The following will attempt to settle matters on his views regarding violence, fiqh and tasawwuf which are unclear to many, mostly due to very successful propaganda. I wrote about this on another forum, and thought I should reproduce parts of it here with some additional material. I use the term “Wahhabi” because of its common usage, although the person it is named after is in fact the son of Abd al-Wahhab, Muhammad, and although the term was originally (mis)used disparagingly to gain political advantage.


The things for which Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was and is criticised, e.g. opposition to grave/saint veneration, opposition to fanatic madhhabism, and his emphasis on hadith scholarship, was in fact consistent with other reform movements in his time (the 18th century). Ahmad ibn Idris one of the great Sufi masters of Morocco from the 18th century had many of the same views: he strongly opposed saint veneration (changing the shaykh-murid relationship to one of ustadh-talib), he rejected kalam entirely, rejected madhhabs entirely (he was a more hardline critic than was Ibn Abd al-Wahhab), and used Tasawwuf as the vehicle by which the seeker could attain a direct relationship with the Prophet; his emphasis, however, was Prayer and remembrance of Allah (and not necessarily “Tawhid” as was Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s). Ibn Idris was the greatest influence on Muhammad ibn Ali al-Sanusi, the founder of the Sanusi tariqa, prominent in Libya. Sanusi also rejected taqlid. When students of the Sanusi Way took up arms against the Italian colonialists, foremost amongst them the great mujahid Omar Mukhtar, they were branded as Wahhabis. This guilt by association was common, but not without some truth. Ahmad ibn Idris visited Mecca during Wahhabi rule (in the early 19th century) and found sanctuary there with his hardline view on adherance to the Shari’ah. Ahmad ibn Idris had problems with popular religion as did Wahhabi scholars for which reason they had a common ideological interest. However Ibn Idris had mild criticisms of the Wahhabis, mostly for their rejection of (or indifference to) Tasawwuf which he considered the main vehicle for reform. For more on the Idrisis, see the book Enigmatic Saint, Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition. Similarly, Ahmad Shahid from India, who also opposed popular religion and had some problems (though a lot less than his N African counterparts) with taqlid, was also branded a Wahhabi by the British although his interaction with the Saudi Wahhabis was very limited.

“Jihadism” and Violence

The major criticism of Orientialism (by Edward Said and others) was its analysis of Islam from a Western vantage point that thought of it as backwards, intellectually barren and monolithic. I think the same can be said about many Muslim opinions of Wahhabism. Natana DeLong Bas’ 2004 book Wahhabi Islam covers the topic in great and accurate detail, using sources contemporary to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (his own writings, interviews conducted with Wahhabis at the time, and writings of opponents e.g. Ahmad Zayni Dahlan).

Delong Bas shows Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s emphasis was educational and religious reform not violent or political reform as some (like Ibn Abidin) have imagined mostly due to politically inspired propaganda (from the British and the Ottomans). When he began his preaching on “the message of tawhid”, he attacked many of the ulama for ignorance and turning a blind eye to shirk, for which he attained notoriety. In fact during preaching at a certain town an attempt was made at his life. He later returned to al-Uyayna and received protection from Ibn Muammar the amir of the town. Such alliances between religious and political leaders were not unusual at the time. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was accused of violence against fellow Muslims in his very lifetime, which he vehemently denied. He preferred education and da’wa.

Here is a description of Muhammad ibn al-Wahhab’s alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud in 1744 and the different agendas of the two, though they are often conflated:

“Upon his arrival in al-Dir’iyah, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab stayed briefly with Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Suwaylim and his cousin, Hamid ibn Suwaylim. However, he soon set his sights on the local leader, Muhammad Ibn Saud. As with his stay in al-Uyaynah, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab did not immediately engage in public preaching activities in al-Dir’iyah, nor did he immediately preach his message of tawhid to Muhammad Ibn Saud. Rather, he conducted his preaching activities in clandestine visits with small groups of people. It was only after gaining some important adherents that a delegation of two blind men and a prominent woman renowned for her “intelligence, knowledge and religion” was sent to Muhammad Ibn Saud’s wife and brother with the express purpose of introducing Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s message to them, particularly the hallmark theme of tawhid.

Muhammad Ibn Saud’s wife was the first to accept Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s proclamation of God’s special role for Muhammad Ibn Saud and to proclaim her belief in it to her husband. Subsequently, two of his brothers, Thunayn and Mashari, also declared their belief and encouraged Muhammad Ibn Saud to support and promote tawhid. After these three declarations, Muhammad Ibn Saud ordered that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab be placed under his protection and brought to him under the escort of his own men. When his brothers persuaded him that his personal intervention would be most effective, Muhammad Ibn Saud himself set out to Ibn Suwaylim’s house to meet Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in person.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab greeted Muhammad Ibn Saud with the message of tawhid, promising him that if he dedicated himself to the promotion of tawhid and the eradiction of shirk, jahl and divisions among the people, God would grant him and his descendents rule over the lands of Najd and its regions, as well as the people within them. It was clear from his remarks that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s interest remained in religious issues but that he was also a pragmatic man who realised that no political leader would be willing to take such great risks for the sake of religion unless some kind of early reward accompanied it.

Thus, in 1744, the famous alliance [between ibn Abd al-Wabbab and Muhammad al-Saud] that led to the first Saudi state was formed between Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Saud, sealed by mutual oath swearing of loyalty. According to this arrangement, ibn Abd al-Wahhab was responsible for religious matters and Muhammad Ibn Saud was in charge of political and military issues. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab promised not to interfere with Muhammad Ibn Saud’s state consolidation, and Muhammad Ibn Saud promised to uphold Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s religious teachings.

The fault lines of this alliance soon became clear. There is a marked difference between non-interference in military activities and active support and religious legitimation for them. If Ibn Saud had expected Ibn Abd al-Wahhab to legitimate all of his military undertakings for the sake of state consolidation and accumulation of power in the name of jihad as holy war, he must have been severely disappointed. Muhammad Ibn Saud’s first conquest, the people of al-Dir’iyah and their possessions, met with neither approval nor condemnation from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Rather than actively supporting or promoting conquest, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab merely acceded to it, hoping that Ibn Saud would get his fell of conquest and then focus on more important matters – those pertaining to religious reform. In fact, as evidence of the lack of religious support this military conquest enjoyed, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab left Ibn Saud’s company altogether during his campaign, devoting himself instead to spiritual matters and prayer. This was hardly what one would expect had Ibn Abd al-Wahhab believed that jihad as holy war was intended to be used as a tool for conquest.

The tension between the two was also apparent in Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s careful delineation of parameters to be followed by each in their roles as political leader (amir, Muhammad Ibn Saud) and religious leader (imam, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab). According to this vision, the amir was responsible for political, military and economic matters and the imam for religious issues. Only the imam could declare jihad as holy war and this only when the motivating factor was faith alone. Jihad was not intended to serve as a means of acquiring power, wealth or glory. This did not preclude the amir from engaging in military activities he believed were necessary or expedient [but these were not “jihad”]. What it did do was to limit the religious legitimation of those military activities. Because only the imam could declare a jihad as holy war, the amir could not automatically claim that any and all military activities were being carried out in the name of jihad. Thus, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was able to restrict the declaration of jihad to cases that he believed fit the religious criteria.

Although observers and historians have assumed that any and all military activities undertaken by the Saudis after the 1744 alliance were jihad activities, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings and writings do not support this contention. His behaviour – his tendency to withdraw from Ibn Saud’s company during such engagements and his ultimate withdrawal from his position as imam in 1223 – further makes it clear that he did not actively support all Saudi military actions. In fact, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s writings and activities after the alliance demonstrate his continued efforts to win converts through discussion, debate and persuasion rather than force.

For example, during the two years following the alliance, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab engaged in a letter-writing campaign in which he contacted local leaders, scholars, and rulers throughout Arabia, explaining his interpretation of tawhid and inviting them to join his movement. Many, though not all, of the recipients responded positively to these missives, although they did not always do so out of religious conviction. These notables were well aware that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was “in a house of strength” due to his alliance with Muhammad Ibn Saud and that their own continued power bases necessitated accommodation with these two parties.

Those who did not respond positively to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s invitiation were not immediately or necessarily declared to be unbelievers (kafirs), who were therefore subject to jihad as holy war. Rather than engaging in immediate warfare, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab persisted in his attempts to engage those who resisted in dialogue and debate in order to try to work out a formal relationship. The conquests of Riyadh and Washm are particularly instructive in this regard.

The conquest of Riyadh occurred neither quickly nor forcibly. It took the Saudis twenty-seven years to consolidate their hold over the important city, suggesting that a considerable amount of time was allowed for the inhabitants to grown in their understanding of and adherence to tawhid.

The conquest began with Ibn Abd al-Wahhab extending an invitation to its ruler, Dham ibn Dawwas, to adhere to his religious teachings. Although Dham ibn Dawwas initially refused his offer, he made peace with the Wahhabis and entered into a truce. This is significant because it shows that a truce with non-Wahhabis was permissible. Initial rejection of Wahhabi teachings did not result in an immediate or permanent state of warfare.

Over time, Dham ibn Dawwas accepted Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings and even invited some Wahhabi ulama to live and teach in Riyadh. However, Dham ibn Dawwas broke this truce several times. It was only at this point that protracted military activities began, culminating with the final conquest of Riyahd in 1773…Although the Wahhabis legally had the right to put to death any person who had actively fought to oppose them, they did not do so. People were not forced to convert, nor were all of their properties or financial assets confiscated. Instead, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab declared that this was an opportunity to offer the inhabitants protection and to implement order and justice…

Similarly, the conquest of Washm tookm seven years to accomplish. As with Riyadh, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab first engaged in a letter-writing campaign with the inhabitants of Washm” (Wahhabi Islam, pp. 34-37)

In her analysis of his views on jihad it was found Ibn Abd al-Wahhab parted with much traditional views on Jihad and took a very limited view, applying it only for the purposes of defense and self-determination, but in the long-term preferring truces and educational reform. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab taught at Dir’iya but the town was transformed by the Saudi family into a place of luxury and permissiveness much to the distaste of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab himself. But eventually this image of “Wahhabism”, i.e. the political one, is what stuck. “Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s goal of reforming Islam was overshadowed and ultimately overwhelmed by Muhammad Ibn Saud’s quest for state consolidation.” (ibid. p. 38).

Later conquests and takfiri legitimisations by Saudi kings occured long after Ibn Abd al-Wahhab retreated from public life. “Abd al-Aziz proceeded to expand his vision beyond the confines of Najd into the rest of Arabia, Iraq and Syria. His actions made it clear that the Al Saud family had as its ultimate goal the expansion of its territories and power, with or without religious legitimation. In fact, Saudi-Wahhabi power reached its height between 1792 and 1814, long after Ibn Abd al-Wahhab withdrew from public life. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab remained a consultant to Abd al-Aziz but largely withdrew his legitimation of Saudi military activities.” (ibid. p. 39)

Modern “jihadism” does not derive from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings, but from Qutb’s modernist reading of the Qur’an and Sunna which draws much from “traditional” Islam. Those, like Stephen Schwartz and Timothy Winter, who attempt to create a Sufi-Wahhabi dichotomy when it comes to matters of political radicalisation and violent extremism, should remember firstly, the Wahhabi rejection of such violence and takfiri attitude (from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab to Bin Baz), and secondly, the Sufi trajectory of modern “jihadism” – Hasan al-Banna the founder of Ikhwan al-Muslimin that inspired many of the later more radical movements (including Hizb Tahrir, Hamas and even ultimately al-Qaeda), was a Sufi. A Syrian proponent of Banna, who actively promoted the latter’s political views in Syria, and a great hadith scholar Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda was also an admirer of Tasawwuf. Likewise Izz al-Din al-Qassam an early Palestinian mujahid after whose name the military wing of Hamas is named was a Sufi. For more on the moderate Islamism of the ikhwan, see:


In Fiqh, the Wahhabis were Hanbalis, although they advocated a balanced approach to taqlid and ijtihad, in which they permitted taking opinions from other madhhabs when they felt it better fitted the evidence. Abd Allah, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s son, wrote: “(Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab) told us that what we believe and construct as our religion to Allah is the way of the Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jamaa, and the Salaf of the Umma in the Usul of religion. As for the peripherals (furu‘) we are on the madhhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, although we do not reject one who does taqlid of the four imams and we are not deserving of the rank of ijtihad. None of us claims this. However in some issues when a clear text is authentic to us from the Book of Allah or the Sunna that has not been abrogated, is not qualified and does not conflict with stronger (evidence) and one of the four imams said it, we adopt it and leave the madhhab. And at times the imams of the four madhhabs held views on some issues conflicting with the madhhab of the (so-called) muqallidun of its founder…” [for reference, see further down]. In a study, Rudolph Peters compared the Ijtihad advocated by Shawkani, Sanusi, Shah Waliullah and Hamid ibn Nasir ibn Muammar (a 19th century Wahhabi) and it turns out the Wahhabi was the strongest in favour of Taqlid along with Dehlawi and the strongest against were Shawkani and (the Sufi) Sanusi (Idjtihad and Taqlid in 18th and 19th Century Islam, Rudolph Peters). Some later Indian Sufi scholars like Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanawi also advocated a softer form of Taqlid and more critical thinking e.g. in his epistle al-Iqtisad fi l-Taqlidi wa l-Ijtihad. For more, see Fareeha Khan’s dissertation Traditionalist Approaches to Shari’ah Reform: Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s Fatwa on Women’s Right to Divorce, which can be accessed here: .


Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz Makki a prominent Meccan student of Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya ibn Muhammad Yahya al-Kandhlawi (d. 1982) wrote in his book Mawqifu A’immati Harakat al-Salafiyya min al-Tasawwufi wa l-Sufiyya (The Position of the Imams of the Salafi Movement on Sufism and Sufis), Third Edition, 2001, Dar al-Salam, pp. 15-20 [Makki’s brief comments in the footnotes are in square brackets]:

“Imam Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Najdi al-Hanbali

The Islamic University of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud in Riyadh gave particular importance to the convention of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab Week, in which all of the works of Shaykh Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab were distributed, and were all produced in 12 volumes.

By Allah’s grace I read all of these volumes page by page, and I did not find in them in any instance any vilification or denouncement from Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab of Tasawwuf or of one of the masters of Tasawwuf due to his Tasawwuf. These volumes are easily available, sold in the markets and bookshops, and it is possible for anybody to procure them and read them and verify what I have mentioned.

Rather, I found from various sections from these works on his writings that which clarifies with lucidity and clarity his explicit position on Tasawwuf and the masters of the Sufis (Allah have mercy on them). I will cite them in what follows with Allah’s help and His munificence, and upon Him (Glorified is He) is (my) trust:

1. In Section Three of Mu’allafat al-Imam Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, in the part (called) Fatawa wa Masa’il – its collection, authentication and verification from its (original) sources was carried out by Shaykh Salih ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Atrah and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Duways – on page 31, on the fifth issue (being discussed), he (Allah have mercy on him) was asked about useful matters and he answered:

“Know – Allah guide you – that Allah (Glorified and High is He) sent Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) with the guidance which is beneficial knowledge, and the religion of truth which is right practice. Furthermore, from those affiliated to the religion, are those who pay attention to the science of Fiqh and speaks about it (in) like (manner to) the Fuqaha. And from among them are those who pay attention to worship and seeking the (rewards of the) Afterlife, like the Sufis. So Allah sent His Prophet with this religion (which is) inclusive of the two categories [of Fiqh and Tasawwuf]. From the greatest of what Allah has strengthened him and his Umma is that He gave him “comprehensive speech” (jawami‘ al-kalim). Thus Allah (High is He) mentions in His Book one word (or phrase) which becomes a comprehensive principle under which is included (various) issues that cannot be enumerated. Likewise Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) speaks in comprehensive speech. Whoever understands this matters well, understands His speech (High is He) “Today I have completed your religion” (Qur’an 5:3), and this phrase too is from the “comprehensive speech”…”

2. He says in Section Two of Mu’allafat al-Imam Shaykh Muhmmad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (on Fiqh), volume 2, page 4, in the epistle (called) Arba‘ Qawa‘id tadur al-Ahkam ‘alayha (Four Principles around which Laws revolve):

“Know – Allah have mercy on you – that four of these words despite their brevity the religion revolves around them whether it be a speaker speaking about the Science of Tafsir or about the Science of Usul or about the science of the actions of the heart which is called the Science of Suluk [and this is Tasawwuf as is well known] or about the Science of Hadith or about the Science of Halal and Haram and Laws which is called the Science of Fiqh or about the Science of Heaven (lit. promise) and Hell (lit. threat) or about other (aspects) from the (various) categories of the sciences of religion…”

3. He said in Mu’llafatat al-Imam Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, Section Four (Tafsir wa Mukhtasar Zad al-Ma‘ad), Mukhtasar Zad al-Ma‘ad, page 84, compiled by Imam Shyakh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, in the section Fi Hadyihi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam fi l-I‘tikaf (On his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) manner of I‘tikaf):

“Since the rectification of hearts and its steadfastness in the course of one’s journey to Allah (High is He) is dependent on (the heart’s) gathering unto Allah and uniting its disparate (aspects) by devoting it in (its) entirety to Allah (for indeed the disparateness of the heart is not united except by devotion to Allah), and excess drinking and eating, excess mixing with people, excess sleeping and excess talk is from what increases (the heart) in (its) disparateness, and disperses it into every valley, and cuts one from his journey to Allah (High is He) and weakens him or hinders him and holds him back, the wisdom of the Almighty and the Merciful entailed He would institute for His servants fasting which eliminate over-eating and over-drinking, and empties the heart of (its) various desires which hinder its journey to Allah and He instituted (fasting) to the degree of (humanity’s best) interest whereby the servant gains benefit from it in his worldly life and his next life and is not harmed thereby.

And he instituted for them I‘tikaf whose purpose and spirit is the reclusion of the heart to Allah, dissociating from creation and being preoccupied in Him alone, so his affinity with Allah substitutes his affinity with creation, and thus he becomes prepared thereby with his proximity to Him on the day of (his) loneliness in the grave. Since this objective is only completed with fasting, I‘tikaf was instituted in the best of the days of fasting which are the last ten days of Ramadan, and Allah (Glorified is He) did not mention I‘tikaf except with fasting and Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not practice it except with fasting.

As for speech, it was legislated for the Umma to guard the tongue from all that is not beneficial for the Afterlife.
As for excess sleep it is legislated for them to stand (in prayer) in the night which is from the best of ways to spend the night awake and its most praiseworthy in consequence, and (this) is the moderate (amount of) passing the night awake which benefits the heart and the body and does not hinder the servant from his (worldly and otherworldly) interest. The pivot of the exercise of the masters of exercises (riyadat) and Suluk [and they are the Sufis as is well known] is on these four principles, and their most felicitous in (practicing) them is treading on the Muhammadan way – so, the deviation of the extremists does not deviate (from it) and the deficiency of the liberals does not subtract from it. We have mentioned his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) manner in fasting and standing (in prayer) and speaking, so we are (now) to mention his manner in I‘tikaf.”

4. He said in Mu’allafat al-Imam Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (addendum to the works), hadhihi l-masa’il (these issues), page 182:

“It is known the Umma is commanded to propagate the Qur’an, its words and its meaning and its message, to non-Arabs in translation, and when the knowledgeable believer has experienced all the philosophical ideologies and other (ideologies) from the (various religious and non religious) groups, he finds the Qur’an and Sunna exposing their conditions and clarifying (the degree of) their truth, distinguishing between the truth of (these other philosophies) and its falsehood.

The Sahaba were the most knowledge of creation in (the Qur’an and Sunna), and they were the most upright of creation in fighting the Kuffar and the Munafiqun. As Ibn Mas‘ud said “whoever wants to follow the Sunna let him follow the way of those who have passed away for the one who lives is not safe from trials. These (who have passed away) are the companions of Muhammad who were the most righteous of this Umma in their hearts, and their most profound in knowledge and their least in hypocrisy – a group Allah had chosen for the companionship of His Prophet and to establish His religion. So recognise their due and hold to their conduct for indeed they were on the straight guidance”. Thus (Ibn Mas‘ud) mentioned about (the Companions) the perfection of the righteousness of their hearts along with the perfection of their profundity in knowledge and this is rare among the latter (of this Umma). As is (commonly) said: “from the wonders (of this world) is a faqih sufi (a Sufi jurist) and an ‘alim zahid (an ascetic scholar)”. For indeed much is associated with the people of righteousness of hearts due to the absence of knowledge which is necessary to prevent evil and corruption, while the people of profundity in knowledge have mentioned information about evils and doubts that leads them into deviance and error. Most of those with deep knowledge from the latecomers is associated with blameworthy unnaturalness from the kalam scholars and the pretenders of devotion, and this is speech and work without knowledge and seeking what cannot be grasped, contrary to what the Companions were on. This is the favour of Allah on this Umma as (mentioned) in a narration from Christ “I bestow on them (something) from my knowledge and my forbearance”, and this is from the specialities of the obedience to the Messenger, so whoever is to him more obedience is in it more complete.”

5. He mentioned (in the addendum to the works), hadhihi masa’il (these matters) on page 124 at the end of a useful discussion about those who deny love of Allah and those who affirms it:

“The essence of His love is the root of His worship, and association (shirk) in it is the root of association in His worship. Those (who love other than Allah in like manner) have a similarity to the Christians and in them is association from the same type of the association of the Christians.

For this (reason) the masters of the Gnostic Sufis would advise many to follow the knowledge (transmitted in the Sunna). One of them said “one did not leave anything from the Sunna except due to arrogance in his soul”. It is as he said, for indeed if he is not following what the Messenger came with he is following his desires without guidance from Allah, and this is the life of the soul, and it is from arrogance, for it is a corollary to the statement of those who say “we will not believe until we are given the same as what the Messengers of Allah were given.” (6:124)”

6. The great eminent scholar Shaykh Manzur al-Numani, the previous head of the Faculty of Hadith at Dar al Ulum Nadwat al-Ulama in Lukhnow India and a member of the executive committee of the Islamic University Dar al-Ulum Deoband mentioned in his epistle, Da’ayat Mukthifa didd al-Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (Vicious Propaganda against Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab) (printed in Maktaba Furqan), page 76, after explaining that Shaykh ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’ son) had an independent and comprehensive epistle that sheds brilliant light on the message and the movement of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, in which he says:

“(Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab) told us that what we believe and construct as our religion to Allah is the way of the Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jamaa, and the Salaf of the Umma in the Usul of religion. As for the peripherals (furu‘) we are on the madhhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, although we do not reject one who does taqlid of the four imams and we are not deserving of the rank of ijtihad. None of us claims this. However in some issues when a clear text is authentic to us from the Book of Allah or the Sunna that has not abrogated, is not qualified and does not conflict with stronger (evidence) and one of the four imams said it, we adopt it and leave the madhhab. And at times the imams of the four madhhabs held views on some issues conflicting with the madhhab of the (so-called) muqallidun of its founder…”

Shaykh ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab ends his epistle with his statement:

We do not reject the Sufi method and the removal of the inward from the vices of sins pertaining to the heart and the limbs, whenever its practitioner is steadfast on the Shar‘i law and the upright trodden methodology (of the Salaf). However, we are not obligated to make (wild) interpretations of his (erroneous) speech or actions, and we do not depend and seek assistance and seek help and rely in all of our matters (on anyone) besides Allah (High is He). He is sufficient for us and the best advocate, the best protector and the best help. Allah bless our chief, Muhammad, his family and his companions, and grant (them) peace.” (al-Hadiyyat al-Saniyya, verified by Rashid Rida, p 50)”


In Aqida, the Wahhabis are Hanbalis, who reject kalam and take a more literalist approach. Although this runs into a number of methodological inconsistencies as revealed by Ibn al-Jawzi in Daf’ al-Shubah al-Tashbih it is the aqida of most Hanbalis including such luminaries as Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qudama.


Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s ideas of reform were not much different to those of other reform movements, particularly the Sufi groups of “Tariqa Muhammadiyya” in N Africa and India, the major difference being an indifference (though not outright opposition) to Tasawwuf. In this, he along with the other reformers, was correct in criticising the excessive saint/tomb veneration, the fanaticism in madhhab following, and the mixing of culture with religion. They may have exaggarated the other way (Ahmad ibn Idris/al-Sanusi in their outright rejection of taqlid/madhhabs, and some of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s extreme views), but this does not make their crticism any less valid, and in fact may have contributed to a resurgence in Muslim scholarship and a useful “tip” of the balance in the right direction: towards the “middle way” in all of these matters. In my view, the Wahhabis’ major errors are two: one, their indifference to Tasawwuf, and two, the ta’assub of some of them in declaring all contrary views to theirs illegitimate. However, many of the propaganda claims against them, e.g. their responsibility for political radicalisation or violent extremism, their takfiri attitude, their anti-taqlid views, or their opposition to tasawwuf in principle [there were many more lies besides these that were used to attack Wahhabis, but these are the main ones], is false and in fact distracts us from the actual origins of these views amongst Muslims (e.g. hardline anti-Taqlidism from Yemeni/Egyptian/N African scholars and even Sufis; violent extremism and intolerant takfirism from Egyptian extremists, etc.). The “horn of the devil” may be the power-hungry Saud family, but this must be differentiated from the Wahhabi religious ideology itself which has/had some good in it, but some bad in it too – but so does other religious ideologies including “traditionalist” ones.

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