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The Life of the Founder of Wahhabism

Wahhabism is ascribed unto Shaykh Muhammad, the son of ’Abd al-Wahhab of Najd. This ascription has been derived from the name of his father ’Abd al-Wahhab. And as some scholars put it, the reason why this creed has not been attributed to Shaykh Muhammad himself and has not been called Muhammadiyyah is for fear lest the followers of this creed would find a kind of association with the name of the Holy Prophet (s) [1] and would misuse this ascription. Shaykh Muhammad was born in 1115 A.H. in the city of ‘Uyayna which was located in Najd. His father was a judge in this city. Ever since his childhood, Shaykh Muhammad had a great liking for the study of books on tafsir (Qur’anic interpretation), hadith (tradition), and aqa’id (principles of beliefs). He learned the Hanbali jurisprudence from his father who was one of the Hanbali scholars. From the bloom of youth, he regarded as indecent many of the religious doings of the people of Najd. After going on a pilgrimage to the house of Allah and performing its rites, he headed for Medina where he rejected the resorting of the people to the Holy Prophet (s) near his shrine. He then returned to Najd, and from there he went to Basrah with the aim of later leaving Basrah for Damascus.He spent some time in Basrah and embarked on opposing many doings of the people. The people of Basrah, however, cast him out of their city. While on his way from Basrah to the city of al-Zubayr, he was about to perish due to the intensity of the heat, thirst, and toll of walking in the desert. But a man from al-Zubayr, seeing the Shaykh clad like the clergy, endeavoured to save him. He gave the Shaykh a gulp of water, set him on a mount, and took him to the city of al-Zubayr. The Shaykh wanted to travel from al-Zubayr to Damascus, but as he did not have sufficient provisions and could not afford the expenses of the journey, he changed his destination and headed for the city of al-‘Ahsa. From there, he decided to go to Huraymala, one of the cities of Najd.
At this time which was the year 1139 AH, his father ’Abd al-Wahhab had been transferred from ‘Uyayna to Huraymala. Shaykh Muhammad accompanied his father and learned (the material in) some books from his father. He set out on rejecting the beliefs of the people of Najd. For this reason, altercation and debates ensued between him and his father. In like manner, serious and violent disputes erupted between him and the people of Najd. This matter lasted several years until his father Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhab passed away in the year 1153. [2]
After the demise of his father, Shaykh Muhammad embarked on expressing his own beliefs and rejecting part of the religious acts of the people. A group of the people of Huraymala followed him and his work won fame. He departed from Huraymala for the city of ‘Uyayna. At that time, ‘Uthman ibn Hamd was the head of ‘Uyayna. ‘Uthman received the Shaykh, honoured him and made the decision to assist him. In return, Shaykh Muhammad also expressed hope that all the people of Najd would obey ‘Uthman ibn Hamd. The news of Shaykh Muhammad's call and doings reached the ruler of al-‘Ahsa. He wrote a letter to ‘Uthman. The consequence of this letter was that ‘Uthman summoned the Shaykh and dismissed him. Shaykh Muhammad replied that if you help me, you will become the leader of the entire Najd. ‘Uthman, however, avoided him and cast him out of the city of ‘Uyayna.
In the year 1160, after being expelled from ‘Uyayna, Shaykh Muhammad headed for al-Dar’iyya, one of the renowned cities of Najd. At that time, Muhammad ibn Sa’ud (the ancestor of Aal Sa’ud) was the emir of al-Dar’iyya, He went to see the Shaykh and gave him tidings of glory and goodness. The Shaykh too gave him tidings of power and domination over all the cities of Najd. And in this way, the relationship between Shaykh Muhammad and Al Sa’ud commenced. [3]
At the time when Shaykh Muhammad went to al-Dar’iyya and made an agreement with Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, the people of al-Dar’iyya lived in utmost destitution and need.
Relating from (‘Uthman) Ibn Bishr al-Najdi, al-Alusi notes that:
I (Ibn Bishr) initially witnessed the poverty of the people of al-Dar’iyya. I had seen that city at the time of Sa’ud, when its people had enjoyed enormous wealth, their weapons were decorated with gold and silver and they mounted thoroughbred horses. They wore sumptuous clothes and were well provided with all the means of prosperity, so much so that it is beyond the scope of expression.
One day in a bazaar in al-Dar’iyya, I saw men on one side and women on the other. In the bazaar, there was a huge amount of gold, silver, and weapons and a large number of camels, sheep, horses, expensive clothes, and much meat, wheat, and other edibles, so much so that they could not be recounted. The bazaar extended as far as the eye could see. And I could hear the call of the sellers and buyers, a sound which hummed like the buzz of the bee. One (of them) would say, “I sold (my goods)”, and the other (one) would say, “I bought (something)”. [4]
Of course, Ibn Bishr had not given an account as to how and from where such an enormous wealth had been amassed. But the trend of history indicates that it had been accumulated by attacking the Muslims of other tribes and cities (on the charge of not accepting his beliefs) and by plundering and taking as booty their properties. With regard to the war booties which Shaykh Muhammad took (from the Muslims of that region), his policy was to spend it in any way he desired. At times, he granted unto only two or three people all the war booties which amounted to a very large amount. No matter what the booties were, they were in the possession of the Shaykh, and the Emir of Najd could have a share of the booties on permission of the Shaykh.
One of the biggest flaws during the Shaykh's life was the fact that he treated Muslims who did not follow his notorious beliefs as infidels deserving to be fought against. He maintained no esteem for their life or property.
In short, Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab called (the people) to tawhid (monotheism) but an erroneous tawhid which he created himself, not the real tawhid promulgated by the Qur’an. Whoever adhered to it would have immunity as far as his life and property were concerned, else (the dissolution of) his life and property would, like that of the infidels, be religiously lawful and permissible.
The wars which the Wahhabis waged in Najd and outside Najd such as in Yemen, Hijaz, the vicinity of Syria and Iraq were on this basis. Any city which they conquered by war and domination was religiously lawful for them. If they could, they would establish it as their own possession, otherwise they would be content with the booty they had taken. [5]
Those who adhered to his beliefs and hearkened to his call had to pledge allegiance to him. If anyone rose up in rebellion, he was killed and his property divided. On the basis of this policy, for instance, they killed three hundred men from a village called al-Fusul, located in the city of al-‘Ahsa and pillaged their property. [6]
Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab died in the year 1206. [7] After the demise of Shaykh Muhammad, his followers also pursued this policy and kept alive his innovation and misguidance. For instance, in the year 1216, the Wahhabi emir Sa’ud mobilized an army of twenty thousand warriors and made an inroad on the city of Karbala. At this time, Karbala enjoyed utmost fame and grandeur. Iranian, Turkish, Arab, and other pilgrims turned to it. After laying siege to the city, Sa’ud finally entered it and brutally massacred the defenders and inhabitants of the city.
The Wahhabi army created such a public disgrace in the city of Karbala that it cannot be put to words. They killed over five thousand people. After emir Sa’ud found leisure from the affairs of the war, he turned to the treasures in the shrine of Imam Husayn (‘a). These treasures consisted of various properties and precious objects. He took away and plundered whatever he found there. After this episode, Karbala was transformed into a situation that the poets composed elegies for it. [8] For over twelve years, the Wahhabis, every now and then, invaded and looted the city of Karbala and its suburbs, as well as the city of Najaf .The first of these invasions took place in the year 1216 as already mentioned. According to the writings of all Shi’i writers, this invasion took place on Eid al-Ghadir (a festival celebrating the designation by Prophet Muhammad (s) of Imam Ali's (‘a) as his successors of the same year.
The late ’Allama Sayyid Muhammad Jawwad al-‘Amili says:
“this part of the book Miftah al-Kirama was completed by the writer after midnight of the ninth of the holy month of Ramadan 1225 AH while in anxiety and apprehension, for the ‘Unayza Arabs who are Wahhabi had laid siege on the Najaf al-‘Ashraf and on the place where Imam Husayn (‘a) had been martyred. They blocked the roads, plundered the pilgrims to the shrine of Imam Husayn (‘a) who were returning to their own lands after pilgrimage in the middle of Sha’ban, and massacred a large number of them (mostly from among Iranian pilgrims). It is said that the number of those killed (this time) probably amounted to one hundred and fifty, some say less..” [9]
The tawhid to which Shaykh Muhammad and his followers invited the people in which they made permissible the seizure of the life and property of whoever did not accept it, consisted of proving a location for Allah the Almighty and regarding Him as having limbs and organs, going by the apparent meaning of some of the Qur’anic verses and traditions.
In this regard, Alusi has noted that the Wahhabis, adhering to Ibn Taymiyya, confirm the traditions which express Allah's descent into the heavens. They say that Allah descends into the heavens from the empyrean and says:
“Is there a person who seeks forgiveness for his sins?”
In like manner, they also acknowledge that on the Judgment Day, Allah comes to the place where mankind is gathered because He Himself has said:
“And your Lord comes and (also) all the angles in ranks (Fajr:22).”
And Allah can draw near to any of His creations in any way He wants:
“…and We are nearer to him than his life vein” (Qaf:16)” [10]
As indicated in his book entitled al-Radd ‘ala al-‘Akhna’i, Ibn Taymiyya regarded the traditions related to going on pilgrimage to the shrine of the Holy Prophet (s) as forged. He has pointed out that it is a grave mistake if a person thinks that the Holy Prophet's being is the same as that of his lifetime even after his demise.
Shaykh Muhammad and his followers have expressed similar statements in a more vehement manner.
The false beliefs and statements of the Wahhabis has prompted some people, who have studied Islam from their viewpoint, to say that Islam is a strict and rigid religion and that it is not suitable for all ages (of human history).
An American scholar, Lothrop Stoddard, says:
“The Wahhabis have gone to extremes as far as prejudice is concerned. In the meantime, a group of fault-finders have risen and, voicing out the Wahhabi course of action, have said that the essence and nature of Islam does not fit in with the demands of different times. Therefore it does not have conformity with progress and evolution of the society and does not follow changes brought about by time.” [11]
From the time that Shaykh Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab expressed his views and called on the people to accept them, a large group of eminent scholars voiced opposition to his beliefs. The first person to oppose him severely was his father ‘Abd al-Wahhab and then his brother Sulayman ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab, both of whom are deemed as Hanbali scholars.
Shaykh Sulayman compiled a book entitled al-Sawa’iq al-ilahiyya fi al-radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyya in which he refuted the views of his brother.
[Ahmad] Zayni Dihlan says:
“The father of Shaykh Muhammad was a righteous man of learning. His brother Shaykh Sulayman was also regarded as a scholar. Shaykh ’Abd al-Wahhab and Shaykh Sulayman both reproached Shaykh Muhammad and warned the people against him from the very beginning. That is to say, from the time when Shaykh Muhammad was studying in Medina. It was through Shaykh Muhammad's words and deeds that they had realized he cherished such a claim.” [12]
The Egyptian scholar ‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aqqad said:
“The greatest opponent of Shaykh Muhammad was his brother Shaykh Sulayman, the writer of al-Sawa’iq al-ilahiyya, who did not acknowledge for his brother a position of ijtihad and correct understanding of the Qur’an and sunnah.”
Al-‘Aqqad has also noted that Shaykh Sulayman said the following while severely refuting his brother's statements:
“Matters in which the Wahhabis have regarded as polytheism and unbelief, and used as pretexts to make permissible the taking of life and property of the Muslims existed at the time of the A’imma (leaders) of Islam. But no one has heard or narrated from the Imams of Islam that those who commit these acts are infidels or apostates. Neither have the Imams issued order of Holy war (jihad) against them. Nor have they called the cities of Muslims as the cities of polytheism and unbelief, as you have.” [13]
In conclusion, it must be noted that Shaykh Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab was not the originater and innovator of the beliefs of the Wahhabis. But centuries before him, his ideas had been expressed in different forms by people such as Ibn Taymiyya al-Harrani and his disciple Ibn al-Qayyim. However it had not been turned into a new creed and had not found many followers.
Refutations of the true leader of the Wahhabis
Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Halim, known as Ibn Taymiyya, was a Hanbali scholar who died in 728 A.H. As he expressed views and beliefs contrary to the views held by all Islamic sects, he was constantly opposed by other scholars. Investigators are of the view that the beliefs of Ibn Taymiyya later formed the principles of beliefs of the Wahhabis.
When lbn Taymiyya made his views public and wrote books in this regard, the scholars of Islam, headed by the Sunni scholars’ulama, did two things to preclude the prevalence of corruption:
A) They criticized his views and beliefs. In this regard, we will refer to some books which have been written as a criticism to his beliefs:
1) Shifa’ al-saqam fi ziyarat qabr khayr al-anam,: by Taqi al-Din al-Subki.
2) Al-Durrat al-mudi’a fi al-radd ‘ala Ibn Taymiyya, by Taqi al-Din al-Subki.
3) Al-Maqalat al-mardiyya, compiled by the supreme judge (qadi al-qudat) of the Maliki’s by the name of Taqi al-Din Abi ‘Abdillah al-‘Akhna’i.
4) Najm al-muhtadi wa rajm al-muqtadi, by Fakhr bin Muhammad al-Qurashi.
5) Daf’ al-shubha, by Taqi al-Din al-Hisni.
6) Al-Tuhfat al-mukhtara fi al-radd ‘ala munkir al-ziyara, by Taj al-Din.
These are some of the refutations written on the beliefs of Ibn Taymiyya. In this way, the baselessness of his views has become evident.
B) The Sunni scholars and fuqaha of his time have accused him of immorality and have even at times excommunicated him and have revealed his heresy.
When his views about going on pilgrimage to the shrine of the Holy Prophet (s) were expressed in written form for the Supreme Judge of Egypt, al-Badr ibn Jama’a, he wrote the following at the bottom of the page:
“Going on pilgrimage to the (shrine of the) Holy Prophet (s) is a virtue, the Sunnah and all scholarsscholars unanimously accept it. He who regards going on pilgrimage to the shrine of the Holy Prophet (s) as being religiously unlawful, must be rebuked by the scholarsscholars and must be barred from making such statements. If these measures are not effective, he must be imprisoned and exposed to the people, so that the latter would not follow him”.
Not only did the supreme Judge of the Shafi’i school of thought express such a view about him, but also the Supreme Judges of the Maliki and Hanbali schools of thought in Egypt also confirmed his views in one way or the other. For more details in this regard, you can refer to Daf’ a -Shubha written by Taqi al-Din al-Hisni.
Apart from this, his contemporary al-Dhahabi, who was a great writer of the eighth century A.H. and who has written valuable works on history and biography, has, in a letter to him, called him an equal match to al-Hajjaj al-Thaqafi as far as spreading corruption and deviation are concerned. (This letter has been disseminated by the writer of Takmila al-sayf al-saqil on page 190 of his book, as recorded by the late ’Allama al-‘Amini in the fifth volume of Al-Ghadir on pages 87-89. Those interested may refer to these books.)
When Ibn Taymiyya died in 728 AH in a prison in Damascus, his movement underwent a decline. Though his renowned student Ibn al-Qayyim embarked on propagating the views of his master but did not succeed. No trace of such beliefs and ideas was left in later periods.
But when the son of ’Abd al-Wahhab came under the influence of the beliefs of Ibn Taymiyya, and when Al -Sa’ud supported him to strengthen the foundations of their own rule over Najd, once again the hereditary beliefs of Ibn Taymiyya spread in the minds of some of the people of Najd like cancer in the body. In the wake of rigid bias, and unfortunately in the name of tawhid (monotheism), a blood bath was evoked under the title of jihad against the unbelievers and polytheists. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children were victimized by it. Once again, a new sect sprang up in the Muslim community and regret arose from that day the haramayn sharifayn (the two holy sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina) were put under the possession of this group as a result of compromise with Britain and the other superpowers of that time. Also due to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and division of the Arab countries among the superpowers, the Wahhabis of Najd gained control over Mecca and Medina, as well as other vestiges of Islam. They exerted utmost effort in annihilating the graves of the awliya Allah and in transgressing in disrespect against the progeny of the Prophet (s) by destroying their shrines and other historical remains attributed to them.
In this regard, the Shi’a scholars, alongside the Sunni scholars as we have mentioned above, made tremendous efforts to criticize the views of ’Abd al-Wahhab. Both groups commenced logical and scholarly jihad in the best possible manner.
The first refutation which the Sunni scholars wrote on the views of Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab was the book entitled Al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyyah fi al-radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyya written by Shaykh Sulayman ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab, the brother of Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab.
The first book written by the Shi’a scholars to refute the views of Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab was Manhaj al-Rashad, penned by the honourable late Shaykh Ja’far Kashif al-Ghita (died 1228 AH). He wrote this book as a reply to a treatise which one of the Emirs from among House of Sa’ud by the name of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Sa’ud had sent to him. In that treatise, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Sa’ud had gathered all views of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and tried to prove them from the Qur’an and Sunnah. This book was published in 1343 A.H in Najaf. After the work of this dignitary, numerous refutations and criticisms were written against the movement Wahhabism in the region. Most of these books have been published.
But now, the Wahhabi movements have increased as a result of the massive wealth that the Sa’udis have amassed by way of selling oil. Every day and month, the modern Abu Jahls and Abu Lahabs who have taken control of Ka’ba, attack the Islamic sanctities in one way or the other. Each day, the vestiges of Islam are ruined. That which has given impetus to their movement is the secret signs and go-aheads given by their Western masters who are appalled by the unity of the Muslims. They fear this unity more than they fear international communism. Therefore they have no choice, but to expedite the creation of religions and faiths, so as to spoil a part of the money they pay to the Wahhabi government for oil and ultimately to severely harm the unity of the Muslims and engage them in branding one another as immoral and in excommunicating one another.
In this book, we will try to reveal their beliefs and remove the obscurities regarding Wahhabism. We will remove the dark viels of doubts and hope to clarify the facts that the beliefs of all Muslims of the world, originate from the Qur’an and the blessed Sunnah and that the movements of Wahhabism and its deeds are against the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (s).
[1] Farid Wajdi, Da’irat al-ma’arif al-qarn al-‘ishrin, vol. 10, p. 871, quoting from the magazine Al-Muqtataf, vol. 27, p. 893.
[2] Summarised from the Ta’rikh Najd of al-‘Alusi, pp. 111-113.
[3] An Ottoman writer in his book Ta’rikh Baghdad, p. 152, has noted that the relationship between Shaykh Muhammad and Aal Sa’ud began in another manner. But what has been stated here seems to be more correct
[4] al-‘Alusi, Ta’rikh Najd, pp. 117-118.
[5] Jazirat al-‘Arab fi al-qarn al-‘ishrin, p. 341.
[6] Ta’rikh al-mamlakat al-‘arabiyya al-Sa’udiyya, vol. 1, p. 51.
[7] There are other views concerning the date of birth of Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab and that of his death.
[8] Dr. ‘Abd al-Jawwad al-Kalidar, Ta’rikh Karbala, pp. 172-174.
[9] Sayyid Muhammad Jawwad al-‘Amili, Miftah al-kiramah, vol. 7, p. 653.
[10] al-‘Alusi, Ta’rikh Najd, pp. 90-91; Ibn Taymiyya, al-Risala al-`aqida al–hamawiyya al-kubra, risalah no. 11 from his Majmu’ al-rasa’il al-kubra, pp. 429-432.
[11] Lothrop Stoddard, The New World of Islam, (London, 1922), vol. 1, p. 264.
[12] Ahmad Zayni Dihlan, al-Futuhat al-Islamiyya, vol. 2, p. 357.
[13] Al-‘Islam fi al-qarn al-‘ishrin, (Egypt), pp. 72-73.

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