Al Wahhab

Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab

Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab at-Tamimi' (1703–1792) (Arabic:محمد بن عبد الوهاب التميمي) was an Islamic scholar born in Najd, in present-day Saudi Arabia and an influential person. Despite never specifically calling for a separate school of Islamic thought, it is from ibn Abd-al Wahhab that the western world derived the term Wahhabism.



There are two contemporary histories of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and his religious movement from the point of view of his supporters: Ibn Ghannam's Rawdhat al-Afkar wal-Afham (commonly known as Tarikh Najd) and Ibn Bishr's 'Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd. Ibn Ghannam, a native of al-Hasa who died in 1811, was the only historian to have observed the beginnings of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's movement first-hand. His chronicle ends at the year 1797. Ibn Bishr's chronicle, which stops at the year 1854, was written a generation later than Ibn Ghannam's, but is considered valuable partly because Ibn Bishr was a native of Najd and because Ibn Bishr adds many details to Ibn Ghannam's account. A third account, dating from around 1817 is Lam' al-Shihab, written by an anonymous Sunni author who respectfully disapproved of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's movement, regarding it as a bid'a (innovation). It is also commonly cited because it is considered to be a relatively objective contemporary treatment of the subject. However, unlike Ibn Ghannam and Ibn Bishr, its author did not live in Najd and his work is believed to contain some apocryphal and legendary material with respect to the details of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's life.

Childhood and Early Life

Some details have been pieced together via the work of numerous historians. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is generally acknowledged to have been born in 'Uyayna in 1703 and to have been a member of the Arab tribe of Banu Tamim. He was thought to have started studying Islam at an early age, primarily with his father ('Abd al-Wahhab) early on, as he was from a line of scholars of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence. While there is some consensus over these details, there is not a unanimous agreement over the specifics and some minority opinions do exist in regard to his place and date of birth.


Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab spent some time studying with Muslim scholars in Basra (in southern Iraq), and it is reported that he traveled to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina to perform Hajj and study with the scholars there,before returning to his home town of Uyayna in 1740. Official sources on ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's life put his visits to these cities in different chronological order, and the full extent of such travels remains disputed among historians.

Almost all sources agree that his reformist ideas were formulated while living in Basra, where he became somewhat famous for his debates with the Islamic scholars there. Dates are missing in a great many cases, thus it is difficult to reconstruct a chronology of his life up until his return to 'Uyayna.

Like most scholars in Najd at the time, Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was a follower of Ibn Hanbal's school of jurisprudence but "was opposed to any of the schools (Madh'hab) being taken as an absolute and unquestioned authority," and condemned taqlid.

After his return to 'Uyayna, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab began to attract followers there, including the ruler of the town, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. With Ibn Mu'ammar's support, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab began to implement some of his ideas for reform. First, he persuaded ibn Mu'ammar to level the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, a companion of the Muslim prophet Muhammad whose grave was revered by locals, citing Islamic teachings that forbid grave worship. Secondly, he ordered that an adulteress be stoned to death, a practice that had become uncommon in the area despite having Islamic textual basis. These actions gained the attention of Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr of the tribe of Bani Khalid, the chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif, who held substantial influence in Najd. Ibn Ghurayr threatened Ibn Mu'ammar that he would not allow him to collect a land tax for some properties that he owned in al-Hasa if he did not kill ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. Ibn Mu'ammar declined to do this, but ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was forced to leave.

Alliance with the House of Saud

Upon his expulsion from 'Uyayna, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was invited to settle in neighboring Dir'iyya by its ruler Muhammad ibn Saud in 1740 (1157 AH). Two of Ibn Saud's brothers had been students of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Uyayna, and are said to have played a role in convincing Ibn Saud to take him in. Ibn Saud's wife is also reported to have been a convert to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's cause. Upon arriving in Diriyya, a pact was made between Ibn Saud and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, by which Ibn Saud pledged to implement Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings and enforce them on neighboring towns. Beginning in the last years of the 18th century Ibn Saud and his heirs would spend the next 140 years mounting various military campaigns to seize control of Arabia and its outlying regions, finally taking control of the whole of modern day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1922. This provided the movement with a state. Vast wealth from oil discovered in the following decades, coupled with Saudi control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have since provided a base and funding for Salafi missionary activity.


The Egyptian Islamic scholar 'Abd al-Wahhab ibn Ahamd Barakat al-Shafe'i al-Azhari al-Tantawi wrote an early criticism of Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab's reforms in the book, Kitab Rad` al-Dalala wa Qam` al-Jahala ("The Book of the Prevention of Error and the Suppression of Ignorance.") Tantawi did not specifically name ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab in the text, but referred to him as 'Sheikh an-Nas' ("the populist scholar"). This may be seen as either an effort to not humiliate ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab or to simply not draw unwanted attention to his call. Tantawi wrote that he received word of ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's teachings through word-of-mouth and letters from local "authorities." The content of Tantawi's arguments also suggest this, as they do not appear to be based on any writings of ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's, instead disputing his general ideas, quoting a considerable number of Qur'anic verses.

Another critic of ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab at the time was a major Sufi theologian, 'Ali al-Shafe'i al-Basri aka al-Qabbani. A historian at the time, ibn Turki, considered Qabbani to be among the four most prolific detractors of ibn Abd-al-Wahhab particularly because - unlike Tantawi - he had actually read ibn 'Abd l-Wahhab's writings. Qabbani wrote two texts criticizing ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, the Fasl al-Khitab fi Rad Dalalat Ibn Abd al-Wahhab ("the unmistakable judgement in the refutation of the delusions of Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab,") and the Kashf al-Hijab an Wajh Dalalat Ibn al-Wahhab ("lifting the veil from the face of the delusions of Ibn al-Wahhab,"). Qabbani later wrote a formal, anti-Wahhabi tract, citing both sources.

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s brother Sulaiman and his father, 'Abd al-Wahhab, had initially repudiated him for his ideas. Later in life, however, the views of both his brother and father changed significantly, with both of them eventually accepting and agreeing with those of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's.

Amongst his modern supporters were the late Shaikh bin Baz and Shaikh Uthaymeen of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Muqbil of Yemen, and Shaikh Albani of Albania.


Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab considered his movement an effort to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what he believed were the original principles of Islam, as typified by the Salaf and rejecting what he regarded as corruptions introduced by Bid'ah and Shirk.

During his life he denounced some practices of various sects of Sufism as being heretical, such as their veneration of saints. Although all Muslims pray to one God, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was keen on emphasizing that no intercession with God was possible without His permission, which He only grants to whom He wills and only to benefit those whom He wills, certainly not the ones who invoke anything or anyone except Him, as these would never be forgiven, an idea supported by the majority of Muslims. Specific practices, such as celebrating the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were also deemed as innovations. He is hence considered by his followers to be a great revivalist of Islam, and by his opponents as an innovator and heretic. In either case, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's impact on Islam has been considerable and significant.

Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab also revived interest in the works of the Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya.

The followers of this revival (see Islamism) are often called Wahhabis, though most reject the usage of this term on the grounds that ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's teachings were the teachings of Muhammad, not his own. Thus, most generally refer to themselves as Salafis, while during his lifetime they often referred to themselves muwahhidin ("monotheists").

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's descendents are known today as "Al al-Shaykh" ("House of the Shaykh"). The family of Al al-Shaykh has included several religious scholars, including the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad ibn Ibrahm Al al-Shaykh, who issued the fatwa calling for the abdication of King Saud in 1964. Both the current Saudi minister of justice and the current grand mufti of Saudi Arabia are also descendents of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.


Perceptions of ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab are varied. To many Muslims of the Salafi persuasion, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is a significant luminary in the proud tradition of Islamic scholarship. A great number of lay Sunni Muslims regard him as a pious scholar whose interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith were nevertheless out of step with the mainstream of Islamic thought, and thus discredited. Some scholars regard him as a pious scholar who called people back to worship of Allah according to the Qur'an and Sunnah. Others, often Sufis, regard him as a one who stopped at nothing to gain power and manipulate others. Natana DeLong-Bas, meanwhile, has recently published a self-described "controversial" book that complicates the idea that ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab contributed to the "militant stance of contemporary jihadism.


  • Usuulu Thalaatha (The Three Fundamental Principles)
  • Al Qawaaid Al ‘Arbaa’ (The Four Fundamental Principles)
  • ''The Six Fundamental Principles
  • Adab al-Mashy Ila as-Salaa (Manners of Walking to the Prayer)
  • Usul al-Iman (Foundations of Faith)
  • Fada`il al-Islam (Excellent Virtues of Islam)
  • Fada`il al-Qur’an (Excellent Virtues of the Qur’an)
  • Kitab at-Tauhid (The Book of the Unity of God)
  • Kitab Kashf as-Shubuhat (The Book of Clarification of Uncertainties)
  • Majmu’a al-Hadith ‘Ala Abwab al-Fiqh {Compendium of the Hadith on the Main Topics of the Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence)}
  • Mukhtasar al-Iman (Literally Abridgement of the Faith, means the summarized version of a work on Faith)
  • Mukhtasar al-Insaf wa`l-Sharh al-Kabir (Abridgement of the Equity and the Great Explanation)
  • Mukhtasar Seerat ar-Rasul (Summarized Biography of the Prophet)
  • Mukhtasar al-Sawa`iq (Literally Summary of the Lightning bolt, it is a summary of a criticism of Shi’as written in Palestine by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani).
  • Mukhtasar Fath al-Bari (Fath al-Bari is a commentary on the Sahih al-Bukhari by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani).
  • Mukhtasar al-Minhaj (Summary of the Path, most likely referring to Minhaj al-Sunna by Ibn Taymiyya)
  • Kitaabu l-Kabaair (The Book of Great Sins)
  • Kitabu l-Imaan (The Book of Trust/Belief)


Further reading

  • Abualrub, Jalal. Biography and Mission of Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Madina Publishers and Distributors, Orlando, FL. 2003.
  • Algar, Hamid, ' Wahhabism: a Critical Essay'. Islamic Publications International, Oneonta, New York, 2002
  • DeLong-Bas, Natana, Wahhabi Islam From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. Oxford University Press, Oxford and NewYork, 2004.
  • ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, Sulaymān. Fitnā al-Wahhābiyya. Istanbul: Maktabat al-Haqīqa, 2004.
  • Qadhi, Yasir. A Critical Study of Shirk: Being a Translation and Commentary of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab's Kashf al-Shubuhat, al-Hidaayah Publications, Birmingham, UK, 2002.
  • Qadhi, Yasir. The Four Principles of Shirk of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab, al-Hidaayah Publications, Birmingham, UK, 2001.
  • Rentz, George S. The Birth of the Islamic Reform Movement in Saudi Arabia. London: King Abdulaziz Public Library, 2004.
  • Traboulsi, Samer. “An Early Refutation of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb,” Die Welt des Islams, New Series, vol. 42, Issue 3 (2002): 373-415.
  • Saint-Prot, Charles. Islam. L'avenir de la tradition entre révolution et occidentalisation (Islam. The Future of Tradition between Revolution and Westernization). Paris: Le Rocher, 2008.

See also

External links

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