– Al-Qa’eda and Wahhabism.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

The claim that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with Wahhabism is disingenuous and misleading. This is not to say that Osama correctly represents Wahhabism, but to illustrate the connection between two individuals who were outcasts in the orthodox Sunni communities of their times. Osama bin Laden quotes the founder of the Wahhabi movement, Muhammad ibn Abdal-Wahhab, in his speeches.  In his “Open Letter to King Fahd” in 1995,  Osama bin Laden says the following in reference to a hadith:

“Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd-al-Wahab, may God rest his soul in peace, classifying the abovementioned tale of ‘Uday bin Hatam, “He who obeys the scholars and the princes in disallowing what God has permitted and allowing what He has rendered impermissible, has made them unto lords. (From a footnote to the Book of Monotheism, p.146).”[i]

It is to be noted that OBL first quotes Ibn Taymiyah’s explanation of a particular hadith, and then subsequently uses “Shaykh Muhammad bin Abdl-Wahhab” to support his point.  Never mind the hadith he discussed, and whether it was even the correct understanding or not to justify his perspective. The point here is that he used the founder of the Wahhabi movement to support his perspectives because he deems him to be a good Islamic scholar. This is a view that contradicts the views of orthodox Sunni scholars.

In the same Open Letter to King Fahd, Osama bin Laden says:

“There is neither a doubt nor any controversy among the scholars that having infidels as allies and supporting them against Muslims is definitely inconsistent to the teachings of Islam. It was mentioned by the Shaykh of Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd-al-Wahab as one of ten contradictions of Islam.”[ii]

Furthermore, OBL mentions Shaykh Abd al-Rehamn bin Hasan Al Shaykh. This same scholar was stated later as an author/scholar of a book recommended in a recent audio recording presumably by OBL that was released on March 14, 2009.   Among the “beneficial books” the first one on OBL’s list is:

“‘Achievement of the Glorious’ by Shaykh Abd al-Rahman bin Hasan Al Shaykh, which is a very important book which talks about Tawheed and warns against Shirk [polytheism], including the Shirk of graves and the Shirk of palaces.”[iii]

According to the Quilliam Foundation, which describes the book as “Victory of the Glorious” instead of “Achievement of the Glorious,” the book is a “commentary on [Muhammad] Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawhid, the founding textbook of Wahhabism”[iv] and Shaykh Abd al-Rahman bin Hasan Al Shaykh, the author, is the “grandson” of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.[v]

OBL’s friend, Khalid, who had “long arguments and discussions” with OBL about political issues said:

“Mr Osama said that Abdul Aziz ibn Saud was not a religious leader at all but just a tribal chieftain. He used to say that Wahhabism was exploited and used as a cover so the House of al-Saud could fight against the Ottomans and win land and wealth.”[vi]

It is clear from above that while OBL sees Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab as a reliable scholar, he sees al-Sa’ud as pseudo-Wahhabis who use Wahhabism as a mask to attain material benefit.

Osama bin Laden mentions Muhammad Hamid al- Fiqqi:

“In his comments on the Book of Monotheism, Shaykh Muhammad Hamid al-Fiqqi, May God rest his soul in peace, says in regards to legislator of the positive laws the he is doubtlessly a renegade infidel if he insists on them and does not refer to what God has revealed. Whatever name he calls himself is with no avail nor will any good deed such as prayer, fasting, the Hajj, and such help him.” [From the Glorious Conquest, the interpretation of the Book of Monotheism. 3/396]”

Al-Fiqqi is a Wahhabi scholar, who, along with Muhammad Al-Amin al-Shanqiti – another Wahhabi scholar stated by OBL to support his perspectives – were teachers of the Salafi, Hammad al-Ansari. Gabriel Fouad Haddad quotes Shaykh Yusuf al-Rifa’i (both of the latter being orthodox Sunni scholars) about al-Ansari as being “the defunct Shaykh of the anthropomorphists in Madina and a venal mercenary from Mali.” Of Al-Faqqi, Shaykh Haddad says he “contributed Wahhabi annotations” to well-known Hanbali works. [vii] Moreover, as is typical of Wahhabis and other Salafis, Al-Fiqqi incidentally goes against Ibn Taymiyah in the matter of commemorating Mawlid, or the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, an orthodox Sunni scholar, says, “Muhammad Hamid al-Fiqqi objects apoplectically to Ibn Taymiyya in his edition of the latter’s Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim in the section entitled “Innovated festivities of time and place.” He criticizes Ibn Taymiyya for saying that “some people innovate a celebration out of love for the Prophet and to exalt him, and Allah may reward them for this love and striving.” Al-Fiqqi writes a two-page footnote exclaiming, “How can they possibly obtain a reward for this?! What striving is in this?!”[viii]

The late Abu Yahya al-Libi, an al-Qa’eda member, also uses the Wahhabi founder to support his point in his “Guidance on the Ruling of the Muslim Spy”. He says:

“Imam Muhammad Bin-Abd-al-Wahhab, may God have mercy on him, said: ‘The eighth violator is the backing of polytheists and supporting them against Muslims. The proof of this saying is the Almighty’s words: ‘O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust’ [Koranic verse, Al-Ma’idah, 5:51].[ix]

It is interesting to note that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qa’eda’s second in command after OBL, wrote the introduction and praised the book. One assumes then that al-Zawahiri also sees Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab as a reliable scholar. This becomes clear when he mentions the Wahhabi founder’s name himself in his book entitled Exoneration:

 “–Allamah Shaykh Muhammad Khalil Hiras, may he rest in peace. I petitioned him at his home in Tanta around the year 1974. I do not remember the exact date. He ruled that the Egyptian regime was apostate and should be overthrown by anyone able to do so. I discussed with him other issues including Shari’ah judgment on fighting the Jews in the Egyptian army for those who are coerced to do so. I presented him with the clues I had found in the writings of Imam al-Shafi’i, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn-Taymiyyah, and Shaykh Muhammad Abd-al-Wahhab, may they rest in peace. He endorsed my findings and expressed pleasure that young men like myself were able to find these clues and read those references.”[x]

Like OBL and al-Zawahiri, Abu Abdallah Al-Sa’di also mentions the Wahhabi founder in al-Qa’eda’s Voice of Jihad magazine. He says:

“The state of Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab [Sa’udi Arabia] arose only by jihad. The state of the Taliban in Afghanistan arose only by jihad. The Islamic state in Chechnya arose only by jihad. It is true that these attempts were not perfect and did not fill the full role required, but incremental progress is a known universal principle. Yesterday, we did not dream of a state; today we established states and they fall. Tomorrow, Allah willing, a state will arise and will not fall[…].”[xi]

Those who claim that OBL and al-Qa’eda are radical Salafis who had/have nothing to do with Wahhabism are promoting a myth. But was OBL a true Wahhabi? Osama was a hybrid Wahhabi-Salafi who was nevertheless described as a “Wahhabi” by his son, Omer. While OBL cannot be said to represent Wahhabism, he was definitely molded and inculcated by it in his Saudi surroundings and by his father’s Wahhabi guidance.

[i] The full transcript of Osama bin Laden’s Open Letter to King Fahd can be found at: www.nefafoundation.org/miscellaneous/FeaturedDocs/nefaublletterkindfahd.pdf

and a partial transcript which includes this quote can be found at the Jihad Unspun website: www.jihadunspun.com/articles/05272002-Open.Letter.To.King.Fahd/index2.html

[iv] “Muhammad” enclosed in square brackets added by the author.

[v] The Quilliam Foundation. Quilliam Alert – Osama bin Laden’s recommended reading: Implications for UK counter-terrorism policy. March 18, 2009: www.quilliamfoundation.org/index.php/component/content/article/481

[vi] Jason Burke. 2004. Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam. Pg. 57.

[vii] GH Haddad. 2007. Hammad al-Ansari. www.livingislam.org/k/hans_e.html

[viii] 200 Years of New Kharijism: The Ongoing Revision of Islam. Footnote XXI. Available:  www.islamicsupremecouncil.org/bin/site/wrappers/isca_inside_extremism_newkhawarij.html

[xi] Memri Special Dispatch 650, 27 January 2004, as quoted in Richard Bonney (2004) “Jihad: From Qur’an to bin Laden”. New York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan. p.154.