– Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Fanaticism and Terror.

This is a revised/modified article I wrote about eight years ago that was published by the Sunnah Foundation of America. I hope it proves useful and stimulates intellectual debate. Further revisions are being made.

(© Zubair Qamar 2014)




Setting the Context Correctly: All Wahhabis are Not Terrorists – but Some Are

Wahhabism has been in the spotlight by both Sunni and Shi’ah Muslims since the 1700s as they had experienced both doctrinal and physical assaults from Wahhabis. This resonated strongly much later in the 20th century with non-Muslims, especially after the 9/11 attacks. Muslims suffered at the hands of Wahhabi militants long before 9/11 happened, and is why Sunni and Shi’ah scholars have written books against Wahhabism that go back a few hundred years. Contemporary Sunni and Shi’ah scholars continue their condemnations of Wahhabism. Examples of scholars who opposed Wahhabism are listed at the end of this article.

First, my argument against Wahhabism is an orthodox Sunni one, which means I have issues with Wahhabism because it misrepresents Sunni doctrine and worship in the guise of “Sunni Islam.” Second, a certain group of Wahhabis have historically targeted Muslims physically for differing with their doctrine and matters of worship, as well as the state, if deemed the “infidel” variety.  I include such deliberate targeting of innocent Sunni and Shi’ah civilians in my definition of terrorism.

Contrary to conventional views, I do not believe that so-called “jihadist” terrorism originated in Egypt through the so-called Qutbi school of militants as many believe. The standard view is: Wahhabis are apolitical and do not oppose the State, while Egypt is where the violent anti-state brand comes from. The mixing of Egypt’s extremist Salafis with Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia at the time of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser led the Wahhabis to adopt violence and terrorism. Is this necessarily true?

While most Wahhabis are peaceful and do not support terrorism, very few in academia discuss the other strain of Wahhabism that found prominence among a group of Wahhabis after the fall of the second Saudi State in the 1800s. Two groups of Wahhabis evolved since that time: (1) “apolitical” (quietest) Wahhabis and (2) “political” (or political-militant) Wahhabis who resented Ottoman help from Wahhabis.

Briefly, we see most apolitical Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia today who say it is unIslamic to kill civilians and rebel against the state. The political Wahhabi version, on the other hand, has been suppressed for obvious political reasons. However, it was shown when Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi brought it up, as did Wahhabi scholars of the “Shu’aybi” school. They used Wahhabi justification to support their extremist views using works by Wahhabi (not Qutbi) scholars who lived in the 1800s (like Ibn Atiq) to justify opposition against the Saudi government (and other governments).

This same group of political-militant Wahhabis used similar justification to advocate the use of nuclear weapons. One can argue that Osama bin Laden and surely other terrorists in al-Qa’eda – especially those who originated in Saudi Arabia – have evolved from this political-militant strain of Wahhabism, and not necessarily from Egypt’s militant brand of Salafism, though the latter may certainly have had a negative influence.

I place more blame on the political-militant strain of Wahhabism that preceded the Qutbi strain of militancy by a few hundred years. However, as long as the “apolitical” (or quietist) strain of Wahhabism continues to be the predominant form in terms of what the majority of Wahhabis believe, and what the Saudi government propagates, we will be fortunate to continue to hear condemnations by such Wahhabis against terrorists of all colors, including against the political-militant strain of Wahhabism. Indeed, we have heard many such condemnations from Wahhabi scholars, including the late Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Baz.

Most Wahhabis are apolitical, are by and large peaceful, and do not support terrorism, but rather condemn it. They should not be described as advocates of terrorism as certain scholars do. Rather, the Wahhabi majority’s denunciations of terrorism should be utilized to weaken the message of the political-militant variety of Wahhabism who propagate terrorism.  This does not mean that the doctrinal and worship differences, as well as the bi-polar and sometimes extreme views of peaceful Wahhabis are excusable from an orthodox Sunni standpoint. Far from it.

However, in the matter of terrorism, which I see as the more important issue of today, the majority of peaceful Wahhabis can be used alongside the messages of orthodox Sunni Islam to counter militant strains of Wahhabism and other forms of Salafism. It is in this context that this article should be understood.

Lastly, extremist interpretations of religion and ideology are just two of many factors that contribute to terrorism. No sound analysis of terrorism should reduce terrorism’s causes to these two factors.

Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers

Osama bin Laden was accused of having a central role in the September 11, 2001 hijackings of four planes, three of which were successfully steered into their intended targets, kamikaze style, into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. Passengers in all airliners were killed, as were thousands of civilians on the ground, including women and children. It was an American tragedy, but even more a world tragedy, that involved the decimation of people from over 80 nationalities and many religions, including Muslims. This tragedy has caused many to perceive Islam as a barbaric and anti- Judeo-Christian religion, and hold it responsible for the hatred and bigotry manifested through the horrific acts of terror perpetrated by radical Islamists on 9/11.

Indeed, it has created and/or strengthened a “we” (Judeo-Christians) versus “them” (Muslims) psyche in which all Muslims are assumed to be linked to the “great evil” called Islam. Although it revives and brings to light the largely refuted post-Cold War paradigm proposed by Samuel Huntington of the “Clash of Civilizations,” this bi-polarization and gross generalization conceals the true identity and nature of the intra-religious differences existing within the religions concerned.

Reality is that the majority of Muslims in the world – orthodox Sunni Muslims – have confronted and refuted the menace of extremism within Islam itself through much of its history. It is of paramount importance now after 9/11 for the lay-person to be able to differentiate a moderate Muslim from a pseudo-Sunni fanatic. The most extremist pseudo-Sunni movement today is Wahhabism (also known as Salafism). The most well-known Wahhabi-Salafi known to humankind today is Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa’eda terrorist organization. While many may think that Wahhabi terror is a recent phenomenon that has only targeted non-Muslims, it will surprise many to know that the orthodox Sunni Muslims were the first to be slaughtered in waves of Wahhabi terror campaigns in Arabia hundreds of years ago.

One only has to read the historical evolution of Saudi Arabia to know the gruesome details of the tragedy – a tragedy commensurate to 9/11 in which thousands of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims perished at the hands of Wahhabi militants. The extremist interpretations of Wahhabism, although previously confined to small pockets of people in Arabia, has survived to this day under the protection, finance, and tutelage of the Saudi monarchy. This has transformed Wahhabism – and related Salafi groups that receive inspiration and support from them – from a regional to a global threat to be reckoned with by the world community.

To a Wahhabi-Salafi, all those who differ with them, including Sunni Muslims, Shi’ite Muslims, Christians, and Jews, are infidels who are fair targets of ideological and/or physical assault or extermination. Osama bin Laden and his followers are among the Wahhabis who are carrying the banner of Wahhabi-Salafi terror to all corners of the world today.

Investigators who hunted for members of Bin Laden’s al-Qaida network more than eight months before the September 11th attacks discovered that “all” terrorist suspects arrested in Europe followed the Salafi interpretation of Islam. Since December, 2001, at least nine countries in Europe found that terrorist cells sponsored by al-Qaida were connected to Salafis. Moreover, four interlinked groups were identified and partially dismantled since October 26, 2001. This was in addition to the cell in Hamburg, Germany that was allegedly involved in the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington {1}. (Hamburg is said to have 2,500 Muslim radicals in a community of about 80,000 Muslims {2}.)

Three of the four groups based in Germany, Italy, and Spain were believed by investigators to have belonged to the radical Algerian group, the “Salafist Preaching and Combat Group,” which has been “absorbed by al-Qaida” according to a source close to the investigation. The leader of a fourth cell, Djamel Beghal, is a French-Algerian Salafi who was arrested in Dubai who allegedly had members in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Britain. According to investigators, they are thought to have grown from another extremist Algerian group called “Excommunication and Self-Exile” (al-Takfir wa al-Hijra) {3}.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker of the September 11th attacks, acquired his radical views in 1991 under the influence of a Wahhabi group in the university he attended in France {4}. Do the majority of Sunnis support Wahhabism? Are Sunnis and Wahhabis one and the same?

What is a Wahhabi?

Because Wahhabis claim to be “true Sunnis,” it is difficult for one who is unfamiliar with Wahhabism to distinguish it from orthodox Sunni Islam. If a Wahhabi is asked if he/she is Sunni, he/she will always reply in the affirmative. When asked if they are Wahhabis, they reply with an emphatic “no” as they consider it an insult to what they believe and stand for: “Purity of worship and reverence to God alone. The authentic carriers of Islam from the time of the Prophet (pbuh) {5} until now.”

Calling them Wahhabis implies that they learned ideas from a man – Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab – instead of the Qur’an and Sunnah – the two great sources of Islam. Irrespective of what they think, they are not following the Islamic sources authentically, but the wrong interpretations of the founder of the Wahhabi movement who appeared in the 1700s. Sunnis and other Wahhabi detractors have labeled them as Wahhabis to differentiate them from orthodox Sunnis.

Differences between Wahhabis and orthodox Sunnis

Wahhabis differ from orthodox Sunnis in many tenets of creed (`aqidah) and worship (`ibadah). The main differences are as follows:

(1) Wahhabis follow Islam as represented by the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, and his role model, Ahmed Ibn Taymiyah, who preceeded him by a few hundred years. Support from orthodox Sunni scholars is only used when it conforms to their understanding. Therefore, the entire corpus of Islamic scholarship is subservient mainly to two individuals (and their students and later followers), both of whom were rejected and opposed by the masses of scholars in their times and afterwards. Lists of scholars opposed to them are presented later in the article.

(2) Wahhabis have a trinitarian understanding of creed that they divide into three parts. Orthodox Sunnis understand creed simply as: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.”

(3) Wahhabis have a literal understanding of God’s Attributes, and is why they are opposed to orthodox Sunni scholars who applied interpretation (ta’wil) to God’s Attributes in conformity with the rules of the Religion and Arabic language, as the Ash’ari Sunni scholars did. (Ash’ari scholars followed Imam Abu al-Hassan al-Ash’ari’s understanding of Islamic creed. Famous Ash’ari scholars include Imam al-Baihaqi, Imam al-Daraqutni, Qadi `Iyad al-Maliki, Imam an-Nawawi, Shaykh al-Qurtubi, Imam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Imam al-Ghazali, and Imam Fakhr ud-Din al-Razi. Both Ash’aris, as well as Maturidis, represent orthodox Sunni doctrine.) This is the reason why Wahhabis believe that God literally exists above the Throne, therefore believing that God is bound by space and time. Orthodox Sunnis accuse Wahhabis of anthropomorphism (tajsim) and have always believed that God exists without a place, unbound by space and time. (Sunnis believe all of creation is bound by time and space.)

(4) Wahhabis oppose the Islamic science of purification (tasawwuf), and accuse Sufis of being heretical innovators. They also reject some forms of invocation (dhikr) practiced by many Sufis, such as audible group invocation, use of rosaries (tasbih), etc. The Orthodox Sunni accepts Sufism as a genuine Islamic science who, unlike the Wahhabi, also believes in the special favors (karamat) granted to saints (awliyah) by God as a result of their high piety. Some of the many well known Sufis include Imam al-Ghazali, Imam Abd al-Qadir al-Jeelani, Imam Rabbani Ahmad as-Sirhindi, Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri, Imam Jalal ud-Din al-Suyooti, and Imam an-Nawawi.

(5) Wahhabis believe that asking something from God through an intermediary (tawassul), when the latter is living the life of the grave (barzakh), is polytheism (shirk). Asking God for things through other means, such as amulets having protective/healing Words from the Qur’an (ruqiyya), or through objects associated with the pious (tabarruk) is also polytheism to Wahhabism. All practices, however, are orthodox Sunni practices. Because of this, Wahhabis prevent many Muslims from visiting graves, despite the high reward in it from a Sunni perspective, for fear that Muslims will do tawassul and commit shirk. This will be explained in more detail below.

(6) Wahhabis classify all types of innovation (bid’ah) as heretical, whereas orthodox Sunnis have divided innovation into permissible and impermissible categories. It is for this reason that Wahhabis accuse the masses of Muslims who commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Mawleed ash-Sharif) to be reprehensible innovators. Some orthodox Sunni scholars who support Mawleed include but are not limited to Ibn Kathir, Imam Abu Shaama (teacher of Imam an-Nawawi), Ibn al-Jawzi, Imam Sakhawi, Imam Jalal ud-Din al-Suyooti, and Imam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, and Syed Mutawali ad-Darsh.

(7) Wahhabis believe that it is not necessary for Muslims to follow a Muslim scholar of the highest calibur (mujtahid mutlaq), and therefore refuse to follow one of the four existing schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali), at least in their totality. Wahhabis believe that following the Qur’an and Sunnah – the two main sources of Islam – directly is sufficient, without any required scholarship. Wahhabis, therefore, mostly rely on themselves or self-taught “scholars” for religious judgments and interpretations of the Islamic sources. For example, many follow the late Naseerud-Din al-Albani as a master of hadeeth, even though he did not fulfill the minimum requirements of being a hadeeth master. All orthodox Sunnis, however, follow (taqleed) one of the four schools of jurisprudence today, each represented by a scholar of the highest eminence who was most qualified to deduce judgments from the sources (ijtihad) due to their vast knowledge, authentic chains of transmission from previous scholars, impeccable characters, and trustworthiness. The four Sunni schools of jurisprudence are the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools.

(8) Wahhabis, unlike orthodox Sunnis, do not believe that the recitation of the Qur’an is a means by which God rewards people in their graves.

Wahhabis as Salafis: deceptive semantics

Wahhabis differentiate themselves from orthodox Sunnis by labeling themselves Salafis, which refers to the word Salaf – the time period in which the early Muslims lived in the first 300 years after the Hijra, or emigration, of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622. The Companions (Sahaba), those who followed the Companions (Tabi’een), and those who followed them (Taba al-Tabi’een) lived in the time period of the Salaf, and to Sunni Muslims, are exemplars par excellence of what Muslims should be, as Prophet Muhammad had praised these Muslims as being the best of Muslims. Therefore, it has been the aim of every Muslim since the time of Prophet Muhammad to adhere to and follow the footsteps of the adherents of the Salaf. This means that when a Wahhabi calls himself a Salafi, he claims to be a genuine follower of pristine Islam. This, however, is far from the truth.

Orthodox Sunni Muslims believe that they are the true bearers of pristine Islam since the time period of the Salaf. Because there were time gaps between the noble period of the Salaf and centuries that followed, the authentic positions of the early Muslims were passed by scholars in those times and afterwards to later generations via meticulous, systematic, and methodological means of preservation.

The knowledge was passed from qualified scholars to other qualified scholars through the centuries, who passed it to the masses. This uninterrupted chain of knowledge from the time of the Salaf until now has been authentically preserved by the orthodox Sunnis. Orthodox Sunnis, therefore, have roots in the Salaf, and are represented today by the four surviving authentic schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

The Wahhabis, by calling themselves Salafis, not only claim to follow the footsteps of the early Muslims, but also use semantics to fool and allure less informed Muslims into accepting Wahhabism. Wahhabis say,

“You must follow the Muslims of the Salaf.” (This is undoubtedly true to a Sunni Muslim.)

Then the Wahhabi semantics:

“Therefore you must be a Salafi and nothing else. Following anything else means you’re following a path that is different from the Muslims of the Salaf.”

By such deceptive semantics, the less informed Muslims believe that Salafis must truly represent the pristine interpretations of the early Muslims of the Salaf. After all, the word Salafi sounds like Salaf, so it must truly be representative of it. Far from it. When the less informed goes beyond semantics and blind faith and investigates what a Salafi believes, the truth unveiled is that the understanding of Salafis (Wahhabis) is different and contradictory to the understanding and positions of the pious Muslims who lived in the Salaf – and the majority of Muslims who have ever lived (Sunnis).

Wahhabi-Salafi Variety

The Wahhabi-Salafis believe that Sunnis have been vehemently wrong for the past 1,000+ years and aim to bring the Muslims out of a state of ignorance (jahilliyya) that has existed, in their minds, since the time of the pious adherents of the Salaf.

Even if the majority of orthodox Sunni Muslims were strong today, it would still be a failure to Salafis because to them the foundations of Sunni belief and worship would be based on reprehensible innovation (bid’a) and blasphemy (kufr).

To the Salafi, the presence and power of Sunni orthodoxy, in all of its manifestations as illustrated throughout Islamic history, is just as impure as the rising European hegemony in all of its manifestations since the demise of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. To the Salafis, a minority in this world, the world is an abode of blasphemy, ruled and occupied by infidels that demands reformation through both non-violent and violent means to bring about a supposedly pure Islamic world system.

Wahhabi-Salafis come in various strains, some more lethal than others. The variety in strains is due to differences in approach of bringing the Muslims back to a state of strengthened belief based on the example of the pious ancestors. It must be emphasized that although all Wahhabis are called Salafis, all Salafis are not purely Wahhabi. Non-Wahhabi Salafi Muslims include those like Syed Qutb who wished to eradicate the supposed current state of ignorance (jahiliyya) to bring Muslims back to a state of purity – purity reminiscent of the purity of Muslims who lived in the time period of the Salaf.

However, all Salafi Muslims, whether they are Wahhabi or Qutbi, admire the role models Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, and especially Ahmad Ibn Taymiyah, whose hard-line interpretations have inspired revolutionaries today. Therefore, although all Salafis are not Wahhabis, they admire many of the same role models – role models who have been rejected and condemned by masses of orthodox Sunni scholars for their unauthentic representations of pristine Islam. All Wahhabis consider themselves to be Salafis and prefer to be called by this name (instead of Wahhabi, which they see as derogatory), even though differences exist between Salafi groups.

Wahhabi-Salafi alliances

Although there are differences in approach among Salafis, they have nonetheless allied themselves from time to time in an attempt to make the Salafi vision a reality by both non-violent and violent means.

An example of this is the Salafi-oriented Deobandi Taliban and their alliance with the Wahhabis.

The Wahhabi Saudi government was only one of three countries that officially recognized the Taliban government of “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The Saudis saw the Taliban as a way of increasing their influence in Afghanistan. Indeed, political motives were supported by religious justification from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ulema who strongly supported the Taliban. Ahmed Rashid says,

“the Wahhabi ulema in the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]… played the most influential role in urging the Royal Family to back the Taliban.”{6}.

Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi analyst, says that Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, the former Grand Mufti and Chairman of the Council of Senior ulema, and Sheikh Mohammed ibn Juber, the Minister of Justice and member of the Council of ulema, were instrumental in pushing the Saudi regime to support the Taliban {7}.

Because Saudi Arabia’s mosques and madrassas were largely controlled by the Wahhabi ulema, they were able to garner support for the Taliban in their Friday sermons. Several Saudi sources said that after the Taliban captured Kabul, Saudi mosques collected money on a regular basis from the congregation after the Friday prayers for the Taliban {8}.

It is interesting to note that the Taliban’s “moral police” was in direct imitation of the Saudi police called “The Prevention of Vice and Propagation of Virtue” that forced 15 girls to be burned to death from a school fire. Furthermore, John Walker Lindh, the American who fought alongside the Taliban, espoused the militant Salafi-Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Walid al-Saqqaf, editor of the Yemen Times, says that Lindh had met a hard-line shaykh in an institute in Yemen where he mixed with pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaida followers and took the Salafi Osama bin Laden as his role model {9}.

The alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood (and its various offshoots) and the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia was strengthened during the 1950s and 1960s in the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt’s Nasserist regime. Saudis had provided refuge for some leaders of the Brotherhood, and also provided assistance to them in other Arab States. It is worth pausing here to illustrate how Saudi educational institutions became the bastion of extremists of all colors.

Osama bin Laden first associated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood over here where he met Abdullah Azzam and Muhammad Qutb, two radical teachers of Islamic studies. Azzam was the role model who had inspired Bin Laden to adopt a more extremist position than he already had. Bin Laden and Azzam later established the Maktab al-Khidmat (Afghan Services Bureau) as a recruiting center for the holy war against the Soviets. Donations from Saudi Arabia were instrumental in their efforts of helping the Maktab, which became a radical organization with ties to terror. In fact, Bin Laden was the Saudi representative in Afghanistan, as he stated in his own words:

“To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan”{10}.

Bin Laden represented the Saudi contingent in Afghanistan in the war against the Russians, and Prince Turki ibn Faisal, former head of Saudi Intelligence Service, was to be a close friend and ally of Bin Laden {11}.

Muhammad Qutb was the brother of Syed Qutb who was hanged by order of the Egyptian government in 1966 for his extremist anti-government activities. The notorious blind “Shaykh” Omar Abdel Rehman, spiritual mentor of the radical Islamic Jihad who was influenced by the ideas of the Pakistani Islamist Abul Alaa al-Mawdudi and Syed Qutb, also taught in Saudi institutions. He is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for allegedly having a role in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and was also accused of conspiring to blow up the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the United Nations headquarters in New York. Cooley says:

“Between 1977 and 1980, private Muslim foundations in Saudi Arabia financed a tour of teaching for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rehman in that kingdom. Upon his return [to Egypt], he became notorious for his militant sermons and occasional fatwas, often recorded on audiotape cassettes” {12}.

Cooley further explains the intimate relationship between Abdel-Rehman and Saudi Arabia:

“The blind preacher made the theology faculty of the Imam Muhammad ibn Saudi University in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, his new base. There he taught hundreds of religious students. From there, with generous financial backing from the Saudis, he traveled from 1979 to 1982” {13}.

It is also interesting to note that it is in Saudi Arabia where Abdel-Rehman first met another Islamist, Hassan al-Turabi, from Sudan. Those who argue that Wahhabism is opposed to Qutbism should ponder over the fact that both Wahhabi and Qutbi types of Salafis found comfort in teaching and learning in Saudi educational institutions under the watchful eyes of the Wahhabi Saudi government. Moreover, had the Qutbis been a threat to the Saudi-Wahhabi educational system, there would have been uproar by Wahhabi students. Instead, many received inspiration from them, flocked around them, and embraced them with open arms. While this does not mean that Wahhabis and Qutbis are identical, they do share many of the same beliefs, starting with their understanding of Islamic creed, which, unlike orthodox Sunni Muslims, they divide into three categories.

The Wahhabi-Salafi alliance was further strengthened as a response to the growing threat of Shi’ah power when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran revolted and overthrew the U.S.-allied Shah in 1979. Lastly, the alliance made itself manifest in the holy struggle (jihad) against the atheist/Communist Soviets in Afghanistan. Salafis of all strains worked together as the “righteous Sunnis” to counter the Shi’ah-Communist threat, from proselytizing to killing to make their Salafism prevail.

Indeed, Salafis have used both proselytizing and revolutionary means to express their message using both political and apolitical approaches. So-called “Sunni terrorism” today is perpetrated by radical Salafis who desire to replace “infidel” governments with myopic mullahs who adhere to their fanatical interpretations and ideologies. Their tentacles are spread to all corners of the globe, including Bosnia, Albania, Indonesia, Philippines, Uzbekistan, England, Malaysia, South Africa, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Wahhabis as neo-Kharijites

The Wahhabis are especially notorious for reviving the ways of the Khawarij (or Kharijites). They originated in the time of the caliphates of Uthman and Ali, among the closest companions to Prophet Muhammad. They were the earliest group of fanatics who separated themselves from the Muslim community. They arose in opposition to Ali – Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law – because of his willingness to arbitrate with Mu’awiyah, governor of Damascus at that time, over the issue of the caliphate.

The Khawarij, meaning “those who exited,” slung accusations of blasphemy against Ali and Mu’awiyah – and those who followed them – saying that the Qur’an, and not them, had the ultimate authority in the matter. Ibn al-Jawzi, an orthodox Sunni scholar, in his book Talbis Iblis (The Devil’s Deception) under the chapter heading “A Mention of the Devil’s Delusion upon the Kharijites,” says that Dhu’l-Khuwaysira al-Tamimi was the first Kharijite in Islam and that “[h]is fault was to be satisfied with his own view; had he paused he would have realized that there is no view superior to that of Allah’s Messenger…”

Furthermore, the orthodox Sunni scholar Imam Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi discusses the Kharijite rebellions and their bloody massacres of tens of thousands of Muslims in one of his books. He explicitly mentions the Azariqa, one of the most atrocious Kharijite movements led by Nafi’ ibn al-Azraq from the tribe of Banu Hanifa – the same tribe where Musaylima the Prevaricator (or Liar) who claimed prophethood alongside Prophet Muhammad came from. Just as the Khawarij threw accusations of blasphemy on Ali and Mu’awiya, Wahhabis throw accusations of blasphemy against Sunnis and Shi’ites.

The Al-Sa’ud and Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab – the founder of Wahhabism

Wahhabism is named after the its founder, Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab (1703-1792), and has its roots in the land now known as Saudi Arabia. Without this man, the al-Sa’ud, one of many clans spread over the Arabian Peninsula, would not have had the inspiration, reason, and determination to consolidate the power that they did and wage jihad on people they perceived to be “polytheists” – those who attribute partners in worship to Almighty God. How intimately close was Al-Sa’ud’s association with Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab? Robert Lacey eloquently illustrates this association:

“Until [Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab’s] coming the Al Sa’ud had been a minor sheikhly clan like many others in Nejd, townsmen and farmers, making a comfortable living from trade, dates and perhaps a little horse-breeding, combining with the desert tribes to raid outwards when they felt strong, prudently retrenching in times of weakness. Modestly independent, they were in no way empire builders, and it is not likely that the wider world would ever have heard of them without their alliance with the Teacher” {14}.

The “Teacher,” of course, is Muhammad Ibn Abdl-Wahhab. It is not surprising that the Al-Sa’ud have vehemently clung to Wahhabism over the centuries to this day.

Indeed, they are indebted to Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab for providing them the impetus and excuse of bringing them to power. Wahhabism had transformed the Al-Sa’ud from a tiny, unheard of group limited in geographic scope to a growingly strong power that spread all across Arabia. Its oil later allowed Saudi Arabia to metamorphose from a poor radical force with no future to a wealthy radical force with global reach. It has provided the extremist role models and ideologies that condition – brainwash – minds and tarnish souls from a Sunni perspective.

In its ugliest form, Wahhabism-Salafism creates terrorists that murder and maim. In its passive manifestation, though still just as ugly to orthodox Muslims, it produces bi-polar personalities – abnormal beings who accuse masses of Muslims of being outside the fold of Islam for centuries simply because they disagree with the unorthodox positions of Wahhabism.

Al-Sa’ud’s explicit support for Wahhabism is illustrated in a publication by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Information. It states,

“Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahab was a powerful exponent of Islam who did much to unify the religion and resisted its heresies and schisms” {15}.

In a footnote, the publication defends Wahhabism as a legitimate understanding of Islam:

“Most historians, Moslem or otherwise, used to call the Emirs of the Saudi dynasty “the Wahhabis”. The nickname was never used in practice, but its purpose was to give the impression that the Saudis were following a new school of Islamic thought, attributed to Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahab. In fact he and the Saudi dynasty merely wanted to free Islam from heresies and implement the law as ordained in the Koran” {16}.

In the same publication, the founder of the Wahhabi movement is used as a barometer of honor for members of the Saudi Dynasty. It states that

“[Mohammed Ibn Saud] is considered the most distinguished among the Princes of Saud Dynasty because his reign coincided with the emergence of Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab” {17}.

In the end of the section, it glorifies the massacres of orthodox Sunni Muslims by the sword of Mohammad ibn Saud by saying that he

“…resisted the heretics with the sword…” {18}.

The “heretics,” as we know, were mainly orthodox Sunni Muslims who had been following the genuine Sunni tradition for over 1,000 years.

Another link on the same website states:

“In keeping with his family tradition, [Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab] exhibited a keen interest in religion and was profoundly perturbed by contemporary deviations from Islamic teachings which included serious deviations from the teachings of the Prophet, peace be upon him. He therefore undertook to bring about a revival of Islam in its simplest and original form. Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab did not found a new sect. His sole purpose was to re-establish Islam in its purest form” {19}.

The emblem of Saudi Arabia illustrates the alliance between the founder of Wahhabism and a member of the Sa’ud dynasty . The emblem has two crossed swords with a date-palm tree above them. One sword is that of Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab and the other is the sword of Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, which were used to slaughter orthodox Sunni Muslims.

In addition, the current version of the Saudi flag has a picture of a white sword underneath the Muslim testification of faith (shahada). What does this sword mean? To many laypeople, Muslims included, it symbolizes the “sword of Islam.”

However, upon closer investigation, the sword is supposed to depict the sword of Abdl-Aziz’s father, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia who killed many Muslims in his time who he accused of polytheism. Therefore, the sword in the flag does not symbolize “Islam,” but symbolizes the “Wahhabi interpretation of Islam” that was used to murder thousands of Muslims. In an earlier version of the flag that had two swords crossed one over the other, one of the swords belonged to Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, while the other belonged to Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, the man who allied himself with Abdl-Wahhab to murder thousands of Muslims.

Wahhabism is not only illustrated by its national symbols, but also in the close alliance between the Al-Saud and descendants of Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, who are called the Ahl al-Shaykh (Family of the Shaykh). The “Shaykh,” of course, is the Wahhabi founder, Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab.

Author Robert Lacey says that the Ahl al-Shaykh, who proudly adhere to the teachings of Wahhabism,

“preserve their separate identity in the Kingdom to this day” {20}.

Their privileged status in the Kingdom is illustrated by the close association and intermarriage between the Al-Sa’ud and Ahl al-Shaykh. In the 1700s, Muhammad ibn Saud’s son, Abdul Aziz, married Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab’s daughter. When Abdul-Aziz recaptured Riyadh, he married a new wife, Tarfah, the daughter of Sheikh Abdullah ibn Abdul Lateef, the town’s judge, who was a descendant of Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab {21}.

The Ahl al-Shaykh are also prominent in the Kingdom’s `ulema (scholars), police, and armed forces. Abdl-Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, the now deceased former Mufti of Saudi Arabia, was taught by many Wahhabi scholars of the Ahl al-Shaykh. Some of his teachers were Shaykh Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Lateef Aal-Shaykh, Shaykh Saalih ibn `Abdul-`Azeez Aal-Shaykh and Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ibraaheem Aal-Shaykh, who was also a Mufti of Saudi Arabia in his time. Ibn Baz frequently accompanied him and learned from him for about ten years {22}.

Ibn Baz, therefore, was a full-fledged Wahhabi and did not receive knowledge from the eminent Sunni theologians of his time because he thought they were heretics. The now living Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is `Abdul-`Azeez Aal-Shaykh.

Just who are the al-Sa’ud? The al-Sa’ud are originally from the village of ad-Diriyah, located in Nejd, in eastern Arabia situated near modern day Riyadh, the capital of Sa’udi Arabia. Ancestors of Sau’ud Ibn Muhammad, whom little is known about, settled in the area as agriculturists and gradually grew in number over time into the clan of al-Sa’ud.

Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab was raised in Uyainah, an oasis in southern Najd, and was from the Banu Tamim tribe. He came from a religious family and left Uyainah in pursuit of Islamic knowledge. He traveled to Mecca, Medina, Iraq, and Iran to acquire knowledge from different teachers. When he returned to his homeland of Uyainah, he preached what he believed to be Islam in its purity – which was, in fact, a vicious assault on traditional Sunni Islam.

Others have speculated that he colluded with the British – as Mirza Ahmed Qadiani colluded with the British in the India – through Hempher, the British Spy, to further weaken and destroy the hegemony of the Sunni Ottomon Empire. Fact or fiction, what is known is that the British and the Wahhabis wished to see the Ottomon Empire crumble.

The orthodox Sunni scholar Jamil Effendi al-Zahawi said that the teachers of Ibn `Abdl-Wahhab, including two teachers he had studied with in Medina – Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi and Shaykh Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi – became aware of his anti-Sunni Wahhabi creed and warned Muslims from him. His shaykhs, including the two aforementioned shaykhs, used to say:

“God will allow him [to] be led astray; but even unhappier will be the lot of those misled by him.”{23}.

Moreover, Ibn `Abdl-Wahhab’s own father had warned Muslims from him, as did his biological brother, Sulayman Ibn `Abdl-Wahhab, an orthodox Sunni scholar who refuted him in a book entitled al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyya fi al-radd `ala al-Wahhabiyya [“Divine Lightnings in Refuting the Wahhabis”]. Ibn Abdl-Wahhab was refuted by the orthodox Sunni scholars for his many ugly innovations. Perhaps his most famous book, “Kitab at-Tawheed” (Book of Unity of Worship) is widely circulated amongst Wahhabis worldwide, including the United States. His book is popular in Wahhabi circles, although orthodox Sunni scholars have said that there is nothing scholarly about it, both in terms of its content and its style.

Ibn Taymiyah: the Wahhabi founder’s role model

It is worth giving an overview of a man named Ahmed Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328) who lived a few hundred years before Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab. The Wahhabi founder admired him as a role model and embraced many of his pseudo-Sunni positions.

Who exactly was Ibn Taymiyah and what did orthodox Sunni scholars say about him? Muslim scholars had mixed opinions about him depending on his interpretation of various issues. His straying from mainstream Sunni Islam on particular issues of creed (`aqeedah) and worship (`ibadat) made him an extremely controversial figure in the Muslim community.

I compare him to Paul of Tarsus who won a controversial reputation among various Christian groups through the centuries. While the early Marcionites considered Paul to be the only worthy representative of Jesus’s pristine teachings, Jewish Christians labeled him an apostate who changed the teachings of Jesus. Likewise, Ibn Taymiya has won the reputation of being the true bearer of the early pious Muslims, especially among reformist revolutionaries, while the majority of orthodox Sunnis have accused him of reprehensible bid’ah (reprehenisible innovation), some accusing him of kufr (unbelief) {24}.

The problem is that Ibn Taymiyah’s unorthodox positions in creed and worship that were refuted by masses of orthodox Sunni scholars have been adopted by Wahhabis and other Salafis today as the genuine “Sunni” position.

It behooves one to ask why Ibn Taymiyah had received so much opposition from reputable Sunni scholars who were known for their asceticism, trustworthiness, and piety. Some of Ibn Taymiyah’s anti-Sunni and controversial positions that were purportedly noted include the following:

  • His claim that Allah’s Attributes are “literal”, thereby attributing God with created attributes and becoming an anthropomorphist.
  • His claim that created things existed eternally with Allah.
  • His opposition to the scholarly consensus on the divorce issue.
  • His opposition to the orthodox Sunni practice of tawassul (asking Allah for things using a deceased pious individual as an intermediary).
  • His saying that starting a trip to visit the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) invalidates the shortening of prayer.
  • His saying that the torture of the people of Hell stops and doesn’t last forever.
  • His saying that Allah has a limit (hadd) that only He Knows.
  • His saying that Allah literally sits on the Throne (al-Kursi) and has left space for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to sit next to Him.
  • His claim that touching the grave of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is polytheism (shirk).
  • His claim that that making supplication at the Prophet Muhammad’s grave to seek a better status from Allah is a reprehensible innovation.
  • His claim that Allah descends and comparing Allah’s “descent” with his, as he stepped down from a minbar while giving a sermon (khutba) to Muslims.
  • His classifying of oneness in worship of Allah (tawheed) into two parts: Tawhid al-rububiyya and Tawhid al-uluhiyya, which was never done by pious adherents of the salaf.

Although Ibn Taymiyah’s unorthodox, pseudo-Sunni positions were kept away from the public in Syria and Egypt due to the consensus of orthodox Sunni scholars of his deviance, his teachings were nevertheless circulating in hiding. An orthodox Sunni scholar says:

“Indeed, when a wealthy trader from Jedda brought to life the long-dead ‘aqida [creed] of Ibn Taymiya at the beginning of this century by financing the printing in Egypt of Ibn Taymiya’s Minhaj al-sunna al-nabawiyya [italics mine] and other works, the Mufti of Egypt Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i, faced with new questions about the validity of anthropomorphism, wrote: “It was a fitna (strife) that was sleeping; may Allah curse him who awakened it.”

It is important to emphasize that although many of the positions of Ibn Taymiyah and Wahhabis are identical, they nonetheless contradict each other in some positions. While Ibn Taymiyah accepts Sufism (Tasawwuf) as a legitimate science of Islam (as all orthodox Sunni Muslims do), Wahhabis reject it wholesale as an ugly innovation in the religion. While Ibn Taymiyah accepts the legitimacy of commemorating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (Mawlid) from a certain point of view – accepted by orthodox Sunni Muslims as legitimate – Wahhabis reject it as a reprehensible innovation that is to be repudiated.

Ibn Taymiyah: a role model of Wahhabi-Salafi Islamists

Osama bin Laden illustrates his devout admiration for Ibn Taymiyah in the “Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” released on August 23, 1996. Gillis Kepel notes that “[t]his eleven-page tract, best known by its subtitle “Expel the Polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula,” is crammed with quotations from the Koran, hadiths of the Prophet, and references to Ibn Taymiyya.”{25}.

“Making lengthy references to Ibn Taymiyya, he invites the faithful to forgo their differences and unite against the Al-Saud family, who have ‘collaborated with the Zionist-Crusader alliance”{26}.

Indeed, Ibn Taymiyah is an inspiration to Islamist groups that call for revolution. Kepel says, “Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1323) – a primary reference for the Sunni Islamist movement – would be abundantly quoted to justify the assassination of Sadat in 1981…and even to condemn the Saudi leadership and call for its overthrow in the mid-1990s” {27}.

Sivan says that only six months before Sadat was assassinated, the weekly Mayo singled out Ibn Taymiyya as “the most pervasive and deleterious influence upon Egyptian youth.” Sivan further says that Mayo concluded that “the proliferating Muslim associations at the universities, where Ibn Taymiyya’s views prevail, have been spawning various terrorist groups.” Indeed, a book entitled The Absent Precept, by `Abd al-Salam Faraj – the spiritual leader of Sadat’s assassins who was tried and executed by the Egyptian government – strongly refers to Ibn Taymiyya’s and some of his disciples’ writings. “The book was read, commented, and meditated upon by almost all the conspirators already brought to trial as well as by many other members of the Jihad Organization.” Also, three of four of Sadat’s assassins willingly read a lot of Ibn Taymiyya’s works on their own {28}.

Ibn Taymiyah is also noted to be a favorite of other Salafi extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Syed Qutb and Omar ibn Abdl-Rehman, spiritual leader of Islamic Jihad. Ibn Taymiyyah’s student, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, is also frequently cited by salafis of all colors.

While Ibn Taymiyah is considered unorthodox from a Sunni perspective by many Muslims, his statements and views are still twisted and manipulated by extremists and terrorists today. Their twisting of Ibn Taymiyah’s words, however, should not hide the fact that Ibn Taymiyah’s controversial and unorthodox position in areas of creed and worship made him an outcast to many Sunni Muslims.

Ibn Taymiyah’s “fatwa” of jihad against Muslims

What is also well-known about Ibn Taymiyah is that he lived in turbulent times when the Mongols had sacked Baghdad and conquered the Abassid Empire in 1258. In 1303, he was ordered by the Mamluk Sultan to give a fatwa (religious edict) legalizing jihad against the Mongols.

Waging a holy war on the Mongols for the purpose of eliminating any threat to Mamluk power was no easy matter. The Mongol Khan Mahmoud Ghazan had converted to Islam in 1295. Although they were Muslims who did not adhere to Islamic Law in practice, and also supported the Yasa Mongol of code of law, they were deemed apostates by the edict of Ibn Taymiyah.

To Ibn Taymiyah, Islamic Law was not only rejected by Mongols because of their lack of wholesale adherence, but the “infidel” Yasa code of law made them legal targets of extermination. The so-called jihad ensued and the Mongol threat to Syria was exterminated.

Wahhabis and other salafis to this day brand the Mongol Mahmoud Ghazan as a kafir (disbeliever). Orthodox Sunni Muslims, however, have praised Mahmoud Ghazan as a Muslim. Muhammad Hisham Kabbani says:

“In fact, Ghazan Khan was a firm believer in Islam. Al-Dhahabi relates that he became a Muslim at the hands of the Sufi shaykh Sadr al-Din Abu al-Majami’ Ibrahim al-Juwayni (d.720), one of Dhahabi’s own shaykhs of hadith….During his rule he had a huge mosque built in Tabriz in addition to twelve Islamic schools (madrasa), numerous hostels (khaniqa), forts (ribat), a school for the secular sciences, and an observatory. He supplied Mecca and Medina with many gifts. He followed one of the schools (madhahib) of the Ahl al-Sunna [who are the orthodox Sunnis] and was respectful of religious scholars. He had the descendants of the Prophet mentioned before the princes and princesses of his house in the state records, and he introduced the turban as the court headgear” {29}.

Muhammad ibn ‘Abdl-Wahhab would later follow Ibn Taymiyah’s footsteps and slaughter thousands of Muslims in Arabia.

Orthodox Sunni scholars who refuted Ibn Taymiyah’s pseudo-Sunni positions

Ibn Taymiyah was imprisoned by a fatwa (religious edict) signed by four orthodox Sunni judges in the year 726 A.H for his deviant and unorthodox positions. Note that each of the four judges represents the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence that Sunni Muslims belong to today. This illustrates that Ibn Taymiyah did not adhere to the authentic teachings of orthodox Sunni Islam as represented by the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence. There is no evidence to indicate that there was a “conspiracy” against Ibn Taymiyyah to condemn him, as Wahhabis and other salafis purport in his defense.

The following are the names of the four judges who signed a fatwa against Ibn Taymiyah:

  • Qadi Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Jama’ah ash-Shafi’I
  • Qadi Muhammad Ibn al-Hariri al-`Ansari al-Hanafi
  • Qadi Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr al-Maliki
  • Qadi Ahmad Ibn `Umar al-Maqdisi al-Hanbali.

Some other orthodox Sunni scholars who refuted Ibn Taymiyya for his deviances and opposition to the positions of orthodox Sunni Islam include:

  • Taqiyy-ud-Din as-Subki
  • Taj ud-Din as-Subki
  • Faqih Muhammad Ibn `Umar Ibn Makki
  • Hafiz Salah-ud-Din al-`Ala’i
  • Qadi and Mufassir Badr-ud-Din Ibn Jama’ah
  • Shaykh Ahmad Ibn Yahya al-Kilabi al-Halabi
  • Hafiz Ibn Daqiq al-`Id
  • Qadi Kamal-ud-Din az-Zamalkani
  • Qadi Safi-ud-Din al-Hindi
  • Ibn Hajar al-Haytami
  • Faqih and Muhaddith `Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Baji ash-Shafi’I
  • Historian al-Fakhr Ibn al-Mu`allim al-Qurashi
  • Hafiz Dhahabi
  • Mufassir Abu Hayyan al-`Andalusi
  • Hafiz `Alaa al-Din al-Bukhari
  • Najm al-Din Sulayman Ibn `Abd al-Qawi al-Tufi
  • Abd al-Ghani an-Nubulusi
  • Faqih and voyager Ibn Batutah
  • Shaykh Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari
  • Shaykh Abu Hamid Ibn Marzooq
  • Shaykh Tahir Muhammad Sulaiman al-Maliki

Najd – A place not so holy

Najd, in Saudi Arabia, is where the founder of Wahhabism came from. It was a mostly barren and dry land inhabited by Bedouins who used to graze animals. With sparse water, it is not the most comfortable of places since its climate has extremes of heat and cold in the summer and winter seasons. Najd has a notorious reputation in the orthodox Sunni community for originating seditions (fitan) long before Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab came. Indeed, it is known to have harbored many trouble mongering individuals who challenged the Muslims both spiritually and physically.

The orthodox Sunni Iraqi scholar Jamal Effendi al-Zahawi says:

“Famous writers of the day made a point of noting the similarity between Ibn ‘Abdl-Wahhab’s beginnings and those of the false prophets prominent in Islam’s intial epoch like Musaylima the Prevaricator, Sajah al-Aswad al-Anasi, Tulaiha al-Asadi and others of his kind” {30}. 

Fenari says that although Najd is closest to to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it has only been dispraised by Prophet Muhammad in authentic traditions.

He raises another interesting point that while many Arabian tribes were praised by Prophet Muhammad, the Banu Tamim – the most well known tribe of Central Arabia where Muhammad ibn `Abdl Wahhab was from – is praised only once.

Moreover, authentic traditions that “explicitly critique” the Banu Tamimites are far more numerous. Ibn al-Jawzi, an orthodox Sunni scholar, documents the evolution of the Kharijite movements and illustrates how the tribe of Banu Tamim played a leading role in it. Imam Abd al-Qahir also states that the Tamimites – and the Central Arabians in general – were intimately involved in the Kharijite rebellions against the Muslims, contrasting their immense contribution to the minimal contribution of members of the tribes of Medina and Yemen.

It is from Banu Tamim where a man name Abu Bilal Mirdas came from, who, although being a relentless worshipper, turned out to be one of the most barbaric Kharijite fanatics. “He is remembered as the first who said the Tahkim – the formula ‘The judgment is Allah’s alone’ – on the Day of Siffin, which became the slogan of the later Kharijite da’wa.” It is reminiscent of what Wahhabis say today – that they strictly adhere to nothing but the Qur’an and Sunnah – although it is merely a jumble of words without coherent meaning. Najda ibn Amir of the tribe of Banu Hanifa was a Kharijite whose homeland was Najd, and the best known woman among the Kharijites was a Tamimite named Qutam bint `Alqama.

It is fascinating to see that fanatics of all types came from a region where the fanatic Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab came from.

The Wahhabi assault on graves and the massacre of Muslim communities in Riyadh and Karbala

With the ferocious zeal of a “divine” mission, aimed at terminating what they perceived as the filthy polytheistic scum of Arabia, the Wahhabi army led by Muhammad ibn Sa’ud first destroyed graves and objects in Najdi towns and villages that were used for what they condemned as “polytheistic practices.” The Wahhabi movement mustered supporters who rallied behind their cause, increased the size of their army, and successfully united most of the people of Najd under the banner of Wahhabism by 1765.

The assault and “jihad”of Wahhabism did not stop after the death of Muhammad ibn Sa’ud in 1765, but continued with unrelenting and barbaric force under the leadership of his son, Abdl-Aziz, who captured the city of Riyadh in 1773. Muhammad Ibn Abdl-Wahhab later died but left a few sons who continued spreading Wahhabism and strengthened the Wahhabi family’s alliance with the Al-Sa’ud {31}.

Later, in 1801, the Wahhabi army marched to Karbala with a force of 10,000 men and 6,000 camels {32}.

Upon reaching Karbala, they mercilessly and indiscriminately attacked its inhabitants for eight hours, massacring about 5,000 people. Moreover, they severely damaged Imam Hussein’s mosque, looted the city, and left the carnage-laden city with its treasures on 200 camels {33}.

This holocaust won the Wahhabi criminals the unforgiving hatred and wrath of the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, who, until this day, curse them passionately. The Shi’ite Muslims consider Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, one of the most sacred figures and his tomb one of the most sacred sites on earth. Every year, thousands of Shi’ites gather at the site to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein.

I remember visiting Karbala myself in 1989 before the Persian Gulf war, and it indeed filled me with awe and spiritual strength as a devout Sunni. Shi’ite wrath, of course, didn’t mean much to the Wahhabis. The Shi’ites, along with the Sunnis, had already been labeled as “blasphemors” for practicing tawassul and tabarruk. What are these practices? Are they part of Sunni Islam or not?

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 Abdl-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 (pbuh).”

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, the Companions, and of the great scholars of Islam. 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 `Abdl-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 blasphemors that didn’t deserve to live.

Wahhabis were not following the footsteps of the pious Salaf, but the footsteps of Ibn Taymiyah 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 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 grave and calls on the Prophet, “Oh Prophet,” (Ya Rasulullah), the Wahhabis accuse such a person of worshipping the Prophet 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, Abdl-Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, defends Ibn Abdl-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 rather 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 Auliya (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 Abdl-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] {34}.

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.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged accomplice of the 9/11 hijackers, declared his brother and sister heathens for doing the orthodox Sunni practice of tawassul. Abd Samad, brother of Zacarias, was told a secret by Jamila, his sister:

“The previous year Zacarias had been to see her and had said, ‘Abd Samad and Fouzia [Abd Samad’s wife] are doing tawassul, they’re heathens. Be on your guard with them, but whatever happens, don’t say anything to them” {35}.

Abd Samad, after explaining what tawassul means, is sickened to learn that his brother, Zacarias, had adopted extremist Wahhabi beliefs :

“But Wahhabis are extremists; their rejection of tawassul is a pre-text for declaring that all Muslims in the world are heathens and idolators who must be dealt with. When Jamila told me what my brother had said, it made me feel sick – literally. I ended up in the emergency room with shooting pains in my stomach. Zacarias’ argument instantly reminded me of Wahhabi beliefs, and I’d never suspected that my bright, well-educated brother, with his stalwart character, could possibly be taken in by that ideology” {36}.

Wahhabis attribute a place and direction to Allah

While accusing the masses of Muslims of being polytheists, Wahhabis themselves have differentiated themselves from other Muslims in their understanding of creed. Due to the Wahhabis’ adherence to an unorthodox, literal understanding of God’s Attributes, they believe without knowing that Allah has created or human attributes, and then attempt to hide their anthropomorphism by saying that they do not know ‘how’ Allah has such attributes. For example, Bilal Philips, a Wahhabi author and “scholar,” says in his book, “The Fundamentals of Tawheed”:

“He has neither corporeal body nor is He a formless spirit. He has a form befitting His majesty [italics mine], the like of which no man has ever seen or conceived, and which will only be seen (to the degree of man’s finite limitations) by the people of paradise.”

Discussing each part of his statement will shed light into his anthropomorphic mind. Bilal Philips says that “Allah has a form befitting His majesty…” What he confirms in his mind is that Allah definitely has a form. He even specifies the kind of form by saying: “He [Allah] has neither corporeal body…” meaning that Allah has a form that is not like the forms of creation, and then says, “nor is He a formless spirit. Then he says, “He has a form befitting His majesty…”

The problem with such statements to a Muslim is that they express blatant anthropomorphism. What Bilal Philips is doing here is attributing a “form” to God that, to him, nobody has ever seen. Therefore, Bilal Philips believes that God has some type of form, or non-corporeal body. No orthodox Sunni Muslim scholar has ever said such a thing because it contradicts the Qur’an, Sunnah, and the views of the well-known, illustrious scholars of Sunni Islam.

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, one of the greatest mujtahid Sunni imams ever to have lived, refuted such anthropomorphic statements over a thousand years before Bilal Philps was born. The great Sunni Ash’ari scholar, Imam al-Baihaqi, in his Manaqib Ahmad relates with an authentic chain that Imam Ahmed said:

“A person commits an act of disbelief (kufr) if he says Allah is a body, even if he says: Allah is a body but not like other bodies.”

Imam Ahmad continues:

“The expressions are taken from language and from Islam, and linguists applied ‘body’ to a thing that has length, width, thickness, form, structure, and components. The expression has not been handed down in Shari’ah. Therefore, it is invalid and cannot be used.”

Imam Ahmed is a pious adherer of the time period of the Salaf that was praised by Prophet Muhammad who Bilal Philips contradicts. How can Bilal Philips claim to represent the pious forefathers of the Salaf?

Blatant anthropomorphism is also illustrated by the Wahhabi Ibn Baz’s commentary on the great work of Imam Abu Ja’afar at-Tahawi called “Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah” (The Creed of Tahawi), a work that has been praised by the orthodox Sunni community as being representative of Sunni orthodoxy. The now deceased Ibn Baz was Saudi Arabia’s grand Mufti.

Article #38 of Imam Tahawi’s work states:

“He is beyond having limits placed on Him, or being restricted, or having parts or limbs. Nor is He contained by the six directions as all created entities are.”

Ibn Baz, in a footnote, comments in the way of anthropomorphism:

“Allah is beyond limits that we know but has limits He knows.”

In another footnote, he Ibn Baz says:

“By hudood (limits) the author [referring to Imam Tahawi] means [limits] such as known by humans since no one except Allah Almighty knows His limits.”

Ibn Baz deceptively attempts to represent the noble Sunni Imam al-Tahawi as an anthropomorphist by putting his own anthropomorphic interpretation of Imam Tahawi’s words in his mouth. It must be emphasized that not a single orthodox Sunni scholar understood Imam Tahawi’s statement as Ibn Baz did.

Ibn Baz also shows anthropomorphism in a commentary by the great Sunni scholar Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani. Ibn Baz says:

“As for Ahl ul-Sunna – and these are the Companions and those who followed them in excellence – they assert a direction for Allah, and that is the direction of elevation, believing that the Exalted is above the Throne without giving an example and without entering into modality.”

Another now deceased Wahhabi scholar, Muhammad Saleh al-Uthaymeen, blatantly expresses his anthropomorphism. He says:

“Allah’s establishment on the throne means that He is sitting ‘in person’ on His Throne.”

The great Sunni Hanbali scholar, Ibn al-Jawzi, had refuted anthropomorphists who were saying that Allah’s establishment is ‘in person’ hundreds of years ago:

“Whoever says: He is established on the Throne ‘in person’ (bi dhatihi), has diverted the sense of the verse to that of sensory perception. Such a person must not neglect that the principle is established by the mind, by which we have come to know Allah, and have attributed pre-eternity to Him decisively. If you said: We read the hadiths and keep quiet, no one would criticize you; it is only your taking them in the external sense which is hideous. Therefore do not bring into the school of this pious man of the Salaf – Imam Ahmad [Ibn Hanbal] – what does not belong in it. You have clothed this madhab [or school of jurisprudence] with an ugly deed, so that it is no longer said ‘Hanbali’ except in the sense of ‘anthropomorphism.’”

Sulayman ibn `Abdl Allah ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab, the grandson of the Wahhabi movement’s founder, says:

“Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person (bi dhatihi) in every place, or in one place: he is a disbeliever (kafir). It is obligatory to declare that Allah is distinct from His creation, established over His Throne without modality or likeness or exemplarity. Allah was and there was no place, then He created place and He is exalted as He was before He created place.”

Just as Bilal Philips affirms a form to Allah,Ibn Baz confirms limits to Allah, and al-Uthaymeen confirms that Allah is literally sitting ‘in person’ on the Throne. All of them have loyally followed the footsteps of Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab who were instrumental in causing tribulation (fitna) and division among the Muslim masses because of their many unorthodox, anthropomorphist understandings of belief.

To an orthodox Sunni Muslim, the Throne is located in a particular direction and a certain place. By understanding Allah to be above the Throne literally as the Wahhabis do, they are attributing Allah with created attributes and, as a result, are implying that a part of the creation was eternal with Allah. This opposes what the the Qur’an and the following hadith authentically related by al-Bukhari says:

“Allah existed eternally and there was nothing else.”

Sunni orthodoxy clears Allah of all directions and places. To a Sunni, Allah has always existed without the need of a place, and He did not take a place for Himself after creating it. Orthodox Sunni scholars have said exactly what was understood by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his Companions (pbuth). Imam Abu Hanifah, the great mujtahid Imam who lived in the time period of the Salaf said: “Allah has no limits…”– period. And this is what Sunni orthodoxy represents.

Orthodox Sunni scholars oppose Wahhabism

I end this article with a selected list of orthodox Sunni scholars who have refuted Wahhabism and warned Muslims from its poison. The list of scholars, along with names of their books and related information, is quoted from the orthodox Sunni scholar Muhammad Hisham Kabbani {37}. I have extended the list of scholars against Wahhabism with additional research:

Al-Ahsa’i Al-Misri, Ahmad (1753-1826): Unpublished manuscript of a refutation of the Wahhabi sect. His son Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn `Abd al-Latif al-Ahsa’i also wrote a book refuting them.

Al-Ahsa’i, Al-Sayyid `Abd al-Rahman: wrote a sixty-seven verse poem which begins with the verse:

Badat fitnatun kal layli qad ghattatil aafaaqa
wa sha“at fa kadat tublighul gharba wash sharaqa

[A confusion came about like nightfall covering the skies
and became widespread almost reaching the whole world]

Al-`Amrawi, `Abd al-Hayy, and `Abd al-Hakim Murad (Qarawiyyin University, Morocco): Al-tahdhir min al-ightirar bi ma ja’a fi kitab al-hiwar [“Warning Against Being Fooled By the Contents of the Book (by Ibn Mani`) A Debate With al-Maliki (an attack on Ibn `Alawi al-Maliki by a Wahhabi writer)”] (Fes: Qarawiyyin, 1984).

`Ata’ Allah al-Makki: al-sarim al-hindi fil `unuq al-najdi [“The Indian Scimitar on the Najdi’s Neck”].

Al-Azhari, `Abd Rabbih ibn Sulayman al-Shafi`i (The author of Sharh Jami’ al-Usul li ahadith al-Rasul, a basic book of Usul al-Fiqh: Fayd al-Wahhab fi Bayan Ahl al-Haqq wa man dalla `an al-sawab, 4 vols. [“Allah’s Outpouring in Differentiating the True Muslims From Those Who Deviated From the Truth”].

Al-`Azzami, `Allama al-shaykh Salama (d. 1379H): Al-Barahin al-sati`at [“The Radiant Proofs…”].

Al-Barakat al-Shafi`i al-Ahmadi al-Makki, `Abd al-Wahhab ibn Ahmad: unpublished manuscript of a refutation of the Wahhabi sect.

Al-Bulaqi, Mustafa al-Masri wrote a refutation to San`a’i’s poem in which the latter had praised Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab. It is in Samnudi’s “Sa`adat al-Darayn” and consists in 126 verses beginning thus:

Bi hamdi wali al-hamdi la al-dhammi astabdi
Wa bil haqqi la bil khalqi lil haqqi astahdi

[By the glory of the Owner of glory, not baseness, do I overcome;
And by Allah, not by creatures, do I seek guidance to Allah]

Al-Buti, Dr. Muhammad Sa`id Ramadan (University of Damascus): Al-salafiyyatu marhalatun zamaniyyatun mubarakatun la madhhabun islami [“The Salafiyya is a blessed historical period not an Islamic school of law”] (Damascus: Dar al-fikr, 1988); Al-lamadhhabiyya akhtaru bid`atin tuhaddidu al-shari`a al-islamiyya [“Non-madhhabism is the most dangerous innovation presently menacing Islamic law”] (Damascus: Maktabat al-Farabi, n.d.).

Al-Dahesh ibn `Abd Allah, Dr. (Arab University of Morocco), ed. Munazara `ilmiyya bayna `Ali ibn Muhammad al-Sharif wa al-Imam Ahmad ibn Idris fi al-radd `ala Wahhabiyyat Najd, Tihama, wa `Asir [“Scholarly Debate Between the Sharif and Ahmad ibn Idris Against the Wahhabis of Najd, Tihama, and `Asir”].

Dahlan, al-Sayyid Ahmad ibn Zayni (d. 1304/1886). Mufti of Mecca and Shaykh al-Islam (highest religious authority in the Ottoman jurisdiction) for the Hijaz region: al-Durar al-saniyyah fi al-radd ala al-Wahhabiyyah [“The Pure Pearls in Answering the Wahhabis”] pub. Egypt 1319 & 1347 H; Fitnat al-Wahhabiyyah [“The Wahhabi Fitna”]; Khulasat al-Kalam fi bayan Umara’ al-Balad al-Haram [“The Summation Concerning the Leaders of the Sacrosanct Country”], a history of the Wahhabi fitna in Najd and the Hijaz.

Al-Dajwi, Hamd Allah: al-Basa’ir li Munkiri al-tawassul ka amthal Muhd. Ibn `Abdul Wahhab [“The Evident Proofs Against Those Who Deny the Seeking of Intercession Like Muhammad Ibn `Abdul Wahhab”].

Shaykh al-Islam Dawud ibn Sulayman al-Baghdadi al-Hanafi (1815-1881 CE): al-Minha al-Wahbiyya fi radd al-Wahhabiyya [“The Divine Dispensation Concerning the Wahhabi Deviation”]; Ashadd al-Jihad fi Ibtal Da`wa al-Ijtihad [“The Most Violent Jihad in Proving False Those Who Falsely Claim Ijtihad”].

Al-Falani al-Maghribi, al-Muhaddith Salih: authored a large volume collating the answers of scholars of the Four Schools to Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab.

Al-Habibi, Muhammad `Ashiq al-Rahman: `Adhab Allah al-Mujdi li Junun al-Munkir al-Najdi [“Allah’s Terrible Punishment for the Mad Rejector From Najd”].

Al-Haddad, al-Sayyid al-`Alawi ibn Ahmad ibn Hasan ibn al-Qutb Sayyidi `Abd Allah ibn `Alawi al-Haddad al-Shafi`i: al-Sayf al-batir li `unq al-munkir `ala al-akabir [“The Sharp Sword for the Neck of the Assailant of Great Scholars”]. Unpublished manuscript of about 100 folios; Misbah al-anam wa jala’ al-zalam fi radd shubah al-bid`i al-najdi al-lati adalla biha al-`awamm [“The Lamp of Mankind and the Illumination of Darkness Concerning the Refutation of the Errors of the Innovator From Najd by Which He Had Misled the Common People”]. Published 1325H.

Al-Hamami al-Misri, Shaykh Mustafa: Ghawth al-`ibad bi bayan al-rashad [“The Helper of Allah’s Servants According to the Affirmation of Guidance”].

Al-Hilmi al-Qadiri al-Iskandari, Shaykh Ibrahim: Jalal al-haqq fi kashf ahwal ashrar al-khalq [“The Splendor of Truth in Exposing the Worst of People] (pub. 1355H).

Al-Husayni, `Amili, Muhsin (1865-1952). Kashf al-irtiyab fi atba` Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab [“The Dispelling of Doubt Concerning the Followers of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab”]. [Yemen?]: Maktabat al-Yaman al-Kubra, 198?.

Ibn `Abd al-Latif al-Shafi`i, `Abd Allah: Tajrid sayf al-jihad `ala mudda`i al-ijtihad [“The drawing of the sword of jihad against the false claimants to ijtihad”].

The family of Ibn `Abd al-Razzaq al-Hanbali in Zubara and Bahrayn possess both manuscript and printed refutations by scholars of the Four Schools from Mecca, Madina, al-Ahsa’, al-Basra, Baghdad, Aleppo, Yemen and other Islamic regions.

Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Najdi, `Allama al-Shaykh Sulayman, elder brother of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab: al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyya fi al-radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyya [“Divine Lightnings in Answering the Wahhabis”]. Ed. Ibrahim Muhammad al-Batawi. Cairo: Dar al-insan, 1987. Offset reprint by Waqf Ikhlas, Istanbul: Hakikat Kitabevi, 1994. Prefaces by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi al-Shafi`i and Shaykh Muhammad Hayyan al-Sindi (Muhammad Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab’s shaykh) to the effect that Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab is “dall mudill” (“misguided and misguiding”).

Ibn `Abidin al-Hanafi, al-Sayyid Muhammad Amin: Radd al-muhtar `ala al-durr al-mukhtar, Vol. 3, Kitab al-Iman, Bab al-bughat [“Answer to the Perplexed: A Commentary on “The Chosen Pearl,”” Book of Belief, Chapter on Rebels]. Cairo: Dar al-Tiba`a al-Misriyya, 1272 H.

Ibn `Afaliq al-Hanbali, Muhammad Ibn `Abdul Rahman: Tahakkum al-muqallidin bi man idda`a tajdid al-din [Sarcasm of the muqallids against the false claimants to the Renewal of Religion]. A very comprehensive book refuting the Wahhabi heresy and posting questions which Ibn `Abdul Wahhab and his followers were unable to answer for the most part.

Ibn Dawud al-Hanbali, `Afif al-Din `Abd Allah: as-sawa`iq wa al-ru`ud [“Lightnings and thunder”], a very important book in 20 chapters. According to the Mufti of Yemen Shaykh al-`Alawi ibn Ahmad al-Haddad, the mufti of Yemen, “This book has received the approval of the `ulama of Basra, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Ahsa’ [Arabian peninsula]. It was summarized by Muhammad ibn Bashir the qadi of Ra’s al-Khayma in Oman.”

Ibn Ghalbun al-Libi also wrote a refutation in forty verses of al-San`ani’s poem in which the latter had praised Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab. It is in Samnudi’s Sa`adat al-darayn and begins thus:

Salami `ala ahlil isabati wal-rushdi
Wa laysa `ala najdi wa man halla fi najdi

[My salutation is upon the people of truth and guidance
And not upon Najd nor the one who settled in Najd]

Ibn Khalifa `Ulyawi al-Azhari: Hadhihi `aqidatu al-salaf wa al-khalaf fi dhat Allahi ta`ala wa sifatihi wa af`alihi wa al-jawab al-sahih li ma waqa`a fihi al-khilaf min al-furu` bayna al-da`in li al-salafiyya wa atba` al-madhahib al-arba`a al-islamiyya [“This is the doctrine of the Predecessors and the Descendants concerning the divergences in the branches between those who call to al-salafiyya and the followers of the Four Islamic Schools of Law”] (Damascus: Matba`at Zayd ibn Thabit, 1398/1977.

Kawthari al-Hanafi, Muhammad Zahid. Maqalat al-Kawthari. (Cairo: al-Maktabah al-Azhariyah li al-Turath, 1994).

Al-Kawwash al-Tunisi, `Allama Al-Shaykh Salih: his refutation of the Wahhabi sect is contained in Samnudi’s volume: “Sa`adat al-darayn fi al-radd `ala al-firqatayn.”

Khazbek, Shaykh Hasan: Al-maqalat al-wafiyyat fi al-radd `ala al-wahhabiyyah [“Complete Treatise in Refuting the Wahhabis”].

Makhluf, Muhammad Hasanayn: Risalat fi hukm al-tawassul bil-anbiya wal-awliya [“Treatise on the Ruling Concerning the Use of Prophets and Saints as Intermediaries”].

Al-Maliki al-Husayni, Al-muhaddith Muhammad al-Hasan ibn `Alawi: Mafahimu yajibu an tusahhah [“Notions that should be corrected”] 4th ed. (Dubai: Hashr ibn Muhammad Dalmuk, 1986); Muhammad al-insanu al-kamil [“Muhammad, the Perfect Human Being”] 3rd ed. (Jeddah: Dar al-Shuruq, 1404/1984).

Al-Mashrifi al-Maliki al-Jaza’iri: Izhar al-`uquq mimman mana`a al-tawassul bil nabi wa al-wali al-saduq [“The Exposure of the Disobedience of Those Who Forbid Using the Intermediary of the Prophets and the Truthful Saints].

Al-Mirghani al-Ta’ifi, `Allama `Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim (d. 1793): Tahrid al-aghbiya’ `ala al-Istighatha bil-anbiya’ wal-awliya [“The Provocations of the Ignorant Against Seeking the Help of Prophets and Saints”] (Cairo: al-Halabi, 1939).

Mu’in al-Haqq al-Dehlawi (d. 1289): Sayf al-Jabbar al-maslul `ala a`da’ al-Abrar [“The Sword of the Almighty Drawn Against the Enemies of the Pure Ones”].

Al-Muwaysi al-Yamani, `Abd Allah ibn `Isa: Unpublished manuscript of a refutation of the Wahhabi sect.

Al-Nabahani al-Shafi`i, al-qadi al-muhaddith Yusuf ibn Isma`il (1850-1932): Shawahid al-Haqq fi al-istighatha bi sayyid al-Khalq (s) [“The Proofs of Truth in the Seeking of the Intercession of the Prophet”].

Al-Qabbani al-Basri al-Shafi`i, Allama Ahmad ibn `Ali: A manuscript treatise in approximately 10 chapters.

Al-Qadumi al-Nabulusi al-Hanbali: `AbdAllah: Rihlat [“Journey”].

Al-Qazwini, Muhammad Hasan, (d. 1825). Al-Barahin al-jaliyyah fi raf` tashkikat al-Wahhabiyah [“The Plain Demonstrations That Dispel the Aspersions of the Wahhabis”]. Ed. Muhammad Munir al-Husayni al-Milani. 1st ed. Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Wafa’, 1987.

Al-Qudsi: al-Suyuf al-Siqal fi A`naq man ankara `ala al-awliya ba`d al-intiqal [“The Burnished Swords on the Necks of Those Who Deny the Role of Saints After Their Leaving This World”].

Al-Rifa`i, Yusuf al-Sayyid Hashim, President of the World Union of Islamic Propagation and Information: Adillat Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`at aw al-radd al-muhkam al-mani` `ala munkarat wa shubuhat Ibn Mani` fi tahajjumihi `ala al-sayyid Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki al-Makki [“The Proofs of the People of the Way of the Prophet and the Muslim Community: or, the Strong and Decisive Refutation of Ibn Mani`’s Aberrations and Aspersions in his Assault on Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki al-Makki”] (Kuwait: Dar al-siyasa, 1984).

Al-Samnudi al-Mansuri, al-`Allama al-Shaykh Ibrahim: Sa`adat al-darayn fi al-radd `ala al-firqatayn al-wahhabiyya wa muqallidat al-zahiriyyah [“Bliss in the Two Abodes: Refutation of the Two Sects, Wahhabis and Zahiri Followers”].

Al-Saqqaf al-Shafi`i, Hasan ibn `Ali, Islamic Research Intitute, Amman, Jordan: al-Ighatha bi adillat al-istighatha wa al-radd al-mubin `ala munkiri al-tawassul [“The Mercy of Allah in the Proofs of Seeking Intercession and the Clear Answer to Those who Reject it”]; Ilqam al hajar li al-mutatawil `ala al-Asha`ira min al-Bashar [“The Stoning of All Those Who Attack Ash’aris”]; Qamus shata’im al-Albani wa al-alfaz al-munkara al-lati yatluquha fi haqq ulama al-ummah wa fudalai’ha wa ghayrihim… [“Encyclopedia of al-Albani’s Abhorrent Expressions Which He Uses Against the Scholars of the Community, its Eminent Men, and Others…”] Amman : Dar al-Imam al-Nawawi, 1993.

Al-Sawi al-Misri: Hashiyat `ala al-jalalayn [“Commentary on the Tafsir of the Two Jalal al-Din”].

Sayf al-Din Ahmed ibn Muhammad: Al-Albani Unveiled: An Exposition of His Errors and Other Important Issues, 2nd ed. (London: s.n., 1994).

Al-Shatti al-Athari al-Hanbali, al-Sayyid Mustafa ibn Ahmad ibn Hasan, Mufti of Syria: al-Nuqul al-shar’iyyah fi al-radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyya [“The Legal Proofs in Answering the Wahhabis”].

Al-Subki, al-hafiz Taqi al-Din (d. 756/1355): Al-durra al-mudiyya fi al-radd `ala Ibn Taymiyya, ed. Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari [“The Luminous Pearl: A Refutation of Ibn Taymiyya”]; Al-rasa’il al-subkiyya fi al-radd `ala Ibn Taymiyya wa tilmidhihi Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, ed. Kamal al-Hut [“Subki’s treatises in Answer to Ibn Taymiyya and his pupil Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya”] (Beirut: `Alam al-Kutub, 1983); Al-sayf al-saqil fi al-radd `ala Ibn Zafil [“The Burnished Sword in Refuting Ibn Zafil (Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya)” Cairo: Matba`at al-Sa`ada, 1937; Shifa’ al-siqam fi ziyarat khayr al-anam [“The healing of the sick in visiting the Best of Creation”].

Sunbul al-Hanafi al-Ta’ifi, Allama Tahir: Sima al-Intisar lil awliya’ al-abrar [“The Mark of Victory Belongs to Allah’s Pure Friends”].

(Shi’ah scholar) Al-Tabataba’i al-Basri, al-Sayyid: also wrote a reply to San`a’i’s poem which was excerpted in Samnudi’s Sa`adat al-Darayn. After reading it, San`a’i reversed his position and said: “I have repented from what I said concerning the Najdi.”

Al-Tamimi al-Maliki, `Allama Isma`il (d. 1248), Shaykh al-Islam in Tunis: wrote a refutation of a treatise of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab.

Al-Wazzani, al-Shaykh al-Mahdi, Mufti of Fes, Morocco: Wrote a refutation of Muhammad `Abduh’s prohibition of tawassul.

al-Zahawi al-Baghdadi, Jamil Effendi Sidqi (d. 1355/1936): al-Fajr al-Sadiq fi al-radd ‘ala munkiri al-tawassul wa al-khawariq [“The True Dawn in Refuting Those Who Deny the Seeking of Intercession and the Miracles of Saints”] Pub. 1323/1905 in Egypt.

Al-Zamzami al-Shafi`i, Muhammad Salih, Imam of the Maqam Ibrahim in Mecca, wrote a book in 20 chapters against them according to al-Sayyid al-Haddad.

Ahmad, Qeyamuddin. The Wahhabi movement in India. 2nd rev. ed. New Delhi : Manohar, 1994.

Other orthodox Sunni scholars who have opposed Wahhabism (author’s research):

Shaykh Hussain Ahmad al-Madani

Shaykh Ahmed Raza Barelawi (“Fatawa ul-Haramain”)

Shaykh Ahmad Ghummari

Shaykh Muhammad Baqhit al-Muti’i

Shaykh Shu`ayb al-Arna`ut

Sayyid Abdu-r-Rehman, Mufti of Zabid

Sayyid Muhammad Atta`ullah Beg (“Wahhabilere Rediyya”)

Hadhrat Mustafa ibn Ibrahim Siyami (“Nur-ul-Yaqin”)

Shaykh Ayyub Sabri Pasha

Sayyid Abdul-Hakim al-Marwasi (“Kashkul”)

Maliki commentator of Qur’anic exegisis, Shaykh Ahmed Sawi:

He provides commentary for the following verse of the Qur’an: “Truly, the Devil is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy: he only calls his party to become of the inhabitants of the blaze” (Qur’an 35:6).


“It is said this verse was revealed about the Kharijites [foretelling their appearance], who altered the interpretation of the Qur’an and sunna, on the strength of which they declared it lawful to kill and take the property of Muslims—as may now be seen in their modern counterparts; namely, a sect in the Hijaz called “Wahhabis,” who “think they are on something, truly they are the liars. Satan has gained mastery over them and made them forget Allah’s remembrance. Those are Satan’s party, truly Satan’s party, they are the losers” (Qur’an 58:18–19). We ask Allah Most Generous to extirpate them completely” (Sawi: Hashiya al-Sawi ‘ala al-Jalalayn, 3.255). [Cited from Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller; Mas’ud Ahmad Khan’s web page on Islam, under “The Re-formers of Islam”]

Hadhrat Shah Ahmad Said Dahlawi (“Tahqiq ul-haqqil Mubin”)

Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zuhra (“Tarih ul-Madhahib il-Islamiyyah”)

Mufti Ahmad Sahib (“Raddi Wahhabi”)

Mawlana Muhammad Kutyy (“Kitab-us-Sunni”)

Shaykh Muhammad Hilmi Effendi (“Mizan-ush-Sharia Burhan ut-Tariqa”)

Sayyid Ahmad Hamawi (“Nafahat-ul-qurbwal-ittisal bi-ithbat-it-tasarrufi li awliya-illahi ta’ala wal-karamati ba’dal-intiqal”)

Shaykh Muhammad Abdur-Rehman Silhati (“Sayf-ul-abrar-il-maslul”)

Scholar Ahmad Baba, from Ghana (“Sayf-ul-haqq”)

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller

Shaykh Abd al-Hakim Murad

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Works Cited
(Because this article was written many years ago, all links may not work. Non-functioning links below are in the process of being updated)

[1] Hooper, John and Whitaker, Brian (2001). “Extremist view of Islam Unites Terror Suspects: Salafi Purist Teaching Backed by Saudi Royals.” The Guardian. Friday October 26.

[2] Karatnycky, Adrian (2001). “Under Our Very Noses. The Terrorist Next Door,” National Review, November 5. Available on Freedom House website:

[3] Ibid., Hooper and Whitaker.

[4] Under Our Very Noses. The Terrorist Next Door,” National Review, November 5, 2001, by Adrian Karatnycky; Available on Freedom House website:

[5] Throughout the article, “pbuh” means “peace be upon him,” and “pbuth” means “peace be upon them.”

[6] Rashid, Ahmed. (2001). Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press. pg. 201.

[7] Ibid., Rashid. pg. 201. Footnote #12; cites Obaid, Nawaf, “Improving US Intelligence Analysis on the Saudi Arabian Decision Making Process,” Harvard University, 1998.

[8] Ibid., Rashid. pg. 264. Footnote #11.

[9] BBC News online. “American Taleban’s Yemen Connection,” by Richard Engel. Friday, 18 January, 2002. Available: news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1765000/1765891.stm

[10] AFP, “Laden planned a global Islamic revolution in 1995,” August 27, 1998. (Cited from Rashid’s Taliban, pg.256, footnote #6).

[11] Ibid., Rashid. pg. 131.

[12] Cooley, John J. (2000). Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism. New Edition. Pluto Press. pg. 40.

[13] Ibid., Cooley. pg. 40.

[14] Lacy, Robert. The Kingdom: Arabia & the House of Sa’ud. p. 59.

[15] This is Our Country, published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information, copyright 1991. pg. 7.

[16] Ibid., This is Our Country, pg. 8 footnote.

[17] Ibid., This is Our Country, pg. 7.

[18] Ibid., This is Our Country,pg. 8.

[19] Saudi Arabian Information Resource. A website of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information. Available: http://www.saudinf.com/main/b22.htm

[20] Ibid., Lacey. pg. 63, footnote.

[21] Ibid., Lacey. pg. 63, footnote.

[22] http://www.fatwa-online.com/scholarsbiographies/15thcentury/ibnbaaz.htm

[23] Zahawi, Jamal E (1996) “The Doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna Versus the ‘Salafi’ Movement.” Translated by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani. As-Sunna Foundation of America.

[24] For example, orthodox Sunni scholar Abu Ala Bukhari accused people of unbelief (kufr) if they called Ibn Taymiyah “Shaykh”. Imam Zahid al-Kawthari accused Ibn Taymiyah’s positions on the creed to be tantamount to apostasy.

[25] Gilles, Kepel. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. pg. 317.

[26] Ibid., Kepel. pg. 318.

[27] Ibid., Kepel. pg. 72.

[28] Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. pg. 102-103.

[29] Kabbani, Hisham M (1996). Islamic Beliefs & Doctrine According to Ahl al-Sunna A Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations. Volume I. As-Sunna Foundation of America.

[30] Ibid., Zahawi.

[31] Safran, Nadav. (1988). Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY. Pg. 12.

[32] Ibid., Safran. pg. 11.

[33] Bagot, Blubb, Sir J. (1961). War in the Desert .New York: Norton. Pg. 44.

[34] Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah ibn Baz. “Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab.” Available: http://www.alinaam.org.za/library/hist_bio/ibnwahhaab.htm

[35] Moussaoui, Abd Samad (with Florence Bouquillat). Zacarias, My Brother. Seven Stories Press. New York. 2003. p.111.

[36] Ibid., Moussaoui. pg.111.

[37] Ibid., Zahawi. pp. 7-15.

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