Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb & Wahhâbism
February 9, 2007 2 Comments
(Taken from an article I’m in the process of writing for another site)
Firstly, the name Wahhâbî is supposed to be an ascription to a scholar named Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb who lived during the 1700s and helped found the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia. The word wahhâbî in actuality, however, is an ascription to the name wahhâb (meaning giver or bestower), which is one of Allah’s names.
Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb was a scholar whose call, like many other Salafî scholars past and present, was a return to the Qur’an and Sunnah and Islam’s purification from heretic innovations in beliefs and practices. He wrote many works teaching the people the correct understanding of Allah’s unity and other fundamental aspects of their religion. Among the most well known of these works include Kitâb at-Tawhîd alladhî Huwa Haqqullah ‘alal-‘Abîd (the Book of the Monotheism which is Allah’s Right Upon the Slaves), Kashf ash-Shubuhât (the Removal of the Doubts), al-Usūl ath-Thalâthah wa Adillatuhâ (the Three Foundations and Their Evidences), al-Usūl as-Sittah (the Six Foundations), al-Qawâ’id al-Arba’ah (the Four Principles), and Nawâqid al-Islâm (the Nullifiers of Islam).
Wahhâbism is label given to the call of Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb; the tenets he believed in, preached and called to. In a somewhat accurate statement made in a footnote of his report, Anatomy of the Salafi Movement, Social Scientist (i.e., modern-day Orientalist) Quintan Wiktorowicz comments:
Opponents of Salafism frequently affix the “Wahhabi” designator to denote foreign influence. It is intended to signify followers of Abd al-Wahhab and is most frequently used in countries where Salafis are a small minority of the Muslim community but have made recent inroads in “converting” the local population to the movement ideology. In these countries, local religious authorities have responded to the growing influence of Salafi thought by describing Salafis as Wahhabis, a term that for most non-Salafis conjures up images of Saudi Arabia. The foreign nature of the “Wahhabis” is juxtaposed to locally authentic forms of indigenous Islam. In this manner, opponents of Salafism inject nationalism into religious discourse by raising the specter of foreign influence. The Salafi movement itself, however, never uses this term. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find individuals who refer to themselves as Wahhabis or organizations that use “Wahhabi” in their title or refer to their ideology in this manner (unless they are speaking to a Western audience that is unfamiliar with Islamic terminology, and even then usage is limited and often appears as “Salafi/Wahhabi”).
It is commonplace today for whoever puts any amount of focus on Allah’s unity, warns others against polytheistic beliefs or from heretic innovations in the religion, or even calls for a return to the Sharî’ah (divine Islamic law), regardless of their actual ideologies or beliefs, to be labelled a Wahhâbî. A good example of this are the Tâlibân, who are actually Deobandi Sūfîs. They are called wahhâbî by the extreme Sūfîs of the Indo-Pak region simply because they are not as “sūfî” as many other Sūfî sects. Thus, the terms Wahhâbî and Wahhâbism are commonly used as derogatory terms.
This and what is mentioned above of the incorrect ascription to Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb make these terms inappropriate to be applied to him, his teachings, and those upon the same way and methodology. Orientalist scholar Ignac Goldziher stated that “[a]ny objective observer of Islam must regard the Wahhâbîs as fighters for the form of religion established by Muhammad and his Companions. Their aim and vocation is the restoration of early Islam.” Due to this fact, what is more appropriate is for his call, and those upon the same way and methodology as he, to be referred to as Salafism and Salafîs respectively, rather than Wahhâbism and Wahhâbîs. As Shaikh ‘Abdul-Muhsin al-‘Abbâd, one of today’s top scholars in the field of Hadîth, states in his short treatise, Rifqan Ahl as-Sunnah bi Ahl as-Sunnah,
The People of the Sunnah during Shaikh Muhammad [bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb’s] time, may Allah have mercy on him, never came with anything new such as to ascribe it to him. Rather, he was an adherent to what the righteous predecessors were upon. [He was] an endorser of the Sunnah, a propagator of it and a caller to it. However, those full of hatred apply this ascription to Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abdil-Wahhâb’s call, may Allah have mercy on him, [which was nothing but] reformism for the confusion of the people. [In doing so] they turned them [i.e., the people] away from following the truth and the guidance, and [caused them to] remain upon what they are upon of innovated heresies, in opposition to what the People of the Sunnah and Congregation were upon.
 Allah is referred to as al-Wahhâb in three places in the Qur’an: verses 3:8, 38:9 and 38:35.
 Wiktorowicz, Quintan. “Anatomy of the Salafi Movement” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 29 (2006): 235.
 Goldziher, Ignac. Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981. pg. 244.
 al-Badr, ‘Abdul-Muhsin bin Hamad al-‘Abbâd. Rifqan Ahl as-Sunnah bi Ahl as-Sunnah, Riyâd, Saudi Arabia: Dâr al-Mughnî lin-Nashr wat-Tawzî’, 2003. pg. 6.