Fruits for the Week

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The era of the Khalifat Rashidah (The Caliph who took the straight path) was the most glorious just rule in the history of Islam, but its ending was followed by a setback of spiritual development which marked death blow to the real progress of Islam that is the spiritual growth of Islam. Undoubtedly, the material advancement continued and the boundaries of the Islamic state expanded in all directions, but the spirit inculcated during the reign of the early caliphate had dissipated. The spiritual glory was gradually replaced by material progress.

Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, was languishing in a horrible state of affairs since the downfall of the Abbasids. The Arabs, torn by internecine strife and tribal rivalries, had lost everything, including any traces of material progress. In such a devastating situation was born in 1703 in Najd a great Muslim visionary and reformer, Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Wahhab, who later became the pioneer of an Islamic reformist movement, which aimed at restoring Islam to its pristine glory, purifying it from all of the accretions it had become laden with after so many centuries.

Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Wahhab, belonging to Banu Sinan, a branch of Tamim, was a fiery person even from his childhood. He studied at Medina under Sulaiman al-Kurdi and Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi, both of whom found in him the promise of ijtihad (deductive reasoning). He later spent many years travelling, four years in Basra, five years in Baghdad, one year in Kurdistan, two years in Hamdhan, and four years in Isfahan where he studied Sufism and Ishrakiyyah philosophy. Returning to his native town, Unayna, he spent a year in introspection. Thereafter, he publicly preached his doctrines as set forth in his Kitab al-Tawheed (The Book of Allah’s Oneness).

Initially, he met with some success, but mostly with opposition, including from his own relatives, such as his brother, Sulaiman, and his cousin, Abdullah ibn Hussaen. His views, however, attracted many genuine Muslims from outside Unayna. He left his ancestral place with his entire family and settled in Dariya, where the chieftain, Muhammad ibn Sa’ud accepted his doctrine and vowed to propagate it.

Within a year of his arrival at Dariya, he won the approval of almost all the inhabitants of the town. With achievements to his name, such as constructing a simple mosque in which there is no carpet, his doctrine won him more and more adherents. His patron, the Sa’ud family, was involved in a war with other chieftains, lasting for more than twenty-eight years. During this period, Ibn Sa’ud and his son, Abdul Aziz, succeeded him and he welcomed Sheikh Abdul Wahhab as his spiritual guide.

The Wahhabi theology is mainly based on the teachings of Ibn Taymiyah, may Allah have mercy upon him, and Hanbali fiqh. Its fundamental principles are 1) Absolute Oneness of Allah; 2) Return to the original teaching of Islam as incorporated in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah; 3) Inseparability of faith and action; 4) Belief that the Holy Qur’an was uncreated; 5) Condemnation of all heterodox views and acts; 6) Establishment of the state on Islamic law only. The Wahhabis are distinguished from all other Muslim schools, by the emphasis on the Oneness of Allah (Tawheed) and on enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.

Sheikh Abdul Wahhab wanted earnestly to eliminate all innovations (bid’ah) that were adopted by the Muslims, particularly the Maulid (celebration of the Prophet’s birth, cults of saints and excessive un-Islamic rituals at their tombs. The Wahhabis stated that they obeyed the authority of the four Sunni schools of fiqh, and the six authentic books of hadith. Additionally, they state they are completely against the cult of saints as exhibited in mausoleums, their use as mosques and their visitations, and believe that all objects of worship, including cults, other than that of Allah, Almighty and Exalted is He, are false. In their perspective, it is shirk (polytheistic) to seek intercession from any person except Allah, Almighty and Exalted is He. Furthermore, they aim to build mosques with great simplicity, avoiding any ornamentation and have destroyed tombs, graves, and even the tombs at the Jannat al-Baqi’ in Medina, lest they should be worshipped by heterodox and ignorant Muslims.

The Wahhabi movement soon spread to other parts of the Islamic world, attracting adherents on a large scale. The House of Sa’ud, the patron of the Wahhabi movement, soon conquered almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, including the Holy Cities of Makkah and Medina. Sheikh Muhammad Abul Wahhab was lucky to have found Ibn Sa’ud as his greatest champion, and his disciple, Sheikh Muhammad Abduh of Egypt, as his premier exponent. It caused a stir across the entire Islamic world, with most of the leading intellectuals of the Islamic world, welcoming it with some reservation. However, in the Arabian Peninsula, it was a uniting factor among all the tribal rivalries and parties.

by Atiequl Haque


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