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Wahhabi

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Wahhabi

    Wahhabi is the name of a movement in Islam that began in Arabia in the 1700s. Of the many movements in Islam, Wahhabi Islam, or Wahhabism, is one of the most conservative. In the region that is now Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi movement has played a central role in politics, law, and society since the mid-1700s. Today, Wahhabi principles guide every aspect of Saudi legal and social life.

    History.

    The Wahhabi movement takes its name from its founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab . He was an Islamic scholar who lived in the Najd region of the Arabian Peninsula in the 1700s. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab believed that Muslims in Arabia had fallen into moral and political decline. He proposed a return to what he regarded as the ideal form of Islam. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab placed a strong emphasis on monotheism. He also argued for a strict reliance on the Qur'an, sunnah, and hadith as the only sources of Islamic belief and practice. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab taught that Muslims had a duty to fight nonbelievers and to establish a Muslim society based solely on Islamic law.

    Around 1750 Ibn Abd al-Wahhab joined forces with Muhammad ibn Saud , a local tribal chief. Together, they launched a major effort to conquer and unite the various tribes of Arabia and convert them to Wahhabism. By the early 1800s, the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance had brought all of Najd under its control. Their forces had also occupied the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in western Arabia. They had even attacked Karbala, a holy city of the Shi'i Muslims in Iraq. Together, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Ibn Saud established the first Saudi state and made Wahhabism the strongest religious movement in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Shortly after it began, the first Saudi empire fell to the more powerful Ottoman Empire. Within a few years, however, the Saudi ruler, Faysal I had partly restored Saudi-Wahhabi rule. At the end of the 1800s, the empire was destroyed again, this time by tribes from northern Arabia. In the early 1900s, another Saudi leader, Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, reunited the tribes of Arabia and revived Wahhabism throughout the peninsula. In 1932 he formally established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ensuring that Wahhabism would continue to dominate the Arabian Peninsula.

    The new kingdom inspired renewal movements in other parts of the Muslim world. Starting in the 1950s, the Saudis gave money and built mosques and other institutions in poor Muslim communities around the world. Some wealthy Saudis also provided money and support to extremist groups.

    Wahhabi Principles.

    Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab wrote about a variety of Islamic subjects, including law, theology, and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Several issues dominated his writings, and his views on these issues are the basis of Wahhabism. The central principle of the movement is tawhid, which refers to the unity or oneness of God. According to tawhid, God alone created the universe, provides for it, and determines what happens within it. The belief in the unity of God is so central to Wahhabism that its followers refer to themselves as Muwahhidun, or “Unitarians.”

    A related Wahhabi principle limits worship to God alone. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab even criticized the practice of visiting tombs to pray for dead ancestors because he believed it could lead to worshipping these ancestors. For this reason, he insisted that grave markers should be level with the ground and free of any decoration. Followers of Wahhabi Islam considered it their duty to destroy existing tombs in order to help prevent the possible development of ancestor worship. Even the tomb of Muhammad was not spared.

    Another Wahhabi principle prohibits intercession. This word refers to the practice of calling on someone, such as a saint or the Prophet Muhammad, to approach God on the speaker's behalf. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab believed that intercession violated the principle of worshipping God alone. He also opposed innovation, the adoption of new ideas or practices. He defined innovation as any doctrine or action not based on a strict interpretation of the Qur'an, sunnah, and hadith. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab rejected all additions to the practice of Islam that had been adopted after the Prophet's lifetime, such as the celebration of Muhammad's birthday. See also Hadith; Saudi Arabia; Sunnah; Tawhid.

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