Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia

Wahhabism or Wahhabi mission is a religious movement or branch of Sunni Islam.  It has been variously described as "orthodox", "ultraconservative", "austere", "fundamentalist", "puritanical" (or "puritan") and as an Islamic "reform movement" to restore "pure monotheistic worship" (tawhid) by scholars and advocates, and as an "extremist pseudo-Sunni movement" by opponents. Adherents often object to the term Wahhabi or Wahhabism as derogatory, and prefer to be called Salafi or muwahhid.

Wahhabism is named after an eighteenth-century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). He started a revivalist movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd, advocating a purging of practices such as the popular "cult of saints", and shrine and tomb visitation, widespread among Muslims, but which he considered idolatry (Shirk), impurities and innovations in Islam (Bid'ah). Eventually he formed a pact with a local leader Muhammad bin Saud offering political obedience and promising that protection and propagation of the Wahhabi movement would mean "power and glory" and rule of "lands and men." The movement is centered on the principle of Tawhid, or the "uniqueness" and "unity" of God. The movement also draws from the teachings of medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and early jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

The alliance between followers of ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud's successors (the House of Saud) proved to be a rather durable alliance. The house of bin Saud continued to maintain its politico-religious alliance with the Wahhabi sect through the waxing and waning of its own political fortunes over the next 150 years, through to its eventual proclamation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and then afterwards, on into modern times. Today Mohammed bin Abd Al-Wahhab's teachings are state-sponsored and are the official form of Sunni Islam in 21st century Saudi Arabia.

Estimates of the number of adherents to Wahhabism vary, with one source (Michael Izady) giving a figure of fewer than 5 million Wahhabis in the Persian Gulf region (compared to 28.5 million Sunnis and 89 million Shia).

With the help of funding from petroleum exports (and other factors), the movement underwent "explosive growth" beginning in the 1970s and now has worldwide influence.

Wahhabism has been accused of being "a source of global terrorism", inspiring the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and for causing disunity in Muslim communities by labeling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates (takfir), thus paving the way for their execution for apostasy. It has also been criticized for the destruction of historic mazaars, mausoleums, and other Muslim and non-Muslim buildings and artifacts. The "boundaries" of what make up Wahhabism have been called "difficult to pinpoint", but in contemporary usage, the terms Wahhabi and Salafi are often used interchangeably, and considered to be movements with different roots that have merged since the 1960s.  But Wahhabism has also been called "a particular orientation within Salafism", or an ultra-conservative, Saudi brand of Salafism.


Adherents to the Wahhabi movement identify as Sunni Muslims.  The primary Wahhabi doctrine is the uniqueness and unity of God (Tawhid), and opposition to shirk (polytheism), "the one unforgivable sin" (according to Wahhabism).

They call for a return to the Islamic practices of the first generations of Muslims and an adherence to original texts, believing that the practice of Islam among the Islamic communities has since drifted away from its roots through various reinterpretations of the scriptures. They generally take a fundamentalist approach to Islamic religious writings. They also oppose heteredoxical doctrines held by other sects – particularly Sufis, Shiites. They place a strong emphasis on absolute monotheism and reject practices such as the veneration of graves of Muslim prophets and leaders. They also reject debate on and new interpretations of Islamic theology and practice unless verified in the original scriptures of Islam.  Moreover, adherents to wahhabism are favourable of the derivation of new rulings or ijtihad so long as it is true to the essence of the Quran, Sunnah and understanding of the salafi.

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