The Life, Teachings And Influence Of Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab
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Book Information

Title: The Life, Teachings and Influence of Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab

Author: Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo

English Edition: 1 (2003)

Publisher: International Islamic Publishing House

Firstly, the author points out the main objective of this book saying:

This book is not one with a political agenda. It is meant neither to support nor to critique any contemporary regimes or policies.’ Indeed, the driving force behind this work is much greater and more important than that. It has to do with, first, the religion of Islam as preached by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself and, second, with the honor and rights of an individual Muslim, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab.

The name Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab (and correspondingly Wahhabis and Wahhabism) has been heard quite often throughout both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds during the past two centuries. In reality, ibn Abdul-Wahhaab is not a man who is shrouded in mystery. His writings, as well as the writings of his closest students and descendents, are well-known and easily available today in virtually any part of the world. Although he is not shrouded in mystery what has been said about him over the years has definitely been filled with both fact and fiction.

After that, the writer addresses many issues pertaining the life of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab, in the following main sections:

– The life of Muhammad ibn Adul-Wahhab

– The salient and revivalist teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdu;-Wahhab

– The legacy and influence of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab

– Opponents and criticisms of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab

– Recent English literature on Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab

– Lessons for today`s world from the life of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab.

The most important issues that the book deals with are the criticisms, claims and allegations raised against Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. Among these allegations are the following:

1-The Allegation that ibn Abdul-Wahhaab Belittled the Prophet (PBUH)

This is one of the first allegations made against ibn Abdul-Wahhaab. Ibn Suhaim made such claims concerning ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and stated those allegations in the letters that he sent to the surrounding areas.

Actually, virtually all of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab’s writings and efforts clearly point to the falsehood of those claims made against him. (Indeed, simply skimming through his writings would be enough to convince an unbiased person of the falsehood of these claims—and that it is these opponents, therefore, who are to be blamed for their dishonesty, lies and disrespect for a Muslim individual.) In numerous works, ibn Abdul-Wahhaab makes his belief about the Prophet (PBUH) very clear. In addition to what was quoted above, ibn Abdul-Wahhaab also wrote, From here we recognize the necessity above all necessities: the individual has to know the Messenger and what he came with. There is no path to success except upon his hands. Nor is there any way to distinguish the good from the evil except through his means of distinguishing them. The person’s necessity to know the Messenger is greatly above any othe eed that is hypothesized and any othe ecessity that is presented. He also stated, The meaning of the testimony that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah is that one obeys him in what he has ordered, believes him in what he has said, avoids what he has prohibited and does not worship Allah except in a way he has sanctioned. He also wrote, The Messenger of Allah Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the leader of the intercessors, the person of the praiseworthy station. Adam and all who came after him will be under his banner.

Five volumes of his collected writings are nothing more than the Prophet’s Hadith. Another volume is his abridged biography of the Prophet (PBUH). Yet, another one is his abridgement of ibn al-Qayyim’s Zaad al-Maad which is completely about the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). How could anyone claim that this man belittled the Prophet (PBUH) when he stressed the study of the Prophet’s sayings, life and deeds? Indeed, beyond that, he stressed the fact that if the Prophet (PBUH) said anything, then nobody else’s statement can ever take precedence over that. Who is it who cares more about the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and knows more about him than the one who studies his words and life and tries his best to emulate them in his own life?

However, what ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and his followers do not do is go to an extreme with respect to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But this attitude is also in obedience to the Prophet’s own commands. Thus, they do not raise him above the noble position that Allah has given him. This is the stance that is bothersome to the opponents of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab, the Sufis and Shiites among them in particular. Hence, Muhammad ibn Uthmaan al-Shaawi wrote,

They [the opponents] accuse them [the Wahhabis] of horrendous things that Allah knows never came from them. They claim that they belittle the Messenger and do not make prayers upon him. This [claim of theirs] is only because they [the Wahhabis] do not go to an extreme, as they apply the Prophet’s statement, Do not overly praise me like the Christians overly praised the son of Mary. I am only a servant. So say, The servant of Allah and His messenger.’ [Recorded by al-Bukhari.] Otherwise, they, with praises being to Allah, are the greatest of the people in their love for the Messenger, their following of him and the observing of his rights. He is greatest in their eyes, such that they could never go against his Sunnah or any of his statements simply in favor of some false custom or erroneous analogy. Herein, they differ from many of those who go beyond the bounds on either side of the proper limits. Some go to an extreme in extolling him, such that they raise him from the level of servitude to the position of godhood and lordship. At the same time, they also go to the [opposite] extreme with respect to following him, as they discard his Sunnah and do not pay any attention to his statements. They contradict the clear, authentic texts without any acceptable reason. In fact, they do not stop there but they even blame those who are serious and exert themselves to follow him, due to the false customs that they have become used to following. As for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), his rights are that he is assisted, respected, followed in what he came with, followed in his steps, believed in and that love for him should take precedence over love for one’s family and wealth. As for worship, it is for Allah alone. No close angel or sent prophet share with Him in that in any manner.’

2-The Question of Declaring People Outside the Fold of Islam and Fighting Against Them

The knowledge of issues of who or what falls within or outside of the fold of Islam are of extreme importance for the spiritual health of an individual Muslim as well as for that of a Muslim community. Indeed, their consequences have great ramifications for both this life and the Hereafter. Also, mistaken views concerning this issue can lead to one of two extremes: the extreme of declaring Muslims to be non- Muslims or the extreme of accepting rightfully non-Muslims into the fold of Islam

These accusations first appeared during ibn Abdul-Wahhaab’s lifetime. He immediately addressed these issues in a number of his letters. In his letter to the mutawwa of Thurmadaa, he wrote, As for what the enemies mention about me, that I declare disbelief simply on the basis of conjecture or that I declare a disbeliever the ignorant one who has not had the proof established against him, they are grave lies. By them, they only seek to make the people flee from the religion of Allah and His Messenger. In his letter to the people of al-Qaseem, he makes reference to the lies that ibn Suhaim spread about him, And Allah knows that the man has fabricated statements from me that I never said nor that ever occurred to my mind. This includes his statement that I said that the people have not been on anything [of the truth] for six hundred years or that I declare as disbeliever the one who seeks closeness to Allah via the pious or that I declared al-Boosairi4 a disbeliever or that I declare the one who swears by other than Allah a disbeliever… My response to those issues is that I say, ‘Exalted be You [O Allah] this is great slander.’ On another occasion he wrote, while refuting such false claims, In fact, I call Allah to bear witness of what He knows in our hearts that whoever acts upon monotheism (tauheed) and is innocent of idolatry (shirk) and its adherents is a Muslim in any time and any place. And we only declare as disbeliever whoever associates partners with Allah in His Godhood and the falsehood of shirk has been made clear to him. He also wrote, If we do not declare a disbeliever the one who worships the idol over the grave of Abdul-Qaadir or the idol over the grave of Ahmad al-Badawi and the like due to their ignorance and not having had the truth explained to them, how could we declare as disbeliever the one who does not associate partners with Allah or who does not migrate to us.. .?

Ibn Ghannaam also described how the attacks came upon ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and how the enemies showed their strong attachment to their sins and idolatry. Yet in the face of all those attacks, ibn Abdul-Wahhaab withheld his tongue and bore their attacks patiently. He did not declare anyone a disbeliever until all the attacks were set loose upon him and he himself and his followers were being declared disbelievers.

Muhammad’s son Abdullah also wrote, after stating that all such claims were lies, Whoever witnesses our affairs and joins our meetings and verifies what we have will know with certainty that all of those things have been fabricated against us by the enemies of the religion and the brethren of Satan, in order to drive the people away from submitting with purity to the oneness of Allah in matters of worship and leaving all forms of shirk, which Allah has explicitly stated He will not forgive, although He forgives whatever is less than that to whomever He wills. The same Abdullah, the son of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab, also wrote, As for [al-Boosairi] the writer of the Burdah and others in whose words one finds shirk and extremism in the religion and who have died, he [ibn Abdul-Wahhaab] did not declare them to be disbelievers. However, it is obligatory to object to their words and explain that whoever believes the apparent meaning of those words is an idolater, disbeliever. However, as for the one who stated it, his affair is left to Allah. It is not necessary to speak about the dead and one does not know if they repented o ot…

Similarly, Shaikh Abdul-Lateef, the grandson of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab, wrote, Shaikh Muhammad [ibn Abdul-Wahhaab], may Allah have mercy on him, was one of the most careful and abstaining when it came to a general declaration of disbelief. In fact, he did not even definitively declare the ignorant of the grave-worshippers who call upon other than Allah disbelievers. Nor did he declare others disbelievers if they had not had one who advised them and conveyed to them the proof that such actions make their doer a disbeliever.

Similarly, al-Sahsawaani stated that he met more than one scholar of the followers of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and he read many of their books and he did not find any evidence for the false claim that they declared non-Wahhabis disbelievers.

This does not mean that they would never declare any individual a disbeliever. However, as Muhammad Rasheed Ridha stated, they would only declare as disbelievers those who met the conditions of disbelief as agreed upon by the Muslim scholars. (In refuting the Shiites’ claim that ibn Abdul-Wahhaab declared other Muslims disbelievers, al-Qaseemi noted that this fact is laughable coming from the Shiites who declare the best of all believers, the closest Companions to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), disbelievers.)

3-The Claim that the Wahhabis Are from the Khawaarij

Another claim is that the Wahhabis are, in fact, Khawaarij. The Khawaarij (or Kharijites) first appeared in the first century of Islam and were opposed by the Companions and their students. The Khawaarij were known for their declaration that non-Khawaarij were all disbelievers. They also considered anyone who committed a major sin a disbeliever. Furthermore, a characteristic of the Khawaarij was that they shaved their heads and, finally, it is described in the hadith that they would appear from the land of Najd.

Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab himself stated his belief about sins and being within the fold of Islam. He wrote, I do not declare any Muslim a disbeliever due to a sin nor do I take him out of the fold of Islam. Furthermore, the Khawaarij were known for declaring themselves free of the rightly-guided caliphs Uthmaan and Ali, as well as other Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings between Ali and Muawiyah, the fighting between Ali and Aishah, the appearance of al-Mukhtaar who claimed prophecy, the trials and spilling of blood by al-Hajaaj ibn Yoosuf, the development of the Shiites, the first appearance of the heretical groups the Mutazilites and the Jahmites and so forth.

4-The Allegation that ibn Abdul-Wahhaab Considered Some Things to be Disbelief (Kufr) Which Are Not Disbelief

This is probably the arena in which the differences between ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and his opponents are the greatest. Ibn Abdul-Wahhaab stressed the importance of correct beliefs. He delineated based on the Qur`an and Sunnah those actions that clearly and unequivocally take one out of the fold of Islam. Ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and his fellow scholars distinguished between the greater kufr, that takes one out of the fold of Islam, and the lesser kufr, which is a grave sin but does not take one out of the fold of Islam. Similarly, they differentiated between the greater act of ascribing partners to Allah (shirk) and the lesser shirk.

However, the state of affairs in the Muslim lands—among the scholars and the commoners—had reached such a level that they did not recognize the fact that a person may claim to be a Muslim and recite the testimony of faith but his own beliefs, statements or actions belie that claim and take him out of the fold of Islam. Furthermore, the real definition of tauheed had been lost on the people after years of wrangling by scholastic theologians and the mystical teachings of the Sufis. The people had truly become blind to the very essence of Islam itself. They thought that tauheed al-ruboobiyyah was all that there was to tauheed; therefore, they did not see any harm in directing acts of worship to other than Allah as long as one admitted that Allah is the only creator and sustainer. They failed to realize that, as demonstrated in Chapter 3, even the polytheists of Makkah at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) accepted that much. The Muslims had forgotten that the meaning of ilaah (God) is the worshipped one. They had forgotten that the meaning of the testimony of faith is that there is none worthy of worship—meaning none should be worshipped via any act of worship—except Allah. As noted earlier, Ibn Abdul-Wahhaab described this view in one of his letters where he said that even those who claimed to have knowledge would say, Whoever says, ‘There is no deity except Allah,’ is not to be declared a disbeliever, even if he rejects the resurrection or rejects all of the Shareeah.’

A reading of the criticisms of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab, in the words of the critics themselves, makes it evident that it is the critics who either did not understand the real teachings of the faith or they were intentionally distorting the real teachings. Unfortunately, there is no third possibility.

Thus, one of the earliest opponents, ibn Afaaliq wrote, Monotheism (tauheed) is to uniquely distinguish the ancient from the contingent, to single Him out with lordship and oneness, and to distinguish Him from all of His creation. While speaking about the grave-worshippers, al-Haddaad wrote, Those greatly revere the prophets and saints. They do not believe about them what they believe concerning the Truth [Allah], blessed and exalted, when it comes to complete, true, general creation. They only believe that they have an honored position with Allah concerning a particular matter and they attribute such [powers to] them in an allegorical manner. However, they believe that the source and action is only with Allah. Dahlaan also specifically stated that shirk only occurs when one believes that someone other than Allah actually has real effect, and he says that no Muslim believes such. Once again, what he is saying is that one can direct acts of worship to other than Allah as long as one does not believe that the other object of worship has any real effect of his own.

With this supposed concept of monotheism, sacrificing animals to other than Allah or seeking refuge with deceased people are not acts of shirk that take one out of the fold of Islam. Finally, even in the books of the different schools of fiqh, there is clear support for the views that ibn Abdul-Wahhaab held. Hence he wrote in a letter, Ponder over what is occurring between us and the enemies of Allah. We ask of them that they go back to their books that are in their hands concerning the issue of declaring a person a disbeliever and Fighting against them. However, they never give us any response except complaints to the shaikhs and their likes..

5-The Allegation that ibn Abdul-Wahhaab revolted against the Ottoman Caliphate

Najd, at the time of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab, was not truly under the authority of the Ottoman rulers. Indeed, it had been left on its own for quite some time. It evolved into a rather lawless state with each small village or Bedouin tribe having its own ruler. These rulers feuded and fought repeatedly with the others around them. Furthermore, when ibn Abdul-Wahhaab began his call in earnest, upon moving to al-Uyainah, he did so with the agreement and in alliance with the local ameer or established authority. Similarly, when he moved to al-Diriyyah, he made a pact with the ameer of that land for some twenty years, Muhammad ibn Saud. Hence, at no time did ibn Abdul-Wahhaab revolt against the rulers in his area. Furthermore, since Najd was never truly part of the Ottoman rule, he never revolted against the Ottoman rulers either.

Even though such was the case and even though such should have been clear to those living at that time, this did not prevent the opponents from making the false claim against ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and his followers that they were nothing more than renegades who revolted against the legitimate authorities. Ibn Afaaliq wrote, Your monotheism (tauheed) includes revolting against the Muslims… That is blasphemy not tauheed.”’- As noted earlier, ibn Abideen also considered the Wahhabis renegades. Dahlaan, al-Amali and others also made similar claims.3 Some, such as Abdul-Qadeem Zaloom, even blamed the Wahhabis for the fall of the Ottoman Empire, claiming that the British were supplying Muhammad ibn Saud and his son Abdul-Azeez with weapons and money.

On this point, ibn Abdul-Wahhaab made his beliefs very clear. They are the same beliefs held by the ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaah throughout its history. In his letter to the people of al-Qaseem, ibn Abdul-Wahhaab wrote, I believe in the obligation to listen and obey

the leaders of the Muslims, the pious and the impious among them, as long as they do not command an act of disobedience to Allah. This obedience is for whoever takes the position of caliph, concerning whom the people have agreed and are pleased with. Even if he overpowered them with force and became the caliph, it is obligatory to obey him and it is forbidden to revolt against him.1 Muhammad Naseeb al-Rifaa’ee’s description of what truly occurred between ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and the Ottoman rulers seems to be fairly accurate. He wrote,

Shaikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab never gave any thought to overthrowing the Muslim caliphate… However, the people around the caliph, who were from Sufi orders, distorted the news in order to rally the caliph against them [the Wahhabis], making it look like it was a movement against the caliphate itself, attempting to bring back the caliphate to the Arabs… However, the beliefs of the Shaikh are the true Islamic beliefs that does not take away the hand of obedience from a standing caliph unless he exhibits a clear, distinctive act of kufr. The Shaikh did not see anything of that nature that would lead him to call the people to remove the caliph. Even if the caliph were an evildoer in himself, as long as that impiety did not reach the level of a clear and pure kufr, it is not allowed to revolt against him or to negate his rule.

Ajeel Nashmi concluded, We can say with certainty that the writings of Shaikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab do not state any clear stance of opposition toward the caliphate.3 He also wrote, We have not come across any ruling from him declaring the Ottoman state disbelievers. Indeed, all of his rulings were concerned only with the Bedouins close to him, those which he knew for certain were following idolatrous practices.

6-The Issue of Tawassul (Seeking a Means of Nearness to Allah) and Seeking Relief from Other Than Allah

Allah says,

O you who believe! Do your duty to Allah and fear Him. Seek the means of approach to Him, and strive hard for His Cause as much as you can, so that you may be successful (al-Maaidah 35).

One of the most repeated claims concerning ibn Abdul-Wahhaab is that he prohibited any type of tawassul (specific ways of making requests of and getting closer to Allah). In reality, though, the question is more related to the details concerning what is permissible and what is forbidden, possibly even shirk. The opponents of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab claim that it is permissible to seek a means of approach to Allah via people who are deceased. In other words, they see no difference between those who are still living and those who have passed away—both groups have similar abilities and similar standings in the sight of Allah. Actually, they went further and saw no harm in praying directly to the deceased for aid and assistance. Hence, the opponents are calling for something that ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and his followers see as shirk and kufr. In this light, one can understand why this difference is one of great importance to both parties. It is truly—as one comes across so often in the life of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab—a question of faith and disbelief, of tauheed and shirk.

Al-Abdul-Lateef summarizes the views of ibn Abdul-Wahhaab’s opponents as the following two points: (1) It is permissible to seek a means of approach to Allah via the beings of any created soul, living or dead. The most honorable is, of course, the Prophet (PBUH). It is permissible to get closer to Allah via him during his lifetime, after his death and on the Day of Resurrection. In fact, it was permissible to seek a means of coming closer to Allah via the Prophet (PBUH) even before his appearance on earth. It is also permissible to invoke upon Allah anyone who is dear to Him. In the same way that one may seek a means of approach through one’s deeds, one may also seek a means of approach through the very beings of the noble individuals that Allah has created. (2) It is permissible to seek a means through the living or the dead. This is because, in reality, there is no difference between the two. In the same way that the living has no real effect—everything is brought into being by Allah alone— the deceased also has no real effect. Furthermore, the deceased still has a life in his grave just like he did before he died. It can also be concluded that there is no difference between seeking help, refuge and rescue from a dead person and a live person.

Those who objected to ibn Abdul-Wahhaab’s position on this issue include ibn Afaaliq, Umar al-Mahjoob, al-Haddaad, Ismaeel al-Tameemi, Ahmad Dahlaan and numerous others. Again, the position of many of these authors is that if the person believes that Allah is the ultimate doer and no one has any true power save Allah, then it is permissible to request or pray to any saint or prophet as means of getting closer to Allah or to invoke Allah in the name of any prophet or saint. For example, Dahlaan wrote, Al-tawassul [seeking a means of approach], seeking intercession and seeking aid are all of the same meaning. In the hearts of the believers, their only meaning is seeking blessings by mentioning those beloved to Allah, since it is confirmed that Allah has mercy upon His servants due to them, regardless of whether they are alive or dead. The one who truly brings about the effect and existence is only Allah. Mentioning those precious souls is simply a common means that produces that result like any other common [material] means that does not have any real effect. Hence, in the same way that seeking sustenance in this life does not truly produce the sustenance—as Allah is the true and only sustainer—one still follows the means that commonly result in that sustenance. Thus, seeking help and closeness through the deceased is just another means that has no real effect unless Allah wills it to have such. The contemporary al-Alawi al-Maaliki states, The souls have an ability and a freedom that allows them to respond when called to and to give rescue to those who seek rescue, exactly like the living— in fact, their ability is even greater and stronger.

As noted above, the concept or the term tawassil or waseelah is derived directly from the Qur`an. However, over time it began to take on different meanings from how it was originally understood by the Prophet (PBUH) himself and his Companions. Thus, one finds in al-Tabari’s Qur`anic commentary, one of the earliest complete commentaries, that in the verse quoted above (al-Maaidah 35), seek the means [of nearness, al-waseelah] to Him, refers to performing the righteous deeds that are beloved to Allah. That is how one comes closer to Allah. In fact, that is the only interpretation that al-Tabari offers, although it was his practice to present every view passed on from the early scholars. In other words, there is not even any hint of the kinds of practices that later people developed and claim fell under the purview of this verse.

The means of getting closer to Allah were divided by later scholars into those that were permissible means and those which were heretical. The permissible ones, all supported by authentic hadith, included seeking a means of approach by invoking Allah’s own names and attributes, by referring to a righteous action that one has performed and by having a living righteous person pray on one’s behalf.

Over time, though, there developed a new way of approaching Allah. In this way, one begs of Allah by invoking the name or by referring to the honored status of one of Allah’s servants. Hence, one says, for example, O Allah, I beseech you by the right or status of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), grant me… Or, O Allah, I beseech you by the status of the ‘saint’ Abdul-Qaadir, grant me… Ibn Abdul-Wahhaab considered this type of tawassul as a type of innovation that should be avoided.
However, he never considered this type of tawassul an act of kufr, especially not when done in the name of the Prophet (PBUH), since in this case the person is truly praying toward Allah. Such a form of prayer is considered an innovation because it was never performed by the Prophet (PBUH), his Companions or their followers. For example, the Prophet (PBUH) never beseeched Allah by invoking the status or right of his forefather Abraham. Similarly, in no authentic report did the Companions invoke Allah by the right or status of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Hence, as ibn Abdul-Wahhaab and his followers concluded, such an act is definitely an innovation although there is no evidence to conclude that it is kufr or shirk.

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