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The movement of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab

Correcting some mistaken notions about the movement of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab in some non-Arabic sources 

The movement of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab (1115-1206 AH/ 1730-1793 CE) in the Arabian Peninsula was destined to abide and be well-accepted. It was the starting-point of a rightly-guided government which took it upon itself to apply the Islamic shareeah in totality and to seek the guidance of the Quraan and Sunnah in all its dealings, so Allaah granted it support and victory. From its first founding two centuries ago this government continued to remain strong in the face of opposing trends at both the sectarian and political levels. The call of the Shaykh went beyond the borders of the Arabian Peninsula and bore fruit in a number of Muslim lands, at the hands of rightly-guided callers and sincere shaykhs who were guided by its light. The movement was blessed, like a good tree whose roods are firm and whose branches reach the sky. Like any other reform movement, the shaykhs movement was not spared attacks made against the personality, aqeedah (beliefs) and books of the founder of this movement, starting with the label of Wahhabism which soon became known far and wide and became a label by which the movement was known, even though it was not acceptable to its founder and followers and ending with attacks against the state itself, with criticism which indicates hatred and the wish for evil on the part of the critics.

 The number of books produced by the lovers of bidah and myths increased, and were confronted by scholars in all Muslim lands who refuted every lie with definitive proof and clear evidence so that the doubts of the stubborn became like dust in the air (were reduced to naught). 

Because most of these books for or against the movement were written in Arabic, there is no need to quote them here. The author of this article is interested in looking at what has been written in English or Urdu, in order to quote relevant material whilst refuting all the doubts that are mentioned therein, in the light of what has been written by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab himself or by shaykhs in the Kingdom [Saudi Arabia] and people of virtue and knowledge in other Muslim lands who wrote in his defence. 

It is not possible in this short article to discuss the topic from all aspects. I hope that readers will accept my apologies if they find any unintentional mistakes in this effort, and that they will pray for me to be granted strength and steadfastness if they gain any benefits from reading it. And Allaah is the Guide to the Straight Path. 

Firstly: what was written in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, which is counted as one of the oldest and most comprehensive encyclopaedias of religion and sects in the English language, under the heading of Wahhabism: that their differences with Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaaah (the Sunnis) are limited to ten things. The author of this article was the famous Orientals Margoliouth, who said: 

1-     They affirm that Allaah has physical attributes, such as His Face, two Hands, etc.

2-     Reason plays no role in religious matters, which must be resolved in the light of the ahaadeeth.

3-     They do not accept ijmaa (scholarly consensus).

4-     They reject qiyaas (analogy).

5-     They believe that the opinions of the madhhabs are not evidence, and that those who follow them are not Muslims.

6-     They think that everyone who does not join their group is a kaafir.

7-     They think that it is not permissible to seek the intercession of the Prophet or of a wali (saint).

8-     Visiting tombs and shrines is haraam in their view.

9-     Swearing by anything other than Allaah is haraam.

10-Making vows to anything other than Allaah and offering sacrifices to the awliyaa (saints) at their tombs is haraam.

 He was not sure about attributing the fifth point to them, because the Wahhabis are followers of Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, one of the four Imaams. At the end of his article he mentions that al-Sayyid Ahmad ibn Irfaan al-Shaheed (d. 1831 CE) brought the idea of Wahhabism back [to India] when he went to Hajj in 1824 CE and brought it from Makkah al-Mukarramah. (James Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. by Hastings, Edinburgh, 12:660-661)

 Margoliouth, the author of this article, is held in high esteem by the orientalists. It is very strange indeed that he lists the views of the opponents of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (may Allaah have mercy on him) and of the Wahhabis in general, but he does not find any of them to be false apart from the fifth point!

 Let us look at these doubts one by one and comment briefly on each of them.

 1 The belief of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab (may Allaah have mercy on him) concerning the Attributes of Allaah is like the belief of the salaf in all respects. They affirmed that Allaah had all the attributes with which He described Himself, whether they were attributes which referred to His Essence, such as His Face, Hand or Eye, or attributes which referred to His actions, such as His pleasure, anger, coming down [to the first heaven] or rising above [the Throne], without asking how, denying any attributes or likening them to human attributes. Their evidence with regard to this matter was the aayah (interpretation of the meaning):

There is nothing like Him, and He is the All‑Hearer, the All‑Seer

[al-Shoora 42:11]

Their view concerning the attributes of Allaah is like their view concerning the Essence of Allaah, which does not resemble the essence of His created beings. 

2 Their notion that the followers of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab lend no weight to reason is not correct. They say that reason should operate in the light of the Revelation, just as the eye needs light to work; for the eye cannot do its job unless there is also light from outside, whether it is the light of the sun, moon or stars, or artificial light. Similarly, reason needs and depends upon the light of Divine Revelation; if Revelation is not there, then it becomes confused in the darkness. For this reason, the mind of the thinker is different from the mind of the philosopher, and the mind of the historian is different from the mind of the mathematician. 

3 Attributing rejection of ijmaa (scholarly consensus) to them is not correct either. Imaam Ahmad considered the ijmaa of the Sahaabah to be true ijmaa, because their time is known from beginning to end; they witnessed the Revelation and learned the guidance of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) directly from him. 

As Imaam Muhammad Abu Zahrah mentioned, ijmaa is of two types:  consensus on the basic obligatory duties, which is accepted by all, and consensus on other rulings, such as their consensus that apostates should be fought, etc. In the second case, there are different reports narrated from Ahmad, hence some of the scholars narrated that he said, Whoever claims that there is consensus is a liar. 

Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The one who claims that there is consensus is lying, and it is not right to give ijmaa priority over proven hadeeth. Abd-Allaah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: I heard my father say: Whoever claims that there is consensus is a liar. The people may have differed. How does he know that there was no one who expressed an opposing view? Let him say, we do not know of any opposing view. From this we may conclude that Imaam Ahmad did not deny the principle of ijmaa, but he denied the certainty of ijmaa taking place after the time of the Sahaabah. (Taareekh al-Madhaahib al-Islamiyyah by Muhammad Abu Zahrah, p. 532)

 4 His comment that they reject qiyaas (analogy) is also not correct. Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab (may Allaah have mercy on him) held the same view as the Hanbalis with regard to qiyaas.

 Abu Zahrah said: It was narrated that Ahmad said that we cannot do without qiyaas, and that the Sahaabah used it. Because Ahmad had stated the principle of accepting qiyaas, the Hanbalis paid a great deal of attention to it and used it a great deal whenever they came across issues concerning which there  was no report narrated of any ruling from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) or his Companions. (Taareekh al-Madhaahib al-Islamiyyah by Muhammad Abu Zahrah, p. 532)

 5 With regard to his notion that the opinions of the madhhabs are not evidence and that those who follow them are not Muslims

 6 and his view that those who do not join them (the Wahhabis) are kaafirs. This is also an obvious lie. Shaykh Abd-Allaah ibn Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab said, in a letter that he wrote when he joined al-Ameer Saood ibn Abd al-Azeez, when he took over Makkah on Saturday 8 Muharram 1218 AH: Our madhhab with regard to the basic principles of religion is the madhhab of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaaah. Our way is the way of the salaf, and with regard to minor issues our madhhab is that of Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. We do not denounce those who follow any of the four imaams in exclusion to others, because the madhhabs of the others have not been codified.

 Then he said: Lies are told about us to conceal the truth and confuse the people, so that they will think that we want to undermine the status of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him),  and (that we say) that he has no power of intercession and that it is not recommended to visit him (his grave), and that we do not lend any weight to the views of the scholars, and that we denounce all people as kaafirs in, and that we forbid sending blessings on the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and that we do not respect the rights of Ahl al-Bayt (the members of the Prophets houshold). Our response to all of that is: Glory be to You, this is a grave lie! Whoever attributes anything of this sort to us is telling lies and uttering fabrications against us.

(Ulamaa al-Najd Khilaal Sittat Quroon by Abd-Allaah ibn Abd al-Rahmaan ibn Saalih al-Bassaam, 1/51)

 7 His comment that they believe it is not permitted to seek the intercession of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) or of a wali (saint) shows that he did not know the difference between the kind of intercession which the Shaykh rejected, which contains elements of shirk, and that which he acknowledged, which is the kind of intercession which will only happen with permission from Allaah on the Day of Resurrection, where no intercession will be accepted except intercession made for those with whom He is pleased. (Kitaab al-Tawheed by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab, Baab al-Shafaaah).

 If what the critic meant was tawassul (seeking to draw closer to Allaah) by means of the Prophets and awliyaa, the fact is that many people are unaware of the view of Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal on this matter, and they attribute to him and to Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab things that they did not say.

 Imaam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: There was narrated from Ahmad ibn Hanbal in Mansik al-Marwadhi a report which indicated tawassul by means of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in his duaa, but other scholars forbade that. If what is meant is tawassul (drawing close to Allaah) by believing in him, loving him, being loyal to him and obeying him, then there is no dispute between the two sides on this point. But if what is meant is tawassul by means of the person of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), then there is a dispute here, and what they dispute about should be referred to Allaah and His Messenger. (Majmoo Fataawa Shaykh al-Islam, 1/264)

 8 With regard to visiting tombs and shrines, we will discuss this matter below when we comment on the writings of Goldziher.

 9 With regard to their saying that swearing by anything other than Allaah is haraam, the Shaykh also believes that, as stated in the saheeh hadeeth narrated by Umar ibn al-Khattaab, according to which the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever swears by anything other than Allaah has committed an act of kufr or shirk. (Narrated and classed as hasan by al-Tirmidhi; classed as saheeh by al-Haakim). Ibn Masood said: Swearing falsely by Allaah is more liked by me than swearing sincerely by anything other than Allaah. (Kitaab al-Tawheed, Baab  Qawl Allaah taaal Fa laa tajalu Lillaahi andaadan  wa antum talamoon)

 10 They attribute to the Shaykh the view that it is haraam to make vows to anyone other than Allaah or to offer sacrifices to the awliyaa (saints) at their tombs. Undoubtedly this view is the religion of Allaah which is followed by every Muslim who believes in Allaah and His Messenger. Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab (may Allaah have mercy on him) included in his great book Kitaab al-Tawheed a chapter entitled Laa yudhbah Lillaahi fi makaan yudhbaah li ghayr Allaah (Sacrifices should not be offered to Allaah in places where sacrifices are offered to anyone other than Allaah). The following chapter is entitled, Min al-Shirk al-nadhr li ghayr Allaah (It is shirk to make vows to anyone other than Allaah). In these two chapters he quotes the evidence from the Quraan and Sunnah to prove that these two actions are invalid.

 This book was published in two volumes, in German, in 1889/1890 CE, then it was translated into Arabic in 1967 CE. The author wrote an entire chapter, 96 pages long, entitled Veneration of the saints in Islam, in which he discussed in detail the extremes to which the Muslims had gone in attributing miracles to the saints, both living and dead. He also quoted examples, from Islamic books and the actions of the masses, of the veneration of tombs and shrines, intending to show that there was no difference between Muslims and Christians in the matter of venerating saints. He also quoted ayaat and ahaadeeth which denounced and opposed this action.

 The author said: after this, there is no need to provide further proof that there is no room in the true Islamic religion for venerating saints, because this is a matter which was innovated and introduced later on. The Quraan denounces the veneration of saints and glorifying them to the extent of believing in rabbis and monks as lords besides Allaah.

 Then he quotes the comment of Carl Heis about the idea of awliyaa being an attempt to fulfil the need for shirk within the religion of Tawheed, in order to fill the huge gap between the people and their God. (Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, p. 259)

 After giving dozens of examples of how the masses venerated the saints and visited their tombs and shrines in order to fulfil their needs, the author lists examples of people who denounced any manifestation of shirk in the Muslims actions. Then he mentions the strict stance which Ibn Taymiyah took concerning the matter of tawassul and journeying to visit any mosques apart from the three mosques [in Makkah, Madeenah and al-Quds].

 Then he said: All of this indicates that there were precedents to the Wahhabis with regard to this issue, and that the open demonstration of their belief was in fact an echo of the beliefs of Muslims in the past. In this regard it may be useful in order to write the cultural and religious history of Islam to compile a list of all phenomena and events which had come down from the times of Jaahiliyyah or had come in from the outside prior to the emergence of Wahhabism, which is considered to be a Tawheedi reaction against the manifestations of idolatry, and connect them to the societies in which they emerged.

 Then he mentioned an incident which occurred in 1711 CE, before the emergence of Wahhabism, in the Mosque of al-Muayyad in Cairo, where a young man stood up one night in Ramadaan and fiercely denounced those who venerated the saints and called for the destruction of the shrines which were build over the graves of the awliyaa and for an end to the Mevlevi and Bakhsiyyah traditions. He also called upon the dervishes to learn instead of dancing. This young man made this call for a number of nights, then he disappeared. The author of this report, the poet Hasan al-Hijaazi (d. 1131 AH) said: The preacher fled, or it was said that he was killed.

(Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, p. 334-335)

 The point is that this German orientalist has saved us the job of refuring the accusations made against the Wahhabis that they destroyed the domes on the shrines and stopped people from visiting graves to call upon the dead for help. Islam as brought by Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) does not allow either of these things. 

Al-Dawah magazine, issue #1754, pp. 60-61


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