Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab

Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab
Born 1703
'Uyayna, Najd
Died 22 June 1792
Religion Islam
Denomination Ghair Muqallid
Movement Wahhabi movement
Main interest(s) Aqeedah
Notable idea(s) Views on innovations within Islam, Tawhid and shirk[1][2]

Arabic name

Personal (Ism) Muhammad
Patronymic (Nasab) ibn `Abd al-Wahhab ibn Sulayman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid
Teknonymic (Kunya) Abu Abdullah
Toponymic (Nisba) al- Tamimi

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (/wəˈhɑːb/; Arabic: محمد بن عبد الوهاب; 1703 – 22 June 1792) was a Sunni Muslim preacher and scholar from Nejd in central Arabia who claimed to "purify" Islam by returning it to what, he believed, were the original principles of that religion as the salaf, that is first three generations of Muslims, understood it.[3] He rejected certain common Muslim practices which he regarded as amounting to either religious innovation (bid‘ah) or polytheism (shirk).

Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's pact with Muhammad bin Saud helped to establish the Emirate of Diriyah, the first Saudi state,[4] and began a dynastic alliance and power-sharing arrangement between their families which continues to the present day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[5] The Al ash-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's leading religious family, are the descendants of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, and have historically led the ulama in the Saudi state,[6] dominating the state's clerical institutions.[7]

His movement is today often known as "Wahhabism", although many adherents see this as a derogatory term coined by his opponents, and prefer it to be known as the Salafi movement.[8][9][10][11] Scholars point out that Salafism is a term applicable to several forms of puritanical Islam in various parts of the world, while Wahhabism refers to the specific Saudi school, which is seen as a more strict form of Salafism. According to Ahmad Moussalli, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, "As a rule, all Wahhabis are Salafists, but not all Salafists are Wahhabis".[12] Yet others say that while Wahhabism and Salafism originally were two different things, they became practically indistinguishable in the 1970s.[13][14] 20th century Albanian scholar Nasiruddin Albani refers to ibn Abdul Wahhab's activism as "Najdi da'wah."[15]

Early years

Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab is generally acknowledged[16] to have been born in 1703[17] into the sedentary Arab clan of Banu Tamim[18] (the Banu Tamim were not a nomadic tribe) in 'Uyayna, a village in the Najd region of the modern Saudi Arabia.[17][19]

He was thought to have started studying Islam at an early age, primarily with his father, ʿAbd al-Wahhab,[20][21] as his family was from a line of scholars of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence.[22]

Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab reportedly spent some time studying with Muslim scholars in the cities of Mecca and Medina after performing Hajj, notably Mohammad Hayya Al-Sindhi,[23][24][25] and in Basra (in southern Iraq).[20][26]

Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab's teacher Abdallah ibn Ibrahim ibn Sayf introduced the relatively young man to Mohammad Hayya Al-Sindhi in Medina and recommended him as a student.[27] Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and al-Sindhi became very close and Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab stayed with him for some time.[27] Scholars have described Muhammad Hayya as having an important influence on Mohammad Ibn ʿAbd-al-Wahhab, who taught Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab to utilize informed individual analysis (ijtihad). Muhammad Hayya also taught Mohammad Ibn ʿAbd-al-Wahhab to reject popular religious practices associated with walis and their tombs that resembles later Wahhabi teachings.[27] Muhammad Hayya and his milieu are important for understanding the origins of at least the Wahhabi revivalist impulse.

Following his early education in Medina, Abdul Wahhab traveled outside of the peninsula, venturing first to Basra.

Early preaching

After his return home, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab began to attract followers, including the ruler of 'Uyayna, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. With Ibn Mu'ammar, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab came to an agreement to support Ibn Mu'ammar's political ambitions to expand his rule "over Najd and possibly beyond", in exchange for the ruler’s support for Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's religious teachings. ʿAbd al-Wahhab began to implement some of his ideas for reform. First, citing Islamic teachings forbidding grave worship, he persuaded Ibn Mu'ammar to help him level the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, a companion of Muhammad, whose grave was revered by locals. Secondly, he ordered the cutting down of trees considered sacred by locals, cutting down "the most glorified of all of the trees" himself. He is known to have organised the stoning of a woman who confessed to having committed adultery.[28][29]

These actions gained the attention of Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr of the tribe of Bani Khalid, the chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif, who held substantial influence in Najd. Ibn Ghurayr threatened Ibn Mu'ammar with denying him the ability to collect a land tax for some properties that Ibn Mu'ammar owned in Al-Hasa if he did not kill or drive away Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab. Consequently, Ibn Mu'ammar forced Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab to leave.[29][30]

Emergence of Saudi state

Pact with Muhammad bin Saud

First Saudi State (1744–1818)

Upon his expulsion from 'Uyayna, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab was invited to settle in neighboring Diriyah by its ruler Muhammad bin Saud. After some time in Diriyah, Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab concluded his second and more successful agreement with a ruler.[31] Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud agreed that, together, they would bring the Arabs of the peninsula back to the "true" principles of Islam as they saw it. According to one source, when they first met, bin Saud declared:

"This oasis is yours, do not fear your enemies. By the name of God, if all Nejd was summoned to throw you out, we will never agree to expel you."
Madawi al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia: 16

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab replied:

"You are the settlement's chief and wise man. I want you to grant me an oath that you will perform jihad (Struggle to spread Islam) against the unbelievers. In return you will be imam, leader of the Muslim community and I will be leader in religious matters."
Madawi al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia: 16

The agreement was confirmed with a mutual oath of loyalty (bay'ah) in 1744.[32] Ibn Abd al-Wahhab would be responsible for religious matters and Ibn Saud in charge of political and military issues.[31] This agreement became a "mutual support pact" [33][34] and power-sharing arrangement[35] between the Al Saud family, and the Al ash-Sheikh and followers of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, which has remained in place for nearly 300 years,[36] providing the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion.[37]

Emirate of Diriyah (First Saudi State)

Main article: Emirate of Diriyah

The 1744 pact between Muhammad bin Saud and Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab marked the emergence of the first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah. By offering the Al Saud a clearly defined religious mission, the alliance provided the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion.[7] First conquering Najd, Saud's forces expanded the Salafi influence to most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia,[7] eradicating various popular practices they viewed as akin to polytheism and propagating the doctrines of ʿAbd al-Wahhab.[7][38]


Main article: Al ash-Sheikh

According to some sources while in Baghdad, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab married an affluent woman. When she died, he inherited her property and wealth.[39] This claim of marriage to "wealthy woman" and traveling to Baghdad is challenged by Salafi scholars who assert that his marriage was arranged by his father when he was a teenager and he never traveled beyond Basra.[40] Muhammad ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab had six sons; Hussain, Abdullah, Hassan, Ali and Ibrahim and Abdul-Aziz who died in his youth. All his surviving sons established religious schools close to their homes and taught the young students from Diriyah and other places.[41]

The descendants of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, the Al ash-Sheikh, have historically led the ulama in the Saudi state,[6] dominating the state's religious institutions.[7] Within Saudi Arabia, the family is held in prestige similar to the Saudi royal family, with whom they share power, and has included several religious scholars and officials.[42] The arrangement between the two families is based on the Al Saud maintaining the Al ash-Sheikh's authority in religious matters and upholding and propagating Salafi doctrine. In return, the Al ash-Sheikh support the Al Saud's political authority[43] thereby using its religious-moral authority to legitimise the royal family's rule.[44]


See also: Salafi and Wahhabi movement

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab considered his movement an effort to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what, he believed, were the original principles of that religion, as typified by the Salaf and rejecting, what he regarded, as religious innovations (Bid‘ah) and polytheism (Shirk).[45] He taught that the primary doctrine of Islam was the uniqueness and unity of God (Tawhid).[46][47] The first aspect of Tawhid is belief in Allah and His Lordship, that He alone is the believer's lord (Rabb). The second is the oneness of worship to Allah and Allah alone. The third being belief and affirmation of Allah's Names and Attributes.

The "core" of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's teaching is found in Kitab al-Tawhid, a short essay which draws from material in the Quran and the recorded doings and sayings (hadith) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[48] It preaches that worship in Islam includes conventional acts of worship such as the five daily prayers (salat); fasting (sawm); supplication (Dua); seeking protection or refuge (Istia'dha); seeking help (Ist'ana and Istighatha) of Allah.[1]

Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab was keen on emphasizing that other acts, such as making dua or calling upon/supplication to or seeking help, protection or intercession from anyone or anything other than Allah, are acts of shirk and contradict the tenets of tawhid and that those who tried would never be forgiven.[1][49]

Although all Muslims pray to one God (Allah), the highlight of this movement was that no intercession with God was possible. Muhammad strictly advocated Takfir of those who considered themselves Muslim but were actually (Ibn Abdul-Wahhab believed) polytheists (mushrikeen).[2] However, he avoided blanket takfir to all groups.[50] In this regard he said "I do not say that one who prostrates on the grave of Abdul-Qadir Gilani unknowingly, has done shirk, but the one has done knowingly has."[45]

On Sufism

Although highly critical of the Sufi practice of tawassul, at the end of his treatise, Al-Hadiyyah al-Suniyyah, Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's son ‘Abd Allah speaks positively on the practice of tazkiah (purification of the inner self).[51][52]


According to author Dore Gold,[53] in Kitab al-Tawhid, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab described followers of both the Christian and Jewish faiths as sorcerers {cite} who believed in devil worship, and cited a hadith of the prophet stating that punishment for the sorcerer is `that he be struck with the sword.`[54] Wahhab asserted that both religions had improperly made the graves of their prophet into places of worship and warned Muslims not to imitate this practice.[55] Wahhab concluded that `The ways of the people of the book are condemned as those of polytheists.`[56]

However author Natana J. DeLong-Bas defends Wahhab, stating that

despite his at times vehement denunciations of other religious groups for their supposedly heretical beliefs, Ibn Abd al Wahhab never called for their destruction or death. … he assumed that these people would be punished in the Afterlife …"[57]


By contemporaries

As with the early Salafists, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's teachings were criticized by a number of Islamic scholars for disregarding Islamic history, monuments, traditions and the sanctity of Muslim life.[58] His own brother, Sulayman, was particularly critical, claiming he was ill-educated and intolerant, classing Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's views as fringe and fanatical.[58] It is generally believed, however, that the two later reconciled.[59] A list of scholars with opposing views, along with names of their books and related information, was compiled by the Islamic scholar Muhammad Hisham.[60]

By modern scholars

Pakistani Muslim scholars such as Israr Ahmed have spoken positively on him.[61] Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab is accepted by Salafi scholars as an authority and source of reference.


The state mosque of Qatar is named after him.[62] The "Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque" was opened in 2011, with the Emir of Qatar presiding over the occasion.[63]


See also


There are two contemporary histories of Muhammed ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and his religious movement from the point of view of his supporters: Ibn Ghannam's Rawdhat al-Afkar wal-Afham or Tarikh Najd (History of Najd) and Ibn Bishr's Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd. Husain ibn Ghannam (d. 1811), an alim from al-Hasa was the only historian to have observed the beginnings of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's movement first-hand. His chronicle ends at the year 1797.[64][65] Ibn Bishr's chronicle, which stops at the year 1854, was written a generation later than Ibn Ghannam's, but is considered valuable partly because Ibn Bishr was a native of Najd and because he adds many details to Ibn Ghannam's account.[64]

A third account, dating from around 1817 is Lam' al-Shihab, written by an anonymous Sunni author who respectfully disapproved of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's movement, regarding it as a bid‘ah. It is also commonly cited because it is considered to be a relatively objective contemporary treatment of the subject. However, unlike Ibn Ghannam and Ibn Bishr, its author did not live in Najd and his work is believed to contain some apocryphal and legendary material with respect to the details of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's life.[22][66]


  1. 1 2 3 Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Kitab al-Tawhid
  2. 1 2 3 Risālah Aslu Dīn Al-Islām wa Qā'idatuhu (PDF). Shaikh Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab. (Arabic source)
  3. "Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab". Saudi Arabian Market Information Resource. Saudi Arabian Market Information Resource. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  4. Hourani 1992: 257–258
  5. Nawaf E. Obaid (Sep 1999). "The Power of Saudi Arabia's Islamic Leaders". Middle East Quarterly. VI (3): 51–58. Retrieved 23 June 2011.
  6. 1 2 Abir 1987: 4, 5, 7
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Metz 1992
  8. "Wahabi & Salafi". Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  9. The National, March 18, 2010: There is no such thing as Wahabism, Saudi prince says Linked 2015-03-03
  10. Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. ix. Thus, the mission's devotees contend that 'Wahhabism' is a misnomer for their efforts to revive correct Islamic belief and practice. Instead of the Wahhabi label, they prefer either salafi, one who follows the ways of the first Muslim ancestors (salaf), or muwahhid, one who professes God's unity.
  11. Delong-Bas, Natana J. (2004). Wahhabi Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 4.
  12. Moussalli, Ahmad (January 30, 2009). Wahhabism, Salafism and Islamism: Who Is The Enemy? (PDF). A Conflicts Forum Monograph. p. 3.
  13. Abou El Fadl, Khaled M., The Great Theft, HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, p.79
  14. Navalk Post Graduate School Thesis, September 2009, Michael R. Dillon: Wahhabism: Is it a factor in the spread of global terrorism?, pp 3-4 Linked 2015-03-03
  15. Qadhi, Dr. Yasir. "On Salafi Islam". Muslim Matters. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  16. While there is some consensus over these details, the opinion is not unanimous over the specifics in regard to his place and date of birth. Seemingly his recognition with the Banu Tamim tribe thought is in line with the justification by some scholars of being the inheritor of the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah.
  17. 1 2 Philby 1930: 8
  18. Glassé 2003: 470
  19. EI1: 1086
  20. 1 2 ibn Ghannam: 75–76
  21. Hopwood 1972: 55
  22. 1 2 EI2: 677–678
  23. ibn 'Hajar: 17–19
  24. ibn Baaz: 21
  25. Official sources on Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's life put his visits to these cities in different chronological orders, and the full extent of such travels remains disputed among historians. As well, dates are missing in a great many cases, making it difficult to reconstruct a chronology of his life up until his return to 'Uyayna in 1740.
  26. ibn Bishr: 7–8
  27. 1 2 3 Voll 1975: 32–39
  28. Lacey 1983: 56
  29. 1 2 DeLong-Bas 2004: 24
  30. ibn 'Hajar: 28
  31. 1 2 DeLong-Bas 2004: 34
  32. 2008
  33. Parker T. Hart (1998). Saudi Arabia and the United States: Birth of a Security Partnership. Indiana University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-253-33460-8.
  34. Sebastian Maisel; John A. Shoup (February 2009). Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Arab States. Greenwood Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-313-34442-8.
  35. Hunt Janin; André Kahlmeyer (22 February 2007). Islamic Law: The Sharia from Muhammad's Time to the Present. McFarland. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-4766-0881-5.
  36. Obaid 1999: 51–58
  37. Faksh 1997: 89–90
  38. EBO History of Arabia 2011
  39. EBO Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb 2011
  40. Hasan 'Abdul Ghaffaar, Shaykh Suhayb. "A Correction Of Misunderstandings Found In Non-Arabic Sources About The Movement Of Sheikh Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab". Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  41. "Wahabism Exposed!". Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  42. Ottaway 2008: 176
  43. Nyrop 2008: 50
  44. Bligh 1985: 37–50
  45. 1 2 3 Kitab at-Tawhid
  46. Esposito 2003, p. 333
  47. "Allah". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2008-05-28.
  48. Commins, David (2009). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. p. 12. This brief essay is of tremendous significance for the Wahhabi mission and the subject of enduring controversy between supporters and detractors. It represents the core of Sheikh Muhhamad's teaching and the foundation of the Wahhabi canon.
  49. 1 2 Kashf ush-Shubuhaat
  50. Qadhi, Dr. Yasir (22 April 2014). "On Salafi Islam". Muslim Matters. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  51. al-Makki, ‘Abd al-Hafiz. "Shaykh Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab and Sufism". Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  52. Rida, Rashid (1925). Commentary of Shaykh ‘Abd Allah bin Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Najdi’s Al-Hadiyyah al-Suniyyah. Egypt: Al Manar Publishers. p. 50.
  53. Gold, Dore (2003). Hatred's Kingdom (First ed.). Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing. p. 25.
  54. Sheikh-ul-Islam Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab, Kitab al-Tawhid (Riyadh: Dar-us-Salam Publications, 1996) Chapter 24, particularly page 97
  55. Sheikh-ul-Islam Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab, Kitab al-Tawhid (Riyadh: Dar-us-Salam Publications, 1996, page 83)
  56. Sheikh-ul-Islam Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab, Kitab al-Tawhid (Riyadh: Dar-us-Salam Publications, 1996, Chapter 9, page 51)
  57. DeLong-Bas, Natana J. (2004). Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad (First ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, USA. p. 61. ISBN 0-19-516991-3.
  58. 1 2 El Fadl 2007: 56–57
  59. "WAHABISM EXPOSED!": Sheikh Muhammad ibn 'Abd al Wahhab". Hidaayah Islamic Foundation Sri Lanka. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  60. Zahawi (1994), pages 7-15.
  61. "Who was Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahab & what did he do? By Dr. Israr Ahmed". Youtube. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  62. "Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque in Doha - Qatar". Beautiful Mosque. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  63. "Qatar's state mosque opens to the public". Doha News. Doha News. 6 December 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  64. 1 2 Vasilʹev 1998: 13
  65. EI2
  66. Vasilʹev 1998: 14

Further reading

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