In the first half of the twelfth
century (Hijra) the Islamic World had reached its extreme decline,
degradation and utter fall. The atmosphere was very gloomy and darkness had
covered all its regions. Moral degradation and corruption was rampant
everywhere. As for religion it was decadent as everything else. The pure and
austere monotheism (TAWHEED) of the Prophet (sal) had become corrupted
with the burgeoning growth of superstition and mysticism. The mosques stood
empty, unfrequented and even deserted. The ignorant multitude decked out in
amulets, charms and rosaries listened to and blindly followed squalid faqeers
and ecstatic dervishes. These men urged them to perform pilgrimages to the tombs
of Saints and seek their intercession with Allah. As for the moral precepts
ordained by the Qur’an they too were ignored as well as defied. Even the
consumption of intoxicants and opium were well nigh universal. In all certainty
the life had been bulldozed out of Islam, leaving behind naught but a dry husk
of meaningless ritual and degrading superstition.
The period of the Pious
Predecessors being already passed, innovations and superstitions cropped up and
vastly mushroomed. The people went back to their old practices of idolatry. They
started paying homage to shrines and graves, so much so that they even directed
their devotional prayers and supplications towards the graves to the exclusion
of Allah. They gave precedence to the philosophical views and taqleed
(blind following) over the Sunnah. They divested Allah of His essential
attributes by making false interpretations on the Qur’anic texts.
But, all praises to Allah, no
generation, persistently beset with innovations and abominable Shirk was ever
devoid of sincere reformers who revived the faith to its pristine purity. In
such darkest hour, a voice came crying out of the vast Arabian desert, the
cradle of Islam, calling the faithful back to the true path, the one and only
way - the Qur’an and the Sunnah. That was the great Mujaddid and puritan
reformer, the celebrated Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who kindled a fire,
which spread and engulfed the remotest corners of the Muslim World, purging
Islam of its decadence and reviving the fervor of days gone by. The morning of
reformation had dawned and the great re-awakening of the Islamic world had
This peaceful, religious,
revivalist movement of the Sheikh was obnoxious to the Turks and others for more
reasons than one. They tried to crush this movement by force. They even killed
some of the leaders, but could not destroy the movement outright. The movement
lived on and is now growing all over the world. Everywhere in the Muslim world
we are witnessing, the raising of the banner of Tawheed and the revival
of the Call to the Qur’an and Sunnah.
All around the Muslim world, we
see some Muslims, individually and collectively proclaiming the Call to
Tawheed and the return to the Qur’an and Sunnah in the face of opposition by
the ‘Saint-worshippers’, `Grave-worshippers`, `the Sufis’ and the ‘Tariqat
followers’. These deviant groups all purport or make the false claim to be
Ahl us Sunnah wal Jam’aah and label the true callers to The Sunnah as
In view of the ignoble and false
propaganda mounted against the reformatory movement of Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abd
al Wahhab and the derogatory use of the word `Wahhabi’ for the movement
and its followers, we will Insha Allah in the course of this text, give a
short account of the important events of his life and salient features of his
creed and of his works.
HIS LIFE STORY
Sheikh Muhammad ibn
Abd al Wahhab ibn Sulaiman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid al Tamimi
was born in the year 1115 A.H.(1703 C.E.) in ‘Ayina to the north of Riyadh, in
the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the reign of Abdulla ibn Muhammad ibn Hamd
ibn Muammar. He excelled over his contemporaries in intelligence and physique
and was able to commit the Quran to memory by the time he was ten years old. His
father found him capable of leading the congregational prayers and decided to
get him married that year.
He studied the Hanbali
Jurisprudence, Tafsir and Hadith from his learned father. During his childhood
itself, he directed his full attention to the books on Tafsir, Hadith and Aqidah
and particularly to the writings of Sheik al Islam Ibn Taimiya and Ibn al Qayyim
and made a deep study of them.
He left his native town to
perform the Hajj and then proceeded to Madinah. At that time Sheikh Abdullah bin
Ibrahim ibn Saif belonging to the progeny of Saif Najdi was chief of the
scholars of Madinah. Sheikh Muhammad acquired a good deal of knowledge from him
and came to be loved and held in high esteem by his teacher. His strong stand on
Thawheed and his deep concern over false beliefs and evil deeds brought about a
strong bond between the Sheikh and his teacher. He was so impressed by his
student that Sheikh Abdullah granted him permission of narrating well-known
hadiths of two of the authorities. Firstly on the authority of Ibn Muflih
reporting from Sheikh Ibn Taiymiyyah and reaching up to Imam Ahmad. Secondly on
the authority of Abd al Rahman bin Rajab, reporting from Ibn al Qayyim who
narrated it from his teacher Sheikh ibn Taiymiyya reaching up to Imam Ahmad.
Sheikh Abdullah also authorized him to narrate all the traditions reported by
Sheikh Abd al Baqi Hanbali, the chief among the great teachers of his time. He
also authorised him to narrate the traditions of the Sahih of Bukhari and the
traditions of the Sahih of Muslim and commentaries of both, the Sunan of
Tirmidhi, Nasa’ai, Abu Dawud, Ibn Maajah, the Muwatta of Imam Malik and the
Musnad of Imam Ahmad.
During this time he came to know
and benefited from the knowledge of other scholars such as Ali Afendi
Daghastanee, Ismaeel Ajluni and others. Then he moved on to Nejd, Basra and
Syria for the purpose of acquiring further knowledge. He stayed for a long time
in Basra, where he pursued his studies under a number of renowned scholars,
among whom Sheikh Muhammad Majmui was most prominent. During this time he
compiled and published many valuable books on the topic of innovations,
superstitions and the supplication to the dead ones in the graves. He supported
his treatises with manifest evidence from the Quran.
The adherents of falsehood
defamed, tortured and turned him out of Basra. They also persecuted his teacher
Sheikh Majmui. He left for the town of Zubair in the scorching heat of the
summer and was almost dying of thirst, when Allah sent to him a man called Abu
Hamidan. He found the Sheikh to be a man of learning and righteousness. So he
mounted him on his animal and took him to Zubair. Sheikh Muhammad thought of
going to Syria to quench his thirst for more knowledge, but soon fell short of
provision and was compelled to return to Nejd. He arrived at Ahsa and stayed
with the Sheikh Abdullah ibn Abd al Latiff Shafi’i and studied under him.
UN-ISLAMIC PRACTICES OF THAT TIME.
Sheikh Muhammad then
went to Harimala, a village of Nejd because his father had transferred there and
stayed with him. He devoted himself fully to the learning of Tafsir and Hadith,
particularly the works of Skeikh ibn Taiymiyyah and Sheikh ibn Qayyim. This
immensely increased his knowledge and insight and infused in his heart a spirit
of determination and steadfastness. With his deep insight he could visualize all
the un-Islamic notions and corrupt practices prevailing in Nejd and the
countries he had visited. Even in Madinah, he saw people invoking the Prophet (sal)
and making supplication to him. He decided to disseminate the True message of
Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
The Sheikh found that Nejd was
infested with corrupt beliefs and religious practices repugnant to the
fundamentals of the True Religion. There were a number of graves in the Nejd
area which were attributed to some of the Companions of the Prophet (sal).
People visited these graves and invoked them for help in their hour of need. In
Jubila they visited the grave of Zaid ibn Khattab and seeking relief for their
needs. In Manfuha, people sought mediatiothrouga male palm-tree believing that a
spinster, who pays a visit to it, soon gets married.
In Dariya there was a cave which
people frequented. Similarly there was grave of Dirar ibn al Azwar in the valley
of Ghabira. It was the same story as in Basra and Zubair where people worship
idols of the pre-Islamic period. A similar sad state of affairs prevailed in
Iraq, Syria Egypt and Yemen.
He compared all these practices
in the light of the Quran and the practices of the Prophet (sal) and his
Companions and found them far removed from and inconsistent with the religion
and spirit of Islam. This was the sorry state of affairs not only with the
people of Nejd but of other places as well, in the Muslim world.
CALL FOR REVIVAL OF PURE MONOTHEISM
The Sheikh found
that the people had abandoned their faith, and the more he studied their
deviations, the firmer he grew in his conviction and determination that Muslims
should inevitably change themselves and tread the path of the Pious
Predecessors. The hadiths of Prophet (Sal) say as follows:
`You must necessarily tread the path
of those who lived before you’.
`The last hour shall not come, until
some of the people of my Ummah begin to worship idols.’
`Islam was born a stranger and shall
return as a stranger in similar manner.’
Sheikh Muhammad had by now
resolved to publicly declare unto his people that they had gone astray from the
He started with his call to the
people in the town of Harimala, and made it clear to them, that he called them
only unto Allah. He reminded the people that everything should be for Allah
alone and that they should give up their wrong beliefs and practices. This
naturally led to a dispute and struggle with the people and even with his
father, who had been led away by the false sayings of the deviated followers.
The Sheikh continued to pursue
his cause undeterred by making speeches, writing as well as practically guiding
the people. Eventually a good majority of his people accepted his views. His
father and brother Sulaiman too were convinced after prolonged discussions. In
the year 1153 A.H. his father Abd al Wahhab passed away.
After the death of his father the
people openly accepted the call of the Sheikh and forsook their false notions.
They responded to the call for a return to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal) both
in words and deeds.
During this time his town was
dominated by two tribes both claiming leadership but none able to take full
control and maintain justice. These tribes were in the practice of keeping
slaves and indulged in every mischief and sin. When the Sheikh thought of
admonishing them, they got wind of it and set upon him but were prevented by the
timely action of some good people.
The Sheikh left Harimala for his
native town Aiyna, where his forefathers once lived and ruled. Here he met one
Uthman bin Hamd bin Muammar, to whom he explained his reformist movement based
on the Quran and Sunnah. He explained the significance of Thawheed and how much
the beliefs and actions of the people differed from the true path. He told
Uthman that if he would uphold the cause of Allah and his word, he would soon
come to the leadership in Nejd and crowned with eternal bliss.
Uthman responded readily to the
Sheikh’s call. Here again the Sheikh urged the people to return to the worship
of Allah only (Thawheed) and a strict adherence to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal).
The Sheikh managed to cut down trees that were being worshipped in the area. He
succeeded with the help of Uthman, in bringing down the dome over the grave of
Zaid ibn al Khattab. He also carried out the prescribed punishment for adultery
on a woman who had confessed to it.
The Sheikh and his message came
to be widely known, and his reputation spread far and wide and it also reached
Sulaiman bin Muhammad bin Urai’ir, the Governor of Ahsa and the children of
Khalid. This impudent and ignorant man sent a letter to Uthman bin Muammir
saying, “this man who is with you is saying this and did that, and when you
receive this letter slay him, if not we shall withhold your kharaj (revenue}
which is with us in Ahsa.” This was a tricky situation for Uthman. To oppose
Urair was too much for him. Fearing this threat and weak in his faith ibn
Muammar ordered the Sheikh to be banished from his town.
The Sheikh left the town on foot
escorted by a horseman through the desert in the scorching sun, with only the
thought of Allah, until he reached Dariya as the guest of Abd al rahman bin
Suwailim. Through ibn Suwailim most of the prominent people of Dariya came to
know of the Sheikh. They visited him in secret and he explained to them the real
meaning and the significance of Thawheed. Among those who visited the Sheikh
were the two brothers of Prince Muhammad bin Saud. These two brothers after much
discussion and tutoring by the Sheikh were enlightened. They explained to their
brother prince Muhammad that Sheikh Muhammad was staying with Ibn Suwailim and
that he was a blessing from Allah sent to them. They urged the prince to meet
PRINCE MUHAMMED BIN SAUD ACCEPTS THE
Prince Muhammad accepted the
suggestion and met the Sheikh. He invited the Prince to Thawheed saying that it
was the message, with which all the Messengers were sent by Allah. He also drew
the attention of the Prince to the polytheistic practices and notions prevalent
among the people of the Nejd. He wished that the Prince should assume leadership
of the Muslims. The prince acceded to the wish of the Sheikh and offered him all
help and assistance to carry out his task. He also promised to adhere to the
Sunnah of the Prophet (sal) to command the good and to prohibit the evil.
After the Sheikh had settled at
Dariya, people began to throng to him from all sides even claiming kinship and
accepting his Call. In the meantime Uthman ibn Muammar who exiled the Sheikh
from his town came to know of Prince Muhammad’s acceptance of Sheikh Muhammad
and his message. Now Uthman very much regretted what he had done to the Sheikh.
Uthman ibn Muammar, accompanied
by a large delegation came to Dariya and called on the Sheikh to tender their
apologies. They requested the Sheikh to come back with them. He replied that it
depended entirely on the wish of Prince Muhammad. Prince Muhammad refused to
accede to their request and Uthman and his followers went back disappointed.
SHEIKH GAINS A FOLLOWING
Now people came in large numbers to
the Sheikh, seeking pure knowledge without the adulteration of fables and
falsehood. He explained to them the real meaning of “La ilaaha illallah” and its
significance. He stressed the importance of the negation of all false deities
and the affirmation of Allah and his attributes.
The Sheikh communicated with
people of other cities and invited them to accept his call and join his movement
in order to eradicate Shirk and all its abominable practices.
Some accepted while others
rejected and some even ridiculed him and accused him of sorcery. He continued
with his mission undeterred. The opponents exerted their utmost to rally their
forces to destroy this nascent movement by any or all means. Sheikh Muhammad and
the Prince had no alternative but to resort to the sword to defend this
movement. This war went on for many years and village after village fell to the
new alliance. Some opponents voluntarily began to accept them when they realized
the true nature of the movement.
All the efforts by the misguided
group to rally their forces to destroy this nascent movement by any means
miserably failed. After the conquest of Riyadh in 1187 A.H. the Sheikh entrusted
the governing of the people to Prince Abdul Aziz bin Muhammad bin Saud and
devoted his time to worship, learning and teaching. Prince Muhammad and his son
Abd al Aziz always consulted him before they undertook anything and he gave his
ruling. After an arduous struggle and having reached his goal he passed away in
Dhul Qa’dah of 1206.
BOOKS WRITTEN BY SHEIKH MUHAMMAD
The Sheikh was the author of a
number of books, prominent among them being the celebrated KITAB AL TAWHID,
which needs no introduction. The other books are Kashf al Shubuhat, Thalabat al
Usul, Mukhtasar al-Sal-Nabawiyyah, Mukhthasar al-Insaaf, the Sharh al-Kabir fi’l
Fiqh, the Nasihat al-Muslimin bi-ahadite Khatam al-Nabiyyin, Kitab al-Kabair,
Ahadith al-Fitn and several other treatises and most of them were pertaining to
the topic of Tawheed.
It is mentioned in the work Unwan
al-Majid that the Sheikh had many pupils amongst whom were his sons who later
became eminent scholars. His four sons Hussain, Abdullah, Ali and Ibrahim
established schools close to their homes and taught the young students from
Dariya and other places. The fifth son had not studied under him and had died in
Some for the students who
benefited from his knowledge and rose to the position of Qadis and Muftis are as
Sheikh Abd al Aziz bin Abdullah
al Hussein al Nasim who was a Judge in the territory of Al Washm.
Sheikh Said bin Hijji who
became Judge of Hauta of Bani Tamim,
Sheikh abd al Rahman bin Nami,
who became Judge of Aiyna
Ahsa, Shaikh Ahmad bin Rashid
al-Uraini the Qadi of Sudair.
The most notable student was
Sheikh Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Abdul Latiff bin Abdul Rahman bin Hassan who
was the grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia.
A SUMMARY OF THE STRUGGLE OF SHEIKH
Due to the Sheikh’s strong
views on Tawhid he was a controversial figure throughout his life and after his
death to this day. We will reproduce here some of his communications and
excerpts of treatises he had written for the benefit of the readers. Here is
what he wrote to al-Suwaidi one of the scholars of Iraq in reply to his letter:
“From Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab
to his brother in faith Abd al-Rahman ibn Abdalla- Peace be upon you and also
the Mercy and the Blessings of Allah. To continue: I am pleased to receive your
letter. May Allah make you one of the leaders of the pious people and also one
of the missionaries calling people to the Religion of the Chief of the
Messengers. I would like to inform you that I am by the Grace of Allah a
follower of the Pure Religion and not a Mubtadi(Innovator). My Creed and
Religion with which I obey Allah is the same Madhab as that of the Ahl al-Sunnah
wal Jama’ah and as that held by the leaders of the Muslims such as the four
celebrated leaders of law and their followers till the day of resurrection.
However, I have laid emphasis on
faithfulness and sincerity in following the Religion of Allah. I have asked the
people not to invoke the living and the dead from among the saintly and pious
people seeking help. I have also advised them to avoid committing acts of SHIRK
(associating other objects in the worship of Allah) while offering devotion to
Allah in such matters like slaughtering for sacrifice, making vows, trusting in
anyone or in Sujood (Prostration) and such other matters which are exclusively
reserved for Allah alone. None is to be taken as a partner unto Allah may he be
an angel or a prophet commissioned by him. It is he alone that all the
messengers from the first to the last were ordered to obey and worship. This is
the Madhab followed by the Ahl al Sunnah wal Jama’ah.
I have also told the people in
clear words that the first and the earliest of people who introduced acts of
SHIRK were the Rafidah (Shia extremists) who invoked Ali and others, seeking
help for their needs and to rid them of their afflictions.
I hold an office in my town where
people listen to me and obey me. This was disliked by some of the chief magnates
of the town as what I said was against their traditions. I lead the people in
the stipulated prayers and induce them to pay their Zakat and to perform other
acts of devotion to Allah. I forbade them to indulge in RIBA, in drinking wine
and all other intoxicants. The people opposed these corrupt leaders and rose
against them. This is the Thawheed I have been commanded to preach. These
mischievous magnates of the town began to ascribe different kinds of
fabrications to me. The mischief flared up and they attacked us with all the
armies of Satan, the cavalry and the infantry. They allege that I branded all
the people as `Kaafirs’ except those who follow me and that I have solemnized
their marriages in a wrong and illegal manner. I wonder how a sane man can think
of and say such silly things. I however, declare myself free from such calumnies
in the presence of Allah. Such talks can only emanate from the mentally
deranged. In short whatsoever is mentioned about me- except that I invite them
to Thawheed and prohibit them from committing acts of Shirk, is absolutely
MATTERS TO WHICH THE
SHEIKH INVITED THE PUBLIC AND WHICH GOT HIM INTO DISPUTE WITH SOME OF THE ULEMAS:
He explained to the people that Ibadah is nothing but exclusive
obedience to Allah and compliance with His commands. This is a comprehensive
term for everything that Allah loves and such words and deeds He is pleased
with. The forms of Ibadah (Worship) which are to be offered to Allah alone are
many, such as Salat (Prayers), Saum (Fasting), Zakat and Sadaqah, slaughtering
of sacrificial animals, tawaf and invocation. He said that anyone who happens to
direct any of these acts to anyone other than Allah becomes a Mushriq as Allah
the Exalted says:
“ And whoever invokes (or
worships) besides Allah any other ilah (god) of whom he has no proof, then his
reckoning is only with his Lord. Surely Al-Kafirun (the disbelievers in the
Oneness of Allah polytheists, pagans idolaters etc.) will not be successful.”
Al Quran 23:117
2. Tawassul –
This means a fervent plea and is of two types: the permitted and
the prohibited. The permitted one is by means of faith and righteous deeds and
the Glorious Names of Allah and his attributes. The prohibited one is entreaty
using the name of the Messenger, pious people and saints. Here is what Allah the
“O you who believe! Be mindful
of your duty towards Allah and seek the means of approach and strive in His
cause as much as you can so that you may be successful.” Al Quran5:35
3. Journeying to
Mosques on Pilgrimage -
He asked the people not to undertake any pilgrimages to
mosques other then the three mosques as given in an authentic hadith.
“Do not undertake a journey but
to the three mosques - the Sacred Mosque Makkah) my mosque (Madinah) and the
further Mosque (Al Aqsa).”
4. Construction over
graves, covering and decorating them etc. -
The Sheikh openly declared that to construct buildings over
the graves is unlawful. So is to shroud the graves with beautiful coverings and
decorating them. It is prohibited to burn candles over the graves or to set up
stone inscriptions. He also declared that it is illegal to have custodians and
caretakers of shrines. Visiting such places tantamount to idol worship and can
lead to other prohibited actions such as kissing them and going round them. He
supported his statements with numerous hadiths prohibiting such constructions,
visiting them and praying in them. The Shaikh quoted the hadith of Abu ‘l-Hayyaj
al-Asadi whom Ali ibn Abi Talib asked:
“Should I not commission you
with a duty with which the Messenger of Allah had commissioned me-to leave no
statue but to crush it, and no grave raised above the surface of the ground
but to level it down?”
5. Unity with respect
of the Holy Names and Attributes of Allah-
On this the Sheikh held the views of the Pious Predecessors and the
four celebrated teachers of law and others who held the same view, namely the
affirmation and recognition of the Names and Attributes of Allah without
employing Tamtheel (finding similarity with Allah’s attributes) or Takeef.
(e.g. To explain how Allah does some thing).
The Sheikh very much disliked and spoke out against innovations (Bida’)
1. The celebration and
holding of gatherings on the Prophet’s Birthday.
2. Making Dhikr and salawath
before pronouncing the Adhan.
3. Verbally pronouncing the
Niyyah (intention) particularly before Takbir Tahrim.
4. Recital of a hadith of Abu
Huraira before the Khatib ascends the Minbar. (Pulpit)
The Sheikh also abhorred and
condemned the innovated practices of Tariqas (Orders), Tawassuf (Mysticism) and
other practices which have no authority or sanction from the Messenger (sal) or
from the Companion(R.A). Several Ulema had compiled works on this subject even
before Sheikh Muhammad such as Ibn-Waddah, al-Turthushi and al-Shatibi on these
abominable innovated practices and heretical actions.
This is a short biography of the
best of reformers and the greatest of Mujahids and a renowned scholar of Islam,
whom Allah blessed with deep insight. This reform movement was initiated by
Sheikh Muhammad and not by Sheikh Abdul Wahhab. The correct name for this
movement should have been “al-Muhammadiya” and not “al Wahhabiya”. In the light
of the above facts it is left to the reader to judge whether the Sheikh
initiated a new madhab or was reviving the deen of the Prophet (sal), his noble
companions and their successors.
Indeed all Praise and thanks be
to Allah the Exalted, who has graced us with the favor of preparing this life
sketch of the Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. May Allah be merciful to him
and Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad (sal) upon his family, all his
noble companions and their successors until the last day.