The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Wahhabism (sometimes spelled Wahabbism or Wahabism) is a movement of Islam named after Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (17031792). It is a fundamentalist, puritanical form of Islam which is often considered as having deviated from Sunni Islam, for example for their anthropomorphic beliefs about God. It has become an object of increased interest because it is the major sect of the government and society of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is an offending synonym for one form of Salafism.


Origin of the term "Wahhabi"

The term "Wahhab" is in reference to the movement's founder Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab - although wahhabis link it to Al-Wahhab: a name of Allah in Islam.

Many Wahhabi Muslims do not approve of this name. Historically, members of this movement call themselves al-Muwahhiddun, ("the monotheists") or al-Ikhwan ("the brethren"). (The name al-Muwahhidun should not be confused with the 12th century al-Muwahhidun movement and dynasty of Morocco.)

The Wahhabis claim to call to the way of the "Salaf as-Salih", the 'rightly guided or pious predecessors' as understood mainly by Ibn Taimiyya and later by Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahab and his followers.

They are also known as Salafis, i.e. people who are upon the way of the pious predecessors.


Wahhabism follows Islam, so the Qur'an and the Hadiths are its basic text. It also uses explanations of Qur'an and Hadiths from the writings of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, from such books as Kitab al-Tawhid (Arabic, "Book of Monotheism") and works of scholars before him such as Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328).


Wahhabi theology advocates a fundamentalist, puritanical and legalistic stance in matters of faith and religious practice.

Wahhabists see their role as a movement to restore Islam from what they perceive to be innovations, superstitions, deviances, heresies and idolatries. During the time of Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose prominence gave name to this movement, there were many practices that they believed were contrary to Islam, such as:

  • That invoking any prophet, saint or angel in prayer, other than Allah alone, is polytheism
  • Grave worship, whether to saints' graves, or the prophet's grave
  • Celebrating annual feasts for dead saints
  • Wearing of charms, and believing in their healing power
  • Practicing magic, or going to sorcerers or witches seeking healing
  • Innovation in matters of religion (e.g. new methods of worship)
  • Erecting elaborate monuments over any grave

The opponents argue that these practices have adequate proofs from the Qur'an and Sunnah and have been accepted by Sunni scholars since the early days of Islam. They also see grave worship as intermediation (tawassul), and claim this is accepted and called for practice in Islam.

Wahhabism is often maligned and attacked by adherents the Ash'ari and Maturidis as being anthropomorphist

Early history of Wahhabism

Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia began with a surge of reformers seeking to reclaim orthodox Islam from innovation by various sects of Sunni Muslims. In the 18th century, it spread in Najd along with the expansion of the First Saudi State under Muhammad bin Saud and his successors.

Modern spread of Wahhabism

Wahhabism is the official form of Islam in Saudi Arabia. In 1924 the Wahhabi al-Saud dynasty conquered Mecca and Medina, cities holy to Muslims, creating the Saudi state. The spread of Wahhabi Islam has been facilitated by Saudi oil revenues; Saudi laypeople, government officials and clerics have donated many tens of millions of dollars to create Wahhabi-oriented religious schools, newspapers and outreach organizations.

Some Wahhabis believe that many Muslim Brotherhood scholars — Sayyed Qutb and Yusuf al-Qaradawi are sometimes cited — are corrupted due to their innovations in Islam, and their call to revolution and rebellion against the rulers of Muslim countries. For the same reason, they often hold that Osama bin Laden is not a true Wahhabi, but a Qutbee (follower of Sayyed Qutb), due to his rebellion against the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

Wahhabis ban pictures, photographs, musical instruments, singing, video, suicide bombings (not to suggest that any strand of Islam specifically condones it), and celebrating Mohammed's birthday, among many other things, based on their interpretation of the hadiths (classical collections of sayings) of Mohammad.

Many contend that Wahhabism is or has become a dominant form of Islam through proselytization driven by Saudi funding; others contend that its influence is less widespread and that the practice and observance of Wahhabism and the political manifestations that flow therefrom are more nuanced than its most doctrinaire interpretations.

Does the Creed of 'Wahhabism' Differ From That of Orthodox Islam?

Salafism/"Wahhabism" is continually portrayed in the media as being a foreign, unsound creed that is based upon irrational precepts which contradict common sense. We are led to believe that Salafism is an erroneous creed which leads to extremism and terrorism. We are told that Salafism is unsuitable for these times, and that it differs from "mainstream" Islam. As such, we are led to believe that it is not genuinely Islamic in its nature.

This situation is compounded by the fact that those journalists who had only heard about Islam prior to September 11 have now suddenly become experts in religion and are writing newspaper articles about Islam and Salafism. Their major claim which is repeatedly mentioned is that Osama Bin Laden is a "Wahhabi", only because he was born in Saudi Arabia. This one-dimensional viewpoint overlooks the fact that not everyone who lives in Saudi Arabia is Salafi ("Wahhabi") in belief and methodology, just as not everyone who lives in England is a member of the Anglican Church.

Therefore, the reader is invited to examine the main beliefs of the "Wahhabi"/Salafi creed for themselves, and to carefully consider whether the depiction of the Salafi creed they have been given is an accurate one or not. Are the fundamental beliefs of a Salafi Muslim contradictory to mainstream Islam, or do they in actuality represent and defend the true conventional beliefs of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace)? Are these beliefs something illogical, extreme and unsuitable for these times, or do they in actuality appeal profoundly to mankind's natural instinct on a universal basis?

In order to come to an accurate understanding of the world-view of "Wahhabism", it is necessary to examine the crux of the orthodox "Wahhabi" creed…

- abridged from the book: The 'Wahhabi' Myth

- Source:

1 The British tabloid The Mirror described Salafism as a "fundamentalist sect favoured by extremist supporters of Bin Laden." From: Hijacker has Bin Laden Links, The Mirror, August 31, 2002.

2 Sky News reported that Salafism "is not the mainstream Islamic view." From: Salafi's (sic) Links To Terror, Sky News, August 30, 2002.

3 When reporting about Osama Bin Laden, the media repeatedly write or mention the words "Saudi born Bin Laden." This is not a universal procedure that is followed for other figures, which makes one wonder what the intent is behind this practice. Surely, it would be more appropriate and relevant to current affairs to say, "the Saudi exiled Bin Laden" instead, as he has been stripped of his Saudi citizenship.

What is a 'Wahhabi' and What is 'Wahhabism'?

The reader will notice that the word "Wahhabi" is always indented with quotation marks here at Those who are labelled with this word do not themselves use this term, as it is used as a means of belittlement. The reasons for the rejection of this term are clearly outlined throughout this book. The correct way of referring to them is by terming them Salafis, as they are those who adhere to the way of the Salaf - the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) and his companions.

Following the way of the Salaf is the way which has been legislated in the Quran and Sunnah, the very sources of Islam. The Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) said to his daughter Fatimah: "Indeed, I am for you a blessed Salaf."

When asked about which was the correct and acceptable way of understanding Islam, the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) replied by saying: "That which I and my companions are upon."

Similarly, Allah says in the Quran that He is pleased with the companions "and also those who follow them exactly (in faith)."

As such, He said regarding the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him security) and his companions:

"So if they believe as you (i.e. the Salaf) believe, they are indeed rightly guided."

All of the orthodox scholars of Islam followed the way of the Salaf in understanding religion. Early scholars such as Imam al-Awzaa'ee, who died 157 years after the Prophet's emigration to Medina, said: "Be patient upon the Sunnah, and stop where the people (i.e. the Salaf) stopped, and say what they said, and refrain from what they refrained from, and follow the path of your righteous Salaf; for verily, sufficient for you is what was sufficient for them."

Today, one of the famous Sunni schools of jurisprudence is named after a scholar named Abu Haneefah. Millions of Muslims all over the world ascribe themselves to his school of jurisprudence; those who the media would term "mainstream" Muslims. Regarding adherence to the Salafi methodology, he said, "Adhere to the narrations and way of the Salaf, and beware of newly invented matters (in religion), for all of it is innovation."

The orthodox scholars who came after these early generations also followed the understanding of the Salaf in religious matters. Imam ath-Thahabi said: "It is authentically related from ad-Daraqutni (a scholar from approximately 1,000 years ago) that he said: There is nothing more despised by me than 'ilmul-kalaam (innovated speech and rhetoric). I (adh-Thahabee) say: The man never entered into ’ilmul-kalaam, nor did he enter into argumentation (i.e. philosophy), he did not delve into that. Rather, he was Salafee (a follower of the Salaf)."

The present day scholars who stick to the mainstream understanding of Islam also ascribe themselves to the way of the Salaf. Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable of scholars alive today. Regarding Salafism, he made the following remark: "It is not a party from amongst the various parties… Hence Salafism is a group of people who are upon the way of the Salaf, upon what the Messenger (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace) and his Companions were upon; and it is not a party from amongst the contemporary groups present today."

The media claim that Salafis/"Wahhabis" believe that all those who do not follow their form of Islam are heathens" is a tall tale. Salafis believe that those Muslims who do not follow the understanding of the Salaf are not adhering to these and other clear texts. As such, they do not fall under the above-mentioned Quranic verse as being "rightly guided." Salafis distinguish between those who fall into religious innovation and those who fall into disbelief.

When considering the proofs which are contained within the Quran and Sunnah and the statements of all the orthodox scholars of Islam from the earliest generations to the present time, it becomes obvious that it is a great blunder for the media to refer to Salafism as being a new movement called "Wahhabism" which came about only two centuries ago during the time of Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab in Saudi Arabia.

"So after the truth, what else can there be, save error?" [Quran 10:32]

- abridged from the book: The 'Wahhabi' Myth - Source:

1 al-Bukhaaree (no. 2652)

2 Saheeh Sunan at-Tirmidhee (3/54)

3 Quran 9:100

4 Quran 2:137

5 al-Hujjah (6/A-B) of Ismail Abu Fadhl

6 Sawnul-Mantaq wal-Kalaam (p. 32) of As-Suyuti

7 This statement does not come from the standpoint of being narrow-minded. On the contrary, any open minded individual will research the authenticity of any claim that something constitutes revelation from the Creator. If this claim is found to be true and its texts require the person to submit to its decrees, it would not be from wisdom to then proceed to search for contradicting knowledge that leads to uncertainty. Most philosophers would not try to claim that philosophy leads to certain knowledge. For that reason, you will find some philosophers looking at objects and discussing whether or not they are actually in existence.

Philosophizing and leaving the texts and understanding of the Salaf is what leads groups like al-Qaeda to establish new methodologies in religion. Consequently, conjecture is something which is censured in Islam.

"They follow nothing but conjecture; and verily, conjecture avails nothing against the truth." [53:28]

8 Siyar A'laamun-Nubalaa' (16/457) of Ath-Thahabi

9 Refer to the cassette, "at-Tahdheer min al-Bid'ah", second cassette, delivered as a lecture in Hawtah Sadeer (Saudi Arabia).

10 Saudi Time Bomb? Analysis: Wahhabism, PBS Frontline (Nov. 15, 2001)

External links

See also

Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:57:48
Last updated: 08-30-2005 01:28:29