Intro

Wahabbiyyah is not a new sect within Islam but a movement whose purpose is to purify Islam of perceived heretical accretions. Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun ("Unitarians", or "unifiers of Islamic practice"). The Wahhabis claim to base their doctrines on the teachings of the fourteenth century scholar Ibn Taymiyya and the rulings of the Hanbali school of law, the strictest of the four recognised in the Sunni consensus. Wahhabism is a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and interpretation that had been acquired over the centuries.

They believe that all objects of worship other than Allah are false, and anyone who worships in this way deserves to be put to death. To introduce the name of a prophet, saint or angel into a prayer, or to seek intercession from anyone but Allah constitutes a form of polytheism. Attendance at public prayer is compulsory, and the shaving of the beard and smoking are forbidden. Mosques should be architecturally simple, not luxurious or ornate. Prohibited are the celebration of the Prophet's birthday, making offerings at the tomb of saints, and playing music. The injunctions of the Qur'an are to be taken literally.

The Wahhabi ulama reject reinterpretation of Quran and sunna in regard to issues clearly settled by the early jurists. By rejecting the validity of reinterpretation, Wahhabi doctrine is at odds with the Muslim reformation movement of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This movement seeks to reinterpret parts of the Quran and Sunna to conform with standards set by the West, most notably standards relating to gender relations, family law, and participatory democracy. However, ample scope for reinterpretation remains for Wahhabi jurists in areas not decided by the early jurists.
History and Development 

Wahhabiyyah emerged in the middle of the 18th century in Arabia as both a religious and political movement responding to the decline of the Ottoman empire and the increasing strength of Shi'a in Iran. The followers of Abdul Wahab (1703-1792) began as a movement to cleanse the Arab bedouin from the influence of Sufism.  Its founder, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92), had witnessed many examples of laxity, superstition, and blind allegiance to Walis (Sufi saints) during his travels through Iraq and Arabia.

The political character of the movement took the form of opposition to the ruling Ottoman empire. In 1744 Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab formed an alliance with a local chieftain, Muhammad Ibn Sa'ud (1765), who accepted his doctrine and undertook its defence and propagation. The demolition of shrines, tombstones and the capture of Mecca caused alarm in the Ottoman government which despatched an army to crush the movement. The decisive defeat of the bedouin troops in 1818 brought to an end the first Sa'udi-Wahhabi venture. The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi, that is, "following the forefathers of Islam."

A remnant of the Wahhabi movement survived in a pocket of Central Arabia. In 1902 Abd al-Aziz Ibn Sa'ud, who was from the Sa'udi family and a follower of the bedouin faith of the Wahhabiyyah, took Riyadh, an event which led to his gradual conquest of the interior of the Arabian peninsula. In 1927 Sa'ud signed a treaty with the British (who at that time were controlling parts of the Arabian peninsula) which gave him full independence in exchange for his recognition of British suzerainty over the Gulf sheikdoms. Finally in 1932 he named his state the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabiyyah then became the official doctrine of the state. Today the Saudi state remains firmly rooted in the Wahhabi creed.

The Wahhabi emphasis on conformity makes of external appearance and behaviour a visible expression of inward faith. Therefore, whether one conforms in dress, in prayer, or in a host of other activities becomes a public statement of whether one is a true Muslim. Because adherence to the true faith is demonstrable in tangible ways, the Muslim community can visibly judge the quality of a person's faith by observing that person's actions. In this sense, public opinion becomes a regulator of individual behaviour. Therefore, within the Wahhabi community, which is striving to be the collective embodiment of God's laws, it is the responsibility of each Muslim to look after the behaviour of his neighbour and to admonish him if he goes astray.


Wahhabiyyah Today

Wahhabiyyah is the official ideology of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are no official statistics for the number of Muslims who follow the doctrines of Wahhabiyyah. Under Al Saud rule, governments, especially during the Wahhabi revival in the 1920s, have shown their capacity and readiness to enforce compliance with Islamic laws and interpretations of Islamic values on themselves and others.

The literal interpretations of what constitutes right behaviour according to the Quran and hadith have given the Wahhabis the sobriquet of "Muslim Calvinists." To the Wahhabis, for example, performance of prayer that is punctual, ritually correct, and communally performed not only is urged but publicly required of men.

Under the Wahhabis, however, the ban extended to all intoxicating drinks and other stimulants, including tobacco. Modest dress is prescribed for both men and women in accordance with the Quran, but the Wahhabis specify the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women, and forbid the wearing of silk and gold, although the latter ban has been enforced only sporadically. Music and dancing have also been forbidden by the Wahhabis at times, as have loud laughter and demonstrative weeping, particularly at funerals.

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