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Recently I heard the term 'wahabism' for specifying a group of muslims . Actually what is wahabism? Is it a sect or normal religious group?

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I won't press accept button because answers are from different perspectives :) –  Tachyons Sep 7 '12 at 13:51
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4 Answers 4

Abdullah (previously Ershad) has given one side of the story (based on what the followers of Wahhabi school claim) and have stated some positive aspects of Wahhabi school.

Every group believes that they are right, often they believe they are completely right with no mistake in their beliefs. Therefore, typically it is almost impossible to find any serious criticism or mentioning of negative aspects and facts about the group in their own writings, let me try to provide another side of the story so hopefully together with Abdullah's answer we will have a more objective view of them. Please keep in mind that some of what I am writing below only applies to more radical Wahhabi Muslims and may not be correct/accurate about more moderate Wahhabi Muslims.

Wahhabi is a recent ultra-conservative fundamentalist movement of Salafi school started by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. The followers of this branch dislike being called "Wahhabi", because it designates them as followers of the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab while their claim is that they are the true followers of the true Islam (i.e. they are following Islam and other Muslims are not really following Islam). This comes from their belief that unlike other schools they are not interpreting Islamic source and their understanding of Islamic sources is just Islam and nothing more (they typically have a literal reading of Islamic sources).

Wahhabi movement is typically associated with Saudi Arabia, since historically it started there in the 18th century, became dominant through alliance with Al Saud family, it is the dominant practice of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and is strongly supported and promoted by Saudi government.

They believe they have the right understanding of "tawheed" and consider followers of other branches of Islam (particularly Shia Muslims and Sufi Sunni Muslims) to be "muskrik".

For example, as Abdullah confirms, some Wahhabi scholar perform takfir of those Shia Muslims that believe some non-prophets like Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib (PBUH) are above some prophets (PBUT). There are similar cases against Sunni Muslims practicing Sufism for things like celebrating the birthdays of Sufi Muslim saints. I should add that takfir is more than just calling someone non-Muslim, it can have severe consequences: loosing legal rights, loosing property, invalidating marriage certificates, and even permission to kill them as kafir (some extremist Wahhabi groups believe that it is permitted to kill kafirs just for being kafir).

They also destroy historical Islamic sites (sites associated with the prophet and his family and companions) in the name of fighting "shirk". Some Wahhabi scholars even want to destroy "Al-Masjid al-Nabawi". See also this article in the Independent. There does not seem to be any evidence that destruction of graves is a part of Prophet's Sunnah, nor that of four Caliphs following him.

Because of these and similar issues their intolerance towards Muslims who have any difference in beliefs with them many Muslim scholars (Sunni and Shia) consider them extremists. Some scholars see similarities between extremist Wahhabi groups and Kharijites (Grand Imam of Al Azhar University al Sharif Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb here, Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, some Shia scholars, and even Saudi Prince Mamdouh bin Abdulaziz).

Sometimes Wahhabi is categorized under Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence (figh).

The estimated percentage of Muslims following Wahhabi school is relatively small (less than 4% of Muslims, mainly in the central parts of Saudi Arabia and coastal parts of United Arab Emirates) but according to some reports, they are the fastest growing group among Muslims (this is mainly attributed to the heavy financial support by Saudi government which some estimates put over 90% of total money spent by Muslims for preaching Islam).

I am not sure what you mean by "is it a sect or normal religious group?". It is a movement and a school of thought in Islam practiced by some Muslims.

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@Ershad, regarding your other comments, thanks for your constructive critic. I have read these over time and have to look up to give references, I am adding removing them for now until I find a good reference. (There are some online newspaper articles but I would prefer to give a scholarly article in place of referring to them.) ps: referring only to the writings of a person or his companions is not always a good way of evaluating their views, these claims are historical and independent historical sources should be sufficient to support them. –  Kaveh Jul 19 '12 at 7:19
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@Ershad, I do have some references (like this and this, and a few more online articles), but they are not of the quality I would like to include as citation. I would prefer to cite something like Hamid Algar, "Wahhabism : A Critical Essay" but I don't have access to it at the moment. I would personally be happy to learn that these claims are incorrect and for example Wahhabi scholars consider Shia as Muslims and not infidel/heretic/mushrik/kafir. –  Kaveh Jul 19 '12 at 9:03
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@Abdullah, let's assume that any prophet is above any non-prophet, I should say I don't see how believing in some non-prophets being above some prophets would allow takir about them, that looks quite extreme to me. –  Kaveh Jul 1 '13 at 6:55
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@Abdullah, I hope that God guide not to joke about such matters. You are attacking the straw man. No one said anything about new revelations. 33:40 doesn't say anything in that regard. I don't believe in anyone being above anyone else, God knows best who is above who. But if someone believed some non-prophet is above some prophet it would not make them disbelievers AFIK, and I think definitely think people who argue it is fine to kill people for such reasons are extremists. –  Kaveh Jul 29 '13 at 20:45
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"There does not seem to be any evidence that destruction of graves is a part of Prophet's Sunnah, nor that of four Caliphs following him." check this link to know the evidences: islam.stackexchange.com/questions/7347/… annnnnd "even permission to kill them as kafir (some extremist Wahhabi groups believe that it is permitted to kill kafirs just for being kafir)." Neeeds citation –  Sohaeb Jul 30 '13 at 9:47
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The term "Wahhabi" is nothing but an outcome of ideological attack by made by media and other sects in their efforts to harm the Call to Islamic Monotheism (Tawheed). It is sad to see some people still want to propagate this myth from what they know from hearsay information. And most probably, they even wouldn't know where the term comes from or what the so-called "wahhabis" call for.

The term "wahabbi" comes from a scholar of Islam named "Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhaab".

The condition of the Muslims in his time was a dire one and is described by historians and by both Imaam al-Shawkani (d. 1834CE) and Imaam al-San'aanee (d. 1769CE) (both contemporaries) as one in which the people had turned to worshipping graves, stones, trees and the likes. The people had abandoned or were very lax towards the main symbols of worship (prayer, zakah) and were content with innovations which became their connection to the religion, and rare were the scholars who would enjoin the good and forbid the evil, most were content with the status quo, and those who were not content were not able to speak out due to not having the will and courage.

In this setting, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab began calling the people to the monotheism of the Prophets and Messengers, and rejected the worship of the graves, attachment to them, and soliciting intercession from them, and calling upon the dead for rescue from calamity and what is similar to this.

And for the people who say this is something new - No, it is not. Many scholars before him called people to the same thing and long before them the Prophets and the Messengers. Many scholars spoke against plastering of graves like Imam Maalik. Some people who blame him of destroying "historically important" sites/graves would like to see this hadith:

Ali Ibn Abi Talib said to abul Hayyaj al-Asadi: "Shall I charge you with a duty which the Prophet (salallahu alaihe wa-sallam) charged me with? Destroy every idol or statue and level down every raised grave." [Saheeh Muslim]

And regarding what people accuse him of rejecting Madhabs and Islamic Scholarship (without any proof), this is my proof that he didn't from his own Book, He said, as occurs in al-Durar al-Saniyyah (1/228-229):

ثم إنا نستعين على فهم كتاب الله، بالتفاسير المتداولة المعتبرة، ومن أجلها لدينا : تفسير ابن جرير، ومختصره لابن كثير الشافعي، وكذا البغوي، والبيضاوي، والخازن، والحداد، والجلالين، وغيرهم . وعلى فهم الحديث، بشروح الأئمة المبرزين : كالعسقلاني، والقسطلاني، على البخاري، والنووي على مسلم، والمناوي على الجامع الصغير . ونحرص على كتب الحديث، خصوصاً : الأمهات الست، وشروحها ؛ ونعتني بسائر الكتب، في سائر الفنون، أصولاً، وفروعاً، وقواعد، وسيراً، ونحواً، وصرفاً، وجميع علوم الأمة . ولا نأمر باتلاف شيء من المؤلفات أصلاً، إلاّ ما اشتمل على ما يوقع الناس في الشرك، كروض الرياحين، أو يحصل بسببه خلل في العقائد، كعلم المنطق، فإنه قد حرمه جمع من العلماء، على أنا لا نفحص عن مثل ذلك، وكالدلائل، إلاّ إن تظاهر به صاحبه معانداً، أتلف عليه ؛ وما اتفق لبعض البدو، في اتلاف بعض كتب أهل الطائف، إنما صدر منه لجهله، وقد زجر هو، وغيره عن مثل ذلك .

Thereafter, we seek aid in understanding the Book of Allaah with the well-circulated, accepted books of tafseer (Qur’anic commentary), and from the loftiest of them in our view are the tafseer of Ibn Jarir, and its summarized version by Ibn Kathir al-Shafi’i, and likewise (that of) al-Baghawi, and al-Baydawi, and al-Khaazin, and al-Haddaad and al-Jalaalayn and other than them.

And in understanding the hadeeth, with the explanations upon [the hadeeth collection of] al-Bukhari by the prominent scholars such as al-Asqalaani, al-Qastalaani. And [that of] al-Nawawi for [the hadeeth collection of] Muslim, and [that of] al-Munawi upon al-Jami’ al-Sagheer. And we are eager for the books of hadeeth, such as the six main books and their explanations, and we are occupied with all of the books, in all of the various disciplines, both in the foundations and the subsidiary [matters], in the principles, in biographies, in grammar, morphology and in all of the sciences of this Ummah.

And we do not command the destruction of any of the authored works at all except what comprises that which makes the people fall into polytheism, such as Rawd al-Riyaaheen, or [those books] on account of which errors in creed are acquired, such as [books] on [Greek] logic, for a group of the Scholars have prohibited them, bearing in mind that we do not investigate into such matters (in any case), and like [the book] al-Dalaa’il. [And the same is with any book] unless its author manifests obstinacy [with respect to what is in it of error and misguidance], in that case it is destroyed.

And as for what one of the Bedouins did of destroying some of the books of the people of al-Taa’if, then that occurred from him due to his ignorance, and he and others have been reprimanded from the likes of that.

Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhaab said, describing himself, was:

“I tell you that– praise be to Allah – my belief and my religion, according to which I worship Allah, is the way of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah, which was the way of the imams of the Muslims, such as the four Imams and their followers until the Day of Resurrection. But I explain to people that they must devote their worship sincerely to Allah (ikhlas). I forbid them to call upon the Prophets and the dead among the righteous and others, and from associating them with Allah in any act of worship that should be done for Allah alone, such as offering sacrifices, making vows, putting one’s trust, prostrating and other actions which are due to Allah and in which no one should be associated with Him, not any angel who is close to Him or any Prophet who was sent. This is the Message which was proclaimed by all the Messengers, from the first of them to the last of them, and this is the way of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah. I hold a high position in my village and people listen to me. Some of the leaders denounced that because it goes against the customs they grew up with. I also obliged those who are under me to perform regular prayer, pay zakaah and fulfil other Islamic duties, and I forbade them to deal with ribaa, drink intoxicants and other kinds of forbidden things. The leaders could not criticize that or find fault with it, because it is something that is liked by the common folk, so they directed their criticism and enmity against that which I enjoin of Tawheed and that which I forbid of shirk, and they confused the common folk by saying that this goes against what everyone is doing, and they caused a great deal of fitnah…” (al-Durar al-Sanniyyah, 1/64-65, 79-80)

So he never rejected Islamic scholarship rather he encouraged to take from them and note the bold part The four Imams refers to the four madh-habs.

His call was not a new call and nor an innovated call for he was preceded in this rejection [of Worshiping graves] by centuries by other scholars such as Ibn Aqeel (d. 488H) and Ibn al-Jawzee (d. 597H), both Hanbalis, and the erroneous nature of these practices was even indicated by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606H) - see this article and likewise al-Maqrizi (d. 845H), the Shafi'i scholar from Egypt (see this article). His call started in Huraymalah, then went to al-Uyainah where he won temporary support of Uthmaan bin Mu'ammar, and then al-Dir'iyyah where he won the support of the leader, Muhammad bin Sa'ud, who had accepted his call.

You should listen to his complete biography explained in this audio.

Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhaab wrote many books on Tawheed because his focus was on the Monotheism and he was trying to revive it. His interest was to remove shirk (polytheism) which was what the call of the Prophet himself. His books include Kitab at-Tawheed (Book of Monotheism), Kashf ush-Shubuhaat (Removal of Doubts), Masaa’il-ul-Jaahiliyyah(Aspects of the days of Ignorance) and much more. All surrounded the central theme of "Tawheed" (Monotheism).

And one more allegation is made by some people is that the Terrorists and Extremists follows the principles of Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhaab. These are merely empty claims. These Myths are debunked by scholars and students of knowledge umpteen times in a detailed manner. You can read a detailed article here about the "Wahhabi" Myth and the complete debunking of it. This fact is also mentioned in Encyclopedia of World Biography:

Some have alleged that his strict interpretation of Islam has motivated terrorist activities generally and has specifically formed the basis for the militant Islam of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, a Saudi follower of Wahhabism. During his own lifetime, however, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab favored debate and religious instruction over violent campaigns as methods of persuasion, and the proposed link between bin Laden and Wahhab’s thought has encountered strenuous objections.

[Abd al-Wahhab, Muhammad Ibn (c. 1702-c. 1791)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale, 2007]

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So, just to be clear, this scholar was writing to discourage the practice of ancestor worship that is fairly common in that region and into East Asia? And that, in doing so, he argued for a somewhat stricter interpretation of the Quran, to reinforce the monotheism that the message in the text already emphasized? –  Aarthi Jul 18 '12 at 15:06
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"The term "Wahhabi" is nothing but an outcome of ideological attack by made by media and other sects in their efforts to harm the Call to Islamic Monotheism", do you have support for this claim? I don't see anything wrong in the question so sentences like "How would you feel if same is done to you?" seems argumentative. –  Kaveh Jul 18 '12 at 23:20
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@Kaveh If you want to know who used the Wahhabi term for the first time, I suggest you read this - goo.gl/fiEVJ . That is support for my claim. I don't blame the questioner. That question was rhetoric and not aimed at the questioner. I am sorry if you understood it otherwise. –  Abdullah Jul 19 '12 at 5:04
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I think I understand the idea behind the school, it is hardly relevant to the issue. I also understand why they don't like it, yet I don't think it is an insult. My point about defensiveness was about the tone, not content of your answer. –  Kaveh Jul 19 '12 at 8:57
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@goldPseudo While the questioner asks what "Wahhabism" is, my answer tries to explain there is nothing called school of Wahhabism. The answer is focused based on most popular beliefs that some people have. The question asks if it is a sect - and people believe it is a new school of fiqh, some people new school of beliefs and I tried to address that. I am sorry I cannot edit it. Thank you. –  Abdullah Jul 29 '13 at 4:32
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In the name of God

Founder

It is said that Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab ibn Suleiman al-Najdi (1111 - 1206 AH.) has founded this sect. To get familiar with the detailed life of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab I invite you to find Wahhabism by Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani. He writes about Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab:

Ever since his childhood, Shaykh Muhammad had a great liking for the study of books on tafsir (Qur’anic interpretation), hadith (tradition), and aqa’id (principles of beliefs). He learned the Hanbali jurisprudence from his father who was one of the Hanbali scholars. From the bloom of youth, he regarded as indecent many of the religious doings of the people of Najd. After going on a pilgrimage to the house of Allah and performing its rites, he headed for Medina where he rejected the resorting of the people to the Holy Prophet (s) near his shrine. He then returned to Najd, and from there he went to Basrah with the aim of later leaving Basrah for Damascus. He spent some time in Basrah and embarked on opposing many doings of the people.

Main beliefs

They are also regarded as a sect of salafis. Hamid S. Atiyyah writes in his "The Wahhabia Movement: The True Image":

he Wahhabi sect has two basic tenets, a declared tenet and a hidden one. The declared tenet is commitment to divine unity and opposition to idolatry and paganism. But this commitment is not confirmed by the actual history of the Wahhabi.

The hidden tenet is sowing the seeds of schism, discord, conflict and war among Muslims to serve the goals of foreign domination. This is the real purpose which the Wahhabia has sought to achieve since its inception and until the present day. This means that the declared objective or tenet served only to impress followers and enlist their efforts in achieving the real objective.

Amongst the matters about which the Wahhabis are most sensitive the followings may be exemplified:

1-The Renovation of Graves of Awliya Allah

2-Visitation (Ziyarat) of Graves of Believers

3-Performance of Prayer And Supplication Near Graves Of The Holy Personalities

4-Tawassul (Recourse) To The Awliya Allah

5-Seeking Shafa’a (Intercession) From Awliya Allah

Reference:

http://www.al-islam.org/

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Wahhabi

It is a religious movement among fundamentalist (with an aspiration to return to the primordial fundamental Islamic sources Qur`an, Hadeeth & Scholarly consensus (Ijma)) Islamic believers.

Some more can be found here.

There is a really good article on About.com as well

It would be a mistake and unethical to criticize all of Islam on the basis of doctrines particular to Wahhabi Muslims. Modern Islamic extremism and terrorism simply cannot be explained or understood without looking at the history and influence of Wahhabi Islam. This means that it's important from an ethical and an academic perspective to understand what Wahhabi Islam teaches, what's so dangerous about it, and why those teachings differ from other branches of Islam.

I hope it helps.

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