The Origin & History of the Wahhabi Sect until the Time of Imam az-Zahawi al-Kurdi (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Imam Jamil Swiddiqi ibn Muhammad Faydhi az-Zahawi al-Kurdi’s (r.a.), al-Fajr as-Swadiq fi ar-Radd ‘ala Munkiri at-Tawaswswul wa al-Khawariq, “The True Dawn: A Refutation of Those Denying Miracles & Intercession in Islam”.

The Wahhabiyyah is a sect whose origin can be traced back to Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.  Although he first came on the scene in 1143 AH / 1730 CE, the subversive current his false doctrine initiated took some fifty years to spread.  It first showed up in Najd.  This is the same district that produced the false prophet, Musaylimah in the early days of Islam.  Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, governor of this district, aided ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s effort, forcing people to follow him.  One Arab tribe after another allowed itself to be deceived until sedition became commonplace in the region, his notoriety grew and his power soon passed beyond anyone’s control.  The nomadic Arabs of the surrounding desert feared him.  He used to say to the people, “I call upon you but to confess tawhid and to avoid shirk.”  The people of the countryside followed him and where he walked, they walked until his dominance increased.

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was born in 1111 AH / 1699 CE and died in 1207 AH / 1792 CE.  At the outset of his career, he used to go back and forth to Makkah and Madina in quest of knowledge.  In Madina, he studied with Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi (r.a.) and Shaykh Muhammad Hayyat as-Sindi (r.a.).  These two shuyukh as well as others with whom he studied early on detected the heresy of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s creed.  They used to say, “Allah will Allow him be led astray; but even unhappier will be the lot of those misled by him.”  Circumstances had reached this state when his father Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhab (r.a.), a pious scholars of the religion, detected heresy in his belief and began to warn others about his son.  His own brother, Shaykh Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab an-Najdi (r.a.) soon followed suit, going so far as to write a book entitled , al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyyah fi ar-Radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyyah, “Divine Lightning in Refuting the Wahhabis”, to refute the innovative and subversive creed manufactured by Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab.

Famous writers of the day made a point of noting  the similarity between ibn `Abd al-Wahhab’s beginnings and those of the false prophets prominent in Islam's initial epoch like Musaylimah the Prevaricator, Sajah al-Aswad al-Anasi, Tulayha al-Asadi and others of their kind.  These were self-declared prophets in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and directly after.  What was different in ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s case was his concealment in himself of any outright claim to prophecy.  Undoubtedly, he was unable to gain support enough to openly proclaim it.  Nevertheless, he would call those who came from abroad to join his movement Muhajirun and those who came from his own region, Answar in patent imitation of those who took flight from Makkah with the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in contrast to the inhabitants of Madina at the start of Islam.  ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab habitually ordered anyone who had already made the hajj to Mecca prior joining him to remake it since he claimed Allah (s.w.t.) had not accepted it the first time they performed because they had done so as unbelievers.  He was also given to telling people wishing to enter his religion, "You must bear witness against yourself that you were a disbeliever and you must bear witness against your parents that they were disbelievers and died as such.”

His practice was to declare a group of famous scholars of the past unbelievers.  If a potential recruit to his movement agreed and testified to the truth of that declaration, he was accepted; if not, an order was given and he was summarily put to death.  ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab made no secret of his view that the Muslim community had existed for the last six hundred years in a state of kufr and he said the same of whoever did not follow him.  Even if a person was the most pious and God-fearing of Muslims, he would denounce them as mushrikun, thus making the shedding of their blood and confiscation of their wealth halal.

On the other hand, he affirmed the faith of anyone who followed him even though they be persons of most notoriously corrupt and profligate styles of life.  He played always on a single theme: the dignity to which Allah (s.w.t.) had supposedly entitled him.  This directly corresponded to the decreased reverence he claimed was due the Prophet (s.a.w.) whose status as Messenger he frequently depreciated using language fit to describe an errand boy rather than a Divinely-Commissioned apostle of faith.  He would say such things as “I looked up the account of Hudaybiyyah and found it to contain this or that lie.”  He was in the habit of using contemptuous speech of this kind to the point that one follower, a blind an, felt free to say in his actual presence, “This stick in my hand is better than Muhammad because it benefits me by enabling me to walk.  But Muhammad is dead and benefits me not at all”.  This, of course, expresses nothing less than disbelief and counts legally as such in the four schools of Islamic law.  This is an act of kufr.

Returning always to the same theme, ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab used to say that prayer for the Prophet (s.a.w.) was reprehensible and makruh in the shari’ah.  He would prohibit blessings on the Prophet (s.a.w.) from being recited on the eve of swalah al-juma’ah and their public utterance from the minbar, and punish harshly anyone who pronounced such blessings.  He even went so far as to kill a blind mu’adzin who did not cease and desist when he commanded him to abandon praying for the Prophet (s.a.w.) in the conclusion to his call to prayer.  He deceived his followers by saying that all that was done to keep monotheism pure.

At the same time, he burned many books containing prayers for the Prophet (s.a.w.), among them, Dala’il al-Khayrat and others, similar in content and theme.  In this fashion, he destroyed countless books on Islamic law, commentary on the Qur’an, and the science of ahadits whose common fault lay in their contradiction of his own vacuous creed.  While doing this, however, he never ceased encouraging any follower to interpret Qur’an and ahadits for himself and to execute this informed only by the light of his own understanding, darkened though it be through errant belief and heretical indoctrination.

ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab clung fiercely to denouncing people as unbelievers.  To do this he used Qur’anic verses originally revealed about idolaters and extended their application to monotheists.  It has been narrated by ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) and recorded by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) in his book of sound ahadits that the Khwarij transferred the Qur’anic verses meant to refer to unbelievers and made them refer to believers.  He also relates another narration transmitted on the authority of ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) whereby the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “What I most fear in my community is a man who interprets verses of the Qur’an out of context.”  The latter hadits and the one preceding it apply to the case of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his followers.

It is obvious the intention to found a new religion lay behind his statements and actions.  In consequence, the only thing he accepted from the religion of our Prophet (s.a.w.) was the Qur’an.  Yet even this was a matter of surface show.  It allowed people to be ignorant of what his aims really were.  Indicating this is the way he and his followers used to interpret the Qur’an according to their own whim and ignore the commentary provided by the Prophet (s.a.w.), his companions, the pious predecessors of our faith, and the a’immah of Qur'anic commentary.  He did not argue on the strength of the narrations of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and sayings of the companions, the successors to the companions and the a’immah among those who derived rulings in the shari’ah by means of ijtihad nor did he adjudicate legal cases on the basis of the uswul of the shari’ah; that is, he did not adhere to ijma’ nor to qiyas.  Although he claimed to belong to the madzhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), this pretense was motivated by falsehood and dissimulation.  The scholars and jurists of the Hanbali school rejected his multifarious errors.  They wrote numerous articles refuting him including his brother whose book touching on ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s errors was mentioned earlier.

The learned Sayyid al-‘Alawi al-Haddad (q.s.), the father of Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad (q.s.), who passed in Makkah in 1995, said, “In our opinion, the one element in the statements and actions of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab that makes his departure from the foundations of Islam unquestionable is the fact that he, without support of any generally accepted interpretation of Qur’an or sunnah, takes matters in our religion necessarily well-known to be objects of haram agreed upon by consensus ijma’ and makes them halal.  Furthermore, along with that he disparages the prophets, the messengers, saints and the pious.  Willful disparagement of anyone failing under these categories of person is kufr according to the consensus reached by the four a’immah of the schools of Islamic law.”  Examples of him making halal that which was haram include, asking Muslims to repeat their shahadah by claiming they were mushrikun, or killing them.

Then he wrote an essay called Kashf ash-Shubuhat ‘an Khaliq al-‘Ardhi wa as-Samawat, “The Clarification of Unclarity Concerning the Creator of Heaven and Earth” for ibn Sa’ud.  In this work, he declared that all present-day Muslims are disbelievers and have been so for the last six hundred years.  He applied the verses in the Qur’an, meant to refer to disbelievers among the tribe of the Quraysh to most God-fearing and pious individuals of the Muslim community.  ibn Sa’ud naturally took this work as a pretext and device for extending his political sovereignty by subjecting the Arabs to his dominance.  ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab began to call people to his religion and instilled in their hearts the idea that everyone under the sun was an idolater.  What is more, he said anyone who slew an ‘idolater’, when he died, would go immediately to Paradise.

As a consequence, ibn Sa’ud carried out whatever ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab ordered.  If he commanded him to kill someone and seize his property, he hastened to do just that.  Indeed, ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab sat among his folk like a prophet in the midst of his community.  His people did not forsake one jot or little of what he told them to do and acted only as he commanded, magnifying him to the highest degree and honouring him in every conceivable way.  The clans and tribes of the Arabs continued to magnify him in this manner until, by that means, the dominion of ibn Sa’ud increased far and wide as well as that of his sons after him.

The Sharif of Makkah, Shaykh Ghalib (r.a.), waged war against ibn Sa’ud for fifteen years until he grew too old and weak to fight.  No one remained if his supporters except that they joined the side of his foe.  It was then that ibn Sa’ud entered Mecca in a negotiated peace settlement in the year 1220 AH / 1805 CE.  There he abided for some seven years until the Sublime Porte, the Ottoman government, raised a military force addressing command to its minister, the honourable Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali Fasha (r.a.), ruler of Egypt.  His intrepid army advanced against ibn Sa’ud and cleared the land of him and his followers.  Then, he summoned his son, Shaykh Ibrahim Fasha who arrived in the district in the year 1233 AH / 1818 CE.  He finished off what remained of them.

Among the hideous abominations of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was his prohibiting people from visiting the tomb of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  After his prohibition, a group went out from Ahsa’ to visit the Prophet (s.a.w.).  When they returned, they passed by ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in the district and he commanded that their beards be shaved and they be saddled on their mounts backwards to return in this fashion to Ahsa’.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) related information about those Khwarij preserved in numerous ahadits.  Indeed, these sayings constitute one of the signs of his prophethood; for they convey knowledge of the unseen.

Among them are his statements in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim, “Discord there; discord there!” pointing to the East; and “A people will come out of the East who will read Qur’an with it not getting past their throats.  They will pass through the religion like an arrow when it passes clean through the flesh of its quarry and comes back pristine and prepared to be shot once again from the bow.  They will bear a sign in the shaving of their heads.”  Another narration of the hadits adds, “They are calamity for the whole of Allah’s Creation; Blessed is he who kills them,” or “Slay them!  For though they appeal to Allah’s Book, they have no share therein.”

He said, “O Allah!  Bless us in our Syria and bless us in our Yemen!”

They said, “O Messenger of Allah!  And in our Najd?”

But he replied, “In Najd will occur earthquakes and discords; in it will dawn the horn of Shaythan.”  Again he said, “A people will come out of the East, reading the Qur’an and yet it will not get past their throats. Whenever one generation is cut off, another arises until the last dawns with the coming of Antichrist.  They will bear a sign in the shaving of their heads.”

Now the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) words explicitly specify in text his reference to those people coming out of the East, following Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in the innovations he made in Islam.  For they were in the habit of ordering those who followed them to shave their heads and once they began to follow them, they did not abandon this practice.  In none of the sects of the past prior to that of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab did the likes of this practice occur.

The mufti of Zabid, Yemen, Sayyid ‘Abd ar-Rahman al-Ahdal (q.s.) said, “It is enough testimony against Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, ‘Their mark is that they shave,’ for this was never done by any of the sects of innovators before him.”  This was related by Imam Ahmad ad-Dahlan (r.a.) in his book, Khulaswat al-Kalam fi Bayan Umara’ al-Balad al-Haram.  When ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab had a group of Muslims killed because they did not shave their heads as he required his followers to do, Shaykh al-Mun’ami (r.a.) wrote a lampoon whose first verse is:

“Is there, concerning shaving the head at sword point,
An authentic hadits related from my ancestor, the Prophet?”

He even ordered the women who followed him to shave their heads.  Once he ordered a woman who entered his new religion to shave her head.  She replied, “If you ordered men to shave off their beards, then it would be permissible for you to order a woman to shave her head.  But the hair on a woman’s head has the same sacred status as a man’s beard.”  ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was unable to answer her.

Found among the narrations transmitted from the Prophet (s.a.w.), is his statement, “At the end of time, a man will rise up in the same region from which once rose Musaylimah.  He would change the religion of Islam.”  Another saying has it, “From Najd, a Shaythan will appear on the scene causing the Arab peninsula to erupt in earthquake from discord and strife.”

One of the abominations of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was his burning of books containing works of Islamic science and his slaughter of the scholars of our faith and people both of the top classes and common people.  He made the shedding of their blood and confiscation of their property and wealth licit well as digging up graves of awliya’.  In Ahsa’, for example, he ordered that some of the graves of awliya’ be used by people to relieve the wants of nature.  He forbade people to read Imam al-Jazuli’s (q.s.) Dala’il al-Khayrat, to perform supererogatory acts of devotion, to utter the names of Allah (s.w.t.) in His remembrance, to read the mawlid celebrating the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) birth, or to evoke blessings and prayers on the Prophet (s.a.w.) from the minaret after the call to prayer.  What's more, he killed whoever dared to do any of those things.  He forbade any kind of act of worship after the canonical prayers.  He would publicly declare a Muslim a disbeliever for requesting a prophet, angel or individual of saintly life to join his or her prayers to that person’s own prayer, expressing some intention whose fulfillment might be asked of Allah (s.w.t.) as, for example, when one supplicates the Creator for the sake of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), to accomplish such-and-such  a need.  He also said anyone who addressed a person as sayyid was a disbeliever.

Undoubtedly, one of the worst abominations perpetrated by the Wahhabis under the leadership of ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was the massacre of the people of Ta’if. upon entering that town.  They killed everyone in sight, slaughtering both child and adult, the ruler and the ruled, the lowly and well-born.  They began with a suckling child nursing at his mother's breast and moved on to a group studying Qur’an, slaying them, down to the last man.  And when they wiped out the people they found in the houses, they went out into the streets, the shops and the mosques, killing whoever happened to be there.  They killed even men bowed in prayer until they had annihilated every Muslim who dwelt in Ta’if and only a remnant, some twenty or more, remained.

These were holed up in Bayt al-Fitni with ammunition, inaccessible to their approach.  There was another group at Bayt al-Far to the number of two-hundred and seventy who fought them that day, then the second and third until the Wahhabis sent them a guarantee of clemency; only they tendered this proposal as a trick.  For when they entered, they seized their weapons and slew them to a man.  Others, they also brought out with a guarantee of clemency and a pact to the valley of Waj where they abandoned them in the cold and snow, barefoot, naked exposed in shame with their women, accustomed to the privacy afforded them by common decency and religious morality.  They, then, plundered their possessions: wealth of any kind, household furnishings and cash.

They cast books into the streets alleys and byways to be blown to and fro by the wind  among which could be found copies of the Qur’an, volumes of Swahih al-Bukhari, Swahih Muslim, other canonical collections of ahadits and books of fiqh, all amounting to the thousands.  These books remained there for several days, trampled upon by the Wahhabis.  What is more, no one among them made the slightest attempt to remove even one page of Qur’an from under foot to preserve it from the ignominy of this display of disrespect.  Then, they razed the houses and made what was once a town a barren waste land.  That was in the year 1217 AH / 1802 CE.

The leader of the Wahhabis at the time Imam az-Zahawi al-Kurdi (r.a.) wrote this account was ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Faysal, one of the sons of Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, the rebel who turned his face in disobedience to the greater Islamic Caliphate in the year 1205 AH / 1790 CE.  The incidents he occasioned with the Sharif of Makkah, Ghalib continued up to 1220 AH / 1805 CE.  Then, when the Sharif's power to do battle with him waned, the Sublime Porte raised a military force against him, charging its minister, the late Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali Fasha (r.a.), ruler of Egypt, and his son, the late Shaykh lbrahim Fasha (r.a.), with its command as we pointed out above.

Now, this ‘Abd ar-Rahman was for almost thirty years, governor of Riyadh.  Then, Muhammad ibn ar-Rashid, took over Najd as its governor and ibn Sa’ud fled to the remote areas by the sea coast.  He ultimately ended up in Kuwait where he remained in humiliating poverty.  Nor did anyone feel sorry for him until the Sublime Porte looked on him with favour and afforded him a remittance.  Thereupon, he began to live a more comfortable life, though in a state of exile, due to the largesse of the Ottoman government.

When Shaykh Muhammad ibn ar-Rashid (r.a.) died, his nephew came to power, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Muth’ab ibn ar-Rashid, who is governor of Najd at the time of writing this.  It fell out that an incident took place between the ‘Abd al-‘Aziz just mentioned and the Shaykh of Kuwait, Mubarak ibn Sabah.  Behind it was Mubarak ibn Sabah’s murder of his brother, Muhammad ibn Sabah who was, at that time, locum tenens or temporary substitute of the Sublime Porte in Kuwait.  The same individual also murdered his other brother and robbed his children of an immense inheritance.  The latter heirs, thereupon, fled the fratricide's further pursuit.  Faced with this state affairs, the uncle of the murdered children, Yusuf ibn Ibrahim, took refuge with ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ar-Rashid, the Governor of Najd, taking sides in his presence against his own brother Mubarak ibn Sabah, the aforementioned fratricide, in an attempt get back the wealth the latter had robbed from his nephews.

Negotiations of reconciliation broke down to the point that each of the two parties in the dispute fitted out an army, one against the other.  The two armies clashed at a place called Tarafiya.  Mubarak ibn Sabah suffered defeat and some four thousands fighters from his army were killed, although he escaped unharmed.  He fled back to Kuwait vanquished and humiliated.  However, no time elapsed before ibn Sabah sought foreign protection and rebelled again.  The foreigners supplied both money and arms.  Then, the power of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Faysal ibn Sa’ud began to wax strong against the Governor of Najd, ar-Rashid.  It chanced that the latter was at that moment preoccupied by military expeditions in the remote districts of Riyadh.

Mubarak ibn Sabah seized his opportunity.  Helped by foreigners with money and weapons, he fitted out an army and placed it under the command of that ‘Abd al-Rahman mentioned earlier.  ibn Sabah dispatched him to Riyadh to capture it, occupy it by force, fortify its barriers and entrench himself within.  When the news of what had happened reached the governor, ibn al-Rashid, he returned and encircled it for a time with the intent of taking it back.  His encampment around Riyadh lasted for a year.  Then, something occurred in one of remote areas of the district that distracted him from the encirclement and he abandoned it.  This afforded ibn Sa’ud an opportunity as well, for he came out with his army outfitted with foreign aid and seized ‘Unayza, Burayda, and the remainder of the regions of Qusaym.

The Sublime Porte witnessed the hostile action of ‘Abd al-Rahman, his rebellion and insolence against its friend the faithful Governor of Najd, ibn al-Rashid, as well as his defection to the foreigner, it dispatched a squadron from its intrepid armies as a support for the Governor of Najd, ibn ar-Rashid to cut off the rear end of those renegades and crush their hostile activities.  ibn ar-Rashid snuffed out the sparks of sedition.  The Ottoman forces clashed with the rebels, the party of ibn Sa’ud near the town of Bahkrama in the region of Qusaym.  A fierce battle between the two forces ensued, issuing finally in the defeat of the rebellious party, the forces of ibn Sa’ud.  The victorious army took possession of eleven standards of their defeated foe.  ibn ar-Rashid and his soldiers were extolled for their role in crushing the enemy in this battle and their bravery; the memory of it will last forever.  This praise has an undeniable base in fact, word and deed.  At the time of writing this, the vanquished were enclosed and surrounded with the intrepid forces of Shaykh Ibrahim Fasha (r.a.) looking on and encompassing them round about, praised for their exemplary manner of containing the enemy and curbing his defiance.

When  ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab saw that the inhabitants of the rural regions of Najd were different from the urbane world of its cities, he would extol the simplicity and innocence of human beings as they are found in the primordial state of the Arabs.  Ignorance, then, gained the upper hand among the city-dwellers so that sciences of an intellectual character lost status in their eyes.  Besides, there was no longer an appetite in their hearts for things sound and wholesome, once he had sewn in their hearts the seeds of corruption and vice.  For it was to vice and corruption that his own soul had become attuned since time immemorial nourished by his grab at political leadership masked under the name of religion.  After all, he believed, may Allah (s.w.t.) Revile him, that prophethood was only a matter of political leadership which the cleverest people attain when circumstances help them in the form of an ignorant and uninformed crowd.


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