Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab

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Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab
Born 1703
'Uynaynah, Najd
Died 1792
Diriyah, First Saudi State
Employer Al-Sa'ud
Occupation theologian, jurist
Religious belief Wahhabi Islam
Children Ali
Ali II
Abd al-Aziz
Notable works Kitab al-Tawhid
Kitab al-Qur'an
Treatise on the Foundation of Islam and its principles
Clarification of the Doubts
The Three Fundamental Principles
The Six Fundamental Principles
Nullifiers of Islam

Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (محمد بن عبد الوهاب, born 1703 in 'Uyaynah; died 1792) was a Muslim scholar from the Najd region of what is today known as Saudi Arabia, who founded the eponymous Wahhabi branch of the Salafi movement, a movement which he would also be ultimately responsible for popularizing in general.[1]

Early life

Upbringing and education

Born in a sedentary clan to a family of well-established Islamic jurists in the Najd, Abd al-Wahhab was raised with a standard classical training in Qur'anic memorization as well as Islamic Law and fiqh according to the Hanbali Madh'hab, which was common in the area.

Abd al-Wahhab would study the Hanbali works of the famed Ibn Qudamah who was exceptionally renown in the Najd. Islamic orthodoxy allowing for the possibility of miracles at the hands of those considered the Awliyah, or friends (also translatable as "saints") of Allah, many in the Najd had come to attribute miracles to Ibn Qudamah. Similarly accepted in Islamic orthodoxy is the visitation of saintly persons' graves in order to offer prayers for the deceased and benefit from the general blessed aura of the site. This practice is functionally similar to the veneration of shrines. Both the attribution of miracles to miracles as well as the veneration of shrines would, however, appear to Abd al-Wahhab to smack of polytheism, causing him to eventually develop a great distaste and disdain for the interpretive methodologies of the classical madh'habs that would allow such practices.

Later traveling to Mecca and then Medina, Abd al-Wahhab would come in contact with a a scholar by the name of Abdullah ibn Ibrahim al-Najdi, a proponent of Ibn Taymiyyah's (d. 1328) interpretation of the Hanbali madh'hab. Abd al-Wahhab would develop an affinity for al-Najdi and Ibn Taymiyyah through this encounter, as he came to see the two's approach to scripture as more essentially pure and aggressive towards developments in Islam beyond the lifetime of Muhammad and his companions.

These experiences would later inspire the especially puritanical and anti-classical strain of Salafism that were taught by and became eponymous with Abd al-Wahhab

Return home

Upon his return home, Abd al-Wahhab began preaching his new ideas, and ultimately managed to secure a political pact with the ambitious ruler of Uyaynah at the time by the name of Ibn Mu'ammar. With the resultant political authority, al-Wahhab begin implementing his interpretation of Islam in addition to preaching it. Among his first acts where: the leveling of a companion's grave (that of Zayd ibn al-Khattab), the removal of trees that locals considered sacred, and the stoning of a woman who had admitted to having committed adultery.

Political Pacts

Ibn Mu'ammar

Abd al-Wahhab's preaching upon his return home earned him an alliance with the then ruler of Uyaynah, Ibn Mu'ammar. As Abd al-Wahhab began to act out using his new found authority in addition to simply preaching, however, a competing Najdi ruler by the name of Ibn Ghurayr (chief of al-Hasa and Qatif) became incensed, and ultimately threatened to prevent Ibn Mu'ammar from collecting taxes from properties Ibn Mu'ammar owned in al-Hasa if Ibn Mu'ammar did not evince or execute Abd al-Wahhab. Ibn Mu'ammar complied, banishing al-Wahhab, and thus spelling the end of their political alliance.

Muhammad bin Saud

Hearing of al-Wahhab's expulsion from Uyaynah and drawn by his teachings, Muhammad bin Saud, another leader in the Najd (this time of the Diriyah settlement), invited al-Wahhab to work and live with him. In 1744, they famously sounded a pact (or bay'ah, lit. "oath of loyalty"). Dividing political and religious affairs between the two of them (the latter being al-Wahhab's responsibility), both set out to conquer the Arabian peninsula. The two families of al-Saud and al-Wahhab would persist in this "mutual support pact" until the present time, and together see the establishment of the first (Emirate of Diriyah, 1744-1818), second (Emirate of Nejd, 1824-1891), and third (Saudi Arabia, 1902-present) Saudi states.

In their conquest of the Najd, al-Wahhab's conceptions of tawheed and takfeer would prove crucial in first excommunicating and determining the apostasy of neighboring Arab tribes such that jihad against them could be justified.


Tawhid and intercession

Abd al-Wahhab emphasized tawheed, or strict monotheism, as his core teaching, which was epitomized in his famous book entitled Kitab al-Tawheed (lit. "The book of monotheism"). In focusing on tawheed, al-Wahhab saw any and all veneration of humans (such as venerated scholars, deceased and living) and human constructs (physical shrines as well abstract constructs such as the four schools of Sunni law) as interrupting and violating an absolute monotheism. While orthodox Islam had long accepted the possibility of selected pious persons (specifically the prophet) interceding on behalf of other before God with God's permission on the Day of Judgement, al-Wahhab taught that believing in any such thing was tantamount to shirk, or polytheism.

It is important to note that Islamic scripture is itself unclear on the possibility of intercession, and gives seemingly mixed messages (note the first and second verses which suggest that no intercession is possible whatsoever, and the third and fourth which suggest that some persons may be given permission to intercede for others):

And guard yourselves against a day when no soul will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be received from it, nor will they be helped.
245. O ye who believe! spend of that wherewith We have provided you ere a day come when there will be no trafficking, nor friendship, nor intercession. The disbelievers, they are the wrong-doers.

255. Allah! There is no deity save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.
On that day no intercession availeth save (that of) him unto whom the Beneficent hath given leave and whose word He accepteth.


Abd al-Wahhab went so far as to declare all those who believed in the possibility of intercession with God to be kuffar, or non-Muslims (lit. "unbelievers"). This practice of excommunication whereby one declares someone else who self-describes as a Muslim to, in fact, be a non-Muslim, is known as takfeer. Abd al-Wahhab can be seen as responsible for re-popularizing it until the present time (the practice had been at least somewhat common place prior to the 13th century and especially during the civil wars over Muhammad's caliphal succession much earlier on, but had since died out).

In their conquest of the Najd, al-Wahhab's conceptions of tawheed and takfeer would prove crucial in first excommunicating and determining the apostasy of neighboring Arab tribes such that jihad against them could be justified.

Another popular Salafi commonly attributed to al-Wahhab is al-Wala' wal-Bara' li-Allah, or the practice of "loving and hating for the sake of Allah".


Today, followers of al-Wahhab self-Identify more generically as "Salafis" (which merely connotes a focus on the practices of the Salafs, or the early Muslim) and are usually only referred to by others, in an almost derogatory manner, as "Wahhabis". In practical discourse, however, the term Wahhabism proves useful, as the Salafi movement is much larger and far more diverse than the followers of al-Wahhab, who only comprise one sub-group.

See Also


  1. Cameron Zargar, "Origins of Wahhabism from Hanbali Fiqh," UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law 16, no. 1 (2017), 65-114.