Saturday, 18 May 2013

A short history of Wahhabism

A short history of the Wahhabi sect, drawn primarily from the content of “God’s Terrorists” by Charles Allen (Abacus). The book deals with the spread of Wahhabi ideology in Arabia and in India, although only the former is dealt with in this post.

In an attempt at clarity, the information is presented, as far as possible, in a chronological format…

7th Century
After the Battle of Badr (624 CE)the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said “we are finished with the lesser jihad, now we are starting the greater jihad”. Over time this began to be viewed as meaning that the outer physical struggle was over and the inner moral struggle had begun. This view was adopted later by all the major Islamic schools of thought.

13th Century
In the wake of the Mongol invasion Islamic civilisation became centred on Persia and was mainly Shia. This was an anathema to 13th century Sunni Ibn Taymiyya who declared himself qualified to be a mujtahid (one qualified to makes interpretations via informed reasoning) and yet he also wrote strongly against bida (innovation). The consensus at the time was that the Muslim community should be united under a single Caliph. But Taymiyya argued against this and said that the local emir governed with the aid of the imam and it was the imam who gave authority to go to war. Taymiyya also defined jihad as a strictly literal physical struggle.

According to Allen, Taymiyya’s ideology “classified the enemies of Islam into four distinct groups” including “those who declared themselves Muslims but were not carrying out Islam’s rituals properly, and were therefore to be killed without mercy”. These views were not accepted by many Ulema at the time.

18th Century
In 1703 Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab was born in the Nejd, the son of judge. He was a devoted student of religion and, in his twenties, studied at Medina where he adopted the views of Taymiyya. Returning home, there were few scholars able to stand up to Al-Wahhabs rhetoric. According to Allen, Al Wahhab was able to :

“construct and apply almost unchallenged a brand of holier-than-thou, confrontational and heartless Islam the like of which had not been seen since the days of Mahmud of Ghazni, the butcher who led twelve loot-and-destroy raids through northern India in the eleventh century…”

Wahhab wrote that:

“The only way…is by love to those who practice Tawhid of Allah, by devotion to them, rendering them every kind of help, as well as by hate and hostility to infidels and polytheists” and also that “any doubt or hesitation” on the part of a believer “deprives a man of immunity of his property and his life”

According to Allen, Al Wahhabs theology threw out the checks and balances that hundreds of years of Islamic Jurisprudence had put in place. He adds that nowhere in Al-Wahhabs main works “The Book of Unity” or “The Book of Struggle” is there any reference to any of the many verses in the Quran that refer to non-violent means of defending Islam or propagating the faith.

His local community were not impressed, and he was ordered to leave his home village. He eventually had to leave his next home, Huraymila, .for similar reasons and then moved to Uyainah where he also gained notoriety for violent acts (including inciting a mob to tear down a tomb of a Companion of the Prophet) and had to leave.

He then moved to Dariya, where he won the support of a local chief Muhammad Ibn Saud, leader of a branch of the Aneiza tribe. Ibn Saud adopted Al-Wahhabs beliefs and married his son Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud, to al-Wahhabs daughter. In 1744 a ceremony formalises Ibn Saud takes the role of Emir, with al Wahhab as his Imam.

Muhammed Ibn Saud was assassinated in 1766 and succeeded by his son Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud.

Attacks on Muslim villages and tribes in the Arabian Penninsula continued, with the targets initially being given a chance to “convert” and threatened with being labelled as heretics and fought to the death if they did not submit.

By 1773, the Wahhabis has conquered Riyadh and Al-Wahhab resigned the office of Imam - and the title was assumed not by one of his followers but by Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud himself. Over the next 20 years he enlarged his Chiefdom considerably. Burckhardt, a writer of the time, wrote that :

“A country, once conquered by the Wahaby enjoys under him the most perfect tranquillity. In Nejd and Hejaz the roads are secure and the people free from any kind of oppression. The Muselmans are forced to adopt his system, but the Jews and Christians are not molested in excersising the respective religions of their ancestors, on condition of paying tribute”

In 1792 Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab died, leaving twenty widows and 18 children. Five of these became respected Wahhabi teachers in their own right and formed a dynasty known as “Aal-as-Sheikh” (family of the sheikhs), with the most senior male members assuming (even today) the title of chief judge of the Wahhabi Ulema.

Shrines in the Al-Baqi Cemetary in Median (destroyed in 1925)

19th Century
In 1802 a Wahhabi raiding party led by the Emirs eldest son Saud ibn Saud attacked the Tomb of Hussein in Karbala - a revered place to the Shia. Lieutenant Francis Warden wrote that :

“They pillaged the whole of it and plundered the Tomb of Hussein… slaying in the course of the day, with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, above five thousand of the inhabitants… “

In 1803 Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud obtained permission from the Sharif of Mecca to perform Hajj. According to writer T.E Ravenshaw, the Wahhabis
“killed many Sheikhs and other believers who refused to adopt Wahaheeism, they robbed the splendid tombs of the Mahomedan saints who were interred there; and their fanatical zeal did not even spare the famous mosque, which they robbed of the immense treasures and costly furniture to which each Mahomedan Prince of Europe, Asia and Africa had contributed their share”

In 1804 Wahhabi army destroyed tombs in Medina, and threatened to destroy the tomb of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

In 1805 the Wahhabis entered Mecca for a second time and claimed it for themselves

A series of battles resulted in the Egyptians, acting on the instructions of the Caliph, recapturing Medina in 1812, but their ill disciplined troops looted Jeddah, causing local chiefs to side with the Wahhabis once again.

In 1806 Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud was assassinated. He was succeeded by his son Saud Ibn Saud who continued his fathers policies

In 1814 Saud Ibn Saud died from fever. He was succeeded by his son Abdullah ibn Saud, who lacked his forebears military skills.

In 1815 Wahhabi forces were crushed by the Egyptians in a decisive battle. The Pasha has promised a reward of 6 silver coins for each head brought to him, which resulted in piles of heads being palced before the headquarters. Allen adds that:

“the lives of 300 prisoners were deliberately spared, but only so that they could be impaled on batches before the gates of Mecca and Medina and at ten staging posts in between “

In 1818 some 500 surviving Wahhabis surrendered after a siege at Dariyah. The Egyptian Pasha staged a theological debate with them to demonstate the error of their ways, but by the fourth day his patience wore out and he ordered them all killed. Abdullah bin Saud and other senior members were sent to Constantinople where they were beheaded

In 1815 Jeddah was also taken by the Egyptians

In the early 1820s one of the few remaining Wahhabis, Turki Ibn Saud, retreated to the desert and began to slowly rebuild the tribal alliances of his grandfather.

By 1842 the Wahhabis had regrouped somewhat under Faisal Ibn Saud, who had retaken Riyadh, but a succession battle on the death of Faisal resulted in his surviving sons and grandson having to go into exile.

20th Century
In 1901 Ibn Saud took over the title of Emir. Backed by his host at the time, Mubarek the Great, Sheikh of Kuwait, Ibn Saud and a small force infiltrated the governors residence in Jeddah, killed the governor and his guards ; and then declared the restoration of the House of Saud, During his struggle of bring the rest of the country under his control he turned to two Wahhabi tribes who called themselves the “Ihkwan” - the Brotherhood. According to Allen, these tribes signalled their rejection of a nomadic lifestyle by discarding the traditional headband and wearing their robes short to leave the ankles exposed.

Ibn Saud encouraged other tribes to also abandon their nomadic life and instead settle at oases. He ensured that they were supplied with houses, schools and religious teaching. In addition, and amongst other unions, he married the daughter of the then head of the Wahhab clan. This marriage produced a son, Prince Faisal who would later become a leading proponent of Wahhabiism.

However, even pro-Wahhabi Harry Philby commented that the most remarkable characteristics of the Wahhabis was their

“uncompromising hatred of their Muslim neighbours… The Shias are frankly condemned as infidels or polytheists, but it is for the orthodox congregations of the four Sunni churches …that the Wahhabis reserve the undiluted venom of their hatred”

Harry Philby (in Jeddah)

As far as the British were concerned, the only legitimate ruler of Arabia was Sharif Husain Ibn Ali, Emir of the Hijaz, guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, protector of the Hajj.

And when the Ottoman empire threw in their lot with the Germans in WW1, the British became keen to have allies who could fight with them against the Ottomans. Husein seemed to fit the bill very well and agreed to help the Biritsh in return for support after the war as ruler of Arabia.

In 1918 Ibn Saud was told that the British would support Husein and, in revenge, attacked Husains forces and pushed them back to the outskirts of Mecca.

By 1921, further advances by Ibn Saud left Husain with only the Emirship of the Hijaz, and yet Husain still expected the British to honour their promise to make him ruler of Arabia.

Sherif Husein of Mecca

In 1924, Husein responded to the creation of secular rule in Turkey by claiming the title of Caliph of Islam for himself and banned the Ikhwan from making the Hajj. The Wahhabis then attacked and took Mecca, Medina, tearing down the tombs of many Muslim saints, including that of the Prophets daughter, Fatima. Ibn Saud paused at the gates of Jeddah.

At this point, Harry Philby resigned his government position and met Ibn Saud on the Red Sea coast, giving him details of Jeddahs weak defences. Ibn Saud took Jeddah three weeks later, taking the title of “Emir of the Hijaz and keeper of the Two Holy Places”. He gave Philby the former Turkish Government residence in Jeddah as thanks for his help.

Ibn Saud now began to work hard to rein in the Ihkwan so that he could convince Muslim and European powers that and the wider Muslim world that he was not an extremist.

By 1929, observers including the likes of TE Lawrence felt that the Wahhabi regime was likely to collapse. The Wahhabi Ulema were resisting attempts by Ibn Saud to introduce technologies such as the telephone and the car, saying that these were innovations. In addition the Ikhwan were carrying out unauthorised raids into neighbouring countries

Ibn Saud dismissed the most wayward Ihkwan leaders, resulting in a revolt by their troops. Negotiations failed , this was followed by troops loyal to Ibn Saud, backed up four British aircraft and two hundred armoured cars and troop carriers, taking on and defeating the Ihkwan rebels.

By 1930, the nation state of Saudi Arabia was close to formation. In return for accepting some innovations, the Wahhabi Ulema were given free reign to impose Wahhabi Sharia in mosques and law courts

Philby, meanwhile was not popular with the British government (due to his friendship with Ibn Saud). He became a Muslim in 1930, declaring that he was keen to follow “…especially the statements of Shaikh Ibn Taimia [ibn Taymiyya]”…

In 1932, Ibn Saud united the Nejd and the Hijaz to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Ibn  Saud (1945)

In 1953, Ibn Saud died and Imamship passed to his eldest sons, first Saud then Faisal

In 1975, Faisal was assassinated by his nephew, who was angry because his brother had been killed while leading a Wahhabi demonstration against the introduction of television

In 1979, several hundred men took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca and took it over in the name of the Mahdi. The takeover ended violently

The story after 1979 will have to wait for another day...

Ajyad Fortress, Mecca (destroyed in 1982)

A footnote
Incidentally, lest you think that the hate was all one way, Allen mentions a fatwa (around 1860) issued by hundreds of Ulema in India against the Deobandi sect. Part of the fatwa reads:
The Deobandis…because of their contempt and insult in their acts of worship towards the saints, prophets and even the Holy Prophet Muhammed and the very Person of God himself, are very definitely apostates and infidels. Their apostasy and heresy is of the worst kind so that anyone who doubts their apostasy and heresy even slightly is an apostate and infidel…

Update Oct 2014: BFTF notes that one of the first acts of the "Islamic State" on reaching Mosul and Aleppo was to distribute books by Muhammad bin Abdel-Wahhab, making clear just how poisonous Wahhabi thinking can be when implemented.

And also that many, many Islamic Scholars around the world have signed an open letter to the "Islamic State", detailing how its brutality go against Islamic teaching.

Another history
Destruction of Early Islamic Heritage
The Ottoman Ajyad Fortress (destroyed in 2002)
Independent article on desctruction in Mecca
BFTF challenging the Saudi Government on their policies

Image Sources
Ajyad Fortress, Ibn Saud, Harry Philby, Sherif Hussein, Al Baki

No comments:

Post a Comment