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Islamic Studies Wahhabism
by
Natana DeLong-Bas

Introduction

Wahhabism properly refers to the 18th-century revival and reform movement begun in the region of Najd, in what is today Saudi Arabia, by Islamic religious and legal scholar Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab. The hallmarks of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s teachings are his emphasis on tawhid (absolute monotheism), opposition to shirk (association of anyone or anything with God), and direct, individual return to the Qurʾan and Sunna (example of the Prophet) for interpretation (ijtihad). In contemporary use, Wahhabism is used broadly to refer to a variety of phenomena, including Salafism, jihadism, religious belief and practice within Saudi Arabia, literal interpretations of the Qurʾan and Sunna, interpretations of Islam that focus on ritual correctness rather than meaning, and generally any resistance movement globally that uses Islam or Islamic terminology as its reference. It tends to be associated with the practice of takfir ideology, in which anyone in disagreement with one’s interpretation of religion is declared to be a kafir (unbeliever) who must be fought in jihad (as holy war), thus representing a particularly intolerant interpretation of Islam. This article focuses on Wahhabism as religious interpretation and practice specific to Saudi Arabia, and on the polarized debates surrounding Wahhabism post-9/11. It should be noted that the terms Wahhabism and Wahhabi are considered pejorative by Saudis, who refer to themselves simply as Muslims.

Journals

Journal coverage of Wahhabism and Wahhabi thought tends to be sporadic. Scholarly journals such as the International Journal of Middle East Studies and the Middle East Studies Association Bulletin provide coverage of Wahhabism and Wahhabi thought within articles dedicated to discussions of specific countries or of trends in Islamic thought. One publication available in English that can be considered representative of official Saudi Islamic thought is Al-Daawah Monthly Islamic Magazine, published by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Daʾwah and Guidance. It includes articles about contemporary issues, as well as religious recommendations and a selection of fatwas.

English Translations

Although most of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s works have not been translated into English, two of the most important have been translated by al-Faruqi (Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab 1979, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab 1986). In addition, analysis of his full works is presented in DeLong-Bas 2008.

  • DeLong-Bas, Natana J. Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Analysis of all of Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s works

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  • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, Muhammad. Three Essays on Tawhid. Translated by Ismail Raji al-Faruqi. Teaneck, NJ: Islamic Publications International, 1979.

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    Translation of three shorter treatises by Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, discussing the central concept of absolute monotheism.

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  • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, Muhammad. Kitab al-Tawhid. Translated by Ismail Raji al-Faruqi. Kuwait: al-Faisal Printing Co., 1986.

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    Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s most important treatise, written as a catechism for his followers. This work has been translated into more than twenty languages and is widely disseminated by the Saudis.

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Sheikhs

Although many Saudi religious establishment sheikhs have influence largely only within the Kingdom (and often limited to ritual issues), others, such as Sheikh Aʾidh al-Qarni and Sheikh Salman al-Awda, have a global following numbering in the millions and address more contemporary concerns such as psychological well-being. This difference of topical concerns is evident in the formats used by each: fatwas tend to be the communication method of choice for those concerned with ritual and legal matters (Husain 2005, al-Madkhali 2007), while book-length studies, self-help books, and online publications are the domain of those seeking to engage contemporary life (al-Qarni 2003, al-Qarni 2005a, al-Qarni 2005b). In addition, a number of Saudi scholars participate in websites or write frequent columns that are posted online, such as by Fatwa Online and Islam Today, both of which are in English.

  • Fatwa Online.

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    English-language website featuring fatwas of sheikhs from around the world, including Saudi Arabia.

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    • Husain, Ibn Maqbool, compiler and translator. Fatawa: Essential Rulings for Every Muslim Woman. 2d ed. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: International Islamic Publishing House, 2005.

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      A compilation of fatwas on purification, prayer, zakah, fasting, hajj, umrah, and miscellaneous topics concerning social interactions. Includes fatwas by four senior official religious scholars—the former Grand Mufti Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Uthaymin, Sheikh Abdullah ibn Jibrin, and Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan—and some issued collectively by the Permanent Committee of Iftaʾ.

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    • Islam Today.

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      The English-language website of Sheikh Salman al-ʿAwda, providing coverage of both religious and legal opinions.

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      • Madeenah.com

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        Saudi website providing coverage of the speeches and writings of a variety of Saudi sheikhs.

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        • Al-Madkhali, Sheikh Rabiʾ ibn Hadi ibn Umayr. The Rights and Obligations upon Men and Women in Islaam. Introduction by Sheikh Salih ibn Fawzan al-Fawzan. Dallas, TX: Tarbiyyah Bookstore Publishing, 2007.

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          Written by a member of the official Saudi religious establishment, this book addresses the rights given to women by Islam and asserts God’s authority through Qurʾan verses, Sunna, and some Islamic history. The main purpose of the book is to assert the superior position of women in Islam, using U.S. statistics and incidents about rape and sexual harassment to demonstrate the inferiority of the status of Western women by comparison.

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        • Al-Qarni, ʾAaidh ibn Abdullah. 30 Ways to Achieve Happiness. London: Al-Firdous, 2003.

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          Written as a self-help book focused on building both happiness and character, this book uses the Qurʾan, Sunna, and examples from Islamic history to encourage moderation and engagement with life.

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        • Al-Qarni, ʾAaidh ibn Abdullah. Don’t Be Sad. 2d ed. Translated by Faisal ibn Muhammad. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: International Islamic Publishing House, 2005a.

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          This best-selling book by one of the Sahwi (Awakening) sheikhs who led calls for political reforms in the 1990s encourages Muslims to take comfort in a personal approach to faith and to see their relationship with God as a means of overcoming depression and angst. Emphasis is placed on the Qurʾan, Sunna, and examples of Muslims throughout history as sources of guidance and inspiration. Available online.

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        • Al-Qarni, ʾAaidh ibn Abdullah. You Can Be the Happiest Woman in the World: A Treasure Chest of Reminders. Translated by Huda Khattab. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: International Islamic Publishing House, 2005b.

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          Written as a guide for Muslim women, this book celebrates Muslim identity as the means of escape from worry, stress, and depression in the quest for happiness. Grounded in Qurʾan, Sunna, and historical examples of Muslim women, it encourages women to think not only about the afterlife but also to engage in this life as a wife, mother, student, or worker, all of which are presented as desirable occupations.

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        Historical Development

        Historical discovery of the Wahhabi movement begins with the writings of its founder, Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab. A five-volume set of his complete works was issued in Saudi Arabia in 1978–1979 (AH 1398). A few English translations of some of his most important works have also appeared. Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s interpretational methodology includes consideration of the context in which scripture was revealed, and he rejects literalism. His central theme of tawhid is best exemplified by the works translated by al-Faruqi (Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab 1979 and Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab 1986). As shown in Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab 1978–1979, his works also include references to the founders of all of the Sunni law schools (madhahib), as well as to a variety of religious scholars throughout Islamic history, suggesting that contemporary assertions of Wahhabism’s discarding of historical Islamic thought is inaccurate for the foundational period. Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s discussions of jihad were in keeping with classical scholarship, emphasizing limitations on killing and destruction and permitting the declaration of jihad as holy war only in limited circumstances.

        • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, Muhammad. Muʾallafat al-Shaykh al-Imam Muhammad bin ʿAbd al-Wahhab. 5 vols. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Jamiat al-Imam Muhammad bin Saud al-Islamiyah, 1978–1979.

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          The complete collection of Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s writings, as well as some commentaries on the same.

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        • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, Muhammad. Three Essays on Tawhid. Translated by Ismail Raji al-Faruqi. Teaneck, NJ: Islamic Publications International, 1979.

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          Translation of three essays further detailing the theology of tawhid.

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        • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, Muhammad. Kitab al-Tawhid. Translated by Ismail Raji al-Faruqi. Kuwait: al-Faisal Printing, 1986.

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          Considered the creed of the Wahhabi movement, this work outlines the theology of tawhid and the unity and uniqueness of God, particularly the practical implications of this belief.

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        Foundational Period of Wahhabism

        There are four types of literature contemporary to the foundational period of Wahhabism that discuss both theory and practice.

        Accounts Written by Adherents and Official Historians

        For the accounts written by adherents and official historians of the movement, see most notably Ibn Bishr 1982–1983 (AH 1402) and Ibn Ghannam 1994.

        • Ibn Bishr, Uthman. Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd. Edited by Abd al-Rahman bin Abd al-Latif bin Abd Allah Al al-Shaykh. 2 vols. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Darat al-Malik Abd al-Aziz, 1982–1983.

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          A history of the early years and development of the Wahhabi movement, written by a student of Husayn ibn Ghannam. This is a more detailed account, written by a second-generation member of the Wahhabi movement who did not know Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab.

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        • Ibn Ghannam, Husayn. Tarikh Najd. 4th ed. 2 vols. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Shuruq, 1994.

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          A history of Najd, written by the first official chronicler of the Wahhabi movement who knew Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and had firsthand knowledge of the movement.

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        Accounts Written by Opponents to the Movement

        For accounts written by opponents to the movement, see Dahlan 1986 and Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab 1983 (AH 1402).

        • Dahlan, Ahmad ibn Zayni. Al-Durar al-Saniyah fi al-Radd ʿalá al-Wahhabiyah. Cairo: Dar Jawami al-Kalam, 1986.

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          A denunciation of Wahhabi theology written by a 19th-century opponent more than fifty years after Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab retired from public life.

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        • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, Sulayman ibn Abd Allah ibn Muhammad. Taysir al-Aziz al-Hamid fi Sharh Kitab al-Tawhid. Beirut, Lebanon: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983 (AH 1402).

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          A rebuttal of Wahhabi theology written by Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s brother, Sulayman.

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        Firsthand Accounts Written by Outside Observers

        For firsthand accounts written by outside observers, both Arab and Ottoman, who personally encountered Wahhabis, see Bey 1816 and al-Jabarti 1994.

        • Bey, Ali. Travels of Ali Bey in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Turkey between the years 1803 and 1807. 2 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816.

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          A firsthand observation of the Wahhabis in Mecca in 1803 that records a disconnect between popular imagination and personal observation.

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        • Al-Jabarti, Abd al-Rahman. Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti’s History of Egypt. Edited by Thomas Philipp and Moshe Perlmann. 4 vols. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1994.

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          Written by an Egyptian historian who observed the entrance of the Wahhabis into Egypt in the early 19th century.

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        Accounts Written By European Travelers and Military Officials

        For accounts written by European travelers and military officials, see Brydges 1834, Burckhardt 1831, Corancez 1810, Lorimer 1908–1915, and Rousseau 1809. Contextualizing these secondhand accounts is critical to their understanding. None of the European accounts is based on firsthand observation or in-depth research. These authors simply recorded what was reported to them.

        • Brydges, Sir Harford Jones. An Account of the Transactions of His Majesty’s Mission to the Court of Persia in the Years 1807–11, to Which Is Appended, a Brief History of the Wahauby. 2 vols. London: J. Bohn, 1834.

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          Reports about the Wahhabi movement from 19th-century Persia written by a British military officer who was based in Basra, Iraq, in 1784, noting the influence of the Ottoman Empire in creating popular fear of the Wahhabis.

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        • Burckhardt, John Lewis. Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys Collected during His Travels in the East, by the Late John Lewis Burckhardt. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831.

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          Covers the early 19th century and is based on personal observations from Arabia, although Burckhardt never visited the province of Najd.

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        • Corancez, Louis-Alexandre. Histoire des Wahabis, depuis leur origine jusqu’a la fine de 1809. Paris: Chez Crapart, 1810.

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          Written by a French military officer based in Egypt.

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        • Lorimer, John Gordon. Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman, and Central Arabia. 4 vols. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing, 1908–1915.

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          A compilation of British records about the region covering the entire period of the British presence in India.

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        • Rousseau, Jean Baptiste Louis Jacques. Description du Pachalik de Bagdad, suivie d’une Notice sur les Wahabis, et de quelques autres pieces historiques relatives a l’histoire et a la litterature de l’Orient. Paris: Treuttel et Wurtz, 1809.

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          Written by a French military officer, covering the early 19th century.

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        Development of Wahhabi Thought and Practice

        Tracing the historical development of Wahhabism has been hindered by lack of access to primary materials of the movement, many of which were destroyed by the Ottoman-Egyptian razing of the capital of the Wahhabis, al-Dirʾiyyah, in 1818, which included the burning of its library and manuscript collections. Serious collection of surviving primary sources has been undertaken by the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, although access to these sources remains limited. Western-language works tracing the historical development of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia remain scarce, although scholarship has expanded since the late 1990s. Historical works tracing the Wahhabi movement include pre-Wahhabi histories (al-Juhany 2002), official Saudi histories (al-Harbi 2008, al-Uthaymin 1992), and works addressing development of Wahhabi thought and practice from the 18th through the 20th centuries (Ayoob and Kosebalaban 2009, Commins 2006, Cook 2000, DeLong-Bas 2008, Sedgwick 1997).

        • Ayoob, Mohammed, and Hasan Kosebalaban, eds. Religion and Politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2009.

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          A collection of essays addressing the relationship between Wahhabism and the Saudi state, both as a tool of state expansion and as a mode of political opposition.

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        • Commins, David. The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

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          Commins details developments in Wahhabi thought during the 19th century, concluding that the century marked a period of consolidating conformity of thought, interpretation, and practice of Islam throughout Arabia.

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        • Cook, Michael. Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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          An encyclopedic work that examines the concept of “commanding right and forbidding wrong” (al-amr bi-al-maʾruf wa-al-nahy ʿan al-munkar) in the major Sunni and Shiʿi law schools and across history. Specific attention is given to the importance of this concept in Wahhabi thought and practice from the 18th century through the present.

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        • DeLong-Bas, Natana J. Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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          The only comprehensive analysis of the foundational writings of Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, addressing theology, law, women and gender, and jihad. Attention is also given to the development of Wahhabi thought and the relationship between Wahhabism and the global jihadism of Usama bin Ladin in the 21st century. The final chapter highlights contemporary developments in official Wahhabi thought.

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        • Al-Harbi, Dalal Mukhlid. Prominent Women from Central Arabia. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, in association with the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, 2008.

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          A collection of biographies of prominent women from throughout Saudi Arabia, covering the 18th century through 1953, and drawn from materials at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation. Included are female descendants of prominent Wahhabi sheikhs, including Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, highlighting their literacy and roles as instructors of religious education.

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        • Al-Juhany, Uwaidah M. Najd Before the Salafi Reform Movement: Social, Political, and Religious Conditions During the Three Centuries Preceding the Rise of the Saudi State. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, in association with the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, 2002.

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          An analysis of the societal conditions in existence prior to the rise of the Wahhabi movement.

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        • Sedgwick, Mark J.R. “Saudi Sufis: Compromise in the Hijaz, 1925–40.” Die Welt des Islams 37, no. 3, (1997): 349–368.

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          Discusses the reality of the ongoing existence of Sufi orders in the Hijaz after the Saudi conquest of the region, raising the question of whether Wahhabism, as either an intellectual trend or a political phenomenon, is as diametrically opposed to Sufism as it is often portrayed to be.

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        • Al-Uthaymin, Abd Allah al-Salih. Al-Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab: Hayatuhu wa-Fikruhu, 2d ed. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Ulum lil-Tibaʾah wa-al-Nashr, 1992.

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          Written by a leading Saudi scholar on Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, this work analyzes his life and thought.

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        Contemporary Wahhabism

        The bulk of available academic literature addresses contemporary issues in Saudi Arabia, particularly the relationship between religion and the state. Many of the contemporary analyses of Wahhabism within Saudi Arabia highlight the dual and often contradictory role of Wahhabism in legitimating the state through the official religious establishment and as the language of opposition to the state.

        Wahhabism in Opposition to the State

        Methods of using Wahhabism to oppose the Saudi state range from the militant 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque to sermons and speeches opposing Saudi rule. Official Saudi TV coverage of the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque has been available on the Internet since August 2006, beginning with Google Video. Accounts of the seizure by Hegghammer and Lacroix 2007 and Trofimov 2007 incorporate interviews with those possessing firsthand knowledge of the events, providing details of how the militant group came into existence and a full chronology of events. Coverage of other opposing voices is presented by Teitelbaum 2000, which includes both Sunni and Shiʿi voices. Fandy 1999 analyzes several of the most influential voices of dissent from the late 1990s, while al-Rasheed 2007 addresses the variety of contemporary influences, both Wahhabi and Salafi, within the Kingdom, looking at their political impact, particularly with respect to the politics of jihad.

        • Fandy, Mamoun. Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent. London: Palgrave, 1999.

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          The first comprehensive analysis of major voices of dissent, including Wahhabi, anti-Wahhabi and Shiʿi, within Saudi Arabia. Voices examined include Sheikh Safar al-Hawali, Sheikh Salman al-ʿAwda, Muhammad al-Masʾari, Saʾd al-Faqih, Osama bin Ladin and Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar.

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        • Hegghammer, Thomas, and Stephane Lacroix. “Rejectionist Islamism in Saudi Arabia: The Story of Juhayman al-ʿUtaybi Revisited.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 39, no. 1 (February 2007): 103–122.

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          The most detailed account of the origins and influences of the leader of the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque, by a group that is considered to be the precursor to al-Qaeda. Demonstrates the violent potential for Wahhabism in opposing the Saudi state. Available online.

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        • Al-Rasheed, Madawi. 2007. Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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          An examination of a variety of contemporary understandings of Wahhabism and Salafism within Saudi Arabia, including the ongoing struggles to determine and influence the relationship between religion and state, particularly with respect to the politics of jihad.

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        • Teitelbaum, Joshua. Holier Than Thou: Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Opposition. Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2000.

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          An overview of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic opposition, considering both Sunni and Shiʿi perspectives and political goals. Demonstrates Wahhabism as both a tool for and a means of contesting the state.

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        • Trofimov, Yaroslav. The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al-Qaeda. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

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          The most comprehensive account of the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque and the events and ideas leading up to it, as well as the ongoing significance of extremist Wahhabi ideology in the creation of the global jihadist ideology of al-Qaeda.

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        • Google Video. “Johiman 1400H – Saudi Arabia”. Posted 30 August 2006.

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          Official Saudi TV coverage of the capture of the militants who seized the Grand Mosque in 1979. Includes footage of Juhayman al-Utaybi.

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          Wahhabism within the State

          Discussions of the role of Wahhabism within the Saudi state generally tend to focus on the religious establishment, within which a variety of voices exist. AbuKhalil 2004 tends to highlight the most extreme positions within the official religious establishment, while DeLong-Bas 2007 presents a spectrum of voices from both within and outside of the religious establishment to demonstrate the variety of opinions that exist within Wahhabism inside Saudi Arabia. Vogel 1993 examines the religious establishment through case studies of the judicial system. Al-Rasheed 2008 considers the interaction between Wahhabism and globalization, both within the official religious establishment and in interactions with the rest of the world. IslamicTube and YouTube have search engines to look up video postings by individual sheikhs.

          • AbuKhalil, Asʿad. The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism and Global Power. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.

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            An impassioned and critical essay that highlights some of the most extreme positions within the official religious establishment, and on their negative impact on women and human rights issues in particular.

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          • DeLong-Bas, Natana J. Jihad for Islam: The Struggle for the Future of Saudi Arabia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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            Examines contemporary interpretations of Islam in Saudi Arabia, with particular attention to theology, Islamic law, women and gender, and jihad.

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          • IslamicTube.

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            Provides video clips of Saudi sheikhs preaching leading prayers, and engaging in daʾwah activities.

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            • Al-Rasheed, Madawi, ed. Kingdom without Borders: Saudi Arabia’s Political, Religious and Media Frontiers. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

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              Examines the impact of globalization on Saudi Arabia, including the impact of globalization on Wahhabism, as well as the impact of Wahhabism on the global stage.

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            • Vogel, Frank Edward. “Islamic Law and Legal System Studies of Saudi Arabia.” PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1993.

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              The most comprehensive study to date of the Saudi legal system as based on Wahhabi methods of interpreting Sharia (Islamic law), including ijtihad (independent reasoning), ijmaʾ (consensus), and qiyas (analogy) and their practical application. Also examines the long-standing controversy over whether the laws should be codified and explores developments in criminal law toward harsher penalties for certain crimes.

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            • YouTube.

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              Provides video clips of Saudi sheikhs preaching, leading prayers, and engaging in daʾwah activities.

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              Wahhabism and Anti-Wahhabism

              The post-9/11 period saw an increase in publications about the role of Saudi Arabia in general, and Wahhabism in particular, in global terrorism. Debates about the relative merits and demerits of Wahhabism are not limited to Western or Muslim commentators; they also exist among Saudis themselves.

              Political Debates

              Often posited as one of two options in Islam—and in opposition to the allegedly more peace-loving and tolerant mystical interpretation known broadly as Sufism (Schwartz 2002)—Wahhabism has evolved into a broad umbrella term referring to any conservative, fundamentalist, rejectionist, intolerant, or extremist interpretation of Islam, regardless of where or in what context it exists. Because of the polarization of the term and concept, much of the literature written about Wahhabism in the post-9/11 era reflects the political infighting between supporters (Ménoret 2005, Oliver 2002, and Zarabozo 2003) and detractors, both legal specialists (Abou El Fadl 2005) and Shiʿi critics (Algar 2002).

              • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005.

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                Written by an Islamic legal scholar as a critique of Islamic extremism in general, this work posits two interpretations of Islam: Wahhabism/Salafism/Puritanism as a negative extreme, and moderation as a positive alternative leading to serenity and spiritual peace. The author describes himself as “the most critical and powerful voice against puritanical and Wahhabi Islam today.”

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              • Algar, Hamid. Wahhabism: A Critical Essay. Oneonta, NY: Islamic Publications International, 2002.

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                Published shortly after 9/11, this essay refutes Wahhabism as an intellectually marginal sect that rejects all of Islamic history and thought outside of the Qurʾan and Sunna. Written by a Shiʿi scholar who also served as Ayatollah Khomeini’s official biographer, this work reflects a vehemently anti-Wahhabi stance.

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              • Ménoret, Pascal. The Saudi Enigma: A History. London: Zed Books, 2005.

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                Challenges many of the assumptions made about Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism by outsiders, highlighting the political dimensions of the debates and seeking to redirect the discourse by placing Wahhabism within its historical context, both politically and religiously.

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              • Oliver, Haneef James. The Wahhabi Myth: Dispelling Prevalent Fallacies and the Fictitious Link with bin Laden. Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford, 2002.

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                A defense of Wahhabism that conflates the terms “Wahhabism” and “Salafism” and denies links between Wahhabism and the global jihadism of Osama bin Laden. Written shortly after 9/11, initially to educate his own Christian family.

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              • Schwartz, Stephen. The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saʿud from Tradition to Terror. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

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                Written by a non-Arabic-speaking American Sufi journalist who has never been to Saudi Arabia, this anti-Wahhabi account is based upon the author’s personal experiences in Bosnia. This book is representative of the popular polarization of Wahhabi and anti-Wahhabi political debates post-9/11, in which it is claimed that there are only two possible approaches to Islam: Wahhabism or Sufism.

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              • Zarabozo, Jamaal Al-Din M. The Life, Teachings, and Influence of Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahaab. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Daʾwah, and Guidance, 2003.

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                Self-described as a presentation of the life and teachings of Muhammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, this defensive work includes discussions and refutations of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s opponents and critics, both historical and contemporary, including Hamid Algar.

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              Saudi National Debates

              Since the 1990s, there has been a rising trend within academia of Saudis working to reinsert regional narratives into the Saudi national narrative (al-Rasheed 1991, al-Rasheed 2004, Yamani 2004, Yamani 2008), including recognition of the historical existence of multiple law schools (madhahib) and interpretations of Islam within the Kingdom, both Sunni (al-Rasheed 2002) and Shiʿi (Ibrahim 2006). These debates have occurred at the national level since the implementation of the National Dialogue in 2002, which was followed by official movement away from takfir ideology (the practice of declaring as unbelievers those who disagree with a given interpretation of religion) in favor of engaging the religious “other,” as well as King Abdullah’s call for recognition of multiple law schools within the Kingdom and engagement with interfaith dialogue beginning in 2007.

              • Ibrahim, Fouad. The Shiʿis of Saudi Arabia. London: Saqi, 2006.

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                A history of Shiʿi opposition to Saudi rule in the 20th century that includes brief coverage of the 18th-century foundations of Wahhabism. Includes theological disputes between Wahhabis and Shiʿis, as well as the transformation of Shiʿi opposition from the revolutionary uprising of 1979 to the more reform-oriented and participatory approach taken today. Written by a Saudi Shiʿi from the Eastern Province who personally witnessed the uprising there in 1979.

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              • Al-Rasheed, Madawi. Politics in an Arabian Oasis: The Rashidi Tribal Dynasty. London: I. B. Tauris, 1991.

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                Written as an anthropological study by a member of the Rashidi family, this account provides the alternative historical narrative of the Rashidi dynasty, based in Hail and in power during the 19th and early 20th centuries prior to the rise of the third Saudi dynasty. Wahhabism is discussed as a tool of the expansionist Saudi state.

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              • Al-Rasheed, Madawi. A History of Saudi Arabia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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                A history of Saudi Arabia covering the period from the 1744 Saudi-Wahhabi alliance through the present. Expands on the national narrative through the addition of alternative voices and indigenous sources, and it gives particular attention to the role of Wahhabism in the national narrative.

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              • Al-Rasheed, Madawi, and Robert Vitalis, eds. Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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                A collection of essays by various scholars, seeking to reinsert alternative regional voices into the official national narratives of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

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              • Yamani, Mai. Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for an Arabian Identity. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

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                Reinserts a Hijazi narrative into the Saudi national story, highlighting differences in identity construction, particularly in social customs and practices related to birth, marriage, divorce, death and social interactions, all of which have religious inspirations and implications. Written by a daughter of Ahmad Zaki Yamani, a former Saudi oil minister, the work reflects the ongoing struggle of non-Najdis to find status and position within the Najdi-dominated Saudi political and social structure.

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              • Yamani, Maha A.Z. Polygamy and Law in Contemporary Saudi Arabia. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2008.

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                An analysis of the rising phenomenon of polygyny, alternative forms of marriage, and soaring divorce rates in contemporary Saudi Arabia, this work examines the impact of Wahhabi interpretations of Islamic law on these practices. Based on personal interviews of Hijazis involved in polygynous marriages or divorced from them. Written by a daughter of Ahmad Zaki Yamani, a former Saudi oil minister.

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              LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

              DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0091

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