Islamic Studies Wahhabism
Natana DeLong-Bas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0091


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.


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.

  • International Journal of Middle East Studies.

    A scholarly quarterly journal that publishes articles from a variety of disciplines related to the Middle East.

  • Middle East Studies Association Bulletin.

    A scholarly quarterly journal that publishes articles from a variety of disciplines related to the Middle East.

  • Al-Daawah Monthly Islamic Magazine.

    Published in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this official monthly publication by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs includes articles about Islamic practice and the status of Muslims in various parts of the world, as well as a section dedicated to fatwas.

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