Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhaab

Everyone knows him but it’s not many that KNOW him. A few sentences into any modernist’s biography of this scholar, one thing always pops up. “The most controversial Muslim scholar in recent memory.” Well, what earned him that title?

Allow me to start from where I left off; with Ibn Taymiyyah’s death. Ibn Taymiyyah had ushered in this new dawn of daawa in Islam. People actually began to understand Islam as it should be. Now Sheikhul Islam did not live to see the reception of his daawa and how it spread to all corners of the world. Allah however put tawfiiq in his daawa which is something we can only attribute to his having ikhlaas.

How do we conclude to this?

Centuries after he and his students were gone, there came an era when the calling of Ahlu-sunnah was weak again, innovation was eminent and evil spread. A time had come when people had forsaken knowledge and reverted to blind following. And it was during this period when Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulwahhab was born, and with heavy influence from ibn Taymiyyah’s writings, he would bring the light of tawheed through which the clouds of shirk and innovation would part.

The countries of Najd, present day Saudi Arabia, to be specific Riyadh weren’t places that were considered even worthy of mentioning. They were these small undesirable countries that no one was in need of. And each of those small countries had their leader.

Their scholars were solely focused on fiqh(jurisprudence) and no focus directed on Aqeedah. Blindly, they followed the aqeedah of ashaa’ira and maatiridiyyah which entailed using rhetoric to refute most of the names and attributes of Allah. Sufism was also a major influence, among other innovations. And it wasn’t just them, that was what was widespread in all other countries.

Ignorance rates were especially high in the interiors. Yes, they had scholars but scholars in jurisprudence alone. Which was kheyr wallahi but aqeedah (which is the core of belief) very much needed attention. Cause people were upon whatever they were upon. From sufism, to grave worshipping, to black magic and fortune telling. All were there. And the tribes used to settle matters according to their tribal laws. That was Najd then. And so much we can learn from their history.

Al’allaamah, Al-mujaddid, Al-imaam, Sheikhul islaam was born Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhaab ibn Sulayman Al-Wuhaybi At-Tamimy in the year 1115A.H in Al-Uyaynah, a city in the current Saudi Arabia.

His father, who was a qaadhi, a scholar and a teacher was in charge of his upbringing, therefore his first teacher from whom he memorized the Qur’an before the age of 10. He was a baaligh at 12 years old. And when his father saw that he was a baaligh and he had strong memorization, he made him lead people in prayers. It was during that time that his father also got him married.

During the years he used to study under his father, he used to write a lot from the books of Ibn Taymiyyah Rahimahullah and his student ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah from whom he benefitted a lot. This was way before the age of photocopying; to get a copy of a book you needed to write it by hand and that shows the difference between them and the scholars we have now. He used to revise a lot and had a wide understanding. So, he continued to study fiqh under his father upon the madhhab of Imaam Ahmad Rahimahullah.

He however always had the intention of travelling in search of knowledge. As that is a commonality in the history of all scholars, especially the scholars of hadith. And this was majorly because of what he saw in his city. The environment was very similar to that of Jaahiliyyah. People dove into polytheism. The sheikh saw that many people were upon matters of Shirk like but no one spoke against them and established tawheed. The sheikh saw that it was better for him to relocate in search of knowledge in other cities.

The people of his city at that time, there were from them those who worshipped date trees, others graves, and others the supernatural from the jinn. And that was despite the fact that there were scholars in their time. This really bothered the sheikh. Like why do these scholars not speak against these wrongdoings in our times? But he kept this to himself and didn’t talk about it because he saw himself as a child in front of the people.

Note however, there were scholars who spoke up during his time, among them were Imam As-swan’aani who was in Yaman. Author of the book “Tat’hiirul-I’tiqaad ‘an adraanil-ilhaad.”

So, the sheikh left his city with intention of going for hajj. And after hajj, he visited Madina. And he stayed in Madina in search of knowledge before the scholars of hadith like Sheikh Abdullah ibn Ibrahim  Ali Seif, his first sheikh in Madina. The sheikh really loved this young man and used to introduce him to sheikhs in masjid An-Nabawy. Like Sheikh Hayaat-us-Sindee, sheikh Al-Ajuri and sheikh Al-Ihsaai. Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhaab settled there studying from the books of hadith and reading from the books of imam Shafi’ee Rahimahullah.  But during the time he was studying, his heart still ached on what he saw. He saw how people used to greet at the grave of the prophet (S.A.W). When he used to see this, he used to follow the sheikhs and the scholars and ask them “What is this?” And the scholars used to reply, “These are among the things of jaahiliyyah.”

The scholars knew these things but never warned the people. And the sheikh practiced patience and he kept on studying while getting hold of his nafs. He also saw people wiping from the grave of the prophet. That was before the 3 walls were put in place to prevent people from reaching it. Back then people could reach it and rub their bodies with the sand. Others threw pieces of paper. The sheikh witnessed this for a very long time, for he stayed in Madina a long time. He stayed there till he got ijaaza from scholars for the books he had studied. And he moved again to the cities of Iraaq and Basra. This was during the Ottoman empire; whose capital was in Turkey.

The Ottoman empire had colonized some of the cities but not all. Among those cities colonized were Basra and Iraaq.

The Sheikh moved to Basra after reaching him news that there were scholars of nahw there, the likes of sheikh Al-Majmuu’i. He went and studied under him and benefitted a great deal of knowledge from him too. From Arabic and hadith. He studied with sheikh al-majmuu’i for a long time and after he was done, he saw that it was time for him to start doing daawa. He started writing many short letters and sending them to different people. From the scholars and the sultans and governors. The aim of these letters was to explain to people on tawheed. The tawheed that the prophet came with and taught. And in those letters, he spoke against innovation and the worship of graves and the evil of the society, evident in Basra.

During this period, when the daawa was starting, and he was speaking against what was happening in the society, people stood against him, like they always do. From the Sufis, who by then were spearheading some of these practices. They stood in the city of Basra wanting the exile of this scholar. They wanted this kid exiled out of their city. At which they were successful.

He rahimahullah decided to move to the city of Zabiir and on his way there, he encountered so much hardship that he nearly died. Of thirst; from the heat of the Arabian desert; where he was travelling on foot. Allah gave him tawfiiq though alhamdulillah and people showed up and he hitchhiked on their donkeys pushing him forward. Until he reached the city of Al-Ihsaa’ where he studied under a shafi’ee scholar until time came to go back to Shaam and Hijaaz. He walked through the cities studying how the people were and how they worshipped their Lord and he discovered that the environment was the same everywhere. The people didn’t know their Lord. He walked even further to the east to only find the same and finally, decided to go back home.

The sheikh started his daawa upon knowledge and guidance. In the city of Huraimalaa’. Back to the city where his father was a qadhi. And then went back to Uyaynah where the amiir was Ibn Ma’mar. He explained his daawa to the amiir and the amiir accepted and invited him to his city. He offered him protection and the daawa began to spread. The flushed out munkaraat, broke the kubba that was atop the grave of Zaid ibn Al-Khatwaab in Uyaynah, where people used to go worship. He enforced the had’ of zinaa. They stoned a woman who admitted to zinaa to her death and it started becoming a muslim country implementing the shariah.

But news reached the amiir of Al-Ahsaa’, Ibn Uray’ir Al-Khalidee, he got angry at Ibn Ma’mar. Why was he enforcing the shariah? He did not want the shariah to be enforced in his country. So, he told him, “I bring you money to your country each month. From now onwards, I will stop that until you exile that man.” Ibn Ma’mar called the sheikh and told him of the new developments. The sheikh wanted to free him from concern. He told him, ‘What Allah has in store for you when it comes to sustenance is much better than what you get from a person. Upon you is to rely upon Allah for Allah suffices whoever relies on him.’

But Ibn Ma’mar was not satisfied. And asked him to leave.

When the Turks tell this story, they only say on how the sheikh was chased from everywhere he went. They never really speak on the matter on the ground.

And then he moved to Ad-Dir’iyyah where the Amiir was Muhammad bin Saud, founder of the present-day Saudi Arabia. Muhammad ibn Saud was like any other leader; What the other leaders followed, he also followed. They all had heard of Muhammad ibn Abdulwahab and kept caution.

The sheikh had gone to his student who was a resident of Dar’iyyah. His name was Suweylin Ad-Dar’iyyah. He was his guest and his matter was hidden. No one knew that he was there.

The wife of the Amiir found out of the arrival of the sheikh. Allah had guided this woman. She had heard of the sheikh’s daawa and accepted it. So, she told her husband, ‘This scholar that has come is rizq that Allah has brought to your country. So, take him as ghaniima before anyone else has taken him and housed him.’

She kept on telling her husband these words until he accepted. And he said, “Go tell him to come to me.”

And the wife said, “No, if you do that, the people will think that you want to punish him or kill him. Go to him instead so the people will respect him.” And the amiir went to the house of ibn Suweylin.

Ibn Suweylin was afraid for the Sheikh and when the amiir came, the feeling quadrupled.

The amiir entered upon the sheikh and greeted him. And the sheikh explained his daawa to him. Allah opened his chest and he accepted it. Muhammad bin Saud promised to stand with the sheikh till the end. Do daawa and I will be behind you with the sword, protecting you biidhnillah until this daawa spreads all over. This was the agreement between these two. And from that time, the daawa was established in Ad-dir’iyyah and sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhaab stayed there teaching people in the mosques, giving out naswaha, writing books and students flocked from all over.

Under the protection of Muhammad ibn Saud, he wrote letters to all the neighbouring countries calling upon them. After that they built an army to fight in the way of Allah. And they fought whoever was against the daawa of tawheed. And all these small countries fell under Muhammad bin Saud. Instead of just being the amiir of Dir’iyyah, he became the amiir of Najd. The whole country fell under him. And just like that, the daawa was deeply rooted.

Now Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhaab gained a lot of enemies along the way who became the machine for propaganda that continues till today. They said that indeed ibn Abdulwahhaab wants to change the religion of the muslims. And they said that he has come with a new religion. And they said he makes takfiir upon the muslims. And they say he used to slaughter people. And they say he used to shave people bald. And they said he claimed prophethood. And they say… and they said…

The people of Qaswiim wrote to him in search of clarity cause the hearsays were too much. And that is the right way to things. He wrote back to them, a risaala currently titled “Aqiidat Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhaab.” In it he explains that his aqeedah is that of the ahlu sunnah wal jamaa’a and there was nothing new about it. And further wrote the book Kashf ash-Shubuhaat to answer all the lies said upon him. And yet the sayers keep on saying and a huge injustice done to him in light of the light he brought islam to.

Out of ignorance, in our times, you’ll hear a lot of claims about this scholar and all the evil that started because of him. But like always,

[[Say to them, “Bring your proof if you are right in your claim.”]] (Q2:111)

History, Islamic history, Muslim scholars, Saudi Arabia


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.

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