Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab

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Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab
Born 1703
'Uyayna, Najd
Died 22 June 1792
Religion Islam
Denomination Sunni Islam
Jurisprudence Hanbali
Movement Wahhabi movement
Main interest(s) Aqeedah
Notable idea(s) Views on innovations within Islam and Tawhid
Arabic name
Personal (Ism) Muhammad
Patronymic (Nasab) ibn `Abd al-Wahhab ibn Sulayman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid
Teknonymic (Kunya) Abu Abdullah
Toponymic (Nisba) al- Tamimi

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (/wəˈhɑːb/; Arabic: محمد بن عبد الوهاب‎‎; 1703 – 22 June 1792) was an Arabian religion reformer from Najd in central Arabia who founded the movement now called Wahhabism.[1][2][3][4][5] He rejected certain common Muslim practices which he regarded as amounting to either religious innovation (bid‘ah) or polytheism (shirk).[citation needed]

Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's pact with Muhammad bin Saud helped to establish the Emirate of Diriyah, the first Saudi state,[6] and began a dynastic alliance and power-sharing arrangement between their families which continues to the present day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[7] The Al ash-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's leading religious family, are the descendants of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, and have historically led the ulama in the Saudi state,[8] dominating the state's clerical institutions.[9]

Early years[edit]

Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab is generally acknowledged[10] to have been born in 1703[11] into the sedentary and impoverished Arab clan of Banu Tamim[12][13] (the Banu Tamim were not a nomadic tribe) in 'Uyayna, a village in the Najd region of the modern Saudi Arabia.[11][14] Before the emergence of Wahhabism there was a very limited history of Islamic education in the area.[13][15] For this reason, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab had modest access to Islamic education during his youth.[13] He was initially taught by his father, ʿAbd al-Wahhab who was a Hanbali jurist.[13][16][17][18]

Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab's teacher Abdallah ibn Ibrahim ibn Sayf introduced the relatively young man to Mohammad Hayya Al-Sindhi in Medina who belonged to the Naqshbandi order (tariqa) of Sufism[19][20] and recommended him as a student.[21][22][23] Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and al-Sindhi became very close and Mohammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab stayed with him for some time.[21] Scholars[who?] have described Muhammad Hayya as having an important influence on Mohammad Ibn ʿAbd-al-Wahhab, who taught Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab to utilize informed individual analysis (ijtihad).[citation needed] Muhammad Hayya also taught Mohammad Ibn ʿAbd-al-Wahhab to reject popular religious practices associated with walis and their tombs that resembles later Wahhabi teachings.[21]

Following his early education in Medina, Ibn Abdul Wahhab traveled outside of the peninsula, venturing first to Basra.[16][24][better source needed]

Early preaching[edit]

After his return home, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab began to attract followers, including the ruler of 'Uyayna, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. With Ibn Mu'ammar, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab came to an agreement to support Ibn Mu'ammar's political ambitions to expand his rule "over Najd and possibly beyond", in exchange for the ruler’s support for Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's religious teachings. Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab began to implement some of his ideas for reform. First, he persuaded Ibn Mu'ammar to help him level the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, a companion of Muhammad, whose grave was revered by locals. Secondly, he ordered the cutting down of trees considered sacred by locals, cutting down "the most glorified of all of the trees" himself. Third, he organised the stoning of a woman who confessed to having committed adultery.[25][26]

These actions gained the attention of Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr of the tribe of Bani Khalid, the chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif, who held substantial influence in Najd. Ibn Ghurayr threatened Ibn Mu'ammar with denying him the ability to collect a land tax for some properties that Ibn Mu'ammar owned in Al-Hasa if he did not kill or drive away Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab. Consequently, Ibn Mu'ammar forced Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab to leave.[26][27]

Emergence of Saudi state[edit]

Pact with Muhammad bin Saud[edit]

First Saudi State (1744–1818)

Upon his expulsion from 'Uyayna, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab was invited to settle in neighboring Diriyah by its ruler Muhammad bin Saud. After some time in Diriyah, Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab concluded his second and more successful agreement with a ruler.[28] Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud agreed that, together, they would bring the Arabs of the peninsula back to the "true" principles of Islam as they saw it. According to one source, when they first met, bin Saud declared:

"This oasis is yours, do not fear your enemies. By the name of God, if all Nejd was summoned to throw you out, we will never agree to expel you."

— Madawi al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia: 16

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab replied:

"You are the settlement's chief and wise man. I want you to grant me an oath that you will perform jihad (Struggle to spread Islam) against the unbelievers. In return you will be imam, leader of the Muslim community and I will be leader in religious matters."

— Madawi al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia: 16

The agreement was confirmed with a mutual oath of loyalty (bay'ah) in 1744.[29][better source needed] Ibn Abd al-Wahhab would be responsible for religious matters and Ibn Saud in charge of political and military issues.[28] This agreement became a "mutual support pact" [30][31] and power-sharing arrangement[32] between the Al Saud family, and the Al ash-Sheikh and followers of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, which has remained in place for nearly 300 years,[33] providing the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion.[34]

Emirate of Diriyah (First Saudi State)[edit]

Main article: Emirate of Diriyah

The 1744 pact between Muhammad bin Saud and Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab marked the emergence of the first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah. By offering the Al Saud a clearly defined religious mission, the alliance provided the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion.[9] First conquering Najd, Saud's forces expanded the Salafi influence to most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia,[9] eradicating various popular practices they viewed as akin to polytheism and propagating the doctrines of ʿAbd al-Wahhab.[9][35]


Main article: Al ash-Sheikh

According to academic publications such as the Encyclopædia Britannica while in Baghdad, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab married an affluent woman. When she died, he inherited her property and wealth.[36][37] Muhammad ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab had six sons; Hussain, Abdullah, Hassan, Ali and Ibrahim and Abdul-Aziz who died in his youth. All his surviving sons established religious schools close to their homes and taught the young students from Diriyah and other places.[citation needed] The descendants of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, the Al ash-Sheikh, have historically led the ulama in the Saudi state,[8] dominating the state's religious institutions.[9] Within Saudi Arabia, the family is held in prestige similar to the Saudi royal family, with whom they share power, and has included several religious scholars and officials.[38] The arrangement between the two families is based on the Al Saud maintaining the Al ash-Sheikh's authority in religious matters and upholding and propagating Salafi doctrine. In return, the Al ash-Sheikh support the Al Saud's political authority[39] thereby using its religious-moral authority to legitimise the royal family's rule.[40]


See also: Salafi and Wahhabi movement

Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab considered his movement an effort to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what, he believed, were the original principles of that religion. He taught that the primary doctrine of Islam was the uniqueness and unity of God (Tawhid).[41][42] The first aspect of Tawhid is belief Allah and His Lordship, that He alone is the believer's lord (Rabb). The second is the oneness of worship to Allah and Allah alone. The third being belief and affirmation of Allah's Names and Attributes.[citation needed] He also denounced popular beliefs as polytheism (shirk), rejected much of the medieval law of the scholars (ulema) and called for a new interpretation of Islam.[43]

The "core" of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's teaching is found in Kitab al-Tawhid, a short essay which draws from material in the Quran and the recorded doings and sayings (hadith) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[44] It preaches that worship in Islam includes conventional acts of worship such as the five daily prayers (salat); fasting (sawm); supplication (Dua); seeking protection or refuge (Istia'dha); seeking help (Ist'ana and Istighatha) of Allah.[45][page needed][non-primary source needed]

Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab was keen on emphasizing that other acts, such as making dua or calling upon/supplication to or seeking help, protection or intercession from anyone or anything other than Allah, are acts of shirk and contradict the tenets of tawhid and that those who tried would never be forgiven.[45][page needed][non-primary source needed][46][page needed]

Traditionally, most Muslims throughout history have held the view that declaring the testimony of faith is sufficient in becoming a Muslim.[47] Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab did not agree with this. He held the view that an individual who believed that there could be intercessors with God was actually performing shirk. This was the major difference between him and his opponents[48] and led him to declare Muslims outside of his group to be apostates (takfir) and idolators (mushrikin).[49]

Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's movement is today often known as Wahhabism, although many adherents see this as a derogatory term coined by his opponents, and prefer it to be known as the Salafi movement.[50][51][52][53] Scholars point out that Salafism is a term applicable to several forms of puritanical Islam in various parts of the world, while Wahhabism refers to the specific Saudi school, which is seen as a more strict form of Salafism. According to Ahmad Moussalli, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, "As a rule, all Wahhabis are Salafists, but not all Salafists are Wahhabis".[54] Yet others say that while Wahhabism and Salafism originally were two different things, they became practically indistinguishable in the 1970s.[55][56]

On Sufism[edit]

At the end of his treatise, Al-Hadiyyah al-Suniyyah, Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's son ‘Abd Allah speaks positively on the practice of tazkiah (purification of the inner self).[57][58]


According to author Dore Gold,[59] in Kitab al-Tawhid, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab described followers of both the Christian and Jewish faiths as sorcerers {cite} who believed in devil worship, and cited a hadith of Muhammad stating that punishment for the sorcerer is `that he be struck with the sword.`[60][non-primary source needed] Wahhab asserted that both religions had improperly made the graves of their prophet into places of worship and warned Muslims not to imitate this practice.[61][non-primary source needed] Wahhab concluded that `The ways of the people of the book are condemned as those of polytheists.`[62][non-primary source needed]

However author Natana J. DeLong-Bas defends Wahhab, stating that

despite his at times vehement denunciations of other religious groups for their supposedly heretical beliefs, Ibn Abd al Wahhab never called for their destruction or death. … he assumed that these people would be punished in the Afterlife …"[63]


By contemporaries[edit]

Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's teachings were criticized by a number of Islamic scholars during his life for disregarding Islamic history, monuments, traditions and the sanctity of Muslim life.[64] One scholar named Ibn Muhammad compared Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab with Musaylimah the liar alayhi la'na.[65] He also accused Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab of wrongly declaring the Muslims to be infidels based on a misguided reading of Qur'anic passages and Prophetic traditions[65] and of wrongly declaring all scholars as infidels who did not agree with his "deviant innovation".[65]

The traditional Hanbali scholar Ibn Fayruz al-Tamimi (d. 1801/1802) publicly repudiated Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's teachings when he sent an envoy to him and referred to the Wahhabis as the "seditious Kharijites" of Najd.[66] In response, the Wahhabis considered Ibn Fayruz an idolater (mushrik) and one of their worst enemies.[66]

According to the historian Ibn Humayd, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's father criticized his son for his unwillingness to specialize in jurisprudence and disagreed with his doctrine and declared that he would be the cause of wickedness.[67] Similarly his own brother, Suleyman ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab wrote one of the first treatises' refuting Wahhabi doctrine[67] claiming he was ill-educated and intolerant, and classing Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's views as fringe and fanatical.[64]

The Shafi'i mufti of Mecca, Ahmed ibn Zayni Dehlan, wrote an anti-Wahhabi treatise, the bulk of which consists of arguments and proof from the sunna to uphold the validity of practices the Wahhabis considered idolatrous: Visiting the tombs of Muhammad, seeking the intercession of saints, venerating Muhammad and obtaining the blessings of saints.[68] He also accused Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab of not adhering to the Hanbali school and that he was deficient in learning.[68]

By modern scholars[edit]

Pakistani Muslim scholars such as Israr Ahmed have spoken positively on him.[69][better source needed] Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab is accepted by Salafi scholars as an authority and source of reference. 20th century Albanian scholar Nasiruddin Albani refers to Ibn Abdul Wahhab's activism as "Najdi da'wah."[70][better source needed]

A list of scholars with opposing views, along with names of their books and related information, was compiled by the Islamic scholar Muhammad Hisham.[71]


The state mosque of Qatar is named after him.[72] The "Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque" was opened in 2011, with the Emir of Qatar presiding over the occasion.[73]


  • Risālah Aslu Dīn Al-Islām wa Qā’idatuhu
  • Kitab al-Quran (The book of Allah)
  • Kitab at-Tawhid (The Book of the Unity of God)
  • Kashf ush-Shubuhaat (Clarification of the Doubts)
  • Al-Usool-uth-Thalaatha" (The Three Fundamental Principles)
  • Al Qawaaid Al ‘Arbaa’ (The Four Foundations)
  • Al-Usool us Sittah (The Six Fundamental Principles)
  • Nawaaqid al Islaam (Nullifiers of Islam)
  • Adab al-Mashy Ila as-Salaa (Manners of Walking to the Prayer)
  • Usul al-Iman (Foundations of Faith)
  • Fada'il al-Islam (Excellent Virtues of Islam)
  • Fada'il al-Qur'an (Excellent Virtues of the Qur'an)
  • Majmu'a al-Hadith 'Ala Abwab al-Fiqh (Compendium of the Hadith on the Main Topics of the Fiqh)
  • Mukhtasar al-Iman (Abridgement of the Faith; i.e. the summarised version of a work on Faith)
  • Mukhtasar al-Insaf wa'l-Sharh al-Kabir (Abridgement of the Equity and the Great Explanation)
  • Mukhtasar Seerat ar-Rasul (Summarised Biography of the Prophet)
  • Kitaabu l-Kabaair (The Book of Great Sins)
  • Kitabu l-Imaan (The Book of Trust)
  • Al-Radd 'ala al-Rafida (The Refutation of the Rejectionists)

See also[edit]


There are two contemporary histories of Muhammed ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and his religious movement from the point of view of his supporters: Ibn Ghannam's Rawdhat al-Afkar wal-Afham or Tarikh Najd (History of Najd) and Ibn Bishr's Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd. Husain ibn Ghannam (d. 1811), an alim from al-Hasa was the only historian to have observed the beginnings of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's movement first-hand. His chronicle ends at the year 1797.[74][75] Ibn Bishr's chronicle, which stops at the year 1854, was written a generation later than Ibn Ghannam's, but is considered valuable partly because Ibn Bishr was a native of Najd and because he adds many details to Ibn Ghannam's account.[74]

A third account, dating from around 1817 is Lam' al-Shihab, written by an anonymous Sunni author who respectfully disapproved of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's movement, regarding it as a bid‘ah. It is also commonly cited because it is considered to be a relatively objective contemporary treatment of the subject. However, unlike Ibn Ghannam and Ibn Bishr, its author did not live in Najd and his work is believed to contain some apocryphal and legendary material with respect to the details of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab's life.[18][76]


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  10. ^ While there is some consensus over these details, the opinion is not unanimous over the specifics in regard to his place and date of birth. Seemingly his recognition with the Banu Tamim tribe thought is in line with the justification by some scholars of being the inheritor of the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah.
  11. ^ a b Philby 1930: 8
  12. ^ Glassé 2003: 470
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  48. ^ Commins, David (2006-02-20). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I.B.Tauris. pp. vii. ISBN 9781845110802. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab included in the category of such acts popular religious practices that made holy men into intercessors with God. That was the core of the controversy between him and his adversaries, including his own brother. 
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Further reading[edit]