Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Abdul Wahab & Ibn Saud: The Partnership of Extremists

This was written in 2009 for a professor. I have slightly modified it to suit this blog, including the title.

The bloodshed engraved in the Wahhabi ideology can be understood when we understand how this ideology formed through the teachings of Ibn Taymiyah. It was this man who foremost gave the green light to carry out violent and aggressive acts with the purpose of spreading a so-called purist form of Islam. The message only spread further and was truly implemented through the alliance created between the Family of Saudi and the Family of Abdul Wahab.

In order to understand important points of this piece, several facts need to be established and understood with clarity. Within the religion of Islam, there exists approximately seventy sects that range from ascribing themselves to different sets of ideology to merely jurisprudential beliefs.  The mainstream sect which consists of roughly 85% of the Muslim population are known as the Sunnis – people of the tradition (of the Prophet Muhammad). The second largest sect within Islam is the Shia sect – which literally means followers.  In this case, a ‘follower’ refers to the followers of an alleged divinely appointed caliph of the Prophet Muhammad after his demise, namely Ali ibn Abi Talib, in contrast to following caliphs who were picked by the community, which the Sunnis follow. Within the Sunni denomination, in essence there exist four different schools of thought. The differences amongst these schools of thoughts is usually on jurisprudence and not always based on ideological differences. They were found by scholars who had practiced the concept of Ijtihad, which refers to a person reaching a level where they are able to independently deduce religious laws for the common public. The fifth school of thought on which the scholars do not have a unanimous decision in regards to being valid or not is known as the Salafi school of thought. The impact of this school of thought will be discussed in the upcoming parts of this post.

The roots of modern-day Wahhabism date back to the 13th century to a man known as Ibn Taymiyah.  Although he was born in Turkey, he spent the majority of his life in Syria until his death. Following the footsteps of his father who used to deliver sermons at a mosque, he spent a large portion of his life studying various religious subjects in depth. He grew up being a follower of the mainstream Sunni sect. Within the Sunni sect, Ibn Taymiyah ascribed himself to the Hanbali school of thought which was found by the scholar Imam Hanbal during the 9th century. Due to his religious expertise, Ibn Taymiyah at a point, became the spokesperson for the Hanbali school of thought in the region. However, Ibn Taymiyah had many issues with many of the religious verdicts that were derived through the Hanbali methodology from the beginning of his Islamic education. Issues with Ibn Taymiyah initiated when he started to question many of the teachings and practices of the scholars who lived amongst him and elsewhere around the Muslim world. He began to uphold the notion that the scholarship of the time had divulged far away from the true teachings of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet. Due to this, he had made it a point of dedication in his life to rejuvenate and revive the true teachings of Islam. From the very beginning, he had considered acts like visiting graves of respected deceased ones, or asking God for help through the spiritual assistance of another person, as Shirk (polytheism).[1] Though there is no doubt that polytheism is a great sin in the religion of Islam and holds no validity, Ibn Taymiyah was unable to take into consideration the intentions of other Muslims around him and would deem any individual committing such acts, as an unbeliever. Muslims from various sects were victim to this, particularly the Shias and the Muslims who ascribed to Sufi tendencies – Ibn Taymiyah had out rightly deemed them non-Muslim and the spilling of their blood as lawful.[2]  In order to determine the criteria for what ’pure’ Islamic teachings were, he used the benchmark of referring to the first three generations of people who lived after the Prophet. These included the Sahaba (companions), Tabi’een (individuals who had seen the companions) and Taba-Tabi’een (individuals who had seen the Tabi’een). These three generations are generally coined up under one term referred to as the Salaf (the pious ancestors).

The aforementioned beliefs of Ibn Taymiyah were relatively new within the Muslim world and were difficult to establish and spread under the Hanbali School of jurisprudence, dominant in the area. However, on the contrary, though Ibn Taymiyah had already attained the level of Ijtihad within the Hanbali school of thought, he was using a methodology which differed from the traditional Hanbali methodology of deriving jurisprudence.  He, in essence, reached a level of absolute Ijtihad – a degree at which he was no longer associated with the Hanbali school of thought. He stopped confining himself to a specific school of law and started to base his laws on his own independent understanding and methodologies.[3]  Hanbali scholars of the time even stopped associating Ibn Taymiyah with the Hanbali school of thought and criticized him due to the fact that at one point he was teaching at a Hanbali institute[4], but could not be ascribed as one, due to his nature of an absolute Mujtahid. Owing to his status and promotion of the teachings of the Salaf, a new school of thought began emerging within the mainstream Sunni sect. Though majority of the Sunni scholars from all the different school of thoughts had condemned Ibn Taymiyah, he was still able to gather followers and any individual ascribing to his teachings would then be referred to as a Salafi.

At the time of Ibn Taymiyah majority of the scholars from within the Sunni sect had given official opposing verdicts regarding the views of Ibn Taymiyah. Many Sunni scholars had even considered him outside the folds of Islam. This was due to many of the new ideological beliefs he was bringing into the religion, using the excuse of reviving Islam’s original teachings. Ibn Hajar al-Haythami a 10th century Sunni scholar of the Sha’fi school of thought, in regards to Ibn Taymiyah, that “Allah let him down, misguided him, made him blind, deaf and disgraced him[5]. Scholars from all four schools of thought ordered his imprisonment due to their unanimous view that Ibn Taymiyah had clearly and evidently strayed off the straight path[6]. Though he was imprisoned many times, he was still active and wrote many letters where he continued to spread and promote his teachings.

Many of Ibn Taymiyah’s verdicts, which have been collected in a 36 volume book Majmu’a al-Fatawa (Compilation of Religious Verdicts), were violent in nature and some of the examples are as follows:

“Nay it is known from the Salaf Imams that Takfir (to be considered non-Muslim) be issued against anyone that says that Quran is created he must repent or otherwise be killed.” [7]

“To recite the intention loudly is not permissible according to the Muslim scholars, nor did the Prophet, Caliphs or Sahaba, Salaf or Imams perform it. Whoever claims it is Wajib (compulsory), he must be taught the law and then to repent from that opinion. If he insists on it then he must be killed.”[8]

The two aforementioned examples out of a pool of many depict the ease through which he would order the killing of individuals who were not in agreement with his jurisprudential code of conduct. Many times, the order of death was based on minor jurisprudence issues which would commonly differ from one school of thought to another. This violent and aggressive nature of his is a key reason a lot of modern day Muslim extremism continue to exist: many still ascribe to his teachings.  A key  factor that minimized the effects of his teachings, was because of his limitations on the political scale. Centuries passed, and although the teachings of Ibn Taymiyah had influenced many individuals including many well-known students, they were unable to dominate any society completely and politically in order to implement these teachings on a wide-scale basis.

It wasn’t until the 18th century when a man by the name of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, brought about a change in modern-day Saudi Arabia through the assistance of a political alliance, which continues to haunt many parts of the world. In order to understand the influence Ibn Abdul Wahhab had, one has to understand the political context of the time in Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abdul Wahab was from a region known as Najd and studied Islamic law in the city of Mecca. Whilst studying there, he also thoroughly studied the works of Ibn Taymiyah and was greatly influenced by what he had read. He was in complete agreement with his teachings and started to question the scholars around him and the practices of many Muslims in the city. Furthermore, he was against the cultural aspects that the Ottoman Empire had brought to the Arabian/Muslim world and suggested that such things were nothing but negative innovations in religion.[9] In other words, Ibn Abdul Wahab was on a mission to revive the teachings of Ibn Taymiyah that had long been forgotten in a region where Islam had originated. Upon returning to his town, he began to preach what he learned and started to gain a number of followers. One of the first tasks he carried out was the leveling of the graves on which tombs had been erected- as they were seen as a sign of idolatry.[10] Furthermore, he had reinitiated the stoning penalty for individuals who committed adultery and was able to successfully carry out this punishment on a female who was found guilty of the crime.[11] On the contrary, high ranking scholars and tribal leaders were not fond of this and exiled him from the town to a neighbouring town. It is here when he formed an alliance with the ruler of Najd, known as Muhammad ibn Saud, and it was this that would start the journey of the expansion of Wahhabism – the teachings of Ibn Taymiyah through Ibn Abdul Wahab.

Ibn Saud was the first formal ruler of Saudi Arabia, and it is after his surname that the term was coined for the country as we know it today. The relationship between Ibn Saud and Ibn Abdul Wahab is of a nature which till today can be seen in Saudi Arabia: as a relationship between the families of Saud who rule the country and the scholars who ascribe to the teachings of Ibn Abdul Wahab. It was this pact, further strengthened by the marriage of Ibn Saud’s son to Ibn Abdul Wahab’s daughter that led to the expansion of a heavily funded Wahabism. Ibn Saud and Ibn Abdul Wahab had created a new political entity and both were in agreement with the teachings and actions of one another. Together, they planned to dominate various neighbouring regions and ultimately the entire country– while fully implementing the teachings of Abdul Wahab within these regions. Ibn Abdul Wahab had revived the teachings of Ibn Taymiyah – the Salafi school of thought- and in essence was able to expand and spread it through the political assistance of the government.[12]

Just like Ibn Taymiyah’s teachings, the teachings that Ibn Abdul Wahab was implementing were violent as well, and he did not tone down the edicts of his teacher. The religious teachings were strictly enforced and many were killed during their expansion, as the Wahhabis initially did not see anyone who would practice anything remotely different than their version of Islam worthy of living. Many records exist of the killings of residents in different regions of Najd and this extended as far as cities in Syria and Iraq. The killing was seen as necessary as it was a war that would result in land-grab and control over larger regions. Ibn Abdul Wahab and Ibn Saud both perished by the late 18th century, but impacted the region so much so that their views would continue to exist through their followers who had taken their movement further by removing the Ottomans in 1925 from Arab regions. It is interesting to note that Arab nationalism played a great role in keeping Wahhabism successful and growing, and also caused the defeat of the Ottomans – who were considered outsiders. The defeat of the Ottomans was also collectively a result of the British government allying with the Saudi-Wahhabi movement against the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, the teachings of Ibn Abdul Wahab and Ibn Taymiyah had by now become an integral part of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia – it was the rule of law which residents had to follow within the country.

With the discovery of oil, Saudi Arabia had become central point of funding and expanding Wahabism in all parts of the country and around the world. Wahhabism gained further influence in the world after an increase in the price of oil during the mid 1970s. Saudi Arabia began to spend tens of billions of dollars throughout the Islamic world promoting Wahhabism, which was sometimes referred to as petro-Islam.[13] It promoted the religion through books, mosques, madrassahs (Islamic schools) to people of all ages and background.  With the large immigration of South Asians within Saudi Arabia, many of them are influenced with these practices and take these teachings back home to their countries and further promote them. This is what is happening in the present day and those that take the practices to a stricter level, find ways to join organizations and groups in various different countries. Saudi support groups are being funded specifically for the purpose of supporting organizations outside of Saudi Arabia, while Saudi Arabia itself sits in a rather peaceful environment. Organizations like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashakar-e-Jhangavi in Pakisatn are both examples of extremist Wahabis groups who attain direct support from Saudi Arabia and have spilled the blood of hundreds of non-Muslims and Muslims – particularly Shia and Sufi practicing Muslims in Pakistan.[14]

The effects of Wahabism in the 21st century have certainly not occurred overnight. Though Wahhabis are an extreme minority within the Muslim world, the petro-dollars of Saudi Arabia lurk behind the suicide jackets that are used when blowing one’s self up in cities that are quite distant from regions like Najd. Furthermore, it is important to note that Wahhabis do not refer to themselves as Wahabis, but rather as Salafis. But the fact of the matter is that the effects of the revival and teachings of Ibn Abdul Wahab can be seen in present day examples such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. This is a school of thought, whose spiritual goal was to focus on a purist form of Islam, but it is the violent and aggressive principles attached to an arguably completely skewed interpretation, assisted with monetary funding, that has led to the birth of these Muslim extremists. The attacks, violence and brutality themselves are not recent, as it has been mentioned in the various crimes that the Wahhabis committed. Wahhabi scholars have from the start, advocated religiously motivated violence and took part in crucial moments within the rise of the Saudi government. The issue which makes them so relevant and dangerous today is the advancement in technology, information and the continuous support of the petro-dollars. It has made this ideology even more dangerous than it was, and there seems to be no reliable attempt to minimize or extinguish the existence of this movement.

[1] http://www.fatwa-online.com/scholarsbiographies/8thcentury/ibntaymiyyah.htm

[2] http://www.fatwa-online.com/scholarsbiographies/8thcentury/ibntaymiyyah.htm

[3] The Hanbali School of Law and Ibn Taymiyyah: Conflict or Conciliation, by Abdul Hakim I.Al-Matroudi, page 52

[4] Ibid

[5] Al-Fatawa al-Hadithya by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, page 114

[6] http://www.fatwa-online.com/scholarsbiographies/8thcentury/ibntaymiyyah.htm

[7] Majmu’a al-Fatawa, Volume 12 page 506

[8] Majmu’a al-Fatawa, Volume 22 page 236

[9] http://www.saudinf.com/main/b5.htm

[10] Imaam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab – His Life and Mission, by by Shaikh Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz http://www.ahya.org/amm/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=180

[11] Wahhabi Islam: from revival and reform to global Jihad, By Natana J. DeLong-Bas; page 28

[12] The relationship between Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab and Ibn Taymiyah; http://islamicweb.com/beliefs/creed/wahhab.htm

[13] Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, by Gilles Kepel page 69-75

[14] http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/terroristoutfits/Ssp.htm

6 thoughts on “Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Abdul Wahab & Ibn Saud: The Partnership of Extremists

  • Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (raḥimahullâh) said to one of his interlocutors (who debated him on a particular issue):

    ❝If I were to say what you just said right now, I would’ve disbelieved (i.e., committed kufr). As for you, you haven’t in the slightest, as the ḥujjah (evidence) hasn’t been established against you.❞

  • This paper practically violates all tenants of academia and fails at coming close to a non-biased, objective approach.

    • Ibn Taymiyah unknowingly or willfully being less versed with the contexts has open a pandora’a box that is destroying the umma. what a pity. his all books and preachings should be obliterated from people’s mind. that’s how peace can be established.

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