Wahhabi doctrine of Hijra in their wars against Muslims

[ Excerpt from the book “The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia” by David Commins]

A false claim that is perpetuated by Wahhabi apologists, against the Sunni Muslim community, is that the Wahhabi sect did not declare all Muslims as idolaters as such nor make war against them and that such claims were merely false accusations by opponents of the Wahhabi sect.

To see the factual reality to this issue, one can do so by studying the methodology of the Wahhabi missionerys, on how they treated the people and territorys of the lands of Islam including even the Hijaz, that were not yet within Wahhabi/Al-Saud Bedouin domination. To quote David Commins:

“In al-Dir’iyya, Wahhabi leaders watched the crumbling of the mission’s domain with alarm and bitterness over the reversal of history’s course. The early sense of a beleaguered, lonely vanguard battling for truth returned, now tinged with revulsion at fair-weather friends abandoning the Saudi bandwagon in the face of Ottoman forces. During the 1815 truce, the Saudi ruler Amir Abd Allah marched north to punish disloyal towns and chiefs in al-Qasim. For urging the Ottomans to invade Najd, he razed the walls of two towns and seized their chiefs, transporting them to al-Dir’iyya.111 Notwithstanding this exemplary punishment, men from the district went to Cairo to incite Muhammad Ali to resume his war against the Saudis.112 Such betrayal may account for the resentment expressed in the writings of a talented young member of Al al-Sheikh, Sulayman Ibn Abd Allah ibn Muhammad (1785–1818). In two brief epistles that he apparently composed during the war, he gave Wahhabi polemics a stronger xenophobic accent by elaborating on two related questions: Is it permitted to travel to the land of idolatry? Is it permitted to befriend idolaters?113

In the treatise on travel to the land of idolatry, he wrote that it is permissible on two conditions. First, one must openly practise one’s religion. Second, one must refrain from befriending the idolaters. The rationale for this ruling is that God commands believers to bear enmity toward idolaters; whatever may cause one to neglect this command is not permitted. Travel to conduct trade with idolaters may incline one to placate them, as often occurs in the case of ‘corrupt’ Muslims.114 He stated that there is no difference between a brief sojourn of one or two months and a long one. It is forbidden to stay even one day in a land where one cannot openly practise religion and refrain from befriending the idolaters if one is able to depart. The proof texts for this position are a verse from the Qur’an and a Hadith. The Qur’anic verse is al-Nisa’ 140:

He has already revealed unto you in the Scripture that when you hear the revelations of God rejected and derided, sit not with them until they engage in some other conversation. Lo! In that case you would be like unto them. Lo! God will gather hypocrites and disbelievers, all together, into hell.

  Sheikh Sulayman held that this verse means that if a Muslim willingly sits with infidels while they ridicule God’s revelation and he does not condemn them and leave them, then he is like them because remaining in their company connotes approval of disbelief, which itself is disbelief.115 The Hadith proof text related by the Companion Abu Da’ud is particularly important because it would appear in numerous Wahhabi writings for the next two centuries: ‘Whoever associates with the idolater and lives with him is like him.’116 Sheikh Sulayman explained this to mean that if a believer associates with idolaters, assists them and shares a dwelling with them such that they consider him one of them, then he becomes one of them, unless he openly practises his religion and refrains from befriending them. He then noted that that was what befell the believers who remained in Mecca after the Prophet’s emigration (hijra) to Medina. Even though they claimed to be Muslims, they resided in Mecca and the idolaters considered them to be part of their group. Indeed, they went with the idolaters to fight the Muslims at the battle of Badr. Some Companions thought they were Muslims. So after the battle they said, ‘We have killed our brothers.’ But then God sent down the Qur’anic verse, al-Nisa’ 97:

Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death), they wrong themselves.

  Experts in Qur’anic exegesis interpreted the verse to mean that such men were infidels and that God will not forgive them, except for those whom the Meccans compelled to join them.

Sulayman ibn Abd Allah devoted a separate treatise to the requirement that believers refrain from offering loyalty to idolaters.117 On this topic, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab had written that devoting all worship to God and abandoning idolatry did not make one’s religion complete unless one also showed open enmity toward the idolaters.118 The sheikh had also composed a brief epistle condemning as idolaters folks who lived in Mecca, Basra, or al-Hasa when those areas were at war with the Wahhabis.119 His grandson composed a more extensive treatise consisting of a brief discussion and twenty-one proof texts, mostly from the Qur’an. In the discussion, he stated that whoever pretends to agree with the idolaters’ religion is an infidel, even if one does so out of fear and a wish to placate them. The only exception is for a believer who has come under their power. If they torture or threaten to kill the believer, then he may verbally agree with them as long as he maintains faith in his heart.
The proof texts establish five main points. First, the central theme is the duty for believers to bear enmity toward infidels and idolaters (al-Mujadala 22, al-Tawba 23). From this duty it follows that believers may not offer them loyalty (Al Imran 28, al-Maida 51, 55, 80–1, Hud 113, al-Mumtahana 1–3) or obedience (Al Imran 149, al-An’am 121). Third, God has ordained these duties to protect the believers from straying from His guidance because idolaters wish to lead believers away from the true religion (al-Baqara 120, 145, 217, al-Kahf 20). Fourth, merely keeping company with them will make a believer become like one of them (al-Nisa’ 140, al-A’raf 175, Abu Da’ud’s Hadith). The apprehension that social pressures arising from daily interaction with infidels would either force or tempt a believer to abandon the true religion is behind the obligation to remove oneself from their midst, in other words, to emigrate (perform hijra). Lastly, worldly temptations could weaken believers’ resolve and leave them vulnerable to backsliding (al-Nahl 106–7, al-Hajj 11, al-Tawba 24, Muhammad 25–8, al-Hashr 11, al-Ma’ida 52–4).

Hijra is not prominent in Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s writings, but he did consider it a duty for Muslim who may not practise their religion, according to a Hadith stating that hijra will not cease until repentance ceases and repentance will not cease until the sun rises in the west, i.e. Judgment Day.120 Later Wahhabi writers would remain concerned with the implication that hijra from the land of infidels to Muslim territory is obligatory. For Sulayman, the key to the matter lies in al-Nisa’ 97:

Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wrong themselves, (the angels) will ask: In what were you engaged? They will say: We were oppressed in the land. (The angels) will say: Was not God’s earth spacious that you could have migrated therein? As for such, their habitation will be hell, an evil journey’s end.

  Sulayman’s discussion of the verse begins with a terse rhetorical question, ‘In other words, what group were you with? The Muslims or the idolaters?’ He then remarked that this verse concerns Meccans who had embraced Islam and refrained from joining the hijra. When the idolaters went out to the battle of Badr, they forced them to go along and the Muslims killed them. When the Muslims realized this, they regretted it and said, ‘We have killed our brothers.’ And then God revealed this verse.121 In alluding to the Wahhabis’ fair weather friends, Sulayman asked what this meant about folk who once followed Islam but then showed agreement with idolaters and entered into obedience to them, gave them comfort and assisted them? They forsook Muslims (ahl al-tawhid, that is, the Wahhabis), faulted them, insulted them and mocked them for their perseverance, patience and struggle on behalf of monotheism. Further, they willingly assisted the idolaters (the Ottomans). Such folk are worse in their disbelief and more deserving of punishment in the Fire than those in Muhammad’s time who chose not to join the hijra out of attachment to their homes and from fear of the infidels.

Thus, in Sulayman’s view, the Ottoman-Saudi military confrontation was not merely a struggle between enemy political forces but a facet of the struggle between belief and unbelief, between monotheism and idolatry, between those who love God and His messenger and those who hate God and His messenger. The principles governing the early nineteenth-century war were the same as those revealed by God in the Qur’an to guide His messenger and the believers in their struggle against idolaters, unbelievers and hypocrites more than one thousand years earlier. While one might consider Sulayman harsh in his condemnation of weaker spirits who bowed to superior military force, one cannot accuse him of failing to remain true to his convictions.


  Muhammad Ali’s agents took a less intrusive approach to the second occupation of Najd. First, they ruled through a member of Al Saud. Second, they adopted a softer approach to Wahhabi ulama who chose to stay in areas under their power. Rather than exiling or executing them, the Egyptians left them alone. Consequently, some quietly accepted the political shift from Faysal to Khalid, but others chose to emigrate from what they considered an infidel land.24 The latter embodied the defiant, uncompromising spirit articulated by Sulayman ibn Abd Allah in his treatises during the Ottoman-Saudi war. The spokesman for this outlook was Hamad ibn Atiq, originally from the Zilfi region located between al-Arid and al-Qasim.25 In 1836, Ibn Atiq went to Riyadh to study under Sheikh Abd al-Rahman ibn Hasan and other Wahhabi sheikhs.26 When Egypt invaded and installed Khalid ibn Saud, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman accompanied Faysal first to al-Hasa and then to southern Najd.27 Ibn Atiq joined them in southern Najd.

  During the second Egyptian occupation, Hamad ibn Atiq wrote a treatise, The Refutation of Ibn Du’ayj.28 This work reflects the animosity that sprang up between ulama who emigrated from Riyadh and those ulama who chose to live under Khalid, thus accepting Muhammad Ali’s authority. According to Ibn Atiq, Ahmad ibn Du’ayj, a qadi in Washm, a region under Egyptian control, falsely claimed that the Wahhabi mission held that anyone who lived in a land conquered by idolatrous troops must emigrate or be considered an infidel. Ibn Atiq wrote that not a single scholar of the Najdi mission (al-da’wa al-najdiyya) had ever expressed such a view. He contended that Ibn Du’ayj wished to alienate folk from the mission by spreading lies, as his (unnamed, perhaps Ottoman Iraqi) teachers had done.29 Furthermore, Ibn Atiq asserted that Ibn Du’ayj exonerated the infidels and their leaders of apostasy. It seems that Ibn Du’ayj claimed that the infidels (Egyptians) did not force anybody to renounce his religion or to do something that defiled his religion. Ibn Atiq accused Ibn Du’ayj of wishing to get along with both Muslims and infidels instead of openly declaring enmity to idolatry even though he knew that these people (the Egyptians) tried to destroy Islam, deported its imams (referring to the exile of Al al-Sheikh in 1819) and killed many ulama for refusing to apostasize (including Sulayman ibn Abd Allah).30 Ibn Atiq criticized Ibn Du’ayj for claiming that the only reason he lived in the land of infidels was to safeguard his life, property and family. He noted that the Qur’an does not admit such worldly reasons as excuses and that emigration from the land of the Turks (Ibn Atiq’s term for the Ottoman-Egyptians), whose unbelief is widely known, was obligatory.31 In setting forth what Ibn Atiq deemed an accurate version of the Wahhabi position on living under idolatrous rule, he asserted that people who reside in the land of idolaters fall into three categories. First, those who choose to reside there, enjoy the company of idolaters, approve their religion and assist them in fighting Muslims. Second, those who reside there for worldly reasons, do not openly practise religion and yet do not give allegiance to idolaters. Third, those who openly practise religion or are compelled to reside among idolaters. Most of the treatise is a discussion of these three categories.32

Ibn Atiq considered the first category, those who willingly fall in with the idolaters, to be infidels. The proof texts consist of two hadiths: Do not take Jews and Christians as allies in preference to believers. Whoever keeps company and lives with idolaters is similar to them. Ibn Atiq also cited Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s definition of one category of infidel as a person who remains in a town whose folk are fighting the Muslims. Those in the second category are not infidels but sinners because they stay with idolaters for the sake of wealth or preserving family ties; they do not openly practise religion yet they refrain from giving allegiance to the idolaters. It appears, then, that merely associating with idolaters does not entail unbelief. It is a sin, however, to remain in their land even if in one’s heart one hates the idolaters. We have already seen the proof texts for this point in Sulayman ibn Abd Allah’s treatises: al-Nisa’ 97 and the Hadith, ‘Whoever associates with the idolater and lives with him is like him.’ The one difference is Ibn Atiq’s citation of the medieval exegete, Ibn Kathir, who noted that this verse applies not only to the particular case of Muslims who remained in Mecca at the time of the emigration to Medina but applies generally to those who reside among idolaters, are able to emigrate and are unable to practise their religion openly. Ibn Kathir stated that according to this verse and the consensus of scholars (ijma’), such a believer has committed a forbidden act (haram). God did not allow love or attachment to Mecca, the most noble place on earth, to excuse one from the duty to emigrate. Those in the third category are free of any blame. They openly practise religion or are compelled to reside among idolaters.

  One essential condition for residing among idolaters without falling into the category of unbeliever is to practise religion. Ibn Atiq elaborated on what exactly that entails and he set the bar high. One must openly declare that one has nothing to do with the religious practices of one’s hosts. This means telling the idolaters among whom one lives that they follow falsehood, not true religion. The proof text is the Qur’anic verse, ‘O unbelievers, I do not worship what you worship.’ This verse obliges one to say, ‘You are unbelievers, you practise idolatry, not monotheism.’ Ibn Atiq emphasized that openly practising religion does not mean that one may remain silent about others’ idolatrous worship. The people of Zubayr, Kuwait, Egypt, the Persians, the Jews and the Christians do not prohibit correct prayer in their lands. But openly practising religion is more than merely performing correct worship. It also entails proclaiming enmity to unbelievers and declaring to them that one has nothing to do with them or their religion. As for believers forced to reside among idolaters, the proof text is the Qur’anic verse, ‘Those who live among idolaters will have the Fire as their abode except for those who cannot find a way out.’ Ibn Kathir noted that such folk wished to escape the idolaters but could not. Ibn Atiq concluded this section by declaring that this is the position of the leading Wahhabi scholars and not what the liar (Ibn Du’ayj) ascribed to them because of his loyalty to the infidels and his prejudice against the mission.33

The substance of Ibn Atiq’s attack on faint-hearted ulama echoed Sulayman ibn Abd Allah’s treatises on travel to the land of idolatry and befriending idolaters. For the rest of the nineteenth century, strict enforcement of this aversion to mixing with idolaters – and in Wahhabi terms, most Muslims fell into that category – would remain the norm in Wahhabi discourse. It would also serve to mark the difference between true believers in the mission and those who for various reasons adopted a more tolerant view of non-Wahhabi Muslims.”

  To read the full book, visit: The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia

   One can now compare the history of the Wahhabis with the traits of the Khawarij, as related by Ibn Taymiyya, the alleged “Luther of (Wahhabi) Islam”:
There are two well-known and exclusive traits by which they parted from the community of Muslims and the Islamic state: their abondment of the Sunna and the act of declaring sinful that which is not a sin or declaring as good that which is not good. The second difference between the Kharijites and the remaining people of blameworthy innovation is that they declare people disbelievers over sins and misdeeds. Their imputation of disbelief on account of sins result in their making lawful the blood and wealth of the Muslims and declaring the abode of Islam an abode of war and only the land in their control the abode of faith.” [Majmua al fatawa, 19:72:73]

Those who yet continue to harbor doubts on the Wahhabiyya being the modern day Kharijites and continue to ally with them against the Sunni Muslim community, I pray, may Allah by His Mercy guide their hearts.


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