Wahhabi suppression of Ibn Mansur’s writings

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

“Uthman ibn Mansur (1788 or 1796–1865) was one of the most curious and controversial Najdi scholars of his era. His early teachers were local Wahhabi sheikhs in Sudayr and Washm. Around the time of the Saudi-Ottoman war, he went to Basra and Baghdad, where he studied under some anti-Wahhabi sheikhs.100 His travels then took him to the Holy Cities, where he may also have encountered ulama hostile to the mission, but his exposure to ‘idolatrous’ teachers did not automatically put him on the wrong side of the Wahhabi establishment. He served both Amir Turki and Amir Faysal as qadi at several locations. Faysal, for instance, gave him jurisdiction over all of Sudayr because of his reputation for justice and integrity. Ibn Mansur’s broad learning in literature as well as religious sciences made him a popular teacher as well. That Faysal trusted his discretion and judgment is evident from his appointment to the sensitive post at Ha’il (c.1849), the seat of Faysal’s powerful ally, Talal ibn Rashid. It appears that Ibn Mansur clashed with the Rashidi amir when he sided with a group of townsmen in their dispute with Talal and that led to his removal. He then moved to his native region of Sudayr, where he spent the rest of his life. In addition to his public career as a judge and teacher, Ibn Mansur composed a number of religious treatises, including a commentary on Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s Book of God’s Unity, reportedly at the urging of Amir Faysal. By most accounts, the Wahhabis of his era considered it a correct commentary. In the estimation of Abd al-Rahman ibn Hasan, it had only one defect, namely, Ibn Mansur mentioned the noted anti-Wahhabi scholar Muhammad ibn Sullum. A more critical evaluation was voiced by Abd al-Rahman’s son, Abd al-Latif, who declared that Ibn Mansur’s defective understanding led him to commit countless errors in his commentary.101 The second opinion probably reflected a new, revised Wahhabi consensus that formed when it became evident that Ibn Mansur had abandoned the mission and taken the side of its Ottoman critics. The timing and details of this shift are invisible in the sources, but the shift itself is unmistakable and obviously infuriated the Wahhabi establishment because it represented betrayal by an insider, something more threatening to Najd’s discursive uniformity than critics from the outside. The key piece of evidence for his betrayal is a treatise condemning Wahhabi leaders for their declaration of other Muslims to be infidels.102 The inclusion of an elegy to a prolific anti-Wahhabi writer (Da’ud ibn Jirjis) can only have irritated Riyadh’s ulama all the more. The response was an outpouring of treatises by the two senior members of Al al-Sheikh (Abd al-Rahman and Abd al-Latif) and several other sheikhs.103 In addition to a wave of polemics, the Wahhabi establishment combated Ibn Mansur by suppressing copies of his treatises. When he died in 1865, his book collection was sent to Riyadh, apparently to inspect its contents and remove from circulation ‘harmful’ writings, such as his work condemning the Wahhabis for considering Muslims to be infidels.104 Two years later, another copy of his anti-Wahhabi treatise surfaced in Burayda and Sheikh Abd al-Rahman wrote to a Wahhabi sheikh there, advising him to send it to Riyadh for safekeeping.105 The suppression of Ibn Mansur’s writings and the containment of the old tradition to Unayza were significant in two respects. First, both were reminders that the Ottoman religious establishment continued to regard the Wahhabi mission as anathema and would support Najdi dissidents. Second, the appearance of a group of dissenters in the single region whose amirs barely tolerated Saudi rule underscored the political underpinnings of the rival scholastic traditions. From these two points, it follows that as long as the Saudis maintained a firm grip over their domain, the Wahhabi tradition could purge opposing ulama and impose their hegemony over religious practices and discourse. In the last years of Faysal’s rule, there was little reason to anticipate the stormy decades that would close the nineteenth century and shake the mission’s political foundations.”

David Commins mentions as end notes:

“The only work by Uthman ibn Mansur that I could locate is ‘Manhaj alma` arij fi akhbar al-khawarij’, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo, Egypt, Manuscript number 28653. The colophon indicates that Ibn Mansur composed this work in Basra in 1825 and revised it in 1839. Photocopy in author’s possession. A second manuscript is attributed to him, ‘Kashf al-ghumma fi al-radd `ala man kaffar al-umma’. It is this work that Abd al-Latif ibn Abd al-Rahman rebutted (see n. 103).”


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


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