Imam Muhammad Abu Zahra (1898–1974) explains Wahhabism

(By Gibril Foud Haddad)

The late great Scholar of al-Azhar and specialist of Juridical principles (Usul), Imam Muhammad Abu Zahra, wrote in his book on the history of the madhahib (Schools) in Islam titled Tarikh al-Madhahib al-Islamiyya (“History of the Islamic Schools”):

“The Wahhabis appeared in the Arabian desert […] and revived the School of Ibn Taymiyya. The founder of the Wahhabiyya is Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab who died in 1786CE. He had studied the books of Ibn Taymiyya which became inestimable in his sight, deepening his involvement in them until he brought them out from the realm of opinion into the realm of practice. […] The Wahhabis exaggerated [and bowdlerized] Ibn Taymiyya’s positions and instituted practical matters that can be summarized thus:”

I. They did not restrain themselves to view worship (`ibada) in the same way that Islam had stipulated in the Qur’an and Sunna and as Ibn Taymiyya had mentioned, but they wished to include customs (`adat) also into the province of Islam so that Muslims would be bound by them. Thus they declared cigarette smoking haram and exaggerated this ruling to the point that their general public considered the smoker a mushrik [idolater]. As a result they resembled the Khawarij who used to declare apostate whoever committed a sin.”

II. In the beginning of their sway they would also declare coffee and whatever resembled it as haram [categorically prohibited] to themselves but it seems that they became more lenient on this point as time went by.”

III. The Wahhabis did not restrain themselves to proselytism only, but resorted to warmongering against whoever disagreed with them on the grounds that they were fighting innovation (bid`a), and innovations are an evil that must be fought, and it is obligatory to command good and forbid evil.1 […] The leader of Wahhabi thought in the field of war and battle was Muhammad ibn Sa`ud, the ancestor of the ruling Sa`udi family in the Arabian lands. He was a brother-in-law to Shaykh Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab and embraced hismadhhab, defending it fervently and calling unto it by force of arms. He announced that he was doing this so as to uphold the Sunna and eradicate bid`a. Perhaps, this religious mission that took a violent turn was carrying with itself a rebellion against Ottoman rule. […]Until the governor of Egypt, Muhammad `Ali Basha al-Albani, faced them and pounced on the Wahhabis with his strong army, routing them in the course of several battles. At that time their military force was reduced and confined to the Arabian tribes. Riyadh and its vicinity was the center for this permanent da`wa that would turn violent whenever they found the strength and then lie still whenever they found violent opposition.”

IV. Whenever they were able to seize a town or city they would come to the tombs and turn them into ruins and destruction […] and they would destroy whatever mosques were with the tombs also. […]”

V. Their brutality did not stop there but they also came to whatever graves were visible and destroyed them also. And when the ruler of the Hijaz regions caved in to them they destroyed all the graves of the Companions and razed them to the ground […]”

VI. They would cling to small matters which they condemned although they had nothing to do with idolatry nor with whatever leads to idolatry, such as photography. We found this in their fatwas and epistles at the hands of their Ulama, although their rulers ignore this saying of theirs completely and cast it by the wayside.”

VII. They expanded the meaning of bid`a [innovation] to strange proportions, to the point that they actually claimed that draping the walls of the noble Rawda [near the Prophet’s chamber in Madina] is an innovated matter. Hence they forbade the renewal of the drapes that were in it, until they fell in tatters and became unsightly, were it not for the light that pours out to all that are in the presence of the Prophet – upon him peace – or feels that in this place was the abode of Revelation on the Master of Messengers. In fact, we find among them, on top of this, those who consider that the Muslim’s expression “our Master Muhammad” (sayyiduna Muhammad) is an impermissible bid`a / and they show true extremism about this and, for the sake of their mission, use foul and furious language until most people actually flee from them as fast as they can.”

VIII. In truth, the Wahhabis have actualized the opinions of Ibn Taymiyya and are extremely zealous followers and supporters of those views. They adopted the positions of Ibn Taymiyya that we explained in our discussion of those who call themselves “Salafiyya.” However, they expanded the meaning of bid`a and construed as innovations things that have no relation to worship. […] In fact, it has been noticed that the Ulama of the Wahhabis consider their own opinions correct and not possibly wrong, while they consider the opinions of others wrong and not possibly correct. More than that, they consider what others than themselves do in the way of erecting tombs and circumambulating them, as near to idolatry.2 In this respect they are near the Khawarij who used to declare those who dissented with them apostate and fight them as we already mentioned. This was a relatively harmless matter in the days when they were cloistered in the desert and not trespassing its boundaries; but when they mixed with others until the Hijaz country was in the hand of the Sa`ud family,3 the matter became of the utmost gravity. This is why the late King `Abd al-`Aziz of the Sa`ud family opposed them, and treated their opinions as confined to themselves and irrelevant to others.”4

[End of the text quoted from Imam Abu Zahra’s book Tarikh al-Madhahib al-Islamiyya(“History of the Islamic Schools”).]


Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra (1898–1974) was a conservative Egyptian public intellectual, traditional scholar of Islamic law and author.Abu Zahra was educated at the Ahmadi Madrasa, the Madrasa al-Qada al-Shari and the Dar al-Ulum. He taught at al-Azhar’s faculty of theology and later, as professor of Islamic law at Cairo University. He also served as a member of al-Azhar’s Academy of Islamic Research. His more than forty books include biographies of Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Shafi’i, Ibn Hanbal, Zayd ibn Ali, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, Imam Zain al Abideen, Ibn Hazm, and Ibn Taymiyyah, as well as works on personal status, pious endowments (waqf), property, and crime and punishment in Islamic law. [Esposito, The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, Oxford University Press 2003]

For more biographical details, see: link


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