The Call of Wahhabism : Waging War and Massacre of Muslims


JOHN LEWIS BURCKHARDT in his book “NOTES ON THE BEDOUINS AND WAHABYS” collected during his travels in the East(PUBLISHED IN 1831), writes (see pages 167-179):


The Wahaby religion prescribes continual war against all who have not adopted the reformed doctrine. As nearly the whole extent of Arabia had been reduced to submission by the Wahabys, their expeditions were chiefly directed towards their northern neighbours, from Basra, along the Euphrates, to Syria. It does not appear that they ever wished to extend their dominions beyond the limits of Arabia : so that they only attacked Irak, Mesopotamia, and Syria, for the sake of plunder. Sudden invasions were the most favourable to such an object ; and no other kind of warfare has ever been practised by the Wahabys. Their chief undoubtedly wished to render himself sole master of all Arabia and its tribes ; and those who rejected his invitation to become true Moslims, were exposed on all sides to attacks from his people, who damaged their fields and date-trees, or carried off their cattle; while their neighbours, who had embraced the new faith, continued unmolested by the Wahabys. Multitudes, therefore, affected to conform, that they might save their property and themselves from constant annoyance ; but few provinces, or tribes, that had been outwardly converted, felt any real interest in the Wahaby cause.

Many leagues were formed with the Sherif of Mekka for resisting the power of Saoud’s family ; and the Bedouins at first considered their subjection as they would an alliance with a stronger neighbouring tribe, which they might dissolve at any hour, and convert into a war. Provinces, strong by position and population, such as the mountains of Shammar, Hedjaz, and Yemen, and others distant from the chief seat of Wahaby power in Nedjd, soon became relaxed in their obedience to the great chief’s orders, and irregular in the payment of tribute. At first, he reminded them of their duty by a parental exhortation, which they regarded as a proof of weakness, and then proceeded to open rebellion. In this case, the chief informs all his sheikhs, that “such Arabs have become enemies ; and that without his further orders, every person is at liberty to attack them.” He then sends three or four flying expeditions against them ; and they are soon reduced to obedience, by the fear of losing their crops and their cattle. Saoud was often heard to say, that no Arabs had ever been staunch Wahabys until they had suffered two or three times from the plundering of his troops. Some very strong and distant tribes have, however, successfully resisted the payment of tribute, although, in other respects, they profess themselves Wahabys. Thus in 1810, when Saoud’s power was unshaken in Arabia, the northern Aenezes refused to pay tribute; and the chief did not think it prudent to attempt the subjection of them by main force, but continued to correspond with their sheikhs, who paid him a nominal obedience, but acted according to the interests of their own tribes, whenever they came in contact with partisans of the Wahabys. It will be easily perceived, that the Wahabys are generally in a state of warfare. Saoud’s constant practice was to make every year two or three grand expeditions. The neighbourhood of Basra (being rich in cattle and dates), and the banks of the Shat el Arab, and of the Euphrates, up to Anah, were the scenes of his annual attacks. His troops even forded the Euphrates, and spread terror in Mesopotamia, and, on the southern side of his dominions, the still unconquered provinces of Yemen, Hadramaut, and Oman, presented fertile fields of booty. Saoud did not always accompany these expeditions himself, but sent one of his sons as commander, or some distinguished sheikh ; and we have even seen his black slave, Hark, at the head of several Wahaby corps.


Thus, when he invaded the Hauran plains in 1810, although it required thirtyfive days to arrive at the point of attack, yet the news of his approach only preceded his arrival by two days ; nor was it known what part of Syria he meant to attack ; and thirtyfive villages of Hauran were sacked by his soldiers before the Pasha of Damascus could make any demonstrations of defence.


The Wahabys make their attacks in every month of the year, even in the holy month of Ramadhan. Saoud has always shown a great predilection for the month Zul hadje, and his adherents pretend that he never was defeated in any expedition undertaken during that month.


To all his troops who die fighting, Saoud insures the enjoyment of paradise, according to the doctrine of the Koran. Whenever a sheikh is killed in battle, and his mare (as generally happens) gallops back towards the ranks of the -troops, which she knows, the report of his death is made to the chief as tidings of glad import; because the sheikh has certainly gone to paradise. On this occasion the expression is, ” Joy to you, O Saoud ! the mare of such a man is come back!”


In propagating their creed, the Wahabys have established it as a fundamental rule to kill all their enemies found in arms, whether they be foreign heretics (such as Syrian, Mesopotamian, or Egyptian soldiers or settlers), or Arabs themselves, who have opposed the great chief, or rebelled against him. It is this practice (imitated from the first propagators of Islam) which makes the Wahaby name so dreaded. During their four years’ warfare with the soldiers of Mohammed Aly Pasha, not a single instance is recorded of their having ever given quarter to a Turk. When Kerbela (or Meshed Hosseyn) and Tayf were taken, the whole male population was massacred ; and in the former town the Haret el Abasieh, or quarter of the Abasides, was only spared because Saoud had a particular veneration for the memory of the Abaside khalifahs. Whenever Bedouin camps are attacked, the same circumstance occurs ; all who are taken with arms are unmercifully put to death. This savage custom has inspired the Wahabys with a ferocious fanaticism that makes them dreadful to their adversaries, and thus has contributed to facilitate the propagation of their faith. But the Wahaby chief is easily induced to grant safe conduct to his enemies if they voluntarily surrender ; and to this they are often inclined, as it was never known that the chief on any occasion had broken his word. Here the good faith of Bedouins towards an enemy may be recognised ; a noble trait in their character. The reputation of Saoud for strict observance of a promise is allowed by his bitterest enemies, and particularly celebrated by his friends since the war with Mohammed Aly Pasha, as contrasted with the treachery of the Turks.

If the threatened Arabs surrender to Saoud before his vengeance can reach them, he usually gives to them the ” Amdn ulluh” or “God’s security,” with the condition of the ” halka” which excludes from the safe conduct all horses, camels, shields, matchlocks, lances, and swords, and all copper vessels, which must be given up as booty to the Wahabys ; the rest of their property remains untouched with the owners. Sometimes the Aman is given unconditionally, and then extends over persons as well as property. All commanders of Wahaby troops have strict orders to accept any offer of submission from an enemy, and to observe inviolably the promised ” Aman.” Having subdued a rebellious tribe, or province, Saoud always sent (soon after peace was concluded) for the sheikhs of the rebels, and established them with his own family at Derayeh, or in some neighbouring^ district, furnishing them amply with provisions. Thus he weakened their influence among their own people ; replacing them by chiefs on whose attachment he could depend, chosen from those powerful families which had formerly been at variance with the sheikhs of the subdued parties. Great numbers of chiefs from all parts of Arabia are thus assembled at Derayeh and in Nedjd. They are not, by any means, close prisoners ; but cannot escape from the district assigned to them. An Arab sheikh is so well known to all inhabitants of the Desert, that he can scarcely hope to remain ” incognito” for any length of time.

After the taking of Medinah, Saoud found it necessary to keep there a constant garrison of Wahabys ; no other instance of that kind occurred during his government. For he never thought it advisable to garrison any district that he had subdued, but relied upon the sheikh whom he had placed over it, and the dread of his own name, to keep the vanquished in subjection. Yet he commanded his new sheikhs in some districts south of Mekka to build small castles, or towers, for the defence of their residences. At Medinah, an important hold, where he knew that the people were hostile to his religion and his person, he kept a garrison of Arabs from Nedjd and Yemen armed with matchlocks, paying to each man seven dollars every month, besides rations of flour and butter. These, inhabitants of the towns of Nedjd, who are all furnished with matchlocks, form the most select corps of the Wahaby army. To them are entrusted the most difficult enterprises. It was these troops that stormed the town of Kerbela.




    1. I found no reason to question its reliability. The author has taken his notes by being in contact and interviewing the people of Arabia who were witnessed to the events and retained knowledge. It agrees with what others report. If you read the book(a Google search would quickly show up links to download), you would see that it is not really biased, if that may have been the impression you get from these extracts I posted. He praises the Wahhabis at many instances and accuses the Ottomons and their supporters at other places for lieing about Wahhabis, accuses other Muslims including Hijazis of being irreligious and things like that. Despite that you can extract from it material such as these that show the clear heretical and violent nature that Wahhabis were always accused of being.

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