Imam Muhammad ibn Abdil Wahhab is commonly known as the founder of Wahhabism. Many claim that he is the reviver of the Khawaarij, or that he was deviated. Others hold firm that he was a reviver of the pure Islam. But who really was he? What was his mission? What did he stand for?
The Shaykh was born in 115 After Hijrah in Uyaynah, Saudi Arabia. From a young age he studied under the tutelage of his father, from whom he learnt Hanbali Fiqh and memorised the Qur’an, and then moved on to study in Basra. He was influenced by the works of Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al Qayyim, and was known for his piety and righteousness.
It was in Iraq where the Imam began his notable works. He called the people to the pure Tawheed, and advised them to follow the authentic teachings of the Prophet peace be upon him. He also engaged scholars in debates and gained a reputation of fame amongst his teachers. But, as is always the case, when one calls the pure Islam the rebellious will always arise, and thus the imam and his teacher faced persecutions there. Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab was forced to leave Iraq, and eventually moved to Huraymela, where he was joined by his father. In Huraymela he continued his journey in seeking knowledge and teaching the people, until his father died in 1153 After Hijrah. The ‘Abeed’ were a group of people given unto corruption; stealing and plundering, and felt that the Shaykh was a danger to their interests, thus they persecuted the Shaykh and made attempts on his life. So he left and moved back to Uyaynah.
In Uyaynah he was welcomed by Prince Uthman Bin Muhammad bin Mu’ammar, who pledged to support him, and adjured him to educate the people and call to Allah. Hence, the Imam continued his works in teaching and calling the people to the orthodox teachings of Islam, he guided them by the Will of Allah to uprightness of faith. Soon the Shaykh gained much popularity and people would travel from nearby villages to meet him. With the movement gaining momentum, and people returning to the pure Tawheed, the Shaykh decided to address the issue of grave worship. He called on the Prince of Uyaynah, and advised him that the Grave of Zaid ibn Al Khattab was causing much shirk, and that the people had turned it to a mosque, which was prohibited by the Prophet peace be upon him in various Ahadith. The prince granted the Shaykh an army of 600 men and they marched forth to the grave/mosque. The people of Jubayla (where the grave was situated), stood to defend it, but on upon seeing the army, gave way. The army were successful, and demolished the dome that was erected over the grave of Zaid. This was the first of many similar incidents in which the Shaykh removed the traces of polytheism that had crept into the Ummah.
In Najd and the surrounding areas, shirk had made a comeback, and many people worshipped graves, awliyaa (saints) trees and rocks, revering them as though they were Allah, or intermediaries to Allah. In Islam, one has a direct connection to Allah, no matter what level of iman one has, one can communicate, and talk to Allah, no matter how sinful or good he may be. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing and All-Aware, not a sound escapes Him, and all is visible to Him. This was forgotten by the people of Najd, and they had taken up objects that could neither hear nor see, as a means of communication and attaining nearness to Allah. Moreover magic, sorcery and soothsaying had also gained foot in the area. All of these are against the orthodox teachings of Islam, and thus the Shaykh saw it as necessary to correct people’s beliefs, and to remove these symbols and manifestations of paganism.
The Shaykh wrote to the scholars to gain their support in this task of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. Many aceded to his request and sent their approval. However, some disagreed with him, reproached his mission and stayed away from him, fearing the bad opinion of the people. Similarly many amongst the masses followed him, and some ignorants who had become attached to the symbols of paganism were against him.
The Shaykh continued to exert himself in teaching, learning and studying. His popularity became a threat to the power of the neighbouring province, whose leaders in turn threatened the Prince of Uyaynah. With this the Shaykh left Uyaynah and moved to Dareyya which was ruled by Prince Muhammad bin Sa’ud. Prince Muhammad saw the good in the Shaykh and made a contract to assist him, and the Shaykh agreed to remain in his country.
People flocked to the Shaykh, to learn from him. And soon the Shaykh began sending letters to the rulers and scholars of other provinces and countries encouraging them to return to the pure Tawheed and to abolish and remove all symbols of paganism. It was against this backdrop that his enemies arose and began to label him as Khawarij and other names, some were fake scholars, who knew nothing of the true Islam, other scholars who knew Islam but were misinformed of the Shaykh’s mission and a third group who feared that they would lose the power and authority.
In 1158 After Hijrah began the phase of active Jihad. For fifty years until his death in 1206 the Shaykh resorted to all methods to accomplish his mission, he continued teaching, writing letters, debating, answering questions, refuting accusations and force, until the people returned to the religion of Allah, and many of the signs of paganism had been demolished. The mosques became places of worship, and and students of knowledge filled their halls, the zakat was once again paid, and the good was enjoined and evil prohibited. Upon his death, his sons and grandsons, students and many scholars continued his mission of returning people to Islam as taught by the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him. The only hatred that people hold for him, is that he called to the pure Islam, and just how our beloved Prophet was hated, and persecuted, so is every other person who calls to the right guidance and emanates his way.