Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab was a great Muslim reformer and reviver of Islamic thought. He was born in Arabia in 1703 C.E. and got his education under different Islamic scholars. Right from the beginning of his maturity he honed intense affection for the Islamic traditions. But the socio-religious milieu around him was not favorable Islamically as a number of unislamic things were in vogue.
The people were busy in doing the things of not Islamic in nature. They were associating the partners to Allah, worshiping demigods and the practice of non-Quranic things were on its peak.
The corrupted thoughts created fatalistic propensities and engendered among its followers a sort of indifference towards the social responsibilities and ethos. This problem of corruption was not only with mysticism but the practice of ‘Taqlid’ (blind imitation) had also become the psychological hallmark of the Muslims. Instead of making ‘Ijtihad’, they were contented on their forefathers’ heirloom.
Amidst of this religious morass Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab promoted Islam in its pristine form and endeavored to deconstruct the false edifice of cultural innovations and accretions of unislamic essence prevailed during his time.
He stressed on Tawhid and explained the same through his public harangues and books. His main contribution was that he deconstructed the dogma of incarnation and the polytheistic creeds of the people.
He wrote a famous book ‘Kitabal-Tawhid’ on Tawhidic concept of Islam, free from the philosophical intricacies. Unlike the schools of Muslim Kalam, Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab preached the Islamic doctrines in a simple and intelligible way as mentioned in the sacred text of Islam, devoid of scholastic interpretations of mutakalimeen.
His strong belief in the oneness of Allah motivated him to remain brawny in defense of Islamic fundamentals against the deviated path. In one of his epistles he publically asserted: “I hold as witness Allah and the present angels, and holds you too as witnesses that I uphold the Aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jam’ah, His Messangers, the resurrection after death and predestination and its consequences; good and evil.”
In another letter the Sheikh sent to Abdurrahman bin Abdullah as-Suwaidi, in Iraq, he wrote: “My Aqeedah and my Din which I owe Allah, is the Din of ahlus-Sunnah wal Jam’ah which is upheld by the imams of the Muslim Ummah of whom were the four Imams and their followers.”
Although, Sheikh was a literalist and got encountered with other scholars of Islam on many issues but it is a fact that his reformations were marvelous and gigantic.
His alliance with then tribal leaders led to the unification of Arab regions under one political umbrella of Al-Saud. Many critics of this alliance however, discarded it as unwise and later on under the leadership of Al-Aziz, a conspiracy against the Ottaman Khilafah.
Abdul Qadeem Zallum, a Palestinian scholar and the second Ameer of Hizb al-Tahrir, in his book “How the Khilafah was destroyed”, writes: “Britain supplied them with weapons and money and they moved on a sectarian basis to sieze the Islamic lands which were under the authority of ottamon Khilafah. They took up the arms against the Khilafah and fought the Islamic armed forces (the army of the Amir ul-Mu’mineen), all the time goaded and supplied by the British.”
Apart from the political realm, this movement of the Sheikh was also criticized by many scholars on religious basis, though much of them were just allegations without any firm evidence. It is true that his followers have debunked the mystical realities and the esoteric dimension of Islam.
Islam is a universal religion, encompassing all the domains of human consciousness. Its celestial message is not different from the very nature of a human being. It is the Divine rope that connects a man to the creator of this whole cosmos.
Martin Lings has rightly said, “Sufism is necessary because it is to Islam what the heart is to the body.”
The Islamic tradition has its own esoteric aura and spiritual ethos as expounded by the gargantuan minds of Islamic legacy like Imam Ghazzali, Qushairi, Shykh Ahmad Sirhindi, Shah Waliuallah and Maulana Thanvi.
The Islamic scholars agree that like many religious bailiwicks, mysticism also got mixed with the things of other denominations like Budhhism and Hindu traditions and some masqueraders has made it a smorgasbord of various mythologies.
They divorced themselves from the prophetic Shari’ah and upheld a position that was antagonistic to the fundamentals of Islam.
Syed Hossein Nasr while rebuffing the notion of such charlatans points out: “Without participation in the Shari’ah the life of the Tariqah would be impossible and in fact the later is interwoven in its practices and attitudes with the practices prescribed by the Shari’ah.”
Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab was known to be very humble. Ibn Baaz noted that he would always try to meet with his opponents. The reason being that he wanted to make sure that they were understanding each other properly, which may not have been the case simply upon reading each others’ words.
No doubt he was following the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence but he laid a great stress on ‘Ijtihad’ and spoke vehemently against ‘Taqlid’, upon which his own teacher Abudullah ibn Mohammad ibn Lateef had written a refutation of him entitled ‘Saif al-Jihad li-Mudda’an al-Ijtihad’ .
It is important to mention here that Shah Waliuallah, a great contemporary Indian scholar, holds that a layman should follow his own Imam but a person well grounded in Islamic sciences can exercise the process of ‘Ijtihad’.
Maulana Manzoor Nomani, a famous scholar of Indian subcontinent, has written a valuable book in defence of Sheikh and negated many false allegations that have been labelled against Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab.
He is of the opinion that Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab and his adherents were upon the truth and the allegations leveled against them were baseless.
He writes: “After studying his life, I have realized that Mohammad bin Abdul Wahab encountered the same challenges that Sheikh Shah Ismail Shaheed faced that is false accusations.”
Author is assistant professor, Islamic Studies, Higher Education Department Jammu Kashmir. Views expressed are author’s own.