Wahabis as Born-Again

Bin Gregory notes that:

Wahhabism is the ideology of discontent. A study just waiting to be conducted is to compare affilliation with wahhabism to lack of religious upbringing [outside of the gulf, of course]. My own observation is that wahhabism appeals more to those who were irreligious in their youth and are then “converted”, and those who come from irreligious households, where it plays into that perennial youthful vice of condemning your elders. It’s hard to imagine the appeal of a creed that says the last thousand years of Islamic practice are corrupt to anyone with respect for the piety of their forefathers.

This is an interesting take on Wahabism. As a Muslim, I can offer some anecdotal evidence about this. The extremist and/or Wahabi strain of Islam, in my personal experience, is found mostly among people who are born-again Muslims. They can be Muslims born and raised in the West who found religion as a sort of rebellion from the mild religion/culture of their parents. They can be immigrants from Muslim countries who found religion as a reaction against Western society. There are also increasingly people in Muslim countries who are finding an extreme form of Islam somewhat late in life after a somewhat irreligious existence.

As I was growing up I have seen the emergence of extremist political Islam and have seen it become somewhat fashionable among especially the middle class to adhere to stricter and more extremist views of Islam. I think one of the reasons extremism is spreading in the Muslim world is that the field has been left open for extremist leaders. There are not many moderate Muslim intellectuals and leaders spreading their message or spending money at even a fraction of what the Wahabis do.

This post is getting long. So I’ll discuss my thoughts on the reasons for the emergence of extremist Islam, especially from the perspective of Pakistan (where I was born and raised), in a later post.

(Via Bill Allison’s excellent blog Ideofact. I especially recommend his series on Syed Qutb, the last post on which can be found here.)

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

18 thoughts on “Wahabis as Born-Again”

  1. A lot of Wahabi (or, more accurately Salafi) bashing on the net. Let me offer an explanation of Salafism’s appeal (though not a defense).

    With respect to “born-agains”:

    Islam, as it is practiced in Pakistan and many other traditional areas is awfully backward. Illiterate mullahs and pirs leading an uneducated rabble.

    A somewhat educated person (say 12 years of education) would be repulsed by the credulity and backwardness and (in Pakistan) Hinduness of this mullah Islam. Salafism, with its call to erase centuries of superstition, would be very appealing.

    What’s more, he would right about the “modernizing” possibilities of Salafism. For example, the Salafi call to re-examine Hadith for authenticity is a modernizing impluse. (It so happens that the people re-examining are hyperconservatives, but it didn’t have to be that way.)

    Salafism is very appealing to someone who is dissatisfied with traditional “village islam”, but is not swayed by western ideas. Salafism is a “modern’s” version of Islam.

    With respect to converts:

    Under Salafism, you don’t have to listen to preachy “born-Muslims” who tell you what to do based on their Madhab and national traditions. The convert gets to preach to the born-Muslim about the “true” Salafi Islam, as opposed to his corrupted Pakistani/African/Arab version.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Ikram.

    You are partially right, of course. Though I would argue that rejection of 1400 years of tradition and progress of thought is not necessarily good. There are obviously elements in what you call “village Islam” to be rejected, however, instead of emphasizing the modernizing aspects, Salafis have really been ultraconservative and rejectionist.

  3. I agree that Salafists are ultraconservative and rejectionist — but this is entirely compatible with being theologically modernizing (which they are). Salafis are the most successful of the many groups trying to re-interpret Islam. (Note that most Christian American commentators have it exactly backwards).

    I expect that in the future, Wahabism will be seen as the beginning of an Islamic intellectual revival, ultimately leading to an Islam more compatible with modern life.

    Consider that Calvin, while condemning the abuses and corruption of the catholic church (village Christianity) lauchned a profoundly bigoted and (in modern terms) conservative movement.

    Five hundred years later, it resulted in Unitarians. (Though 500 years is a long time to wait)

  4. There are obviously similarities with the Christian Reformation, but there are also differences.

    During those 500 years as you noted, there was also the little matter of the Religious Wars. Would that be repeated as well?

  5. i just want to ak tht wat are the basic differences btw these wahabis and the teachings and laws laid down in the Quran alone.. not hadith or sunnah…… and secondly why are they calles WAHABIS…i know wabt the history and all but all i wanna ask is why is it tht wahabi has also become a ‘sect’ which is severely condemned in the HOly Quran…. if they proclaim tht Quran is the only source of guidence then y arent they called MUSLIMS, y wahabis,,,,,i also want to know that what is thje point of view of wahabis on hadith and sunnah????

  6. A: Wahabis is probably not the correct way of describing the phenomenon. As regards why they are called Wahabis and not simply Muslims, it’s because there are quite a few differences among Muslims and when you want to point to a subgroup you can group them together by some characteristic.

    I don’t have the time or space to discuss the Wahabi point of view on hadith and sunnah right now. Sorry about that.

  7. why do the wahabis not recommend zikr.
    zikr is great for spiritual needs. it will clean your heart and will make you feel great. i erge all wahabis to join ahle sunnat wal jammat.

  8. It breaks my heart to see, so called Muslims, bashing each other, making a mockery of themselves. That’s is the reason we the Muslim Ummah are being destroyed by the non-Muslims … DIVIDE WE STAND

    I am an Ahle-Hadith (Salafi) and I have no harsh feelings for those who have written on this and many other sites just like this one. As my Aqeeda, I just pray for all Muslims, especially those who have managed to read a book or two on Islam and decided to declare themselves as “Scholars of Islam”.

    May Allah guide us all to the straight path.

    Mrs. Shabedeh Hashmi

  9. It is very tough on children of immigrants especially non-white in the western world to be accepted as equal citizens. They feel alienated by fellow citizens. So if most minorities cling to some kind of extremism it is because no one helped them to integrate. I have seen a terrific movie on this subject callled ‘My Son Fanatic’

  10. Wahabis r not Muslims. because wahabi think that Allah has hands,legs and eyes(Nauzobillah). whereas in ISLAM there is no such concept. other important issue is that wahabis say that Allah lives above 7 skies. whereas Muslims say that Allah is everywhere and u can not restrict him. Even christians think that there is one god.. the same case is with wahabis.. one morething as the jewish lobby created Qadyanis the same is the case with wahabis.. just look at their background.. wahabism was brought by Britishers.. and yes The Most important thing.. wahabis dont respect Hadrath Muhammad(saw).. recently they destroyed the house of Hadrath Muhammad(SAw) Mother(R.A). this shows the hatred they have against Prophet(SaW) and his(saw) family…
    May the curse of Allah be on wahabis(Ameen)

  11. Wahabis/Salafis Again

    My initial post regarding the Wahabis touched very briefly on the topic. I have been thinking of blogging more on Wahabis as well as the different sects/schools of thought in Islam specifically as found in Pakistan. However, it is a…

  12. Wahhabis or the pseudo-Salafis are nothing but a bunch of heretics and schismatics who claim to have independent knowledge of the Scripture (Quran) and Traditions (Sunnah) and they take the task of interpreting these two primary sources of Islam upon themselves without mastering the necessary knowledge and science. They would enforce their own private interpretation of the Quran (literally done) and reject anything besides it…they may be equated to the Protestant Churches that wish to reform and re-mould the “Mother Church” from its ancient Dogmas and Doctrines….Wahhabism may be defined as “a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the Islamic Faith, corrupt its Dogmas… restricting belief to certain points of Islamic doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure.” While the true believer accepts the whole deposit as proposed by the Islamic Faith; a heretical Wahhabi accepts only such parts of it as commend themselves to his own approval. The heretical tenets may be ignorance of the true creed, erroneous judgment, imperfect apprehension and comprehension of dogmas: in none of these does the will play an appreciable part, wherefore one of the necessary conditions of sinfulness—free choice—is wanting and such heresy is merely objective, or material. On the other hand the will may freely incline the intellect to adhere to tenets declared false by the Divine teaching authority of the Prophetic tradition. The impelling motives are many: intellectual pride or exaggerated reliance on one’s own insight; the illusions of religious zeal; the allurements of political or scholarly authority; the ties of material interests and personal status; and perhaps others more dishonourable. Islamic scholars equate the Wahhabis to the schismatic Kharijites (Khawarij), who of their own will and intention separate themselves from the unity of the Islamic Nation (i.e. Ahlus Sunnah Wal-Jama’ah)

  13. “Wahhabis” is the collective name for those individuals and groups who advocated a formal separation from the main corpus of Islamic Congregation, the Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jama’ah. The roots of this movement are typically accredited to Muhammad Ibnu Abdul Wahhab and his so-called puritanic theses. They are further delineated as non-conformists, deviant schismatics. During the “Wahhabi Reformation in the 1700’s”, several Arabic slogans emerged, illustrating the Wahhabis’ concern that the leading Islamic authorities and pious scholars had distorted the Message of justification before God. The Wahhabis believed it was necessary to return to the simplicity of the Quran and Sunnah in terms of the issues designated by these slogans.

    The Wahhabis claim to go directly to the Word of God for instruction, and to the throne of grace in His devotions; whilst the pious Sunni in addition to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad – consults the authoritative interpretations of religious scholars and their consensus.

    The first Wahhabi principle proclaims the Two Canonical Sources (Quran & Sunnah), to be the only infallible source and rule of faith and practice, and asserts the right of private interpretation of the same, in distinction from the Orthodox Sunni view, which declares the Quran/Sunnah and scholarly traditions to be co-ordinate sources and rule of faith, and makes tradition, especially the decrees of religious scholars and theologians, the only legitimate interpreter of the Faith.

    Dr. Houwaida Maqesi Halaby Al-Hashemy
    Department of Islamic and Arabic Studies
    Pontifical Biblical Institute Rome

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