Wahabism and Reformation again

Bill Allison does not agree with Ikram Saeed that Wahabism is the Reformation for Islam.

Superficially, the comparison seems apt. Like Luther and Calvin and Tyndale, al-Wahhab demanded fidelity to the text, to a return to the revelation as it was understood by the first practicioners of the religion, for a rejection of innovations that occurred centuries after the revelation.

[…]At the same time it was justifying its use of force with its monopoly on religious interpretation, the Catholic Church suppressed the very book which it was interpreting. As incomprehensible as it may seem, the Church regarded the Bible as a threat to its own authority, and executed anyone brazen enough to attempt to translate it into a vernacular language. The Church sold indulgences, the clergy were poorly educated in Christian principals, etc. etc. The abuses were rampant.

Enter the reformers. Luther debated his 95 theses, and hoped to work within the Church for change. Similarly, William Tyndale sought the support of a Catholic bishop to get started on his English translation of the Bible. Luther ended up branded a heretic, and Tyndale’s Bibles were burnt in London (at the behest of that notable humanist, Sir Thomas More).

I don’t think the Islamic world found itself in the same circumstances when al-Wahhab began his proseletyzing. I do not think the Qur’an was regarded as a subversive work by the religious authorities of the day (to suggest so would be blasphemy). Compared to Latin Christendom, the realms of Islam saw few episodes like that of the Cathars or the Lollards (there were some).

Secondly, there is a vast difference between Luther or Calvin, both of whom left hundreds of thousands of words of doctrine, and al-Wahhab. Hamid Algar, who’s quite friendly to Qutb’s Islamism, wrote in Wahhabism: A Critical Essay:

A brief digression on what might be charitably termed the scholarly output of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab will be in order at this point. All of his works are extremely slight, in terms of both content and bulk. In order to justify his encomium for Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab, al-Faruqi appended to his translation of each chapter of the Kitab al-Tauhid a list of “further issues” he drew up himself, implying that the author had originally discussed some fo the “issues” arising from hadith in the book; he had not. …It seems that the custodians of Wahhabism, embarrassed by the slightness of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s opus, have come to regard the expansion of its girth as a necessity.

There’s a lot more on Bill’s site. Go read it.

Author: Zack

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