The 14th century Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiya propounded a complete Islamic theology of radicalism, religious exclusivism, violent extremism and puritanical fundamentalism. He was vehemently opposed to the pluralistic and multicultural Islam that was being preached by the Islamic mystics and Sufi saints at that time, declaring them misguided Muslims indulging in shirk and bid’ah (polytheism and innovation) and fitnah and fasad (religious corruption).
Therefore, he called for returning to the “pristine purity” of Islam, in conformity with his interpretation of the Quran, hadith and ijtihad.
With an aim to purge Islam of the later customs and accretions, Ibn Taimiyyah also forbade Greek philosophy, Aristotelian logic and speculative thinking, as is laid out in his book Minhaj al-Sunnah. He believed that there can be no more progression in the vision of Islam, as he advocated the return to the “pristine” Islamic doctrines bypassing the historical growth and progress of human life (Fatawa ibn Taymiyah, 29 Vol. in Arabic).
After Ibn Taymiyya’s demise, his closest student and disciple, Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziya preached his theology. However, it was Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Najdi of Eastern Arabia who gave the most powerful impetus to Ibn Taymiyya’s theology of radical Islam turning it into an influential religio-political movement which spread across the world.
Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab was born in the Najd of Arabia in 1704 into the family of Musharraf of the tribe of Tameem. His father was an Islamic jurist (faqeeh) and probably the greatest scholar in Najd. He was an authority in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) with voluminous books on various topics of Islamic jurisprudence to his credit. Ibn Abdul Wahhab studied Hanbali jurisprudence from his father. However, he carried out a self-study of books on tafseer (Qur’anic exegesis) and hadith, with a special focus on tauheed (Islamic monotheism).
In the process, he was exposed to the books of Ibn Taimiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim that discuss the doctrine of Tawheed at great length. He was particularly enchanted by the books of Ibn Taimiyya, which he himself transcribed. Some of those manuscripts are still available at the British Museum.
It is noteworthy that Ibn Abdul Wahhab was first exposed to Ibn Taimiyya in his young and impressionable age while in Najd, as Abu Sulaimaan writes in his book “Khasaais al-Tafkeer al-Fiqhi ind al-Shaikh Muhammad ibn Abdil-Wahhaab”. In Najd, Ibn Taimiyya was greatly honoured among the scholars of the Hanbali school of thought. As a result, the impact of Ibn Taimiyya was deeply embedded in Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s thoughts which, later, became the main theological basis for his own writings, fatwas and letters. For instance, his most controversial book “Kitabul Tawhid” and the collection of his fatwas “Majmuatul Fatawa al-Aamma” are particularly considered ideological reflections of Ibn Taimiyya’s theology.
The impact of ibn Taimiyyah on Ibn Abdul-Wahhaab can be seen in almost all his writings. Much of his thesis in al-Insaaf is drawn from ibn Taimiyyah’s conclusions. Similarly, in the entire collection of Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s writings “Muallafaat al-Shaikh al-Imaam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhaab, collected by Abdul-Azeez al-Roomi, there are many issues in which he summarised Ibn Taimiyyahs’s views from his writings.
Apart from fatwas and jurisprudential issues, he based his theology on Ibn Taimiyya’s writings in topics such as the Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), Islamic fundamental beliefs (aqeedah), Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and so forth. Besides expanding his exclusivist views on Tawhid as expounded in his book Kitab at Tawhid, he also wrote on the seerah, hadith, aqeedah and usul al-deen (fundamentals of Islam). Some of his other works include Mukhtasar Seerat al-Rasool, Majmuatul Ahadith, Usool al-Iman and Fadayal al-Islam.
By delving deeper into the writings of Ibn Taimiyya, Ibn Abdul Wahhab developed a totally different meaning of tauheed (oneness of Allah), which he saw completely missing from the belief and practice of mainstream Muslims across the world. This study made him realise that the religious affairs of the Muslims around him were not consistent with the teachings of the Quran and Hadith. Therefore, he launched a big reform movement, popularly known as Wahhabism, to revive the “puritanical” Islam in the world starting from the Najd region of Arabia. He considered his movement to be an effort to purge Islam of the common Muslim beliefs and practices which he declared as akin to polytheism (shirk) and religious innovation (bid’ah). By all his rigorous efforts and writings, he tried to take Muslims to what he believed the most puritan Islam.
Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s campaign to “purify” Islam from subsequent accretions was not confined to Saudi Arabia alone. The influence of his violent, intolerant, supremacist, xenophobic theology started spreading in other parts of the Muslim world too. The Sanusi movement in North Africa, the Fulani movement in Nigeria, the Mahdiyah movement in Sudan, the Salafi Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen in Egypt, the Paduri and Masjumi movements of Indonesia the jihad movement in the Indian subcontinent, the Fara’idi movement in Bengal, and the Jamaat-i-Islami in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh share the common allegiance to supremacist Wahhabi-Salafi ideology. In India, the Ahl-e-Hadisi/ Salafi/Deobandi/Jamaat-e-Islami movements can be traced back to the very supremacist ideology propounded by Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab in the eighteenth century. All these revivalist Islamic movements appeared on the scene to further the ends of Wahhabi movement. Worryingly, they have made far-reaching impact on the Indian Muslim community which had originally been introduced to Islam by inclusivist Sufi saints.
In India, the biggest follower of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahab Najdi was Maulana Ismail Dehlvi, who wrote a book “Taqwiatul Iman” (strengthening faith) with the same line of thinking that was laid out in Ibn Abd al-Wahab’s “Kitabul Tawhid”, in which he declared all non-Wahhabi Muslims mushrik (polytheists). Until today, Deobandis consider Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahab Najdi and Maulana Ismail Dehlvi as their religious ideologues and teach their books in their madrasas as a text books under the subject of Aqaid (beliefs). An even greater exponent of Wahhabi Puritanism than Ismail Dehlvi was the Deobandi Jihadist Maulvi Syyed Ahmad ‘Shaheed’, who fought a Jihad war against the Sikhs. Nearly all Deobandis and even Ahle Hadisis venerate him and remember him as a “Shaheed” (Islamic martyr), because he waged militant jihad against non-Muslims. This has been lucidly explained in an authentic book “Mauj-e-Kausar, Musalmanon ki mazhabi aur ilmi tarikh ka daur-e-jadid”, a history text book, included in many Deobandi madrasas written by Shaikh Muhammad Ikram.