Answering the doubts of the New Yasir Qadhi – Part 2: Najd before the advent of the Da’wah of Sh.Muhammed ibn Abd al Wahhâb

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It’s important to have a clear picture of the Arabian Peninsula as a whole, and Najd specifically because many misconceptions exist about it. We will focus on a few important aspects of the historical situation of the area, religiously, socially and politically.

David Commins in his work ‘The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia’ writes the following about the social situation of Najd: “For centuries before the rise of Wahhabism, Najd was, to outsiders, a virtually forgotten land, an abode of disorderly, uncouth and irreligious nomads, a hole in the imagination of Islamic civilization’s great urban centres in Istanbul, Cairo and Damascus. [1]

Read the first part here

On page 9 David Commins writes: “Nomads raided settled areas in adjacent lands for plunder…[…]Each tribe had its own leading clan, from which was selected a sheikh. Tribes made alliances with each other and oasis settlements, but again, such alliances were temporary.”

So the area was a patchwork of different contending tribes, that fought each other for dominance of the region. Loyalty was based on tribal and chiefly lineages. David Commins writes: “The Arabian chronicles record political events in the larger settlements as unending battles for pre-eminence between chiefly lineages or within rival branches of the same lineage […] At the most, the chief of a large settlement might dominate smaller neighbours by levying tribute and designating an ally to act as his surrogate. More commonly, settlements were completely independent or even divided into two rival segments”.

So the picture is quite clear, there was no unity based on religious lines, in fact, they were at war with each other. This also makes clear a very important point namely, that there was no overarching political power that dominated the region, secured safety and stability, and safeguarded the religious affairs.

Ottoman rule did not reach Najd

Even though the Ottoman state was the dominant Muslim power during that time, they exerted no political power at all in Najd. When the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks in Egypt in 1517 Salim I occupied Egypt, and because of it, he inherited the guardianship of Hijaz, when the last Mamluks handed over the keys of Mecca.[2] The Ottomans let the Sharif family rule the area, under their control, they controlled the two holy cities, and cities like Jeddah and the rest of the Hijaz. So the Ottomans ruled Arabia but they failed to extend their control into the interior of Arabia, this is were the Najd area is found.

Madawi al-Rasheed writes: “The Ottomans, however, failed to extend their control into the interior of Arabia, known as Najd. Without a formal Ottoman presence, Najdi towns and oases were ruled by their own amirs, while tribal confederations maintained their independence and autonomy.’[3]

David Commins writes: ‘Najd’s isolation also obtained in the political sphere, as none of the great Muslim land empires had ruled it since the weakening of the Abbasid caliphate in the tenth century.

The Ottoman Empire at its height in the sixteenth century surrounded the region on two sides, projecting its authority like two arms, one down the Red Sea coast to Yemen in order to secure the Holy Cities and another down the Persian Gulf to guard against Portuguese interlopers and to fend off Persian advances in Iraq and on the Gulf’s western Arabian shore. The Ottomans saw no reason to invade and subdue Najd – it lacked valuable economic resources, it posed no strategic threat and it offered the sultan no prestige.

So far we’ve only quoted Western academics because if we were to use Muslim scholars and researchers, many would jump right out of their seats and pull the Wahhabi card. Allegations of partiality are then thrown out, without any valid argumentation. But of course, the above descriptions about the situation of the region are also confirmed by Muslim historians and researchers.

Dr Sâlih al-‘Ubûd writes: “Najd never came under Ottoman rule because the rule of the Ottoman state never reached that far, no Ottoman governor was appointed over that region and the Turkish soldiers never marched through its land during the period that preceded the emergence of the call of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab (may Allah have mercy on him). This is indicated by the fact that the Ottoman state was divided into administrative provinces. This is known from a Turkish document entitled Qawaneen Al ‘Uthman Mudameen Daftar ad-Diwan [Laws of the Ottomans Concerning what is Contained in the Legislation], which was written by Yameen ‘Ali Effendi who was in charge of the Constitution in 1018 AH/1609 CE. This document indicates that from the beginning of the eleventh century AH the Ottoman state was divided into 23 provinces, of which 14 were Arabic provinces. The land of Najd was not one of them, with the exception of al-Ihsa’, if we count al-Ihsa’ as part of Najd.”[4]

A number of things have now been confirmed, namely that Najd was an area where chaos reigned. Different tribes fighting each other for loot and dominance. This was the situation when it comes to the socio-political landscape, but the region’s religious state was not much better.

Religious state of affair in Arabia and Najd

As David Commins wrote, which we quoted earlier, ‘Najd was, to outsiders, a virtually forgotten land, an abode of disorderly, uncouth and irreligious nomads’.

Prof. Sulaiman al-Huqali wrote about 18th century Najd: “In the field of religion, paganism and polytheism had made inroads into the belief of many people. Graves and tombs of saints and pious people had become places of worship. Supplication to living and dead saints had become common. The traits and characters forbidden by Islam had spread far and wide and the mystic schools had become popular resorts for deviants. These were the circumstances when Shaykh Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhâb launched his reformation movement.”[5]

This situation was not only specific for the Najd region, but paganism, polytheism and the worshipping of saints and tombs was a widespread phenomenon in the Islamic world under Ottoman rule. To give an example of 18th and 19th century Damascus.

David Commins in his work ‘Islamic reform – Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria’ writes the following: “In 1890, Damascus had over 200 mosques, nearly 200 saints’ tombs and holy places, and 14 Sufi lodges. At the mosques, ulama led prayers, preached sermons, and gave lessons on subjects in religion and Arabic grammar. At the Sufi lodges, holy places, and some mosques, ulama conducted the rituals of Sufi orders and gave instruction in mystical beliefs and practices. Some ulama achieved recognition for their qualities as teachers.”

In Egypt ash-Shaykh ibn Sahmân related: “In Egypt, the land of al-Azhar University, people raised the banner of idol worship and Pharaoic supplication, and a state of fake dervishes arose”[6]

Also in the Hijaz, a similar situation existed, Prof. Sulaiman al-Huqali wrote: “In the Hijaz, supplication at graves was rampant. The grave of Khadija (May Allah be pleased with her) at al Mu’allât and the Tomb of Abu-Talib were among the places of supplication and invoking intercession for worldly gain. In Yemen, as in Hudyeda, Hadramaut and Yafi ‘, famous graves and tombs were the centres of supplication and worship. Similarly in Syria, Damascus, Aleppo and remote parts were full of such places, where people used to go to seek blessings. In Iraq, the graves of Abu-Hanifah, and Ma’arûf Karkhi were places of such activities. Shiites, likewise, did the same at Najaf, the place where Ali ibn Abu-Talib (May Allah be pleased with him) was martyred, and at the tombs of Husain and Kazim in Karbala. People used to come to these graves and such places, supplicated and worshipped there and wanted these graves, tombs, etc. to fulfil their needs and remove their difficulties. “[7]

So after more than 400 years of Ottoman rule in Arabia and the Najd region specifically, this was the situation. An area filled with tribal rivalry, rampant polytheism, insecurity and instability, was the reality Shaykh Muhammed ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhâb was confronted with.

The Old Yasir Qadhi on the religious situation of Najd

The old Yasir Qadhi also attested to these historical facts and goes on to heavily praise Imaam Muhammed bin ‘Abd al-Wahhâb – rahiemahullâh – in his compilation and explanation of the four principles of shirk:

“Before the advent of the Prophet , shirk was rampant all over the world, including the land of Arabia, where the Prophet himself was sent. By the Will of Allah, the Prophet () and early Muslims were able to eliminate shirk in all of its forms from the entire peninsula of Arabia, and eventually many surrounding areas as well. However, with the passage of time, innovations crept into the Muslim nation, and these innovations eventually led to acts of shirk. So it was, that hardly a thousand years after the Prophet’s death, open acts of shirk were being committed in the very peninsula where the Prophet preached. Strangely though, these acts were not being committed by people alien to Islam, or by idol-worshippers who professed enmity to Allah and His Messenger.

Rather, they were being committed by people who claimed to be Muslims, and, even worse, were trying to justify their shirk from the Qur’án and sunnah. People were openly calling out to graves and saints, asking such ‘holy’ people to grant them their desires and to save them from their distress. Large monuments were built over the graves of such saints, and people travelled long distances to worship at these sites. In other areas, blessings were sought from trees and rocks, and people would seek help from other than Allah. To add to all this, sorcery and fortune-telling were rampant amongst the masses, and both of these acts are manifestations of shirk. Such was the situation in which Alläh sent a reviver, a mujāddid,’ who called the people once again tot the pristine Islam and the pure monotheism that the Prophet came with. He warned them of the blatant shirk that they were doing and exhorted them to return to the Quran and the Sunnah to understand their religion. This man was Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhâb.

Although a lot of confusion and false propaganda exists about this personality, perhaps the easiest way to clarify this Imam’s message is to read his works. In his works, the Muslim finds that the author hardly speaks himself; rather, he lets the Qur’an and sunnah do the talking for him. The reader finds refreshingly simple sentences and phrases, full of beneficial knowledge, and overflowing with benefit. And every single point that the Shaykh brings forth is backed up with an ayah of the Qur’an, or a hadith of the Prophet . So when one studies this Shaykh’s works, far from finding them to be full of deviated concepts and alien philosophies, he finds them to be calling to the pure, pristine Isläm, free of superstitious beliefs and ignorant customs. In fact, one of the trademarks of the works of this Imam is that he hardly ever quotes anything besides the Qur’an and sunnah. It is due to this reason that his works are studied all over the world, at all different levels; for a child can read them, and gain some benefit, and a scholar can read them, and be able to extract many points of benefit. Although the works of this great scholar are many, some of them are more famous than others. However, not much attention has been given to his works in the English language, and therefore the need was felt to translate his more important works, not just so that the English audience benefit from his knowledge, but also to expel the false propaganda that surrounds his persona. By reading his works directly, the reader can judge for himself what the Shaykhcalled to instead of basing such judgements on the lies of his enemies” [8]

So it is proven beyond the slightest doubt that al-Imaam Muhammed bin ‘Abd al-Wahâb – rahiemahullâh – was confronted with a society that was filled with shirk and unislamic customs.

The reason we began with this extremely important point is that the New Yasir did not mention this at all and doesn’t mention what the da’wah of the Mujaddid brought of Islamic and Social and Political improvements in the Arabian Peninsula! He brought more positive change than his opponents who ruled the area for more than 400 years!

Next part: The different stages of the Da’wah  – coming soon!!
Previous part: Introduction

[1] D.Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, p.7

[2] D.Commings, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, p.13

[3], A History of Saudi Arabia, p.13

[4] ‘Aqîdah ash-Shaykh Muhammed ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhâb wa atharuhâ fie l-‘Âlam al-Islâmî’ vol.1, p.27. Qutation and translation taken from:  

[5] S.l-Huqali, Muhammed ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhâb, His life and the Essence of his Call, p.15

[6] Sulaiman b.Sahman, ‘al-Diya al-Shariq’, p.7. Quotation and translation taken from:, ‘Muhammed ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhâb, His life and the Essence of his Call’, p.15

[7], ‘Muhammed ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhâb, His life and the Essence of his Call’, p.16

[8] Which can be read here on pages 7 and 8: 

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