Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad
Before 9/11, few Westerners had heard of Wahhabism. Today, it is a household word. Frequently mentioned in association with Osama bin Laden, Wahhabism is portrayed by the media and public officials as an intolerant, puritanical, militant interpretation of Islam that calls for the wholesale destruction of the West in a jihad of global proportions. In the first study ever undertaken of the writings of Wahhabism’s founder, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1702-1791), Natana DeLong-Bas shatters these stereotypes and misconceptions.
Before 9/11, few Westerners had heard of Wahhabism. Today, it is a household word. Frequently mentioned in association with Osama bin Laden, Wahhabism is portrayed by the media and public officials as an intolerant, puritanical, militant interpretation of Islam that calls for the wholesale destruction of the West in a jihad of global proportions. In the first study ever undertaken of the writings of Wahhabism's founder, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1702-1791), Natana DeLong-Bas shatters these stereotypes and misconceptions. Her reading of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's works produces a revisionist thesis: Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was not the godfather of contemporary terrorist movements. Rather, he was a voice of reform, reflecting mainstream 18th-century Islamic thought. His vision of Islamic society was based upon a monotheism in which Muslims, Christians and Jews were to enjoy peaceful co-existence and cooperative commercial and treaty relations. Eschewing medieval interpretations of the Quran and hadith (sayings and deeds of the prophet Muhammad), Ibn Abd al-Wahhab called for direct, historically contextualized interpretation of scripture by both women and men. His understanding of theology and Islamic law was rooted in Quranic values, rather than literal interpretations. A strong proponent of women's rights, he called for a balance of rights between women and men both within marriage and in access to education and public space. In the most comprehensive study of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's interpretation of jihad ever written, DeLong-Bas details a vision in which jihad is strictly limited to the self-defense of the Muslim community against military aggression. Contemporary extremists like Osama bin Laden do not have their origins in Wahhabism, she shows. Review "...a well-regarded, logically constructed, and considered --if perhaps somewhat sympathetic--analysis of Abd al-Wahhab's beliefs, and therefore of the foundation of Wahhabism. The book is well researched, well written, totally accessible to the layperson --even enjoyable." --The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs "A ground-breaking study; it is both controversial and informative and should be of particular interest to Middle East specialists, historians, and upper-level college students."-History "...a lucid and carefully documented assessment of Wahhabism that, given what has previously been asserted by commentators and scholars alike is clearly revisionist...it should be required reading for all those really interested in understanding the Wahhabi revival."--Middle East Journal "Natana DeLong-Bas has written a comprehensive and original analysis of the writings of the influential Arabian religious reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. She provides a convincing reinterpretation of this controversial thinkers beliefs, especially in regard to the status of women. DeLong-Bas sets out the religious foundations of the early Saudi kingdom while arguing that Osama bin Laden and other violent current-day Islamic extremists differ sharply from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in their views of many aspects of the Muslim faith." --William Ochsenwald, co-author of The Middle East: A History "Natana DeLong-Bas's extensive study of Wahhabism's founding father rejects the conventional idea that the movement is a radical departure from the mainstream of Islam. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab emerges as an original thinker whose views on jihad and women in particular are not extreme or fanatical but scholarly and moderate. By amassing so much evidence for her original interpretation of a rich intellectual vision at the core of Wahhabism, DeLong-Bas opens the way for historians to reconsider and revise the standard, perhaps mistaken, notions about it." --David Commins, author of Islamic Reform: Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria "After the events of September 11, 2001 Wahhabi Islam became the focus of world attention. Disturbing questions were raised about its role within long-time U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, about its influence on Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and about its spread throughout the Muslim world and export to Europe and America. Natana DeLong-Bas has written a groundbreaking book that sets the standard for understanding the thought of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and its connection to the global jihad signaled by the 9/11 attacks. Her findings with respect to his teachings on issues of violence, holy war, women, religious tolerance, and reform fly in the face of past scholarship and of the militants who preach and practice a theology of hate in the name of Wahhabism. Wahhabi Islam is must reading for policymakers, scholars, the media, and the general public." --John L. Esposito, author of Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam and What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam About the Author Natana J. DeLong-Bas is senior research assistant at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. She is the author of Notable Muslims: A Biographical Dictionary (2004) and co-author of Women in Muslim Family Law revised edition, with John L. Esposito (2001). She has served as editor for and contributor to The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (OUP, 2003), and contributor to The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an (2004), and The Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (OUP, 2004). She is a frequent public speaker on Islam, Wahhabism, and Saudi Arabia. The hallmark jihadi focus on a cult of martyrdom, the strict division of the world into two necessarily opposing spheres, the wholescale destruction of both civilian life and property, and the call for global jihad are entirely absent from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's writings. Instead, the militant stance of contemporary jihadism lies in adherence to the writings of the medieval scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, and the 20th century Egyptian radical, Sayyid Qutb. This pathbreaking book fills an enormous gap in the literature about Wahhabism by returning to the original writings of its founder. Bound to be controversial, it will be impossible to ignore.(less)