“Islamic conservative” and “Conservative Islam” redirect here. For other conservative Islamist movements, see Muslim conservatism
Wahhabism is named after an eighteenth century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). He started a revivalist movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Nejd, advocating a purging of practices such as the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation, widespread among Muslims, but which he considered idolatry, impurities and innovations in Islam. Eventually he formed a pact with a local leader Muhammad bin Saud offering political obedience and promising that protection and propagation of the Wahhabi movement, would mean “power and glory” and rule of “lands and men.” The movement is centered on the principle of Tawhid, or the “uniqueness” and “unity” of God. The movement also draws from the teachings of Medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and early jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal. It aspires to return to the earliest fundamental Islamic sources of the Quran and Hadith, rejecting traditional Islamic legal scholarship beyond the first three generations of Muslims as an unnecessary innovation.Wahhabism (Arabic: وهابية, Wahhābiyyah) or Wahhabi mission (Arabic: ألدعوة ألوهابية, al-Da’wa al-Wahhābiyyah ) is a religious movement or sect or form of Sunni Islam variously described as “orthodox”, “ultraconservative”, “austere”, “fundamentalist”, “puritanical” (or “puritan”), an Islamic “reform movement” to restore “pure monotheistic worship”, or an “extremist pseudo-Sunni movement”. Adherents often object to the term Wahhabi or Wahhabism as derogatory, and prefer to be called Salafi or muwahhid.
Estimates of the number of adherents to Wahhabism vary, with one source giving a figure of 5 million Wahhabis in the GCC region. According to Columbia University, the majority of the GCC’s Wahhabis are from Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. 46.87% of Qataris and 44.8% ofEmiratis are Wahhabis. 5.7% of Bahrainis are Wahhabis and 2.17% of Kuwaitis are Wahhabis. Wahhabis are the “dominant minority” in Saudi Arabia. There are 4 million Saudi Wahhabis since 22.9% of Saudis are Wahhabis (concentrated in Najd). The alliance between followers of ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud’s successors (the House of Saud) created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—where Mohammed bin Abd Al-Wahhab’s teachings are state-sponsored and the dominant form of Islam—and continues to this day. With the help of funding from petroleum exports (and other factors), the movement underwent “explosive growth” beginning in the 1970s and now has worldwide influence.
Wahhabism has been accused of being “a source of global terrorism”, and for causing disunity in the Muslim community by labeling non-Wahhabi Muslims as apostates (takfir) thus paving the way for their bloodshed. It has also been criticized for the destruction of historic mazaars, mausoleums, and other Muslim and non-Muslim buildings and artifacts. The “boundaries” of what make up Wahabism have been called “difficult to pinpoint”, but in contemporary usage, the terms Wahhabi and Salafi are often used interchangeably, and considered to be movements with different roots that have merged since the 1960s. But Wahhabism has also been called “a particular orientation within Salafism”, or an ultra-conservative, Saudi brand of Salafism.
Definitions and etymology
Some definitions or uses of the term Wahhabi Islam include
- “a corpus of doctrines, but also a set of attitudes and behavior, derived from the teachings of a particularly severe religious reformist who lived in central Arabia in the mid-eighteenth century.” (Gilles Kepel)
- “pure Islam” (David Commins paraphrasing supporters definition), that does not deviate from Sharia law in any way and should be called Islam and not Wahhabism.(Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of the Saudi capital Riyadh)
- “a misguided creed that fosters intolerance, promotes simplistic theology, and restricts Islam’s capacity for adaption to diverse and shifting circumstances.” (David Commins paraphrasing opponents definition)
- “a conservative reform movement … the creed upon which the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded, and [which] has influenced Islamic movements worldwide.” (Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim world)
- “a sect dominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar” with footholds in “India, Africa, and elsewhere”, with a “steadfastly fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in the tradition of Ibn Hanbal”. (Cyril Glasse)
- an “eighteenth-century reformist/revivalist movement for sociomoral reconstruction of society”, “founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab” (Oxford Dictionary of Islam).
- “a political trend” within Islam that “has been adopted for power-sharing purposes”, but cannot be called a sect because “It has no special practices, nor special rites, and no special interpretation of religion that differ from the main body of Sunni Islam,” (Abdallah Al Obeid, the former dean of the Islamic University of Medina and member of the Saudi Consultative Council)
- “the true salafist movement.” Starting out as a theological reform movement, it had “the goal of calling (da‘wa) people to restore the ‘real’ meaning of tawhid (oneness of God or monotheism) and to disregard and deconstruct ‘traditional’ disciplines and practices that evolved in Islamic history such as theology and jurisprudence and the traditions of visiting tombs and shrines of venerated individuals.” (Ahmad Moussalli)
- a term used by opponents of Salafism in hopes of besmirching that movement by suggesting foreign influence and “conjuring up images of Saudi Arabia”. The term is “most frequently used in countries where Salafis are a small minority” of the Muslim community but “have made recent inroads” in `converting` the local population to Salafism. (Quintan Wiktorowicz)
- a blanket term used inaccurately to refer to “any Islamic movement that has an apparent tendency toward misogyny, militantism, extremism, or strict and literal interpretation of the Quran and hadith” (Natana J. DeLong-Bas)
According to Saudi writer Abdul Aziz Qassim, it was the Ottomans who “first labelled Abdul Wahhab’s school of Islam in Saudi Arabia as Wahhabism”. The British also adopted it and expanded its use in the Middle East. In the US the term “Wahhabi” was used in the 1950s to refer to “puritan Muslims”, according to Life magazine.
Wahhabis do not like—or at least did not like—the term. Ibn Abd-Al-Wahhab’s was averse to the elevation of scholars and other individuals, including using a person’s name to label an Islamic school. According to Robert Lacey “the Wahhabis have always disliked the name customarily given to them” and preferred to be called Muwahhidun. English translation of that term, “Unitarians,” however causes confusion with the Christian denomination (Unitarian Universalism) and other terms have not caught on. Like the Christian Quakers then, Wahhabis have “remained known by the name first assigned to them by their detractors.”
According to social scientist Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Wahhabi” has also been used by its opponents “to denote foreign influence”, particularly in countries where they are “a small minority of the Muslim community, but have made recent inroads in “converting” the local population to the movement ideology”.
According to Saudi author Abdul Aziz Qassim, the name Wahhabis prefer is “the reform or Salafi movement of the Sheikh”. Wiktorowicz also urges use of the term Salafi, maintaining
one would be hard pressed to find individuals who refer to themselves as Wahhabis or organizations that use “Wahhabi” in their title, or refer to their ideology in this manner (unless they are speaking to a Western audience that is unfamiliar with Islamic terminology, and even then usage is limited and often appears as “Salafi/Wahhabi”).
However, authors at Global Security and Library of Congress state the term is now commonplace and used even by Wahhabi scholars in the Najd, often called the “heartland” of Wahhabism.
American scholar Christopher M. Blanchard distinguishes between the two by using Wahhabism to refer to “a conservative Islamic creed centered in and emanating from Saudi Arabia,” and Salafiyya to refer to “a more general puritanical Islamic movement that has developed independently at various times and in various places in the Islamic world.”
The Wahhbi mission started as a revivalist movement in the remote, arid region of Nejd. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Al Saud dynasty, and with it Wahhabism, spread to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. After the discovery of petroleum near the Persian Gulf in 1939, it had access to oil export revenues, revenue that grew to billions of dollars. This money—spent on books, media, schools, universities, mosques, scholarships, fellowships, lucrative jobs for journalists, academics and Islamic scholars—gave Wahhabism a “preeminent position of strength” in Islam around the world.
In the country of Wahhabism’s founding—and by far the largest and most powerful country where it is the state religion—Wahhabi ulama gained control over education, law, public morality and religious institutions in the 20th century, while permitting as a “trade-off” doctrinally objectionable actions such as the import of modern technology and communications, and dealings with non-Muslims, for the sake of the consolidation of the power of its political guardian, the Al Saud dynasty.
However, in the last couple of decades of the twentieth century several crises worked to erode Wahhabi “credibility” in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world—the November 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque by militants; the deployment of US troops in Saudi during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq; and the 9/11 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
In each case the Wahhabi establishment was called on to support the dynasty’s efforts to suppress religious dissent—and in each case it did —exposing its dependence on the Saudi dynasty and its often unpopular policies.
In the West, the end of the Cold War and the anti-communist alliance with conservative, religious Saudi Arabia, and the 9/11 attacks created enormous distrust towards the kingdom and especially its official religion.
Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab
The founder of Wahhabism, Mohammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, was born around 1700 in a small oasis town in the Najd region, in what is now central Saudi Arabia. He studied inBasra (in what is now Iraq) and possibly Mecca and Medina while there to perform Hajj, before returning to his home town of ‘Uyayna in 1740. There he worked to spread (what he believed to be) the call (da’wa) for a restoration of true monotheistic worship, purified of innovations, such as invoking or making vows to “holy men” or “saints”. The “pivotal idea” of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teaching was that people who called themselves Muslims but who participated in such innovations were not just misguided or committing a sin, but were “outside the pale of Islam altogether,” as were Muslims who disagreed with his definition. 
This included not just lax, unlettered, nomadic Bedu, but Shia, Sufi, and Ottomans. Such infidels were not to be killed outright, but to be given a chance to repent first.
With the support of the ruler of the town—Uthman ibn Mu’ammar—he carried out some of his religious reforms in ‘Uyayna, including the demolishing of the tomb of Zayd ibn al-Khattab (one of the Sahaba (companions) of the prophet Muhammad), and the stoning to death of an adulterous woman. However, a more powerful chief, (Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr), pressured Uthman ibn Mu’ammar to expell him from ‘Uyayna.
Alliance with the House of Saud
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after unification in 1932
The ruler of nearby town, Muhammad ibn Saud, invited ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab to join him, and in 1744 a pact was made between the two.  Ibn Saud would protect and propagate the doctrines of the Wahhabi mission, while ibn Abdul Wahhab “would support the ruler, supplying him with `glory and power.`” Whoever championed his message, ibn Abdul Wahhab promised, `will, by means of it, rule and lands and men.`  Ibn Saud would abandon un-Sharia taxation of local harvests, and in return God might compensate him with booty from conquest and sharia compliant taxes that would exceed what he gave up. The alliance between the Wahhabi mission and Al Saud family has “endured for more than two and half centuries,” surviving defeat and collapse. The two families have intermarried multiple times over the years and in today’s Saudi Arabia, the minister of religion is always a member of the Al ash-Sheikh family, (i.e. a descendent of Ibn Abdul Wahhab).
According to most sources, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab declared jihad against neighboring tribes, whose practices of praying to saints, making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, he believed to be the work of idolaters/unbelievers.   (One academic disputes this. According to Natana DeLong-Bas, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was restrained in urging fighting with perceived unbelievers, preferring to preach and persuade rather than attack. It was only after the death of Muhammad bin Saud in 1765 that, according to DeLong-Bas, Muhammad bin Saud’s son and successor, Abdul-Aziz bin Muhammad, used a “convert or die” approach to expand his domain, and when Wahhabis adopted the takfir ideas ofIbn Taymiyya.)
Conquest expanded through the Arabian Peninsula until it conquered Mecca and Medina the early 19th century.  (It was at this time, according to DeLong-Bas, that Wahhabis embraced the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya—which allow self-professed Muslim who do not follow Islamic law to be declared non-Muslims—to justify their warring and conquering the Muslim Sharifs of Hijaz.)
One of their most noteworthy and controversial attacks was on Karbala in 1802 (1217 AH). There, according to a Wahhabi chronicler `Uthman b. `Abdullah b. Bishr: “The Muslims”—as the Wahhabis referred to themselves, not feeling the need to distinguish themselves from other Muslims, since they did not believe them to be Muslims —
scaled the walls, entered the city … and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. [They] destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn [and took] whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings … the grille surrounding the tomb which was encrusted with emeralds, rubies, and other jewels … different types of property, weapons, clothing, carpets, gold, silver, precious copies of the Qur’an.”
Wahhabis also massacred the male population and enslaved the women and children of the city of Ta’if in Hejaz in 1803.
The Ottoman Empire eventually succeeded in counterattacking. In 1818 they defeated Al Saud, leveling the capital (Diriyah, executing the Al-Saud emir, exiling the emirate’s polittical and relgious leadership, and otherwise unsuccessfully attempted to stamp out not just the House of Saud but the Wahhabi mission. A second, smaller Saudi state (Emirate of Nejd) lasted from 1819-1891. Its borders being within Najd, Wahhabism was protected from further Ottoman or Egyptian campaigns by the Nejd’s isolation, lack of valuable resources, and that era’s limited communication and transportation.
By the 1880s, at least among townsmen if not bedohin, Wahhabi strict monotheistic doctrine had become the native religious culture of the Najd.
Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud
Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia
In 1901, Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, a fifth generation descendent of Muhammad ibn Saud, began a military campaign that led to the conquest of much of the Arabian peninsula and the founding of present day Saudi Arabia, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The result that safeguarded of the vision of Islam based around the tenets of Islam as preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was not bloodless, as 40,000 public executions and 350,000 amputations were carried out during its course, according to some estimates.
Under the reign of Abdul-Aziz, “political considerations trumped religious idealism” favored by pious Wahhabis. His political and military success gave the Wahhabi ulama control over religious institutions with jurisdiction over considerable territory, and in later years Wahhabi ideas formed the basis of the rules and laws concerning social affairs, and shaped the kingdom’s judicial and educational policies. But protests from Wahhabi ulama were overridden when it came to consolidating power in Hijaz and al-Hasa, avoiding clashes with the great power of the region (Britain), adopting modern technology, establishing a simple governmental administrative framework, or signing an oil concession with the U.S.  The Wahhabi ulama also issued a fatwa affirming that “only the ruler could declare a jihad” (a violation of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teaching according to Deong-Bas.)
As the realm of Wahhabism expanded under Ibn Saud into areas of Shiite (Al-Hasa, conquered in 1913) and pluralistic Muslim tradition (Hejaz, conquered in 1924-5), Wahhabis pressed for forced conversion of Shia and an eradication of (what they saw as) idolatry. Ibn Saud sought “a more relaxed approach”.
In al-Hasa, efforts to stop the observance of Shia religious holidays and replace teaching and preaching duties of Shia clerics with Wahhabi, lasted only a year.
In Mecca and Jeddah (in Hejaz) prohibition of tobacco, alcohol, playing cards and listening to music on the phonograph was looser than in Najd. Over the objections of Wahhabi ulama, Ibn Saud permitted both the driving of automobiles and the attendance of Shia at hajj.
Enforcement of the commanding right and forbidding wrong, such as enforcing prayer observance and separation the sexes, developed a prominent place during the second Saudi emirate, and in 1926 a formal committee for enforcement was founded in Mecca.
While Wahhabi warriors swore loyalty to monarchs of Al Saud, there was one major rebellion. King Abdul-Aziz put down rebelling Ikhwan—nomadic tribesmen turned Wahhabi warriors who opposed his “introducing such innovations as telephones, automobiles, and the telegraph” and his “sending his son to a country of unbelievers (Egypt)”.  Britain had aided Abdul-Aziz, and when the Ikhwan attacked the British protectorates of Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait, as a continuation of jihad to expand the Wahhabist realm, Abdul-Aziz struck, killing hundreds before the rebels surrendered in 1929.
Connection with the outside
Before Abdul-Aziz, during most of the second half of the 19th century, there was a strong aversion in Wahhabi lands to mixing with “idolaters” (which included most of the Muslim world). Voluntary contact was considered by Wahhabi clerics to be at least a sin, and if one enjoyed the company of idolaters, and “approved of their religion”, an act of unbelief.  Travel outside the pale of Najd to the Ottoman lands “was tightly controlled, if not prohibited altogether”.
Over the course of its history, however, Wahhabism has became more accommodating towards the outside world. In the late 1800s, Wahhabis found Muslims with at least similar beliefs—first with Ahl-i Hadith in India, and later with Islamic revivalists in Arab states (one being Mahmud Sahiri al-Alusi in Baghdad). The revivalists and Wahhabis shared a common interest in Ibn Taymiyya‘s thought, the permissibility of ijtihad, and the need to purify worship practices of innovation. In the 1920s, Rashid Rida, a pioneerSalafist whose periodical al-Manar was widely read in the Muslim world, published an “anthology of Wahhabi treatises,” and a work praising the Ibn Saud as “the savior of the Haramayn [the two holy cities] and a practitioner of authentic Islamic rule”. 
In a bid “to join the Muslim mainstream and to erase the reputation of extreme sectarianism associated with the Ikhwan,” in 1926 Ibn Saud convened a Muslim congress of representatives of Muslim governments and popular associations. By the early 1950s, the “pressures” on Ibn Saud of controlling the regions of Hejaz and al-Hasa — “outside the Wahhabi heartland”—and of “navigating the currents of regional politics” “punctured the seal” between the Wahhabi heartland and the “land of idolatry” outside.
A major current in regional politics at that time was secular nationalism, which, Gamal Abdul Nasser, was sweeping the Arab world. To combat it, Wahhabi missionary outreach worked closely with Saudi foreign policy initiatives. In May 1962, a conference in Mecca organized by Saudis discussed ways to combat secularism and socialism. In its wake, theWorld Muslim League was established. To propagate Islam and `repel inimical trends and dogmas`, the League opened branch offices around the globe.  It developed closer association between Wahhabis and leading Salafis, and made common cause with the Islamic revivalist Muslim Brotherhood, Ahl al-Hadith and the Jamaat-i Islami, combating Sufism and “innovative” popular religious practices and rejecting the West and Western “ways which were so deleterious of Muslim piety and values.”  Missionaries were sent to West Africa, where the League funded schools, distributed religious literature, and gave scholarships to attend Saudi religious universities. One result was the Izala Societywhich fought Sufism in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon.
An event that had a great effect on Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia was the “infiltration of the transnationalist revival movement” in the form of thousands of pious, Islamist Arab Muslim Brotherhood refugees from Egypt following Nasser’s clampdown on the brotherhood (and also from similar nationalist clampdowns in Iraq and Syria.), to help staff the new school system of (the largely illiterate) Kingdom.  Brethern refugees
The Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology differed from the more conservative Wahhabism which preached loyal obedience to the king. The Brotherhood dealt in what one author (Robert Lacey) called “change-promoting concepts” like social justice, and anticolonialism, and gave “a radical, but still apparently safe, religious twist” to the Wahhabi values Saudi students “had absorbed in childhood”. With the Brotherhood’s “hands-on, radical Islam”, jihad became a “practical possibility today”, not just part of history.
The Brethren were ordered by the Saudi clergy and government not to attempt to proselytize or otherwise get involved in religious doctrinal matters within the Kingdom, but nonetheless “took control” of Saudi Arabia’s intellectual life” by publishing books and participating in discussion circles and salons held by princes.  In time they took leading roles in key governmental ministries, and had influence on education curriculum. An Islamic university in Medina created in 1961 to train—mostly non-Saudi—proselytizers to Wahhabism,  became “a haven” for Muslim Brother refugees from Egypt. The Brothers’ ideas eventually spread throughout the kingdom and had great effect on Wahhabism—although observers differ as to whether this was by “undermining” it) or “blending” with it.
In the 1950s and 60s within Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi ulama maintained their hold on religious law courts, presided over the creation of Islamic universities, and a public school system which gave students “a heavy dose of religious instruction”. Outside of Saudi the Wahhabi ulama became “less combative” toward the rest of the Muslim world. In confronting the challenge of the West, Wahhabi doctrine “served well” for many Muslims as a “platform” and “gained converts beyond the peninsula.”
A number of reasons have been given for this success. The growth in popularity and strength of both Arab nationalism (although Wahhabis opposed any form of nationalism as an ideology, Saudis were Arabs, and their enemy the Ottoman caliphate was ethnically Turkish), and Islamic reform (specifically reform by following the example of those first three generations of Muslims known as the Salaf); the destruction of the Ottoman Empire which sponsored their most effective critics, the destruction of another rival, the Khilafa in Hejaz, in 1925. Not least in importance was the money Saudi Arabia earned from exporting oil.
Petroleum export era
The pumping and export of oil from Saudi Arabia started during World War II, and its earnings helped fund religious activities in the 1950s and 60. But it was the 1973 oil crisis and quadrupling in the price of oil that both increased the kingdom’s wealth astronomically and enhanced its prestige by demonstrating its international power as a leader of OPEC. By 1980, Saudi Arabia was earning every three days the income from oil it had taken a year to earn before the embargo. Tens of billions of dollars of this money were spent on books, media, schools, scholarships for students (from primary to post-graduate), fellowships and subsidies to reward journalists, academics and Islamic scholars, the building of hundreds of Islamic centers and universities, and over one thousand schools and one thousand mosques.  During this time Wahhabism attained what Gilles Kepel called a “preeminent position of strength in the global expression of Islam.”
The “apex of cooperation” between Wahhabis and Muslim revivalist groups was the Afghan jihad.
In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan—its poor Muslim neighbor—concerned about a growing Islamic insurgency against a friendly, pro-modernization regime there. Shortly thereafter, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Muslim Brother cleric with ties to Saudi religious institutions, issued a fatwa declaring defensive jihad in Afghanistan against the atheist Soviet Union, “fard ayn”, a personal (or individual) obligation for all Muslims. The edict was supported by Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti (highest religious scholar),Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, among others.
Between 1982 and 1992 an estimated 35,000 individual Muslim volunteers went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and their Afghan regime. Thousands more attended frontier schools teeming with former and future fighters. Somewhere between 12,000 and 25,000 of these volunteers came from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Gulf monarchies also provided considerable financial support to the jihad — $600 million a year by 1982.
By 1989, Soviet troops had withdrawn and within a few years not only had the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul collapsed, so had the Soviet Union.
This Saudi/Wahhabi religious triumph further stood out in the Muslim world because many Muslim-majority states (and the PLO) were allied with the Soviet Union and did not support the Afghan jihad. But many jihad volunteers (most famously Osama bin Laden) returning home to Saudi and elsewhere were often radicalized by Islamic militants who were “much more extreme than their Saudi sponsors.”
“Erosion” of Wahhabism
Grand Mosque seizure
In 1979, 400–500 Islamist insurgents using smuggled weapons and supplies, took over the Grand mosque in Mecca, called for an overthrow of the monarchy, denounced the Wahhabi ulama as royal puppets, and announced the arrival of the Mahdi of “end time“. The insurgents deviated from Wahhabi doctrine in significant details, but were alsoassociated with leading Wahhabi ulama (Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz knew the insurgent’s leader, Juhayman al-Otaybi). Their seizure of Islam‘s holiest site, the taking hostage of hundreds of hajj pilgrims, and the deaths of hundreds of militants, security forces and hostages caught in crossfire during the two week long retaking of the mosque, all shocked theIslamic world and did not enhance the prestige of Al Saud as “custodians” of the mosque.
The incident also damaged the prestige of the Wahhabi establishment. Saudi leadership sought and received Wahhabi fatawa to approve the military removal of the insurgents and after that to execute them. But Wahhabi clerics also fell under suspicion for involvement with the insurgents.  In part as a consequence, Sahwa clerics influenced by Brethren’s ideas were given freer reign. Their ideology was also thought more likely to compete with the recent Islamic revolutionism/third-worldism of the Iranian Revolution.
Although the insurgents were motivated by religious puritanism, the incident was not followed by a crackdown on other religious purists, but by giving greater power to the ulama and religious conservatives to more strictly enforce Islamic codes in myriad ways—from the banning of women’s images in the media to adding even more hours of Islamic studies in school and giving more power and money to the religious police to enforce conservative rules of behaviour.
1990 Gulf War
In August 1990 Iraq invaded and annexed the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait. Concerned that Saddam Hussein might push south and seize its own oil fields, Saudis requested military support from the US and allowed tens of thousands of US troops to be based in the Kingdom to fight Iraq.
But what “amounted to seeking infidels’ assistance against a Muslim power” was difficult to justify in terms of Wahhabi doctrine.
Again Saudi authorities sought and received a fatwa from leading Wahhabi ulama supporting their action. The fatwa failed to persuade many conservative Muslims and ulama who strongly opposed US presence, including the Muslim Brotherhood-supported the Sahwah “Awakening” movement that began pushing for political change in the Kingdom.Outside the kingdom, Islamist/Islamic revival groups that had long received aid from Saudi and had ties with Wahhabis (Arab jihadists, Pakistani and Afghan Islamists) supported Iraq, not Saudi.
During this time and later, many in the Wahhabi/Salafi movement (such as Osama bin Laden) not only no longer looked to the Saudi monarch as an emir of Islam, but supported his overthrow, focusing on jihad (Salafist jihadists) against the US and (what they believe are) other enemies of Islam. (This movement is sometimes called neo-Wahhabi or neo-salafi.)
The 2001 9/11 attacks on (Saudi’s putative ally) the US that killed almost 3,000 people and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage were assumed by many (at least outside the kingdom) to be “an expression of Wahhabism”, since the Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 hijackers are Saudi nationals. A backlash in the formerly hospitable US against the kingdom focused on its official religion that came to be considered by “some … a doctrine of terrorism and hate.”
Inside the kingdom, Crown Prince Abdullah addressed the country’s religious, tribal, business, and media leadership following the attacks in a series of televised gatherings calling for a strategy to correct what has gone wrong. According to author Robert Lacey, the gatherings and later articles and replies by a top cleric (Dr. Adullah Turki) and two top Al Saud princes (Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz), served as an occasion to sort out who had the ultimate power in the kingdom—the Al Saud dynasty and not the ulema. It was declared that it has always been the role of executive rulers in Islamic history to exercise power and the job of the religious scholars to advise, never to govern.
In 2003-2004, Saudi Arabia saw a wave of Al-Qaeda-related suicide bombings, attacks on Non-Muslim foreigners and gun battles between Saudi security forces and militants. One reaction to the attacks was a trimming back of the Wahhabi establishment’s domination of religion and society. “National Dialogues” were held that “included Shiites, Sufis, liberal reformers, and professional women.” In 2009, as part of what some called an effort to “take on the ulema and reform the clerical establishment”, King Abdullah issued a decree that only “officially approved” religious scholars would be allowed to issue fatwas in Saudi Arabia. The king also expanded the Council of Senior Scholars (containing officially approved religious scholars) to include scholars from Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence other than the Hanbali madhab — Shafi’i, Hanafi and Maliki schools.
Relations with the Muslim Brotherhood have deteriorated steadily. After 9/11, the then interior minister Prince Nayef, blamed the Brotherhood, for extremism in the kingdom, and he declared it guilty of “betrayal of pledges and ingratitude” and “the source of all problems in the Islamic world”, after it was elected to power in Egypt. In March 2014 the Saudi government declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist organization”.
Wahhabi influence in Saudi Arabia, however, remained tangible in the physical conformity in dress, in public deportment, and in public prayer. Most significantly, the Wahhabi legacy was manifest in the social ethos that presumed government responsibility for the collective moral ordering of society, from the behavior of individuals, to institutions, to businesses, to the government itself. 
Memoirs of Mr. Hempher
A widely circulated but discredited apocryphal description of the founding of Wahhabism known as Memoirs of Mr. Hempher, The British Spy to the Middle East (other titles have been used), alleges that a British agent named Hempher was responsible for creation of Wahhabism. In the “memoir”, Hempher corrupts Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, manipulating him to preach his new interpretation of Islam for the purpose of sowing dissension and disunity among Muslims so that “We, the English people, … may live in welfare and luxury.”
As a religious revivalist movement that works to bring Muslims back from it believes are foreign accretions that have corrupted Islam, and believes that Islam is a complete way of life and so has prescriptions for all aspects of life, Wahhabism is quite strict in what it considers Islamic behavior.
This does not mean however, that all adherents agree on what is required or forbidden, or that rules have not varied by area or changed over time. In Saudi Arabia the strict religious atmosphere of Wahhabi doctrine is visible in the conformity in dress, public deportment, and public prayer, and makes its presence felt by the wide freedom of action of the “religious police“, clerics in mosques, teachers in schools, and judges (who are religious legal scholars) in Saudi courts.
Commanding right and forbidding wrong
Wahhabism is noted for its policy of “compelling its own followers and other Muslims strictly to observe the religious duties of Islam, such as the five prayers”, and for “enforcement of public morals to a degree not found elsewhere”.
While other Muslims might urge abstention from alcohol, modest dress, and salat prayer, for Wahhabis prayer “that is punctual, ritually correct, and communally performed not only is urged but publicly required of men.” Not only is wine forbidden, but so are “all intoxicating drinks and other stimulants, including tobacco.” Not only is modest dress prescribed, but the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women (a black abaya, covering all but the eyes and hands) is specified.
Following the preaching and practice of Abdul Wahhab that coercion should be used to enforce following of sharia, an official committee has been empowered to “Command the Good and Forbid the Evil” (the so-called “religious police”)  in Saudi Arabia—the one country founded with the help of Wahhabi warriors and whose scholars and pious dominate many aspects of the Kingdom’s life. Committee “field officers” enforce strict closing of shops at prayer time, segregation of the sexes, prohibition of the sale and consumption of alcohol, driving of motor vehicles by women, and other social restrictions.
A large number of practices have been reported forbidden by Saudi Wahhabi officials, preachers or religious police. Practices that have been forbidden as Bida’a (innovation) orshirk and sometimes “punished by flogging” during Wahhabi history include performing or listening to music, dancing, fortune telling, ambulets, television programs (unless religious), smoking, playing backgammon, chess, or cards, drawing human or animal figures, acting in a play or writing fiction (both are considered forms of lying), dissecting cadavers (even in criminal investigations and for the purposes of medical research), recorded music played over telephones on hold, the sending of flowers to friends or relatives who are in the hospital Common Muslim practices Wahhabis believe are contrary to Islam include listening to music in praise of Muhammad, praying to God while visiting tombs (including the tomb of Muhammad), celebrating mawlid (birthday of the Prophet), the use of ornamentation on or in mosques. The driving of motor vehicles by women is allowed in every country but Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia, the famously strict Taliban practiced dream interpretation, discouraged by Wahhabis.
Wahhabism emphasizes `Thaqafah Islamiyyah` or Islamic culture and the importance of avoiding non-Islamic cultural practices and non-Muslim friendship no matter how innocent these may appear, on the grounds that the Sunna forbids imitating non-Muslims. Foreign practices sometimes punished and sometimes simply condemned by Wahhabi preachers as unIslamic, include celebrating foreign days (such as Valentine’s Day or Mothers Day.) shaving, cutting or trimming of beards, giving of flowers,standing up in honor of someone, celebrating birthdays (including the Prophet’s), keeping or petting dogs. Wahhabi scholars have warned against taking non-Muslims as friends, smiling at or wishing them well on their holidays.
Wahhabis are not in unamimous agreement on what is forbidden as sin. Some Wahhabi preachers or activists go further than the official Saudi Arabian Council of Senior Scholarsin forbidding (what they believe to be) sin. Several wahhabis have declared Football (Soccer) forbidden for a variety of reasons (because it is a non-Muslim, foreign practice—because of the revealing uniforms, or because of the foreign non-Muslim language (foul, penalty kick) used in matches. ) The Saudi Grand Mufti, on the other hand has declared football permissable (halal). 
Senior Wahhabi leaders in Saudi Arabia have determined that Islam forbids the traveling or working outside the home by a woman without their husband’s permission—permission which may be revoked at any time—on the grounds that the different physiological structures and biological functions of the different genders mean that each sex is assigned a different role to play in the family.  As mentioned before, Wahhabism also forbids the driving of motor vehicles by women. Sexual intercourse out of wedlock may be punished with beheading although sex out of wedlock is permissible with a slave women (Prince Bandar bin Sultan was the product of “a brief encounter” between his father Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz” — the Saudi defense minister for many years — and “his slave, a black servingwoman”) or was before slavery was banned in Saudi Arabia in 1962.
Despite this strictness, senior Wahhabi scholars of Islam in the Saudi kingdom have made exceptions in ruling on what is haram. Foreign non-Muslim troops are forbidden in Arabia except when the king needed them to confront Saddam Hussein in 1990; gender mixing of men and women is forbidden, and fraternization with non-Muslims is discouraged, but not at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Movie theaters and driving by women are forbidden except at the ARAMCO compound in eastern Saudi, populated by workers for the company that provides almost all the government’s revenue. (The exceptions made at KAUST are also in effect at ARAMCO.)
And more general rules of what is permissible have changed over time. Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud imposed Wahhabi doctrines and practices “in a progressively gentler form” as his early 20th century conquests expanded his state into urban areas, especially the Hejab. After vigorous debate Wahhabi religious authorities in Saudi Arabia allowed the use of paper money (in 1951), the abolition of slavery (in 1962), education of females (1964), and use of television (1965). Music the the sound of which once might have led to summary execution is now commonly heard on Saudi radios.  Minarets for mosques and use of funeral markers, which were once forbidden, are now allowed. Prayer attendance which was once enforced by flogging, is no longer. 
Wahhabism (and Salafism) puts great store in public behavior and appearance. It is said that a “badge” of a Salafi or Wahhabi is a robe to short to cover the ankle, and an untrimmed beard.
However, the “long, white flowing thobe” has been called the “Wahhabi national dress” of Saudi Arabia.
Wahhabi mission, or Dawah Wahhabiyya, is to spread purified Islam through the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  Tens of billions of dollars have been spent by the Saudi government and charities on mosques, schools, education materials, scholarships, throughout the world to promote Islam and the Wahhabi interpretation of it. Tens of thousands of volunteers and several billion dollars also went in support of the jihad against the atheist communist regime governing Muslim Afghanistan.
Wahhabism originated in Nejd region, and its conservative practices have stronger support there than in regions in the kingdom to the east or west of it.   Glasse credits the softening of some Wahhabi doctrines and practices on the conquest of the Hejaz region “with its more cosmopolitan traditions and the traffic of pilgrims which the new rulers could not afford to alienate”.
The only other country “whose native population is Wahhabi and that adheres to the Wahhabi creed”, is the small gulf monarchy of Qatar  whose version of Wahhabism is notably less strict.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar made significant changes in the 1990s. Women are now allowed to drive and travel independently; non-Muslims are permitted to consume alcohol and pork. The country sponsors a film festival, has a “world-class art museums”, host the Al Jazeera and will hold the 2022 football World Cup, and has no religious force that polices public morality. Qatari’s attribute its different interpretation of Islam to the absence of an indigenous clerical class and autonomous bureaucracy (religious affairs authority, endowments, Grand Mufti), the fact that Qatari rulers do not derive their legitimacy from such a class. 
The Wahhabi subscribe to Sunni Islam (though some people dispute that a Wahhabi is a Sunni). and the primary doctrine of the uniqueness and unity of God (Tawhid);the first aspect of which is belief in Allah and His Lordship, that He alone is the believer’s lord, or Rabb; the second being that once one affirms the oneness of worship to Allah and Allah alone; the third being the belief and affirmation of Allah’s Names and Attributes.
Wahhabi theology is very precise in its creed or Aqeedah where the Quran and Hadith are the only fundamental and authoritative texts taken with the understanding of the Salaf. Commentaries and “the examples of the early Muslim community (Ummah) and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs (AD 632–661)” known as Athar narrations are used to support these texts, hence the name of the school of theology given as Athari, but are not considered independently authoritative.
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab further explains in his book Kitab al-Tawhid, which draws directly on material from the Quran and the narrations of the Prophet, that worship in Islam includes conventional acts of worship such as the five daily prayers; fasting; Dua (supplication); Istia’dha (seeking protection or refuge); Ist’ana (seeking help), and Istigatha to Allah (seeking benefits and calling upon Allah alone). Therefore, making du’a or calling upon anyone or anything other than God, or seeking supernatural help and protection that is only befitting of a divine being from something other than Allah alone are acts of “shirk” and contradict the tenets of Tawhid. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab further explains that Muhammad during his lifetime tried his utmost to identify and repudiate all actions that violated these principles.
The most important of these commentaries are those by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in particular his book Kitab al-Tawhid, and the works of Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was a follower of Ahmad ibn Hanbal‘s school of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) like most in Nejd at the time, but “was opposed to any of the schools (Madh’hab) being taken as an absolute and unquestioned authority”.
However Ibn Abd al-Wahhab did not totally condemn taqlid, or blind adherence, only at scholarly level in the face of a clear evidence or proof from a hadeeth or Qur’anic text.Although Wahhabis are associated with the Hanbali school, early disputes did not center on fiqh.
According to ibn Abdal-Wahhab there are three objectives for Islamic government and society: “to believe in Allah, enjoin good behavior, and forbid wrongdoing.” This doctrine has been sustained by Wahhabis since his death in missionary literature, sermons, fatwa rulings, and explications of religious doctrine. According to Muhammad ibn Abdal-Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. Wahhabis have traditionally given their allegiance to the House of Saud, but a movement of “Salafi jihadis” has developed among those who believe Al Saud has abandoned the laws of God. Wahhabis are similar to Islamists such as theMuslim Brotherhood in their belief in Islamic dominion over politics and government and the importance of dawah (proselytizing or preaching of Islam) not just towards non-Muslims but towards erring Muslims. However Wahhabi preachers are conservative and do not deal with concepts such as social justice, anticolonialism, or economic equality, expounded upon by Islamist Muslims.
Condemnation of “priests” and other religious leaders
Wahhabism denounces the practice of total blind adherence to the interpretations of scholars, at a scholarly level, and of practices passed on within the family or tribe.Muslims had seemingly fully adhered to without question, through taqlid of the established Ottoman clergy at the time.
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was dedicated to champion these principles and combat what was seen as the stagnation of Islamic scholarship which the majority of
His idea was that what he perceived to be blind deference to religious authority obstructs this direct connection with the Qur’an and Sunnah, leading him to deprecate the importance and full authority of leaders at the time, such as the scholars and muftis of the age. When arguing for his positions, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab would use translations and interpretation of the verses (known as ayat in Arabic) of the Qur’an that were contrary to the consensus amongst the scholars of the age, and positions against which there had been consensus for centuries. This methodology was considered extremely controversial at the time, in opposition to established clergy of the era, and was refuted as being erroneous by a number of scholars. However the Wahhabi movement saw itself as championing the re-opening of ijtihad, being intellectual pursuit of scholarly work clarifying opinions in the face of new evidence being a newly proven sound or sahih hadeeth, a discovered historical early ijma (scholarly consensus from the early Muslims) or a suitable analogy,qiyas, based on historical records; in contrast to the witnessed saturation of Islamic jurisprudence that no longer considered ijtihad to be a viable alternative to total scholarly taqlid, being total submission to previous scholarly opinion regardless of unquestionable proof that contradicts this.
A popular misconception associated with the movement of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab is the condemnation of the legal schools of jurisprudence, however documentation of a letter correspondence by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab recorded by his son Abdallah refutes this accusation.
And also we are upon the madhhab of Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal in the matters of jurisprudence, and we do not show rejection to the one who made taqleed of one of the four Imaams as opposed to those besides them… And we do not deserve the status of absolute ijtihaad and there is none amongst us who lays claim to it, except that in some of the issues (of jurisprudence), when a plain, clear text from the Book, or a Sunnah unabrogated, unspecified and uncontradicted by what is stronger than it, and by which one of the four Imaams have spoken, we take it and we leave our madhhab … And we do not investigate (scrutinize) anyone in his madhhab, nor do we find fault with him except when we come across a plain, clear text which opposes the madhhab of one of the four Imaams and it is a matter through which an open and apparent symbol
… Thus, there is no contradiction between (this and) not making the claim of independent ijtihaad, because a group from the scholars from the four madhhabs are preceded choosing certain preferred opinions in certain matters, who, whilst making taqleed of the founders of the madhhab (in general), opposed the madhhab (in those matters).
This was seen as a revival of the tradition recorded whereby the early students of the scholars of the Madh’habs would leave their teacher’s position in light of a newly found evidence once the hadeeth had been collected.
“… and this is not contradictory to the lack of the claim to ijtihaad. For it has been that a group of the imaams of the four madhaahib had their own particular views regarding certain matters that were in opposition to their madhhab, whose founder they followed.” 
However some modern day adherents to wahhabism consider themselves to be ‘non-imitators’ or ‘not attached to tradition’, and therefore answerable to no school of law at all, observing instead what they would call the practice of early Islam. However, to do so does correspond to the ideal aimed at by Ibn Hanbal, and thus they can be said to be of his ‘school’ however only a scholar would be capable of this level of ijtihad and most Salafi scholars warn against this for the uneducated laymen.
Adherents to the Wahhabi movement take their theological viewpoint with an aspiration to assimilate with the beliefs of the early Muslims, being the first three generations otherwise known as the Salaf. This theology was taken from exegesis of the Quran and statements of the early Muslims and later codified by a number of scholars, the most well known being the 13th century Syrian scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, into what is now known as the Athari theological creed. This was upheld by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in his various works on theology.
And it is that we accept the aayaat and ahaadeeth of the Attributes upon their apparent meanings, and we leave their true meanings, while believing in their realities, to Allaah ta’aalaa. For Maalik, one of the greatest of the ‘ulamaa’ of the Salaf, when asked about al-istiwaa’ in His Saying (ta’aalaa): “Ar-Rahmaan rose over the Throne.” [Taa-Haa: 5] said: “Al-istiwaa’ is known, the “how” of it is unknown, believing in it is waajib, and asking about it is bid’ah.” 
Some criticism accuses this school as being anthropomorphic however Ibn Taymiyyah in his work Al-Aqidah Al-Waasitiyyah refutes the stance of the Mushabbihah (those who liken the creation with God: anthropomorphism) and those who deny, negate, and resort to allegorical/metaphorical interpretations of the Divine Names and Attributes. He contends that the methodology of the Salaf is to take the middle path between the extremes of anthropomorphism and negation/distortion. He further states that salaf affirmed all the Names and Attributes of God without tashbih (establishing likeness), takyeef (speculating as to “how” they are manifested in the divine), ta’teel (negating/denying their apparent meaning) and without ta’weel (giving it secondary/symbolic meaning which is different from the apparent meaning).
One of the more detailed estimates of religious population in the Persian Gulf is by Mehrdad Izady who estimates, “using cultural and not confessional criteria”, only than 4.56 million Wahhabis in the Persian Gulf region, about 4 million from Saudi Arabia, (mostly the Najd), and the rest coming overwhelmingly from the Emirates and Qatar. Most Sunni Qatarisare Wahhabis (46.87% of all Qataris) and 44.8% of Emiratis are Wahhabis. 5.7% of Bahrainis are Wahhabis and 2.17% of Kuwaitis are Wahhabis.
There has traditionally been a recognized head of the Wahhabi “religious estate”, often a member of Al ash-Sheikh (a decedent of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab) or related to another religious head. For example, Abd al-Latif was the son of Abd al-Rahman ibn Hasan.
- Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) was the founder of the Wahhabi movement.
- Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1752-1826) was the head of Wahhabism after his father retired from public life in 1773. After the fall of the first Saudi emirate, Abd Allah went into exile in Cairo where he died.
- Sulayman ibn Abd Allah (1780-1818) was a grandson of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and author of an influential treatise that restricted travel to and residing in land of idolaters (i.e. land outside of the Wahhabi area).
- Abd al-Rahman ibn Hasan (1780-1869) was head of the religious estate in the second Saudi emirate.
- Abd al-Latif ibn Abd al-Rahman (1810-1876) Head of religious estate in 1860 and early 1870s.
- Abd Allah ibn Abd al-Latif Al ash-Sheikh (1848-1921) was the head of religious estate during period of Rashidi rule and the early years of King Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud.
- Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Al ash-Sheikh (1893-1969) was the head of Wahhabism in mid twentieth century. He has been said to have “dominated the Wahhabi religious estate and enjoyed unrivaled religious authority.”
In more recent times, a couple of Wahhabi clerics have risen to prominence that have no relation to ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
- Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, has been called “the most prominent proponent” of Wahhabism during his time. He died in 1999.
- Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymeen, another “giant” died in 2001. According to David Dean Commins, no one “has emerged” with the same “degree of authority in the Saudi religious establishment” since their deaths.
International influence and propagation
Explanation for influence
Khaled Abou El Fadl attributed the appeal of Wahhabism to some Muslims as stemming from
- Arab nationalism, which followed the Wahhabi attack on the Ottoman Empire
- Reformism, which followed a return to Salaf (as-Salaf aṣ-Ṣāliḥ😉
- Destruction of the Hejaz Khilafa in 1925;
- Control of Mecca and Medina, which gave Wahhabis great influence on Muslim culture and thinking;
- Oil, which after 1975 allowed Wahhabis to promote their interpretations of Islam using billions from oil export revenue.
Scholar Gilles Kepel, agrees that the tripling in the price of oil in the mid-1970s and the progressive takeover of Saudi Aramco in the 1974–1980 period, provided the source of much influence of Wahhabism in the Islamic World.
… the financial clout of Saudi Arabia had been amply demonstrated during the oil embargo against the United States, following the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. This show of international power, along with the nation’s astronomical increase in wealth, allowed Saudi Arabia’s puritanical, conservative Wahhabite faction to attain a preeminent position of strength in the global expression of Islam. Saudi Arabia’s impact on Muslims throughout the world was less visible than that of Khomeini‘s Iran, but the effect was deeper and more enduring. …. it reorganized the religious landscape by promoting those associations and ulemas who followed its lead, and then, by injecting substantial amounts of money into Islamic interests of all sorts, it won over many more converts. Above all, the Saudis raised a new standard — the virtuous Islamic civilization — as foil for the corrupting influence of the West.
Estimates of Saudi spending on religious causes abroad include “upward of $100 billion”, between $2 and 3 billion per year since 1975. (compared to the annual Soviet propaganda budget of $1 billion/year), and “at least $87 billion” from 1987-2007
Its largesse funded an estimated “90% of the expenses of the entire faith”, throughout the Muslim World, according to journalist Dawood al-Shirian. It extended to young and old, from children’s madrasas to high-level scholarship. “Books, scholarships, fellowships, mosques” (for example, “more than 1,500 mosques were built from Saudi public funds over the last 50 years”) were paid for. It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university. Yahya Birt counts spending on “1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools”.
This financial has done much to overwhelm less strict local interpretations of Islam, according to observers like Dawood al-Shirian and Lee Kuan Yew, and has caused the Saudi interpretation (sometimes called “petro-Islam”) to be perceived as the correct interpretation—or the “gold standard” of Islam—in many Muslims’ minds.
Criticism and controversy
Criticism by other Muslims
Among the criticism, or comments made critics, of Wahhabi movement are
- that it is not so much strict and uncompromising as aberrant, going beyond the bounds of Islam in its restricted definition of tawhid (montheism), and much too willing to takfir(declare non-Muslim and subject to execution) Muslims it found in violation of Islam (in the second Wahhabi-Saudi jihad/conquest of the Arabian peninsula, an estimated 400,000 were killed or wounded according to some estimates);
- that bin Saud’s agreement to wage jihad to spread Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s teachings had more to do with traditional Nejd practice of raiding — “instinctive fight for survival and appetite for lucre”—than with religion.
- that it has no connection to other Islamic revival movements;
- that unlike other revivalists, its founder Abd ul-Wahhab showed little scholarship—writing little and making even less commentary 
- that its contention that ziyara (visiting tombs of Muhammad, his family members, descendants, companions, or Sufi saints) and tawassul (intercession), violate tauhid al-‘ibada(directing all worship to God alone) has no basis in tradition, in consensus or in hadith, and that even if it did, it would not be grounds for excluding practioners of ziyara andtawassul from Islam
- that historically Wahhabis have had a suspicious willingness to ally itself with non-Muslim powers (specifically America and Britain), and in particular to ignore the encroachments into Muslim territory of a non-Muslim imperial power (the British) while waging jihad and weakening the Muslim Caliphate (Ottomans) and
- that Wahhabi strictness in matters of hijab and separation of the sexes, has led not to a more pious and virtuous—if less colorful and fun environment—Saudi Arabia, but to a society showing a very unIslamic lack of respect towards women.
Allegedly the first people to oppose Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab were his father Abd al-Wahhab and his brother Salman Ibn Abd al-Wahhab who was an Islamic scholar andqadi. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s brother wrote a book in refutation of his brothers’ new teachings, called: “The Final Word from the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sayings of the Scholars Concerning the School of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab”), also known as: “Al-Sawa`iq al-Ilahiyya fi Madhhab al-Wahhabiyya” (“The Divine Thunderbolts Concerning the Wahhabi School”).
In “The Refutation of Wahhabism in Arabic Sources, 1745–1932”, Hamadi Redissi provides original references to the description of Wahhabis as a divisive sect (firqa) and outliers (Kharijites) in communications between Ottomans and Egyptian Khedive Muhammad Ali. Redissi details refutations of Wahhabis by scholars (muftis); among them Ahmed Barakat Tandatawin, who in 1743 describes Wahhabism as ignorance (Jahala).
In 1801 and 1802, the Saudi Wahhabis under Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud attacked and captured the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq and destroyed the tombs of Husayn ibn Ali who is the grandson of Muhammad, and son of Ali (Ali bin Abu Talib), the son-in-law of Muhammad (see: Saudi sponsorship mentioned previously). In 1803 and 1804 the Saudis captured Mecca and Madinah and demolished various venerated shrines, monuments and removed a number of what was seen as sources or possible gateways to polytheism or shirk – such as the shrine built over the tomb of Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad. In 1998 the Saudis bulldozed and allegedly poured gasoline over the grave ofAminah bint Wahb, the mother of Muhammad, causing resentment throughout the Muslim World. Shi’a and other minorities in Islam insist that Wahhabis are behind targeted killings in many countries such as Iraq, Pakistan and Bahrain.
Sunni and Sufi criticism
One early rebuttal of Wahhabism, (by Sunni jurist Ibn Jirjis) argued that Whoever declares that there is no god but God and prays toward Mecca is a believer, supplicating the dead is permitted because it is not a form of worship but merely calling out to them, and that worship at graves is not idolatry unless the supplicant believes that buried saints have the power to determine the course of events. (These arguments were specifically rejected as heretical by the Wahhabi leader at the time.) 
The Syrian professor and scholar Dr. Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti criticises the Salafi movement in a few of his works.
The Sufi Islamic Supreme Council of America founded by the Naqshbandi sufi Shaykh Hisham Kabbani classify Wahhabbism as being extremist and heretical based on Wahhabbism’s rejection of sufism and what they believe to be traditional sufi scholars.
According to at least one critic, the 1744-1745 alliance between Ibn Abdul Wahhab and the tribal chief Muhammad bin Saud to wage jihad on neighboring allegedly false-Muslims, was a “consecration” by Ibn Abdul Wahhab of bin Saud tribe’s long standing raids on neighboring oases by “renaming those raids jihad.” Part of the Nejd’s “Hobbesian state of perpetual war pitted Beouin bribes against one another for control of the scarce resources that could stave off starvation.” And a case of substituting fath, “the `opening` or conquest of a vast territory through religious zeal”, for the “instinctive fight for survival and appetite for lucre.” 
Wahhabism in the United States
A study conducted by the NGO Freedom House found Wahhabi publications in mosques in the United States. These publications included statements that Muslims should not only “always oppose” infidels “in every way”, but “hate them for their religion … for Allah’s sake”, that democracy “is responsible for all the horrible wars… the number of wars it started in the 20th century alone is more than 130 wars,” and that Shia and certain Sunni Muslims were infidels. In a response to the report, the Saudi government stated, “[It has] worked diligently during the last five years to overhaul its education system” but “[o]verhauling an educational system is a massive undertaking.”
A review of the study by Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) complained the study cited documents from only a few mosques, arguing most mosques in the U.S. are not under Wahhabi influence. ISPU comments on the study were not entirely negative however, and concluded:
American-Muslim leaders must thoroughly scrutinize this study. Despite its limitations, the study highlights an ugly undercurrent in modern Islamic discourse that American-Muslims must openly confront. However, in the vigor to expose strains of extremism, we must not forget that open discussion is the best tool to debunk the extremist literature rather than a suppression of First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Militant and political Islam
What connection, if any, there is between Wahhabism and Jihadi Salafis is disputed. Natana De Long-Bas, senior research assistant at the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, argues:
The militant Islam of Osama bin Laden did not have its origins in the teachings of Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and was not representative of Wahhabi Islam as it is practiced in contemporary Saudi Arabia, yet for the media it came to define Wahhabi Islam during the later years of bin Laden’s lifetime. However “unrepresentative” bin Laden’s global jihad was of Islam in general and Wahhabi Islam in particular, its prominence in headline news took Wahhabi Islam across the spectrum from revival and reform to global jihad.
Noah Feldman distinguishes between what he calls the “deeply conservative” Wahhabis and what he calls the “followers of political Islam in the 1980s and 1990s,” such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad and later Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. While Saudi Wahhabis were “the largest funders of local Muslim Brotherhood chapters and other hard-line Islamists” during this time, they opposed jihadi resistance to Muslim governments and assassination of Muslim leaders because of their belief that “the decision to wage jihad lay with the ruler, not the individual believer”.
An analysis by START of the Global Terrorism Database reveals an increase from a few hundred in 1976 to 10,000 acts in 1983. In 2012, it found more than 8,500 terrorist attacks killed nearly 15,500 people, and six of the seven most deadly terror groups were affiliated with al Qaeda.
However, Karen Armstrong states that Osama bin Laden, like most extremists, followed the ideology of Sayyid Qutb, not “Wahhabism”.
Destruction of Islam’s early historical sites
The Wahhabi teachings disapprove of veneration of the historical sites associated with early Islam, on the grounds that only God should be worshipped and that veneration of sites associated with mortals leads to idolatry. Many buildings associated with early Islam, including mazaar, mausoleums and other artifacts have been destroyed in Saudi Arabia by Wahhabis from early 19th century through the present day. This practice has proved controversial and has received considerable criticism from Sunni and Shia Muslims and in the non-Muslim World.
Mausoleum containing the bodies of Hassan
and Fatimah before it was destroyed by Wahhabis.
Rejection of appellation
The appellation ‘Wahhabi’ is rejected by many people, including Muslims and non-Muslims who have studied the phenomenon. The term is mostly prevalent in anti-Saudi Arabiandiscourses, and is subsequently especially popular with Shias; in Saudi Arabia, the term ‘Wahhabi’ is virtually non-existent. The status of ‘Wahhabism’ as a distinct, separate sect of Islam is widely disputed.
Saudi Arabian Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud publicly dismissed the label ‘Wahhabism’ as ‘a doctrine that doesn’t exist here (Saudi Arabia)’ and said that ‘Wahhabism’ was a term coined by enemies of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. He defied efforts to locate the deviance of the form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia from the teachings of the Quranand Prophetic Hadiths.
In his book ‘The Road the Mecca’, Muhammad Asad contends that Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Al-Wahhab‘s initial idea was nothing more than a literal revivification of Islamic principles and puts no emphasis at all on the spiritual side of Islam. He also said that the idea’s acquisition of power further putrefied it:
Тhe history of Wahbab Najd is the history оf а religious idea which first rose on the wings of enthusiasm апd longing and then sank down into the lowlands of pharisaic self-righteousness. For all virtue destroys itself as soon as it ceases to be longing and humility.