Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the Birth Place of Wahhabism and Radical Islam

  July 03, 2021   Read time 4 min
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the Birth Place of Wahhabism and Radical Islam
In Kuwait, the Sa‘ud family formed ties with the al-Sabah rulers, and it is from Kuwait that they prepared the attack on Riyadh in 1902. This saw the beginning of the formation of what is now known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founded in 1932, after ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Sa‘ud.

Mohammad Ibn Abd Al Wahhab attempted to start to preach his message in the oasis of Huraymila but had to considerably restrict his ambitions in view of the opposition marked by his father. In a biographical dictionary of Hanbali scholars from 1349 to 1874, which contains over 800 entries, the author, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Humayd, who was the Mufti of the Hanbalis of Mecca, mentions this disagreement between father and son in the note on Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s father:

’Abd al-Wahhab Ibn Sulayman ibn ‘Ali ibn Musharraf al-Tamimi al-Najdi (...) He is the father of Muhammad, who was founder of the mission [i.e., the Wahhabi mission] whose evil has spread across the horizon. However, there is an enormous difference between father and son. Indeed, Muhammad did not reveal his mission until after the death of his father. Some of the people whom I met have related from some of the people of knowledge narrations from the contemporaries of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhab that describe his anger against his son Muhammad. This is because he had not agreed to study of the religious knowledge of his ancestors and the people of his area. His father had a presentiment that something would happen because of him, and so frequently said to the people ‘How much evil you are going to see from Muhammad.’ Subsequently, what Allah destined to happen came to pass.

In 1740, his father died, and he went back to al-‘Uyayna, where he started to spread his teachings. He presented them as a purification of the creed of Islam. The ruler of al-‘Uyayna, Uthman alMu’ammar, initially supported him, but had him expelled due to pressure by locals who found his style and teachings too radical. He then moved to al-Dir‘iyya, still in the region on al-Najd, concluding a pact with the ruler of the town, Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud, in 1744. Whether it was a formal pact, as described by one of the Wahhabi sources, or an alliance that strengthened more gradually, is currently the attention of further research. However, the meeting and joining of forces of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Sa’ud has had far-reaching consequences for that region and for the world at large in years to come. Two years later, a conquest of the territories of the Arabian Peninsula started. Recent historical appraisals of this period now suggest that the first attack may have come from the enemies of the Wahhabis, disturbed by the accusations of disbelief from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. However, as Crawford puts it: ‘Whether or not the outbreak of the conflict was initiated by the Wahhabis, it was predetermined by their uncompromising doctrines.’ The official launch of the offensive ‘jihad’ against opponents took place in 1746, that is, about two years after his arrival in al-Dir’iyya. People had to surrender, or see their lives and property at risk.

In spite of the deaths of Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud in 1765 and of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in 1792, the movement did not weaken. In actual fact, under the leadership of the son of Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud, whose name was ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (1765– 1803), the Wahhabis managed to acquire Riyadh, Kharj and Qasim, even establishing a temporary hegemony over Ta’if (1802), Mecca (1803) and Madina (1804), where they ordered the destruction of domed tombs and monuments on graves, due to their belief that visitors to these monuments were associating partners to God.

A few years later, the Ottoman Empire managed to send the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha (and then, after his death, his son Ibrahim) and his troops to fight against the Wahhabis in 1811. The Saudi historian Madawi al-Rasheed13 explains that the expansion of this first Saudi-Wahhabi state was actually a ‘realm with fluctuating boundaries’ because of tribal confederations, which were still challenging the descendants of al-Sa‘ud, and their authority over their emirate was therefore made all the more difficult to establish. When the Ottoman troops arrived, some of those who had suffered raids at the hands of the Wahhabis switched allegiance to Pasha, and on 11 September 1818, the Wahhabis surrendered. They saw their capital, Dir‘iyya, destroyed and had some of their major leaders and people of knowledge killed or forced into exile. This marked the end of the first Saudi-Wahhabi emirate.

After this, there was a second phase, which took place between 1824 and 1891, during which the descendants of the beheaded ruler of the first Saudi-Wahhabi state attempted to re-establish some authority in the Peninsula. However, they were but one tribe among others fighting for power over a given territory in Arabia, as the Rashids in the north and the Sharifs in Mecca were also attempting to consolidate their power in their own territories. This period, troubled by rivalry between Saudi brothers, ended with the flight of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Sa‘ud from Riyadh, which had been the capital of the second fragile emirate, to Kuwait.