About the end of the eighteenth century, a movement which was organized by Arabs became very effective on the Arabian Peninsula. Also, this movement affected the future of Islamic world and formed contemporary Arab world. This movement was called Wahhabism and people who defend and support this movement were called Wahhabis. This name comes from Muhammed b. abd al-Wahhab who is the leader -especially in the religious area- of this movement and sect.

            At this article, we will try to study emergence period of the Wahhabism. Why that movement began, what the reasons on the emergence of this sect are, how this sect became a political movement and how it developed, how this movement became Wahhabism. We will try to find answers for these questions. Moreover, we will try to study the life of Muhammed b. abd-Wahhab and Sa’ud family because we should understand the main stones as Muhammed b. abd-al Wahhab and Sa’ud family to understand the Wahhabism. Muhammed b. abd al-Wahhab is the religious leader and Sa’ud family is political protector of Wahhabism. It is difficult to study the emergence of Wahhabism and reasons of the emergence because we should know the period that was before the Wahhabism. Also, we should know the situation at the Muhammed b. abd al-Wahhab period and his education.

                                          At this scope, most important sources that I will use are study of Zekeriya Kurşun and study of Hamid Algar. Zekeriya Kurşun’s study that is called ‘‘Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti’’ is a good source at this scope. It is about the relationship between Wahhabies and Ottoman Empire. We can find political relations, wars and Ottoman’s view point to the Wahhabis. The other one is Hamid Algar’s study that is called ‘‘Wahhabism’’. It gives general information about Wahhabism. Also Ahmet Vehbi Ecer’s study that is called ‘‘Tarihte Vehhabi Hareketi ve Etkileri’’ interests with religious side of the Wahhabism.



1. Muhammad B. Abd al-Wahhab’s Life


Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab was born in 1703 in the small town of al-Uyayna in Najd in the eastern part of which is today called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Najd had not been notable in Islamic tradition for scholarship or movements of spiritual renewals; its topographical barrenness seems always to have been reflected in its intellectual history. There are, indeed, indications in hadith that as a recipient of divine blessing Najd compares unfavorably with such regions as Syria and Yemen, and that it is there that ‘‘disturbances and disorder and the generation of Satan’’ ( al-zalazil wa ‘l-fıtan wa qarn al-shaytan) will arise. Correlating apocalyptic hadith with observable historical phenomena is a hazardous task, best left unattempted, and this particular hadith, if indeed authentic, may ultimately be seen to have a sense entirely unconnected with Wahhabism.[1]

Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s father and first teacher was the qadi of al-Uyayna, who exercised the office in accordance with the Hanbali sect that is traditionally prevalent in the area.[2] After the lessons given by his Father, he went to Mecca and waited in short time. After this, he went to Medina and took the religious lessons from the most famous scholars of this period as Abdullah b. İbrahim b. Seyf en Necdi and Muhammad Hayat es-Sindi. After the life in Medina, he went to Basra. But, he couldn’t live there for a long time. Because, he was opposed to some activities of the people and he was expelled from Basra. He was opposed to the visiting the tombs and behaving like worship. Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab went beside his father who was settled in the Huraymila in Najd. After his fathers death, he began to conflict with some religious groups which he had thought like shirk. And, he tried to make some reforms on these groups. But, he faced with a serious opposition. After the beginning of the opposites’ violence and attempts of assassination, he left from Huraymiya and went to Uyayna.

 At Uyayna, Emir Osman b. Muhammad supported the Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab and gave a political power. Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab spreaded his thoughts. Moreover, He had the tombs of companions of the Prophet Muhammad destroyed. This caused to serious reactions of the people and sheikh of Beni Khalid that was one of the strong tribes of Lahsa menaced Emir Osman b. Muhammad. He wanted the death or exile of Muhammad b. Abd al Wahhab. Because of this, Muhammad went to Dir’iyya that was under the control of Sa’ud Family in 1745.[3] The apparent setback was in fact greatly beneficial, for he moved on to al- Dir’iyya and concluded a new alliance, with Muhammad b. Sa’ud, ruler of the city, sealing it with a marriage. This alliance proved permanent, giving rise to a political entity that could for many years be interchangeably designated as Saudi or Wahhabi.[4]

Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s Studies: He didn’t write any book that had volume. He has a lot of studies. But, those are not big studies. He wrote a lot of pamphlets for specific topics. And, he wrote a lot of letters and he sent those letters to other leaders. His books are those : Kitab üt-Tevhid, Keşf üş-Şubuhat, Tefsir ül-Fatiha, Selaset ül-Usûl, Şurut üs Salat, el-Erba’ül-Kavaid, Fadail ül-İslam, Usûl ül-İman, Mesail ül-cahiliye, Ma’na et-Tagut, Sittetü Mevazi min Siret in Nebeviyye, Tefsir ül Kuran, Tefsiru Kelimet üt-Tevhid, Nevakız ül İslam, Telkinun Usul al-Akidet il Amme.[5]

2. Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s Thought

When we have a look at the thoughts of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab, we can see that he was under the influence of Hanbali School, Zahiries and Haricies. He read the books of Ahmed b. Teymiyye and İbn Kayyim El-Cezviyye who was the most famous müctehids of the Hanbali School. He was affected by those scholars and believed that we should understand the religion directly from the Koran and Sunna. We shouldn’t try to understand from fıqh and philosophical studies.

Where he was born and lived has an important effect on his thoughts. At the Ottoman sources, it is written for Najd as ‘‘hal’i bedavet ve vahşet’’. In Najd, most of the doctrines that are known about religion were superstition. That is to say, thinking that Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab learned was different from the life in the Najd. All of the people in the Najd were Muslim. But, they were in the ignorance and they abandoned a lot of necessities in Islam. They also cut sacrifice for the deads and wanted their help. This is not an Islamic understanding.[6]

Another important reason on the existing of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s thought is his travels. He traveled to lots of areas and saw various life forms. He contrasted those life forms and shaped his thought. When his thought became an important level, he began to send letters to important people and leaders. Also, he began to write some pamphlets and he showed his understanding with those letters and brochures. his doctrine's method is so easy. It can be sum up as if it was a rev to the origin of the İslam which was the first shape taught by prophet. Therefore, It is necessary to understand directly the verse of the holly Qouran with out making them out in their metaphoric meaning. It shouldn’t be accrediated to kelam scholars about akaid and it shouldn’t be accrediated to fıqh scholars about legimate and illegimate. it shouldn't be a source anybody's word after the hadiths of the prophet. At the same time, he refused the comments depends to mind and science about Koran.[7]

He refused to entreat any person and to make a mediator between person and Allah. People who don’t live in this rule are infidel. Because, intercession is belongs to only Allah. Because of this, it is not true to search for any other protecter than Allah and any directory other than Koran. We shouldn’t wish intercession from the saints in their life or after their life. We shouldn’t wish intercession also from the prophet. This is not acceptable. If we wish, we may go out from the Islam and we may be a mushrik person who join in the shirk.

About bid’ad, Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s comments are similar to Ibn Teymiyye and he gave importance to this topic very much. Bid’at is means ‘‘newness’’ which was existed after the prophet and every kind of the bid’at is bringing a rule other than the principles of the Allah. Every person who brings a diffrent principle other than Allah’s principles accept you as a god and this situation make him a mushrik.[8] Moreover, Muhammet b. Abd al-Wahhab is against to build decorated tombs and cover those tombs with domes. Believing for the being holiness of something as tree or rock, cutting an animal as sacriface for anyone other than Allah, amulet, rosary, performing sunna and nafile prayers are not islamic behaviors and they are bid’at.[9]

3. Support of the Sa’ud family and Politicization

After Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab was exiled from Uyayna, he went to Dir’iyya and made an alliance with Muhammad b. Sa’ud. Dir’iyya was a small town that had 30 houses. And, Muhammad b. Saud was the unpowerful ruler of this town. His ancestor who was called Mani’ el Meridi came to Dir’iyya in the middle of the fifteenth century and this family had continued the emirate of Dir’iyya since that time. There was a conflict between Saud family and the Emirate of Beni Khalid. This was an important reason of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab to select Dir’iyya. Because, he was exiled from Uyayna by the constrain of Beni Khalid. This situation existed an alliance between Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab and Sa’ud family against to common enemy.[10]  

The now disintegrating alliance began happily enough. Muhammad b. Sa’ud pledged his aid to Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab in waging Jihad against all who deviated from his understanding of tauhid. He had but one reservation: that Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab would prevent him from levying his customary annual tax on the people of al-Dir’iyya. Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab assured him that the forthcoming jihad would yield booty far in excess of that tax. The stage was thus set for a campaign of killing and plunder all across Arabia.[11] This alliance was accepted as the establisment of Saudi state.

After Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab came, Dir’yya became more active. His some disciples came to Dir’iyya. Also, a lot of people came to Dir’yya to join in Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s lessons. He educated propagandists with the support of Muhammad b. Sa’ud and he sent effective letters to important people as leaders and scholars. In short time, they got a result and people began to accept his doctrine and joined to him. Wahhabies became more powerful and they left from the passive policy. They began to attack to their environs and they used power against to nomads for spreading wahhabism.[12]

In the fifteen years that followed the Wahhabi declaration of jihad large areas of Arabia were conquered. First the Saudis conquered most of Najd; then the tribes of central arabia were subdued; and Asir and parts of Yemen came into their possession. Muhammad b. Sa’ud died in 1180/1766 and was succeeded by Abd al-Aziz who applied himself with still greater energy than his predecessor to the expansion of the Saudi realm and the coercive propagation of Wahhabism. In 1187/1773, he conquered Riyad, and some seventeen years later began a more significant expansion of his realm by setting his signts on Hijaz. In 1146/1733, before he had acquired Saudi patronage and support, Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab sent a thirty-man delegation to the sharif of mecca, Mas’ud b. Sa’id, to obtain permission for himself and his followers to make the hajj. The sharif discerned that part of his purpose would be to disseminate his teachings amoung the assembled pilgrems, and he therefore organized a debate between the visiting Wahhabis and the ulama of mecca and medina. Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab’s representatives failed to carry the day, and the qadi of mecca pronounced them to be unbelievers, in view of well-known principle, based on hadith, that whoever without good reason denounces a fellow Muslim as an unbeliever himself enters that category.[13]


1. The Period of First Relations

Relationships between Ottoman Empire and Wahhabies began by the spreading policy of Wahhabies. But, Ottoman Empire couldn’t see size of the danger. Because of this, she didn’t interest with this movement exactly. This situation caused the existing of an area that is favorable for the development of Wahhabis. At the first periods of wahhabism, we can not see any important activity which was organized for the prevent this movement. Ottoman Empire assigned local powers to prevent this movement with dialog. Due to the fact that Ottoman Empire didin’t give important, wahhabi movement couldn’t be stopped. Moreover, we can say that other problem is the distance of the Arabian Peninsula from the capital.

Muhammad b. Sa’ud wanted to expand his power and territories. In spite of his aims, he didn’t enter the big cities around him because of the fear from Otoman Empire. He died in 1765 and Abdulaziz b. Muhammad who is his son and son-in-law of Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab was became the leader of Wahhabis. Abdulaziz b. Muhammad was more radical than Muhammad b. Sa’ud in the Wahhabi doctrine and he had a hard temperament. He was not as his father. His father behaved against Otoman Empire forethoughtedly. But, Abdulaziz b. Sa’ud raided  to a lot of important city.

Abdullaziz b. Muhammad’s thought was to capture the Hijaz that had an important area on the Islamic word. Because, they couldn’t made their hajj. Sharif of Mecca didn’t allow them to enter Mecca. And, it was important to capture Ahsa which was on an geopolitic region. Ahsa was an important commerce center. Its capturing was also necessary for the capturing of Hijaz. Wahhabies began to raid for the Ahsa in 1792.[14] after the raids that was continued during three years, they captured Ahsa. Capturing of Ahsa was a step for Hijaz. Their main aim was to capture Hijaz.

Because of the Ottoman-Russia wars, Ottoman Empire couldn’t interest with Wahhabis. Also, she didn’t understand the level of danger. But, Sharifs and dignitaries of Mecca and Medina understood that Wahhabis’ main aim is capturing of Hijaz. For example, qadi of Mecca and some dignitaries demand to finish the problem from Ottoman Empire. They said that Wahhabis killed and plundered Arabs in Damascus, Baghdad, Uneyze, Basra and around Medina. They also said that Wahhabis want to invade Medina. Moreover, Cezzar Ahmet Pasha emphasized the level of danger. After this, Meşveret council was collected. But, it is clear that this council didn’t take an important preventive measure. They debated only religious side of the movement.[15]

Ottoman administration assigned Süleyman Pasha who was the governor of Baghdad to finish this problem. But, Süleyman Pasha knew power of Wahhabis and he didn’t attack to Wahhabis because of this. When Wahhabi raids arrived to Hille in 1798, he began to prepare an army for the attacking against Wahhabis. He sent Ali Pasha with an army that had nearly 7500 warriors. Ali Pasha failed and signed an agreement with Wahhabis. According to the agreement, they wouldn’t attack each other for 6 months. After this agreement Wahhabis became more powerful and more dangerous. If Süleyman Pasha had gone to against them before, it would have been easier.[16]

The conquest of Hijaz and the atrocities that accompanied it were preceded in 1217/1802 by a Saudi raid on the city of Karbala in southern Iraq, the place of martyrdom and burial of imam Husayn. According to some accounts, the raid took place precisely on Muharram 10, the day on which Shi’is gather to commemorate his martyrdom. If such was the timing of assault, it must have been deliberately chosen to inflict maximum insult and pain on the Shi’is. Saudi chronicler Uthman b. Abdullah b. Bishr describes Karbala raid as follows:

 ‘‘In the year 1216 Saud (son of Abdulaziz) set an army for attacking to Karbala and began hostilities against the people of the city of al-Husayn. This was in the month of Dhu’l-Qa’da. The Wahhabis scaled the walls, entered the city by force, and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. Then they destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn by those who believe in such things. They took whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings. They took the grille surrounding the tomb which was encrusted with emeralds, rubies, and other jewels. They took everything they found in the city. They stayed in Karbala for no more than a morning, leaving around midday with all the property they had gathered and having killed about two thousand people.’’[17]


2. Occupation of Hijaz


Hijaz was an important region for all Muslims. Because, Mecca and Medina that are holy for Muslims are in this region. And, state that has Hijaz gain a religious power. Because of this, Wahhabis tried to capture the Hijaz. The Wahhabis’ first conquest in Hijaz was the city of Ta’if, which they overran in Dhu’l Qa’da 1217/February 1803 after a lengthy siege punctuated by various intrigues and fruitless negotiations. Here, too, they enacted a massacre, burnt books other than Qur’an and hadith which they found, and destroyed as many of tombs of companions in the city as they could find.[18]

When Wahhabis occupied Taif, Ottoman Empire didn’t have enough power to destroy the Wahhabis easily. Ottoman administration order Ali Pasha who was governor of Baghdad organized a raid against Dir’iyya. But, Ali Pasha tried to explain the difficulties of this mission and danger of leaving from Baghdad. And after the Hajj time, Abdulaziz b. Muhammad started to organize a raid for the invitation of Mecca and Medina.[19] Two months later from the occupation of Ta’if, Abdulaziz entered Mecca and compelled the ulema of the city to give him bay’a. But, this first Wahhabi occupation of Mecca was short-lived for Sharif Ghalib was able to retake the city two and a half months later.

Not long after, Abdulaziz was assassinated in al-Dir’iyya by a certain Uthman variously described as a Kurdish dervish from Mosul who had pretended to be an ardent convert to Wahhabism and as a Shi’i -possibly Afghan- from Karbala seeking vengeance for the massacre that had been enacted in that city. Abdulaziz was promptly succeeded by his son Sa’ud and the campaign of conquest continued with barely a pause. In Muharram 1220/april 1805, the Wahhabi-Saudi army captured Medina and in Dhu’l-Qa’da 1220/January 1806 took possession of Mecca for the second time. This occupation of Haramayn was to last until the end of 1227/1812, a period of six and half years in which Wahhabi doctrine was imposed on the people of Mecca and Medina and the Wahhabi engaged in their signature activity of dome demolition. In Mecca, the domes over the houses reputed to have been the birthplaces of the Prophet, Khadijat al-Kubra, Imam Ali and Abu Bakr al-Siddiq were destroyed, and the tombs and the Mausolea in the historic cemetery of al-Ma’la were leveled to the ground. In Medina, the treasury of the Prophet’s Mosque was plundered but attempts to demolish the dome surmounting the grave of the Prophet were abandoned when several of the zealots entrusted with the task fell providentially to their deaths. However, all structures and gravestones in the cemetery known as Jannat al-Baqi adjoining the Prophet’s Mosque were destroyed: buried there were wives and companions of Prophet, several Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt, and a host of lesser luminaries from the spiritual and intellectual history of Islam.[20]

The Saudi occupation of the two holy cities meant that a direct clash with the Ottoman sultanate was certain to occur. As guardian of Holy cities, the sultan had to be in a position to secure the safety of the Pilgrimage, and could not tolerate the tenure of Mecca and Medina by a militant schismatic. Sa’ud, the first part, feared an alliance of Ghalib and the Ottomans to expel him from Hijaz. At this juncture, the most likely agent of Ottoman intervention was the Syrian commander of the Pilgrimage, the governor of Damascus, Abdallah Pasha al-Azm. In 1807, therefore, Sa’ud concentrated his tribal levies at medina, and forbade the Syrian Pilgrimage caravan to proceed. This prohibition was repeated in the next three years, and Yusuf Pasha, who succeeded Abdallah al-Azm in Damascus, showed himself no more capable of dealing with the Wahhabis. Indeed, in 1810 Sa’ud brought an expedition into the frontier-districts of Syria, which caused alarm in Damascus and led to the deposition of Yusuf Pasha. The breaking of Wahhabi power was not to be accomplished by the governors either of Baghdad or of Damascus, but by Muhammad Ali Pasha, the successful soldier, who had made himself viceroy of Egypt, and who, in 1811, was to launch his first expedition against the Amir Sa’ud.[21]

Muhammad Ali Pasha was the governor of Egypt and he promised to interest with problem of Hijaz when he became the governor of Egypt. At first, he tried to increase his power in Egypt. After this, he organized an army and assigned his son who was called Ahmed Tosun to commandership of this Army. There were 3500 warriors in the army. But, this army failed and Muhammad Ali Pasha prepared a new army for sending help to Ahmed Tosun. There were 20000 warriors in this army. In 1812, Ahmed Tosun recaptured the Medina.[22] He also recaptured the Mecca, Cidde and Ta’if in 1813. Problem of Hijaz was finished. But, Wahhabis were active on the other areas.

3. Accomplishment of İbrahim Pasha and Execution of Abdullah b. Sa’ud

After the recapturing of Hijaz, Muhammad Ali Pasha returned to Egypt and Ahmed Tosun Pasha stayed on back. Ahmet Tosun Pasha fought against Wahhabis in the 1813-1814. But, he was not successful on those wars. In 1814, Suud b. Abdulaziz died and Abdullah b. Suud became new leader. This was an opportunity for Ahmet Tosun Pasha. He went to Kasım and saw that power of Wahhabis was very much. He wanted to sign an agreement but Muhammad Ali Pasha didn’t allow to Ahmet Tosun for signing an agreement. Because, Ottoman administration wanted an absolute victory.

Muhammad Ali Paha understood that Ahmet Tosun was not enough for this mission. He prepared a new army and sent with İbrahim Pasha who was his son. İbrahim Pasha leaved from Egypt in 1816 and went to Medina. After this, he arrived to Dir’iyya in 6 April 1818 and besieged the city.[23] Because of the conflicts, Abdullah b. Sa’ud and his followers couldn’t take support from the other areas. Abdullah b. Sa’ud understood their bad situation and proposed an agreement to İbrahim Pasha. But, Abdullah b. Sa’ud didn’t accept the requirements of İbrahim Pasha and İbrahim Pasha captured the city on November 1818. Abdullah b. Sa’ud and his 400 men were taken to Egypt. He and his some followers were taken from Egypt to Istanbul and they were executed. This occurrence is accepted as end of the first Wahhabi-Saudi state.[24]

*  *  * 

Wahhabism is a wide theme. There are religious, political, geographical themes and there are some periodical themes. We handled the only emergence of the Wahhabism and tried to explain reasons, background, politicization of Wahhabi sect. It became clear that Wahhabism need more much study. Because, Wahhabism should be studied under the specific titles. And, we should know that the sources may not be true. Because, Wahhabism is a religious and political movement.

            At first, Wahhabism was a religious movement but it became a political thought and formed modern Arabic world and affected the Islamic world. We can say that eighteenth century is very important for the Arabic nationalism and breaking in the Islamic united. Conflicts between Ottoman Empire and Arabs began at this period and those conflicts continued.

[1] Hamid Algar, Wahhabism, Islamic Publications International, New York, 2002, p. 5

[2] Ibid, p. 6

[3]  Michael Cook, Muhammed b. Abd al-Wahhab, DİA, p. 491

[4]  Hamid Algar, Wahhabism, p. 19

[5] Ahmet Vehbi Ecer, Tarihte Vehhabi Hareketi ve Etkileri, ASAM, Ankara, 2001, p. 63

[6] Zekeriya Kurşun, Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti, TTK, Ankara, 1998, p. 19

[7] Ibid, p. 20

[8] Ahmet Vehbi Ecer, Tarihte Vehhabi Hareketi ve Etkileri, p. 77

[9] Neşet Çağatay, Vehhabilik, IA, p. 265

[10] Zekeriya Kurşun, Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti, p. 23

[11] Hamid Algar, Wahhabism, p. 20

[12]  Zekeriya Kurşun, Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti, p. 24

[13]  Hamid Algar, Wahhabism, p. 23

[14]  Zekeriya Kurşun, Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti, p. 28

[15] Ibid, p. 29

[16] Ibid, p. 31

[17] Hamid Algar, Wahhabism, p. 24

[18] Ibid, p. 25

[19] Zekeriya Kurşun, Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti, p. 40

[20] Hamid Algar, Wahhabism, pp. 26-27

[21] P. M. Holt, Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, p. 154

[22] Zekeriya Kurşun, Necid ve Ahsa’da Osmanlı Hakimiyeti, p. 51

[23] Ibid, pp. 51-52

[24] Ibid, p. 53

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