The State of the Region of Najd, Arabia in the Time of Ibn Abdul-Wahhāb and the First Saudi State

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The State of the Region of Najd, Arabia in the Time of Ibn ʿAbdul-Wahhāb and the First Saudi State [1]


The Turkish Ottoman Empire had pockets of sovereignty in the Arabian lands. It became little more than a shell in Egypt, Syria and Irāq by the eighteenth century. As for the Arabian Peninsula, then the Ottomans never inhabited the vast areas of the Najd, the region in which Ibn ʿAbdul-Wahhāb  was born and raised. Though they controlled Baghdād and Basrah in Irāq, the closest they came to the Najd was al-Ahsā in 1592CE, and they had a Turkish garrison at al-Hufoof, however only eighty years later the Bedouin tribe of Banu Khālid fell upon the Turks and expelled them. That was nearly a century before the birth of Shaikh Muhammad bin ʿAbdul-Wahhāb . Political power in the Najd itself had broken into minute particles for centuries, the Turks had never ventured in that far. Ibn Bishr [2], a historian and biographer of Ibn ʿAbdul-Wahhāb and the region of Najd, the birthplace of the Saudi state, mentions the case of the tiny settlement of Tuwain in Sudair, Najd where in 1708CE, four leaders were competing for the right to rule. None of the four was individually strong enough to overcome his rivals, so they divided this small settlement into four regions, so that each could be a sovereign over a quarter of the town. So the claim that Shaikh Muhammad bin ʿAbdul-Wahhāb  and the ruler of the first Saudi state, Imām Muhammad bin Saʿūd  rebelled and took authority from the Ottoman Empire in Arabia is factually and historically incorrect.

Un-Islamic Practises and Religious Heresies in that Era

Un-Islamic practises were widespread throughout the region; devotees would flock at the graves of the dead, seeking their aid, and offering sacrifices to the inhabitants of tombs [3]. “The domed mausoleum of Zaid bin al-Khattāb was at al-Jubailah; it was a famous shrine and many used to go there to seek intercession and aid from him. In ad-Dirʿīyyah, next to Riyādh, there were tombs attributed to the Companions of the Prophet  and people came from far and wide to visit them and seek cures from them. Ibn Ghannām [4] records that in the little village of al-Fidā, there was a male date-palm tree – unmarried women would embrace the trunk and call out, “O male palm of the palms, I desire a husband before I become barren”. They used to come night and day, men and women seeking blessings from the tree. Ibn Ghannām mentions that the tamarisk tree was a favorite place on which to hang pieces of cloth when a boy was born believing that it would protect him from the ‘hand of death’. Near Dirʿīyyah there was a great cleft in the mountain known as Ghār bint al-Amīr, which they believed had been opened by Allāh in response to a cry for help uttered by a girl of noble birth when a man tried to take her honour – so people would visit the cave and leave meat and bread as offerings. On the Red Sea coast to the southwest was the city of Jeddah, where the people had built a tomb in which they claimed the mother of mankind Eve, the wife of the Prophet Ādam  was buried. The complex had three domes, one hundred and fifty meters long, four meters wide and a meter high; one dome was at the head, one over the navel and one at the feet – the tomb-keepers amassed large amounts of money in admission fees for those visiting. In the sacred city of Madīnah the people prostrated to the grave of the Prophet Muhammad  and rubbed their cheeks in the dust; they would celebrate at the grave and seek cure for illnesses from him by beseeching him, likewise with the graves of the Companions in the graveyard of Baqīʿ near the Prophet’s  mosque. Also in the eighteenth century there existed the cult of a blind ‘living saint’ of al-Kharaj in the south by the name of Tāj bin Shamsān. His devotees in large numbers would seek his aid, even in his absence, and would sacrifice animals to him. The village rulers would fear him and miraculous feats were attributed to him. They claimed that he travelled on his own through the whole distance from al-Kharaj to Dirʿīyyah, a distance of nearly 500km, with none to guide him except his blindness. So this was the environment into which Muhammad bin ʿAbdul-Wahhāb was born and raised, an environment far removed from the guidance contained in the Qurān and Prophetic example.”

Shaikh Muhammad bin ʿAbdul-Wahhāb was raised in a family of scholars and judges. His father was a leading judge (qādhī) as was his grandfather and he studied under his paternal uncle who was a scholar also. Muhammad bin ʿAbdul-Wahhāb memorized the Qurān before the age of ten. He went on to study Quranic commentary, hadīth literature and hadīth science, jurisprudence and the rest of the Islamic sciences,  so much so that his father would seek his opinions on religious subjects. He studied in the centres of Islamic learning in Madīnah and Basrah in Irāq under notable scholars of the time. Shaikh Muhammad bin ʿAbdul-Wahhāb  wrote and strived to convince people against false practices that were foreign to the Islāmic teachings contained in the Qurān and Prophetic Sunnah. The ruler of Dirʿīyyah, Muhammad bin Saʿūd  became convinced of the teachings of the Shaikh and aided him in eradicating false practices and uniting the people under a single ruler instead of warring tribes. They faced much opposition in the early years from various tribes and village leaders, which resulted in many skirmishes and battles. Eventually Imām Muhammad bin Saʿūd managed to unite the region of Najd and beyond under his rulership.



* Map: Saudi Arabia In the Nineteenth Century, R. Bayly Winder, MacMillan, 1965.

1 For a detailed discussion in English see Rentz, George. S, The Birth of the Islamic Reform Movement in Saudi Arabia, Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (1703/4-1792) and the Beginnings of the Unitarian Empire in Arabia, Arabian Publishing, London 2004. One can benefit much from this work.
2 See Ibn Bishr, ʿUthmān bin ʿAbdullāh, ʿUnwān al-Majd fī Tārīkh Najd, in two volumes.
3 These Sūfī practices are still common and widespread throughout the Muslim world and are even regarded by many as ‘mainstream’ Islām, yet in reality they contradict the worship practised by the Prophet and his Companions.
4 Ibn Ghannām, Husain, Rawdatul-Afkār wal-Afhām li Murtād Hāl al-Imām wa Tiʿdād Ghazawāt Dhawil-Islām, in 2 volumes.

From the book: “The Rise of Jihadist Extremism in the West”, Salafi Publications, Birmingham.

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