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WAHHĀBIS, a Mahommedan sect, the followers of Ibn ‛Abd ul-Wahhāb, who instituted a great reform in the religion of Islam in Arabia in the 18th century. Mahommed ibn ‛Abd ul-Wahhāb was born in 1691 (or 1703) at al-Ḥauţa of the Nejd in central Arabia, and was of the tribe of the Bani Tamīm. He studied literature and jurisprudence of the Hanifite school. After making the pilgrimage with his father, he spent some further time in the study of law at Medina, and resided for a while at Isfahan, whence he returned to the Nejd to undertake the work of a teacher. Aroused by his studies and his observation of the luxury in dress and habits, the superstitious pilgrimages to shrines, the use of omens and the worship given to Mahomet and Mahommedan saints rather than to God, he began a mission to proclaim the simplicity of the early religion founded on the Koran and Sunna (i.e. the manner of life of Mahomet). His mission in his own district was not attended by success, and for long he wandered with his family through Arabia, until at last he settled in Dara‛īyya, or Deraiya (in the Nejd), where he succeeded in converting the greatest notable, Mahommed ibn Sa‛ud, who married his daughter, and so became the founder of an hereditary Wahhābite dynasty. This gave the missionary the opportunity of following the example of Mahomet himself in extending his religious teaching by force. His instructions in this matter were strict. All unbelievers (i.e. Moslems who did not accept his teaching, as well as Christians, &c.) were to be put to death. Immediate entrance into Paradise was promised to his soldiers who fell in battle, and it is said that each soldier was provided with a written order from Ibn ‛Abd ul-Wahhāb to the gate-keeper of heaven to admit him forthwith. In this way the new teaching was established in the greater part of Arabia until its power was broken by Mehemet Ali (see Arabia: History). Ibn ‛Abd ul-Wahhāb is said to have died in 1791.

The teaching of ul-Wahhāb was founded on that of Ibn Taimīyya (1263-1328), who was of the school of Aḥmad ibn Hanbal (q.v.). Copies of some of Ibn Taimīyya's works made by ul-Wahhāb are now extant in Europe, and show a close study of the writer. Ibn Taimīyya, although a Hanbalite by training, refused to be bound by any of the four schools, and claimed the power of a mujtahid, i.e. of one who can give independent decisions. These decisions were based on the Koran, which, like Ibn Hazm (q.v.), he accepted in a literal sense, on the Sunna and Qiyās (analogy). He protested strongly against all the innovations of later times, and denounced as idolatry the visiting of the sacred shrines and the invocation of the saints or of Mahomet himself. He was also a bitter opponent of the Şufis of his day. The Wahhāabites also believe in the literal sense of the Koran and the necessity of deducing one's duty from it apart from the decisions of the four schools. They also pointed to the abuses current in their times as a reason for rejecting the doctrines and practices founded on Ijmā, i.e. the universal consent of the believer or their teachers (see Mahommedan Religion). They forbid the pilgrimage to tombs and the invocation of saints. The severe simplicity of the Wahhābis has been remarked by travellers in central Arabia. They attack all luxury, loose administration of justice, all laxity against infidels, addiction to wine, impurity and treachery. Under 'Abd ul-Aziz they instituted a form of Bedouin (Bedawi) commonwealth, insisting on the observance of law, the payment of tribute, military conscription for war against the infidel, internal peace and the rigid administration of justice in courts established for the purpose.

It is clear that the claim of the Wahhābis to have returned to the earliest form of Islam is largely justified; Burckhardt (vol. ii. p. 112) says, “The only difference between his (i.e. ul-Wahhāb's) sect and orthodox Turks, however improperly so termed, is that the Wahabys rigidly follow the same laws which the others neglect or have ceased altogether to observe.” Even orthodox doctors of Islam have confessed that in Ibn ‛Abd ul-Wahhāb's writings there is nothing but what they themselves hold. At the same time the fact that so many of his followers were rough and unthinking Bedouins has led to the over-emphasis of minor points of practice, so that they often appear to observers to be characterized chiefly by a strictness (real or feigned) in such matters as the prohibition of silk for dress, or the use of tobacco, or of the rosary in prayer.

Bibliography. — J. L. Burckhardt, Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys (2 yols., London, 1831); A. Chodzko, “Le Déisme des Wahhabis” in the Journal asiatique, series iv. vol. xi. pp. 168 ff; I. Goldziher in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, vol. lii. pp. 156-157 (1898); D. B. Macdonald, Muslim Theology (London, 1903).