A brief biographical sketch of the founders of Salafism is given below for our readers to understand the environment in which the new sect was originated and developed. The information consists of published historical data available in books and on internet.
The term "Salafi" was used for the first time as a slogan and movement by the followers of Muhammad Abduh (the student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) approximately one hundred years ago.
"Salafis" have promoted a handful of controversial scholars as supposedly representing all of Islamic scholarship. They praise and advertise these controversial scholars over and above the established, Imams, Awliya and Scholars of 1000 years Islamic History.
The founders and scholars of Salafis are as follows.
The above claims can be found in a Salafi booklet entitled "A Brief Introduction to the Salafi Da`wah" (Ipswich, U.K.: Jam`iat Ihyaa' Minhaaj al-Sunnah, 1993) p. 2.
Incidentally, all of the above do not belong to the time of Prophet Mohammad (SAWS), his companions and their immediate followers. In addition, they are not considered as foremost authorities/Imams in any of the Islamic subjects. As a matter of fact the condemnation of Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Abdul Wahhab by many Islamic scholars is well-known. It will not be wrong to say that they are the most controversial people in the entire history of Islam.
It is interesting to note that al-Dhahabi, who is listed by the "Salafis" alongside Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim has himself condemned Ibn Taymiyya as a "deviated innovator".
Al-Dhahabi writes -
"He (Ibn Taymiyya) was a virtuous and outstanding scholar, very accurate and meticulous in his intellectual examinations, but guilty of introducing innovations in the Religion (mubtadi‘)".
This was reported by al-Sakhawi in his book al-I`lan wa al-tawbikh.
Dhahabi's own disclaimer of the errors of Ibn Taymiyya is stated explicitly in his stern al-Nasiha al-dhahabiyya, which was published in Damascus in 1347 (1929) together with his Bayan zaghal al-`ilm.
Ibn Hajar mentioned Dhahabi's Nasiha in al-Durar al-kamina (1:166), and so did al-Sakhawi in al-I`lan wa al-tawbikh (p. 504). Two extant manuscripts of the Nasiha are kept, one in Cairo at the Dar al-kutub al-misriyya (#B18823) and one in Damascus at the Zahiriyya library (#1347).
The original thinker and founder of salafi thought is a Kurdish scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah who is regarded as Shaikhul Islam by his followers. The critics call him literalist, rebel, blasphemer, disbeliever, militant, deviated innovator, anthropomorphist and what not. But he is held in high regard by his followers who consider him as a savior and revivalist.
Taqi’ud-deen Abul Abbaas Ahmad Ibn Abdul Haleem Ibn Abdus Salaam Ibn Taymiyyah Al-Harraanee, was born on Monday, 22nd January 1263 AD at Harraan, a Kurdish area located in what is now Turkey, close to the Syrian border. His grand father Majd-ud-deen Ibn Taymiyyah (d -1255 AD) and his father Shihaab-uddeen Abdul Haleem Ibn Taymiyyah (d -1284 AD) were both followers of Hanbali mazhab. There are no Islamic teachers mentioned in his biography except that he studied Quran and Hadith in his childhood from his father. He had an encyclopedic knowledge and memorized many Islamic books, including Quran on his own. By the time he reached 19, it is reported that he started giving his independent Islamic edicts (fatwas) on matters of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) without following any of the four established Islamic schools of thoughts, Hanafi, Shafe’i, Maliki and Hanbali. It is reported that his opinions and assumptions were strange and unheard before.
It is not known whether his father approved Ibn Taymiyyah’s new thinking or not. His father died when Ibn Taymiyyah was 21. After his father’s death, he started propagating his new beliefs in his speeches from Umayyad mosque in Damascus where his father used to address people. Ibn Taymiyyah’s rhetoric and his new logic earned him fans and foes both.
Ibn Taymiyyah was known for his exceptional memory and encyclopedic knowledge. Kamaal ad-Deen Ibn az-Zamlakaanee, who debated with Ibn Taymiyyah on more than one occasion, observed - ‘Whenever he (Ibn Taymiyyah) was questioned on a particular field of knowledge, the one who witnessed and heard concluded that he had an encyclopedic knowledge’.
He was Jihadi to the core. He was politically active and encouraged people for Jihad against Muslim rulers whom he regarded as nonbelievers. He organized civilian resistant against Tartars (Mongols) who invaded Syria. He rebelled against the moral authorities of the Imams of Islamic Jurisprudence. He fought against the Shaikhs of Ihsan and legendary Soufis accusing them of apostasy.
What is the meaning of Subki’s observation? It means that apparently Ibn Taymiyyah was not taught by reliable Islamic Shaikhs or Ulama who were specialized in their fields. He received the knowledge mostly from books, understood it by himself and deduced what he wanted. He seemed to have ignored the fact that the study of Shariah cannot be undertaken without the help of reliable Islamic teachers. Shariah cannot be perfected without practice and close contact with the experts. This looks to be the reason he could not understand the wisdom of the Imams of Islamic Fiqh and rejected them en masse (altogether). This is the reason, our respected Ulama warned Muslims not to seek study and understand Quran through a person who has only memorized it without knowing its contents through an expert.
He formed a Jama’at of his students and fans and started spreading his new beliefs. His activities caught the attention of the rulers and the Ulama in Syria and adjoining areas and as a result he was imprisoned on several occasions during his lifetime . It is reported that, irked by his self styled fatwas and his rebellious opinions in every issue of Islamic jurisprudence, the theologians of his time jointly issued a fatwa preventing him from expressing unsolicited legal opinions. This fatwa was endorsed by the royal edict issued from the Central Government in Cairo. It is reported that even these extreme actions did not deter him from interfering openly in the established legal system. As a result he was imprisoned again for 16 months and later for 3 years in Damascus jail where he breathed his last on Sunday, 26th September, 1328 AD at the age of 67. He was buried in Damascus. He has written many books in Arabic. Some of his books have also been translated in English.
READ SCHOLARS' OPINIONS ABOUT IBN TAYMIYYA
He was the student of Ibn Taymiyya. His biography does not give any details about his childhood and youth, except that he is reported to have studied under his father in his childhood. His full name as per his followers was Shamsuddin Abu Abdullah Mohammad Ibn Abi Bakr Ibn Sa'd Al-Dimashqi Al-Zur'i Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyya. His father’s name was Abu Bakr, Shihaab Al-Abir, Taqiyyud-Deen Sulaymaan, Safiyyud-Deen Al-Hindee. Originally, he followed Hanbali mazhab but later joined his teacher in Salafism. It is reported that he was astronomer, philosopher, psychologist, chemist, and theologian.
He was born on February 4, 1292 AD in Izra’in Hauran, a locality in Damascus, Syria. Very little is known about his childhood and youth except that he loved books. He stayed with his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah from 1312 until his death in Jail in 1328. He defended Ibn Taymiyyah’s new beliefs and compiled and edited most of his works. He also accompanied Taymiyyah in Jail several times and both teacher and student used to get jail terms for their rebellion against authorities. Al- Jawziyah was in jail with Ibn Taymiyyah when Ibn Taymiyyah breathed his last in 1328. After the death of Ibn Taymiyyah, he was released from Jail. After his release, he furthered his studies, holding study circles and classes. He taught his new faith at Al-Sadriyya school in Damascus. Later he held the position of the Head of the Jawziyyah School.
Most of Ibn Al-Qayyim’s writings were compilations of Ibn Taymiyyah’s works, although he authored some books. The manuscripts of his handwritten works are preserved in the central Library in Damascus. He provided strange interpretations of Quranic Verses and Ahadith that were never heard before. He died on September 23, 1350 at the age of 60.
Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab An-Najdi At-Tamimi was born in Uyayna in Najd, Eastern Province of present Saudi Arabia, in 1703.
The followers of Abdul Wahhab quote his biography from two main books, (i) Rawdhatul Afkar Wal Afham by Ibn Ghannam, and (ii) Unwan Al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd by Ibn Bishr. Both these authors lived in Najd, the birth place of Ibn Abdul Wahhab.
Ibn Abdul Wahhab belonged to Arab tribe Banu Tamim who lived in Najd. He is reported to have studied in his child hood from his father named Abdul Wahhab. It is reported that Ibn Abdul Wahhab spent some time in Basra, Southern Iraq from where he traveled to Makka Al-Mukarrama and Madina Al-Munawwara. All historians agree that his new thinking on Salafism was developed when he was in Basra. When he returned to his native town in 1740 at the age of 37, he had completely transformed into a rebel against the jurisprudential authorities of the Imams of Fiqh - Hanafi, Shafa’i, Maliki and Hanbali. On his return to Najd, he started propagating his new beliefs in his lectures.
It is reported that Ibn Abdul Wahhab managed to convince his towns Incharge Uthman Ibn Mu’ammar and with his support he started implementing his new beliefs in the town by force. The first thing Ibn Abdul Wahhab did was, by convincing and colluding with Ibn Mu’ammar, he destroyed, leveled and erased the grave of Hazrat Zayd Ibn Al-Khattab (RU) who was a companion of Prophet Mohammad (SAWS) and brother of Hazrat Umr Ibn Al-Khattab (RU), the second Caliph of Islam. Destruction of the grave of Hazrat Zayd Ibn Al-Khattab and his rebellious speeches in collusion with local authorities drew the attention of Sulaiman Ibn Mohammad Ibn Gurayr of Bani Khalid, the Tribal Chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif in Najd. He became furious and ordered Abdul Wahhab's arrest for his destructive activities. The news reached Ibn Abdul Wahhab in time and he fled from his home town. Ibn Abdul Wahhad knew the brothers of the neighboring tribal ruler Mohammad Ibn Saud. With their help he took refuge in a place called Dir’iyya in 1740 where Mohammad Ibn Saud was the ruler. In Dir’iyya, Ibn Abdul Wahhab first developed acquaintance with the wife of the tribal ruler and convinced her of his new beliefs. Gradually, the ruler and all his family members were converted into new faith. Thus, Ibn Abdul Wahhab became defacto Minister of Religious Affairs in the territory held by Saud’s, who belonged to Anza tribe in Najd. Later he married the sister of the ruler. The new faith and new rules were gradually implemented in the areas held by Sauds. Armed with the new faith and a zealous Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the Sauds fought many battles for the next 140 years mounting many military campaigns with the help of other neighboring tribes of Kuwait, Bahrain, etc. They won and lost several wars. But finally took control of the whole Arabian Peninsula in 1925 with British support.
In the second world war Turkey was defeated and Muslim Caliphate was abolished in March 1924. In 1938 oil wells were discovered and the new Kingdom gained a lot of wealth from their oil fields. The Najdi based Da'awah of Salafism began to be heard vociferously following the discovery of Oil. With massive oil wealth and control of holy places of Muslims, the zealous Wahhabi missionary thrived in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Islamic publishing houses in Cairo, Beirut, India, Pakistan, Central Asia and Far East were subsidized by Wahhabi organizations, which prevented them from publishing traditional works on Islam. As the oil wealth increased, the subsidy and financial assistance was also expanded in the world which has resulted in the current chaos in Muslim world.
From the times of Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the Religious Affairs are controlled by the direct descendants of Ibn Abdul Wahhab in Arabian Peninsula. Ibn Abdul Wahhab's descendents are known as ‘Ahl al-Shaikh’ (House of the Shaikh), on the lines of ‘Ahl An-Nabi’ (House of the Prophet –SAWS) in Saudi Arabia. The family of Ahl al-Shaikh has included several Salafi scholars, including the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad Ibn Ibrahm al-Shaikh, who issued the fatwa calling for the abdication of King Saud in 1964. Both the current Saudi Minister of Justice and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia are also descendents of Ibn Abdul Wahhab.
Ibn Abdul Wahhab built his Islamic ideology on the principles developed by Ibn Taymiyyah. He wrote many books which are famous among his followers. These include, Kitab at-Tauhid (The Book of the Unity of God); Kitaabul Kabaa'ir (The Book of Great Sins); Kitabul Imaan (The Book of Belief), etc.
Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s father and his brother Sulaiman were the followers of Hanbali school of thought. They are regarded as virtuous people by many historians. They reported to have strongly opposed Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s actions in spreading the new faith. They first tried to explain him the ill effects of his actions. They refuted his claims from the verses of holy Quran and Ahadith. It is reported that Ibn Abdul Wahhab never agreed to consider the sayings of earlier or later scholars, whoever they may be, other than Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah. He considered their sayings as explicit (plain) verses of the religion. When he stayed adamant, they together wrote a book entitled ‘Divine lightning’ refuting the claims of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. This book was published in Iraq in 1888.
Historians also mention that Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s brother Sulaiman openly questioned his beliefs and refuted him emphatically in public. He wrote his refutations in a book titled ‘Faslul Kitab Fi Ar-Radd Ala Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (The Empathic speech on the Refutation of Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab). It is reported that Ibn Abdul Wahhab had declared that whoever contradicted him was a blasphemer and thus his killing was legalized in the areas controlled by Wahhabis. When Sulaiman did not yield to Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s line of thinking, it is reported that many attempts were made on his life, in his house, in the market and even in the mosque where he used to go for prayers but he survived all these attacks.
His followers claim that Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab’s movement was an effort to purify Islam. But the history portrays a different picture altogether. Wahhabis are famous for many things. They cleansed their territory from their main rivals, Sunnis. The massacre of Taif is a testimony of the brutal ethnic cleansing. They erased everything that was reminiscent of Islam until their occupation of Arabian Peninsula. They destroyed all relics of Islam that were kept safe from centuries. The Wahhabis claim that they follow the Salaf (Companions of Prophet Mohammad (SAWS) and their second generation followers -Ta’aba-een). But they made mockery (ridicule) of their own claim when they destroyed, leveled and erased the graves of every single Salaf, including Prophet Mohammad’s (SAWS) family members, As-habe-Rasulullah (SAWS), their second generation followers (Ta’aba-een) and all important personalities of Islam from Prophet’s (SAWS) time till date. They even attempted to destroy the tomb of Prophet Mohammad (SAWS) twice, but Allah (SWT) protected it. They did not stop at that, they started equating prophets with normal sinful human beings. They continue to make all out effort in their teachings and propagation to downgrade the respect of Prophets, particularly the respect of Prophet Mohammad (SAWS), his family and his companions. They publicly accuse Imam Hussain (RU) as guilty and praise his assassins as virtuous. Ibn Abdul Wahhab denounced legendary Soufi Shaikhs as being heretical for respecting prophets, and elders in Islam. He stopped celebration of the birth day of Prophet Mohammad (SAWS). The list is too long.
(i) Egyptian scholar Ibn Ahmad Barakat Al-Shafe’i, who wrote a book named ‘Kitab Radd’ Ad-Dalala wa Qam Al-Jahala. The content of his arguments circles round refuting Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s ideas, quoting a considerable number of Qur'anic verses.
(ii) Ali Al-Shafe'i al-Basri Al-Qabbani who wrote two books, (a) The Fasl Al-Khitab fi Radd Dalalat Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (The unmistakable Judgment in the refutation of the delusions of Ibn Abdul Wahhab,") and (b) The Kashf Al-Hijab an Wajh Dalalat Ibn Abdul Wahhab (Lifting the veil from the face of the delusions of Ibn Abdul Wahhab).
(iii) A prominent Islamic Scholar of Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s time, Muhammad Amin Ibn Abidin wrote in his celebrated work ‘Hashiyya Radd Al-Mukhtar’ (Vol. 3, Page 309).
“In our time Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi appeared and attacked the two noble sanctuaries (Makkah and Madinah). He claimed to be a Hanbali, but his thinking was such that only he alone was a Muslim, and everyone else was a polytheist! Under this guise, he said that killing the Ahle Sunnah was permissible”.
(iv) , wrote in his book ‘Futuhat Al-Islamiyya’ (Vol. 2, Page 268).
QUOTE - ‘The sign of the Khawarij (the first deviant sect that appeared during the time of the Companions of Prophet Mohammad -SAWS) concerning the shaving of the head (he was referring to a famous Hadith of Prophet Mohammad –SAWS) was not found in the Khawarij of the past, but only in the Najdis of our time!’ - UNQUOTE
(v) Shaikh Hussain Ahmad Al-Madani wrote in his book ‘Ash-Shihab As-Saqib’ (Page 42).
‘Ibn Abdul Wahhab arose in the beginning of the thirteenth Islamic century in Najd. His thinking was false, and his beliefs were corrupt; on these grounds he opened the way for killing of Ahle Sunnah’.
(vi) A more contemporary view on the Wahhabism has been expressed by Abdul Hakim Murad in the Journal Islamica (Page - 9).
‘Ibn Abdul Wahhab, however, went far beyond this (Ibn Taymiyya). Raised in the wastelands of Najd in Central Arabia, he had little access to mainstream Muslim scholarship. In fact, when his Da'wah appeared and became notorious, the Scholars and Muftis of the day applied to it the famous Hadith of Najd: Ibn Umar (RU) reported the Prophet (SAWS) as saying: ‘Oh God, bless us in our Syria; O God, bless us in our Yemen’. Those present said: ‘And in our Najd, O Messenger of God!’ But he said, ‘O God, bless us in our Syria; O God, bless us in our Yemen’. Those present said, ‘And in our Najd, O Messenger of God!’ Ibn Umar said that he thought that he said on the third occasion: ‘Earthquakes and dissensions (Fitnah) are there, and there shall arise the horn of Satan (Qiranish Shaitan)’ (Sahih Al-Bukhari). And it is significant that almost uniquely among the lands of Islam, Najd has never produced scholars of any repute.’
(vii) A well known scholar of the Salafis, Dr. Yusuf Al-Qardawi wrote in his book ‘Islamic awakening between Rejection and Extremism’ (page - 42).
QUOTE - ‘One of the causes of such shallowness is that extremists (Wahhabis) never listen to people who hold different views (and I can personally testify to that), never accept any dialogue with them or imagine that their own views could be tested in the light of others, and may thereby be either accepted or rejected. Most of them have not been taught by reliable Muslim Ulama who are specialized in the field. Rather, they have received semi-knowledge directly from books and newspapers without any opportunity for revision or discussion which could test the learner's understanding and analyze the depth of his knowledge. They simply read, 'understand', then deduce what they wish. However, their reading, understanding, and deduction may well be wrong or deficient. There might be someone somewhere who opposes their opinions on stronger and more valid bases, but they are not aware of that because nobody has drawn their attention to such a possibility. These devout young people have ignored the facts that if they want to study Shari'ah, they must seek the help of reliable Muslim scholars. They cannot venture into this extensive and entangled discipline without the guidance of reliable Muslim scholars who can interpret and explain obscurities, define terms, and point out the relationships between the parts and the whole and also equate similarities. Those who venture into it alone will meet with the same catastrophic results which could certainly befall the unskilled swimmer who ventures into dangerous waters. Proper knowledge of Shari'ah cannot be perfected without practice and close contact with the experts, especially in those areas where opinions diverge, evidences seem to contradict each other, and certain matters seem to be under suspicion. This is why our venerable 'Ulama' have warned us not to seek to study and understand Al Quran Al Karim through a person who has only memorized it without any knowledge of its contents, nor to seek knowledge through a person who has acquired his own "knowledge" from reading newspapers and journals only, without being properly instructed by reputable and qualified scholars’. UNQUOTE
On page 41, of his book ‘Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism’ Dr. Yusuf Al-Qardawi wrote.
Quote - ‘Imam al-Shatibi (R) wrote ( in his book Al-I'tisam, 2. 182-4) - 'Ibn Abbas (RU) was right. When a person knows the reason behind certain Verse or Surah, he knows how to interpret it and what its objectives are. However, ignorance of that leads people to misinterpret it and to have different opinions, without an insight and knowledge which could lead them to the truth and prevent them from indulging ignorantly in such matters with no support or evidence from Shari'ah, and therefore go astray and lead people astray.
This can be demonstrated by what is reported by Ibn Wahab from Bakir. Once Bakir asked Nafi'; What does Ibn Umar (RU) think of Al-Haruriyyah (Khawarij who were also called Al-Haruriyyah after the place Harawra, where they gathered and were found by Hazrat Ali -RU and others?)
Nafi' answered: He thinks they are the most evil of people. They applied the verses which pertain to the kuffar on the believers.’ Unquote.
Bukhari ® also recorded Ibn Umar (RU) as saying (Sahih Bukhari - vol.9, pg.50; English Edn) These people ( the Khawarij and heretics ) took some verses that had been revealed concerning the disbelievers and interpreted them as describing for the believers.
Many scholars have noticed the extreme tendencies in Salafis for lack of respect for the Imams of Islamic Jurisprudence – Hanafi, Shafe’i, Maliki and Hanbali. They also noticed the extreme tendencies in their Islamic beliefs and untenable juristic positions they have produced. These scholars came to the conclusion that Salafis look like Neo Kharijites in their behavior and attitude towards other Muslims. This is because they seem to have certain traits which were only found amongst the Kharijites of the past. One of the most striking things noticed in these Neo Kharijites, is their direction of Quranic verses that were revealed specifically for the unbelievers. They use these verses on Muslims. This was a well known practice of the past Kharijites.
The Neo Kharijite nature of Salafis makes them intolerant of all other forms of Islamic expression. Since, they do not have any coherent Fiqh, they reject the four prominent Imams of Islamic Jurisprudence. They try to derive the Shari'ah and the Aqidah (belief) from Quran and the Hadith by themselves. And they do not consider it necessary to study Quran and Hadith under the watchful eyes of Ulama and Shuyooks of Ihsan. The results are there for everyone to see. Look at the state of affairs of Muslims throughout the world. Look how the Muslim society is divided today. Look at the horrendous state of divisions and conflicts which has mutilated salafi Islamist movement in the world today. New groups of Salafis are coming up in every part of the world. New sub divisions are emerging on weekly basis. A few of their prominent sub divisions are, Ahle Hadith, Dev Bandis, Jama’at-e-Islami, Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jama’at, Talibaan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, etc. These divisions are splitting the Muslim society into bits and pieces. This has resulted in abuse of Muslims in the hands of selfish people in power in many countries. Look at how they are being treated around the Globe. Look how Muslim countries are falling prey to anarchy one after another.
It is a clear indication that Allah (SWT) and His Apostle Mohammad (SAWS) are angry. We need to think about these facts and correct ourselves and seek Allah’s (SWT) forgiveness for the wrong faiths and deeds that are unchecked and uncontrolled in our society.