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Last Updated: 2011/09/11
Summary of question
What are the Wahabi beliefs and their criticisms against Shia?
I am a film writer writing a film presently with the aim of promoting Islamic unity and solidarity. I need to know the Wahabi beliefs and their objections against Shia?
Concise answer

Wahabis are the followers of Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab who was the follower of the school of Ibn Taymiyah. His student, Ibn Qayyim, established and introduced new beliefs in the Arabian Peninsula. Wahabism is one of the newly-invented Islamic sects with followers in Saudi Arabia and some other countries like Pakistan and India. According to them, turning to the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a) for help, visiting and respecting the graves of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) are bid'ah (innovation) and idolatrous. They do not allow greeting the Prophet except in prayers because they consider his death in this world to be an end to all kinds of reverences and commemorations which may possibly be extended to him. They are opposed to all kinds of domes and structures on the graves of the Imams and religious saints considering such things as bid'ah. They believe that the Holy Prophet (s) was a human being with all physical weaknesses and vulnerabilities. According to them, the Prophet passed away; he is no longer alive and he has no knowledge of this world and what is taking place in it. Therefore, they are strictly opposed to visiting the Prophet's grave.

According to Wahabis, no one is a monotheist and a believer of the One God unless he avoids the above. It should be noted that these extremist beliefs have been dealt with and criticized by many scholars from the Shia and Sunni sects.

Detailed Answer

Wahabis are the followers of Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab bin Sulayman al-Najdi (1115 – 1206) a follower of the school of Ibn Taymiyah. His student, Ibn Qayyim, established and spread new beliefs in the Arabian Peninsula. The name of this sect is derived from his father's name, Abdul Wahhab[1].

Wahabism is one of the newly-invented Islamic sects with followers in Saudi Arabia and some other countries like Pakistan and India.

Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah referring to the books authored by Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab and other Wahabis writes in his book "This is the Wahabism" as such:

"According to Wahabis, no human being is a monotheist and Muslim unless he avoids certain things [as shall be mentioned later on].[2] All Muslims believe that whosoever recites the Shahadatain (Two Testimonies) is treated as a Muslim and his blood and property are honored but the Wahabis say that words without actions are of no value and that whoever recites the Shahadatain and seeks help from the dead is an infidel and a polytheist. Hence his blood and property are halal to other Muslims.

Wahabism is the official religion in Saudi Arabia and the verdicts of the Wahabi scholars are enforced and carried out by the state. When it comes to the Shari'ah law and secondary rules, they follow the teachings of Ahmad bin Hanbal objecting none of the followers of the four religions (Hanafi, Shafe'i, Hanbali and Maleki). Their criticisms are directed towards Shia and Zaidiyah.[3]

Before explaining the beliefs of the Wahabi sect, we shall now give a brief introduction about polytheism or what is called shirk in Arabic: Literally, shirk means something owned, divided, felt or experienced by two people.[4] However, shirk according to Quran means to consider a partner for the One God or to worship more than one god. The term hanif (upright) means getting inclined towards what is right and true. Since the monotheists are opposed to polytheism and are inclined to worship only one God, they are said to be hanif.

God, the Exalted says in the Holy Quran to His Prophet: Say: "Verily, my Lord hath guided me to a way that is straight,- a religion of right,- the path (trod) by Abraham the true in Faith, and he (certainly) joined not gods with Allah."[5]

Also, He also says: "And, (O Muhammad) set thy purpose resolutely for religion, as a man by nature upright, and be not of those who ascribe partners (to Allah)."[6]

As can be clearly inferred from the above verses, shirk is the opposite of a monotheistic religion. In order for one to know what is shirk, he should know the true religion because one of the ways to know things is to know their opposites. In a nutshell, shirk is opposed to monotheism. In the same way that monotheism is divided into many types, shirk also consists of various types.

Shirk is divided in a general way into two types: 1 – Shirk in belief; 2 – Shirk in action. Shirk in belief (or ideological polytheism) is by itself divided into three types:

1. Shirk in divinity: Belief in a deity other than God featuring all the attributes of perfection and beauty. Such a belief amounts to disbelief (kufr).[7] For this reason, God says in the Holy Quran: "Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely, Allah-- He is the Messiah, son of Marium."[8]

2. Shirk in creatorship: Shirk in creatorship means believing in two independent sources of creation in the sense that both of them are effectively involved in creating things as well as controlling the affairs of the world – just as the Zoroastrians believe in two separate sources: good (Yazdan) and evil (Devil).

3. Shirk in lordship: Shirk in lordship means believing in many different lords and in the fact that God is the Lord of all lords. That is to say, this type of shirk implies that the management of the world has been designated to each god independently of the other. The pagans during the period of Prophet Ibrahim (a) believed in multiple deities; some of them considered the stars as the controller of the universe; some considered the moon others considered the sun as the deity and controller of the universe.

Shirk in Action: Shirk in action is considered to be polytheistic in the state of obedience and devotion in the sense that man's submission and humility originate in the divinity, creatorship or lordship of those whom he holds reverence and respect for. These are the criteria and standards which are inferred from the Holy Quran. However, some sects including Wahabism have invented their own criteria and standards using them to accuse other Muslims of shirk i.e. polytheistic conducts.

According to us, the criteria which they have fixed for shirk are not valid in any way because their criteria are in conflict with the Quranic verses and the tradition of the Holy Prophet of Islam (s) and his noble successors (the twelve Imams).

Some of the Wahabi beliefs are briefly enumerated as under:

1. Belief in the unseen power of anyone other than God: They say that "if a person seeks help from the Prophet (s) or anyone other than him e.g. the infallibles and believes that they are aware of his situation, grant his wish and answer his call, he is a polytheist and such beliefs are considered to be amongst the greater shirk."[9]

2. Asking the dead to grant a wish: According to Wahabism, one of the types of shirk is to ask the dead for help and to seek their assistance in getting ones wish fulfilled – be they the prophets or the infallible Imams. This is the root cause of shirk in the world."[10]

3. Invocation and seeking intercession is a form of worship: They say that acts of worship are prerogative of God and dua is an act of worship. Therefore, turning to anyone other than God for help is shirk.[11]

4. Visitation of graves is shirk.

5. Seeking blessing from the shrines, graves etc. of the prophets and noble saints is shirk.

6. Commemorating and celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (s) is shirk.

7. Building structures or tombs on graves is shirk.

These self-created beliefs and criteria can be divided into two categories:

A) The Wahabis consider one category of these criteria and actions to be included in the ideological polytheism (shirk in beliefs) describing those actions as polytheistic.

It can be said in rejection of this category of their beliefs that if one believes in the unseen power and in the fact that God alone heals and grants the wishes etc. in the sense that such actions are originally ascribed to God and whatever others have are granted by God, the Exalted, such a belief is not shirk; because other agents have not been considered to be independent of God. In the definitions for shirk in divinity, shirk in creatorship and shirk in lordship, we said that all types of ideological shirk can take place only when one believes that a being other than God also has the attributes of perfection and beauty independently of Him, or that another being creates or controls the affairs of the world independently of the Lord. However, if his power is derived from God, then shirk does not have any meaning. Shia and also other Muslims believe that the Holy Prophet and his noble successors have supernatural power. That is, they can grant wishes or fulfill a request with God's permission. Is this belief polytheistic? If God grants His servant a high rank whereby he can do a supernatural action, would it be shirk?

B) The second category of actions which they consider to be polytheistic are the deeds which they consider to be acts of worship e.g. celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (s), erecting tombs over graves, kissing a burial chamber etc.

In reply to this belief of theirs, we say: "You have not understood the meaning of worship in its real sense. An act of worship has certain features and if those features are available, then that act of worship is prerogative of God. Worship means submission and humility which originate in the divinity, creatorship or lordship. Therefore, if the extended respect does not originate in such a belief, it cannot be an act of worship in any way. For this reason, in Sura-e Yusuf when God speaks of the prostration of Yusuf's brothers in front of him, He does not describe this action to be polytheistic because they (Yusuf's brothers) never regarded Yusuf as a deity, creator or lord.

Fortunately, vigilant Muslim scholars have dealt with all these self-created criteria. We let your common sense judge as to whether these doctrines can be consistent with one's God-gifted nature and the teachings of the Quran? Is this love of Ahlul-Bait which has been considered as the wage of Prophethood.[12] Has the Quran not said that the martyrs are alive and that they receive sustenance from God?[13] Is the Prophet's rank lower than that of the martyrs?

Today, some sects are considering shirk as a pretext for falsifying others' views and beliefs; they label others as polytheists describing their actions as unislamic and immoral whenever they find themselves weak, empty-handed and at a weaker position against others. Muslim scholars have rejected, however, their entire spurious and specious arguments.[14]

For further information in this regard, refer to the following books:

1.     Quranic Discussions on Monotheism and Polytheism by Ja'far Subhani

2.     Wahabism: Intellectual Foundations and Practical Record by Ja'far Subhani

3.     Dictionary of Islamic Sects by Muhammad Jawad Mashkoor

[1] - Mashkoor, Muhammad Jawad, Dictionary of Islamic Sects, pg.457 – 461.

[2] - Ibid.

[3] - Ibid.

[4] - Majma al-Bahrain, vol.5, pg.274; Al-Ain, vo.5, pg.293.

[5] - «قل اننی هدانی ربی الی صراط مستقیم دیناً قیماً ملة ابراهیم حنیفاً و ما کان من المشرکین» [Al-Anaam: 161]

[6] - «و ان اقم وجهک للدین حنیفاً و لاتکونن من المشرکین»  [Yununs: 105]

[7] - It has to be mentioned that all types of shirk result in disbelief and infidelity. Of course, you should note that we talk of disbelief (kufr), we mean both theological as well as jurisprudential disbeliefs.

[8] - «لقد کفرالذین قالوا ان الله هو المسیح بن مریم»، [Al-Maeda: 17]

[9] - A Collection of Binbaz's Verdicts, vol.2, pg.552.

[10] - Fath al-Majid, pg.68.

[11] - Al-Rad Alaa al-Rafidha (as quoted by Shiatology, Ali Asghar Rizwani, pg. 135 – 143).

[12] - Shura: 33

[13] - Aal-e  Imran: 169

[14] - Extracted from question: 978 (Beliefs of Wahabism).

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