In previous posts, I wrote mainly about Sufism and how Sufi groups can become cultic. This post is about Wahhabism / Salafism. I do not think that all the Wahhabi groups are cultic, but I think that there are some cultic groups among them.
As always, I do not promote any beliefs or practices of Islam, including Sufism and Wahhabism. I write these posts only with educational purpose.
Wahhabism is called this way after Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab ibn Sulaiman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid at-Tamimi (1703-1792) who lived and preached in Arabia. "Wahhab" was a part of his name, however, "Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab" means "Muhammad, son of Al-Wahhab's slave." Al-Wahhab is one of 99 names of Allah and means "the Giver." Since Al-Wahhab is one of the names of Allah and cannot be used for a human being, Wahhabis do not like to be called this way. They call themselves "Salafis" because the main idea of Wahhabism / Salafism is returning to the original and pure Islam. Originally, the word "Salafis" means "first three generations of Muslims" who were the most righteous Muslims according to hadiths (sayings of Muhammad). Other Muslims refuse to call Wahhabis "Salafis" exactly because they do not consider them to be righteous Muslims.
The most important book by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab is Kitab at-Tawhid (The Book of the Oneness of Allah). Its English version is available in Internet in the text form and in the audio. The main ideas of Kitab at-Tawhid are: purification of Islam and coming back to Quran and Sunnah, worship and prayer requests only to Allah, prohibition of innovations, prohibition of a number of things that can lead to polytheism.
Thus, one of the most important teachings of Wahhabism is strict monotheism in both belief and practice. According to Wahhabism, there are three kinds of the oneness of Allah:
1. Oneness in lordship: Allah is the only creator and sustainer of everything and everyone. All the events take place only by Allah's will.
2. Oneness in worship: all the worship should be only to Allah.
3. Oneness in names: Allah has many names and attributes which are different from names and attributes of everything and everybody.
In principle, all the Sunni Muslims believe in these three points, but they often practice things which Wahhabis consider to be violation of the second point. For example, many Muslims direct their prayers to Muhammad and righteous Muslims, considering them as mediators between themselves and Allah. They also have some special holy places such as tombs of Muslim saints (awliya), special holy times such as some feast nights, and special objects which supposedly give grace such as clothes of awliya. Wahhabis consider all these practices as shirk (polytheism). The word "shirk" means "equaling somebody or something with Allah." So, they think that when Muslims pray to Muhammad or awliya, they perform the act of worship to these people because prayer is a kind of worship, but all the worship should be directed to Allah. Therefore, they consider such practices shirk while in Islam shirk is an extremely serious sin. It makes a person disbeliever and unless a person repents and stops shirk, he or she will be in hell forever. Because of this, Wahhabis accuse other Muslims of disbelief and this is one of the causes of their enmity with other Muslims.
Another important idea in Wahhabism is return to the original Islam. They blame other Muslims for various innovations and say that all the innovations are sinful. They support this statement with a hadith that prohibited innovations. Other Muslims quote another hadith that allows good innovations, but Wahhabis consider this hadith false. There are many things in Islam that Wahhabis consider innovations and therefore forbidden, for example, celebration of Muhammad's birthday.
Sunni Muslims usually follow one of the two schools in theology (Ashariyya and Maturidiyya) and one of the four schools in Muslim law (Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali). They believe that it is necessary to follow one of these schools because it is important to follow Muslim scholars who had a lot of knowledge of Islam. Wahhabis deny this principle of following. They say that Muslims should either always switch between the four schools or make conclusions by themselves on the basis of Quran and Sunnah.
Thus, Wahhabis (unlike other Sunni Muslims) allow lay Muslims to interpret Quran and Sunnah by themselves and to make independent decisions regarding Muslim law. Wahhabis use literal interpretation of Quran and oppose Muslim theologians, especially Sufis, who use allegoric interpretations. Wahhabis use quite simple rules of interpreting Quran: in order to interpret an ayah (verse in Quran), they use its context, other ayahs, hadiths, sayings of Muhammad's companions, grammar and lexicography of Arabic. Also, they pay much attention to what they call authentic Sunnah. In Islam, there is a special science that deals with hadiths. Each hadith was narrated from one person to another before it was written. Depending on the lines of narrators, some hadiths are considered reliable, some good, and some weak. Sunni theologians usually do not allow to use weak hadiths to support doctrines of belief, but allow to use them to support practices of worship and other things related to the Muslim law. Wahhabis insist that weak hadiths should never be used.
Unlike Sufis, Wahhabis do not have much respect for authorities and criticize Sufis for their very respectful attitude to their sheikhs. They do not have Sufi practices such as zikr and nashids. They consider these things as forbidden innovations. However, in my opinion, Wahhabi groups also have some potential to become cultic.
I think it is interesting that there are some similarities between Christian fundamentalism (fundamentalist evangelicalism) and Muslim fundamentalism (Wahhabism), for example:
1. Both proclaim their exclusiveness and condemn the outside world and other Christians or Muslims respectively.
2. Both claim that they purify their religion from the wrong teachings and practices.
3. Both proclaim that they are based purely on the scriptures of their religion, that is, the Bible or Qur'an and authentic Sunnah.
4. Both state the importance of the right beliefs for salvation.
5. Both pay much attention in propagation of their religion (Christians call it evangelism, Muslims call it Da'wah).
Christian fundamentalist groups have a tendency to become cultic. I think their main problems are their "elite thinking," "us versus them thinking," and separation from the world and other Christians. Wahhabis have similar things and I think it is these things that may make Wahhabi groups cultic.