Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad

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Until September 11, 2001 few Westerners had ever heard of "Wahhabism." Now most of us recognize the word as describing an austere and puritanical type of Islam, mentioned frequently in connection with Osama bin Laden and Saudi Arabia and often named as the inspiration behind the 9/11 terror attacks. The word "Wahhabi" stems from the name of the founder of this system of thought, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1702-1791), companion and religious adviser to Muhammad Ibn Saud, founder of the House of Saud. In this book Natana DeLong-Bas offers an in-depth study of the written works of al-Wahhab. She focuses on four areas: theology, legal theory, proselytizing through education and jihad, and law on women. Through a close reading of al-Wahhab's texts she demonstrates that many aspects of 20th- and 21st-century Wahhabi extremism do not have their origins in his writings. Examples of this extremism include the emphasis on jihad, martyrdom and militancy, and misogyny. The strict division of the world into dar al-Islam and dar al-kufr, according to which only Wahhabi adherents are considered to be true Muslims and all others are non-Muslims who must be fought, is entirely absent from al-Wahhab's work. Instead, argues DeLong-Bas, all of these themes were only added to Wahhabi teachings in the 19th century following armed engagement with the Ottoman Empire. DeLong-Bas's study fills an enormous gap in the literature about Wahhabism by returning to the original writings of the founder of the movement. She debunks the common journalistic portrayal of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab as an illiterate, rural bumpkin with no scholarly formation. Her revisionist reading of al-Wahhab's thought will be controversial but impossible to ignore. The book will be essential reading for students and scholars of Islam as well as for those interested in the background of this dangerous modern ideology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a well-regarded, logically constructed, and considered —if perhaps somewhat sympathetic—analysis of Abd al-Wahhab's beliefs, and therefore of the foundation of Wahhabism. The book is well researched, well written, totally accessible to the layperson —even enjoyable." —The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"A ground-breaking study; it is both controversial and informative and should be of particular interest to Middle East specialists, historians, and upper-level college students."-History

"...a lucid and carefully documented assessment of Wahhabism that, given what has previously been asserted by commentators and scholars alike is clearly revisionist...it should be required reading for all those really interested in understanding the Wahhabi revival."—Middle East Journal

"Natana DeLong-Bas has written a comprehensive and original analysis of the writings of the influential Arabian religious reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. She provides a convincing reinterpretation of this controversial thinkers beliefs, especially in regard to the status of women. DeLong-Bas sets out the religious foundations of the early Saudi kingdom while arguing that Osama bin Laden and other violent current-day Islamic extremists differ sharply from Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in their views of many aspects of the Muslim faith." —William Ochsenwald, co-author of The Middle East: A History

"Natana DeLong-Bas's extensive study of Wahhabism's founding father rejects the conventional idea that the movement is a radical departure from the mainstream of Islam. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab emerges as an original thinker whose views on jihad and women in particular are not extreme or fanatical but scholarly and moderate. By amassing so much evidence for her original interpretation of a rich intellectual vision at the core of Wahhabism, DeLong-Bas opens the way for historians to reconsider and revise the standard, perhaps mistaken, notions about it." —David Commins, author of Islamic Reform: Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria

"After the events of September 11, 2001 Wahhabi Islam became the focus of world attention. Disturbing questions were raised about its role within long-time U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, about its influence on Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and about its spread throughout the Muslim world and export to Europe and America. Natana DeLong-Bas has written a groundbreaking book that sets the standard for understanding the thought of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and its connection to the global jihad signaled by the 9/11 attacks. Her findings with respect to his teachings on issues of violence, holy war, women, religious tolerance, and reform fly in the face of past scholarship and of the militants who preach and practice a theology of hate in the name of Wahhabism. Wahhabi Islam is must reading for policymakers, scholars, the media, and the general public." —John L. Esposito, author of Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam and What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195333015
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,011,963
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Natana J. DeLong-Bas is senior research assistant at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. She is the author of Notable Muslims: A Biographical Dictionary (2004) and co-author of Women in Muslim Family Law revised edition, with John L. Esposito (2001). She has served as editor for and contributor to The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (OUP, 2003), and contributor to The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an (2004), and The Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (OUP, 2004). She is a frequent public speaker on Islam, Wahhabism, and Saudi Arabia.

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