Wahabism

The first great modern expression of the awakening of the Arab Islam in the 18th century which inspired many political-religious movements fighting against Turkish domination and the influence of the European powers.

Its founder, Mohamed Ibn Abd-al-Wahab, was born in 1703 near Riyadh. He preached an uncompromising Islam, casting out all the precepts after the third century of Hegira and interpreting the Quran in its most severe form. Rising up against the loosening of moral standards and foreign influences, he converted Mohamad Ibn-Saud, from Dehriya, who quickly established himself as the monarch of the Nedj. His successors conquered the greatest part of what is today Saudi Arabia. Opposed to any form of idolatry, they destroyed the shrines of Kerbala (Shiite city nowadays in Iraq) in 1802, of Mecca in 1803 and of Medina in 1805. They were however defeated in 1811 by the army of the Egyptian Ottoman ruler Mehemed Ali who acted on behalf of Turkey and was equipped with European weapons. As a result the Holy cities came again under Ottoman rule.

Relying on warriors-preachers, the Ikhwans (« Brothers » in Arabic), Wahabism remained a living force in the centre of the peninsula, the conquest of which it resumed at the beginning of the 20th century under the leadership of Ibn Saud. After Hedjaz and the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina were subjugated – which drove the Hashemite family into exile – Wahabism led in 1932 to the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ibn Saud could only achieve this by eliminating the Ikhwans who refused any introduction of modernity and declined any negotiation which would have put a limit to their expansion.

The influence of Wahabism on Islam was very important – notably through the Muslim Brothers – and has continually been developing until now. It is the basis of Saudi legitimacy and the cement of the Beduin society in which it compensated for the lack of national feeling.

The only other Wahabi state is Qatar.