Contestation and Authority in Wahhabi Polemics

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Religion and Politics in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism and the State


When Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab launched his mission, he encountered stiff resistance from the ulama in Arabia and nearby lands. His views on monotheism and idolatry clashed with customary doctrine, so it was natural that scholars would refute them in epistles and treatises. According to the Saudi chronicles, his opponents chased him out of Basra and the Najdi town of Huraymila before he found political backing from the chief of Al-Uyayna. That backing proved short-lived and he had to move yet again, this time settling in Al-Diriyya, where he gained the support of its chief, Muhammad ibn Saud. In the next half century, ibn Abd al-Wahhab established his doctrine and implemented his vision of proper religious practice wherever Saudi power held sway. Indeed, he purged Najd of ulama opposed to his teaching and installed in their place men loyal to his doctrine. In achieving doctrinal hegemony, the Wahhabi movement forged a distinctive religious tradition that marked a rupture with Najd’s historical tradition of religious scholarship and that built up its own mechanisms for asserting and maintaining its authority.


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