By Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin

Translation by Umm Jaabir (

It is unfortunate that those known as devout or pious are actually very un-scholarly, though knowledge is the essence of Islam’s purity and authenticity. Of the qualities of being devoid of knowledge is to accuse others with baseless accusations when he is unable or refusing to answer questions raised by others. This mind-set is akin to the prevailing American government’s purview, which labels as terrorist any who criticizes them, albeit without any evidence.

The same phenomenon exists in Malaysia. If a person presents a religious opinion that is different than the common practice in Malaysia known to the local, traditional religious people, he will be labeled as a Wahhabi, even though he may not even have the slightest idea of what Wahhabi means. Nay, even the accusers rarely know the actual meaning of Wahhabi!

If we were to ask those who love to accuse others as Wahhabi, “Tell me, what is Wahhabi?” various answers will be uttered and heard. Some say Wahhabis are those who do not perform qunut in Fajr prayer.

If we were to tell them, “The other madhaahib (pl. madhhab (school of thought)) do the same. Then shall we call Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal and Imam Abu Hanifah as Wahhabis too?” They will only stay mum when posed with this question.

There are those who say, “Wahhabis do not perform tahlil.” We say, the meaning of tahlil is “Laa ilaaha illa Allah”, tahmid is “Alhamdulillah” and tasbih is “SubhanAllah”. According to our knowledge, the two imams (mentioned above) also uttered these words, because they would have been disbelievers otherwise. Besides, the imams in Saudi Arabia have excellent memorization of the Quran, and their recitations are listened to all over the world. Are these people disbelievers?

Some others say, “Wahhabis are those who studied in Saudi Arabia.” I say, I did not study in Saudi Arabia, but people still accuse me of Wahhabism. Also, if Wahhabi is truly deviated from the teachings of Islam, are Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi resided and led by the deviants then? Others also say that, “Wahhabi is a sect that do not subscribe to a madhhab.” We tell them that Saudi Arabia, which they accused of Wahhabism, subscribes to the Hanbali madhhab.

The more intelligent ones say, “Wahhabis are those who follow the teachings of Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhab,” hence the term Wahhabi for his followers. I say, throughout my rather brief experience, I am being accused as Wahhabi though I have only read a few of Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhab’s books.

For me, he was one of the prominent figure who benefited and sacrificed for the `ummah greatly. However, at the same time, he had his own weaknesses and mistakes. He was not one of the scholars of fiqh (jurisprudence), whose legal opinions were sought after; but he was himself a follower of the Hanbali madhhab. Also, he was not a scholar of hadith, such that al-Albani himself criticized him quite harshly. However, as a renowned person, he had his own contributions. Personally, I do not benefit a lot from him in terms of scholarly work. Nevertheless, his contributions cannot be denied and forgotten.

Dr Yusuf al-Qardhawi in his book, Fiqh al-Awlawiyyaat, praised him by saying:
“For al-Imām Muhammad bin `Abdul Wahhāb in the Arabian peninsula, `aqīdah (Islamic creed) was of his utmost importance in protecting the purity of tawhīd (oneness of Allah) which had been smeared and tainted by shirk (the act of ascribing partners to Allah). He had written books and treatises regarding this topic. He rose and carried the struggle through da`wah (inviting people to Islam), and was practical in destroying acts of shirk” (p. 263, Eqypt: Maktabah Wahbah)

In addition, Dr Wahbah al-Zuhaili also praised him when he said:
“A thing that is without a doubt in itself, realizing its actual truth, not intending to please others, will hold strong to the verse of the Noble Qur’ān:
“… do not deprive the people of their due…” [Surah Hūd 11:85];
that the bravest voice of truth, the greatest Islamic caller (dā`i) for islāh (reformation), in building the ummah, jihad (struggling) and guiding the Muslims to the way of the salafus sālih (pious predecessors) is the da`wah of Muhammad bin `Abd al Wahhāb in the 12th century Hijri. His objective was to revive (purify) the lives of the Muslims after being tarnished with various differences (khilāf), religious misunderstandings, bid`ah (religious innovations), and corruptions. Thus Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb was a leader of Islamic revivalism and reformation that was much anticipated, whom manifested the pure unadulterated `aqīdah..” (Dr Wahbah al-Zuhaili, p. 57-58, Risalah Mujaddid al-Deen fi Qarn al-Thaani `Ashr)

Furthermore, he honored him in many other occasions within the article. I am not sure whether other Muslim scholars who honor Muhammad ibn `Abdul Wahhab should be called Wahhabis or not?! Among the books that I have taught was a book of fiqh in the Shafi`i madhhab. I read al-Fiqh al-Manhaji `ala Mazhab al-Imam ash-Shafi`i as it is quite simple for the younger generation. However, when I discussed its contents, which are different than the current local practices, I am accused of Wahhabism.

However, this book (al-Fiqh al-Manhaji `ala Mazhab al-Imam ash-Shafi`i) is a book within the Shafi`i madhhab and the writers were scholars of Shafi`i madhhab such as as-Shaykh Mustafa Khin, as-Shaykh Mustafa al-Bugha, and `Ali as-Sharbaji. When I read some of the writings from the book,
“From the acts of bid`ah of the family of the deceased is to gather people and feed them, which is called (the celebration) of forty days and others. If the expenditure of the feast is from the inheritance (of the deceased) and if there exists among the inheritors those who have not reach puberty, then it is a strongly forbidden act. This is because it is eating from the wealth of the yateem (orphan) and decreasing the wealth of the children in a matter that is not in their interests. Included in committing this sinful act is those who invite to and eat (from the feast).” (1/263, Damsyik: Dar al-Qalam), I am accused of Wahhabism.

Are all writers Wahhabis then? They told me, “Do not read [that]! It is not the same with the local practices of the Shafi`i madhhab.” I asked: “Are there two Shafi`i madhhab?!” Very well, let us look at what was written in the old Malay transcripts. Shaykh Daud al-Fattani, rahimahullah (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Bughyah at-Talab:
“[and it is disliked and] furthermore, a bid`ah for the family of the deceased to prepare food and invite people to eat, whether it be before or after the burial, as practiced by many people, [and similarly, it is] disliked and an innovation for the invitees to accept such invitation.”

Such were also the words of as-Shaykh Muhammad Arshad al-Banjari in Sabil al-Muhtadeen. Similarly, al-Marbawi said in Bahr al-Mazi:
“Indeed, (it is) a disliked bid`ah” (7/130)

Are they then Wahhabis too?

When it was told that the local practice of Nisfu Sha`ban is not from the teachings of the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam, they said: “You are a Wahhabi!” Our reply is that this is not from the writings of Muhammad bin `Abdul Wahhab, rather this is the fatwa (religious verdict) of Dr. Yusuf al-Qardhawi when he was asked about Nisfu Sha`ban. He said:
“It has never been narrated from the Prophet, sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam, and his companions, radhiAllahu `anhum, that they gathered in the masjid to enliven the night of Nisfu Sha`ban by reading specific ad`iyah (pl. du`a) or performing specific salaah (prayer) like what we are seeing in some Muslim countries. Furthermore, in some countries, people gather on that night after the Maghrib prayer. They recite Yaseen and pray two raka`ah with the intention [or hope] of long life, and another two raka`ah for not being dependent on others, and then they read du`a that has never been recorded from the salaf (pious predecessors). It is an extremely long du`a that goes against the evidences from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and also contradicting in their meanings… the gathering (of Nisfu Sha`ban) like what we see and hear happening in some Muslim countries is a religious innovation and a newly created thing. We are supposed to perform ‘ibadah based on what is taught from the evidences [of the Qur’an and Sunnah]. All good lies in following the salaf, and evil lies in religious innovations [created] by those after them, and everything that is newly created is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance lies in the Hellfire. (Dr. Yusuf al-Qardhawi, Fatawa Mu`asarah, 1/382-3, Beirut: Dar Uli an-Nuha).

Is he a Wahhabi too??!

Al-Imam an-Nawawi (d. 676H) was one of the great scholars of the Shafi`i madhhab. In his time, he opposed the practice of reading the Qur’an loudly while carrying a janazah (body of the deceased). He said:
“Know that the correct and selected practice practiced by the salafus-saalih was to be quiet while carrying a janazah. Do not raise your voice with Qur’anic recitation, dhikr and others. The wisdom is clear, it is to calm the heart and collect the mind to think about things related to the janazah. Such is the preferred practice in that situation. Indeed, Abu `Ali al-Fudhayl ibn `Iyadh rahimahullah once said, which means: ‘Hold onto the path of guidance, do not feel defeated by the small number of people following it. Stay away from the path of misguidance, do not be fooled by the large number of the misguided ones.’ Verily, what is being done by the ignorant people in Damascus, which is to prolong the recitation of the Qur’an and other kinds of recitation on the deceased and to talk about that which is not related [to the deceased], these are haram (prohibited) according to the ijma` `ulama (consensus of the scholars). Indeed, I have explained the bad manners of qira’ah (Qur’anic recitation), its ugliness, the greatness of its prohibition and its sinfulness for those who refuse to act against it when they are able to repudiate it.” (An-Nawawi, Al-Adhkar, pg. 225-6, Damascus: Maktabah al-Ghazali)

I believe that if Imam an-Nawawi was alive today and was to make this statement, the zealots of the local cultures would also accuse him of Wahhabism, especially when they read the statement of Imam an-Nawawi, which agrees with the views of other scholars in the Shafi`i madhhab in rejecting the party or gathering due to a death in the family. He said:
“The [practice of] preparing food by the family of the deceased and inviting and calling others to it were not at all related from the Prophet, sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam. It is a detested innovation.” (An-Nawawi, al-Majmu` Sharh al-Mahazzab, 5/320, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr)

There are various examples that could be mentioned. However, it is important to understand that in our country, the accusation of Wahhabism is in fact a slander in most cases. It is usually a spin-off or a diversion from an unanswered issue. This really shows the poor akhlaq (mannerism) and behavior of the accusers; to taint someone’s image with neither proper knowledge nor concrete evidence. These people will be held responsible on the Day of Judgment for twisting facts without a slight feeling of fear of Allah.

Don’t they read what Allah says in Surah al-Hujurat verses 11 and 12, which means:

“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers. O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” [Surah al-Hujurat 49:11-12]

It is regrettable that the room for scholarly debate is converted into a space for vilifying others, especially when those involved are the religious personalities. We are supposed to limit ourselves to only facts and numbers, and stay away from throwing accusations without akhlaq. For example, we acknowledge that we took rulings from other than the Shafi`i madhhab in few cases. However, these are based on scholarly research or in reference to strong and valid opinions of other scholars. Even in Malaysia, many applied rulings are taken from other than the Shafi`i madhhab, especially in the area of Fiqh Mu`amalat.

An example is rulings related to Zakat in Malaysia. Nevertheless, it never means that we are insulting Imam as-Shafi`i. Sadly, there are parties who accused us of doing so, while I wrote about the greatness of Imam as-Shafi`i back in July 2004 in this magazine, as well as in my books. In fact, some even claimed that I intended to burn any madhhab-based manuscripts or books, and that this is Wahhabi. A`udhubillah! I seek refuge in Allah from all of these.

Indeed, Muhammad bin Salih al-`Ali spoke the truth when he said:
“It is a norm that fanaticism to a specific opinion or school of thought leads to harshness in dealings with people who contradict that opinions or school of thought. This happens to certain followers of fiqhi madhhab whose tongues are fast to speak ill of those who differed with them… The zealots are shielded from evaluating an issue with knowledge and being careful in his or her judgment. He sees nothing except the ugliness and mistakes of those different than him, hence leading him to be harsh and to criticize and hurt them…” (Muhammad bin Salih bin Yusud al-`Ali, Insaf Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama`ah, pg. 113-114, Jeddah: Dar al-Andalus al-Khadra’).

Many du`aat (pl. da`i) are disturbed with this repulsive manner. I, too, am frustrated and sympathize [with this problem]. It is even more frustrating when the accusers are those dubbed as members of an organization of religious scholars. However, I say to my humble self and other du`aat (pl. da`i) that are slandered, have patience.

The Messengers of Allah were slandered before, to the point that the Prophet, sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam, was accused as being a magician and a crazy person. Imam as-Shafi`i, rahimahullah, was accused as a supporter of Syi`ah in his time that he was punished because of it. Imam al-Bukhari, rahimahullah, was accused to have Mu`tazilite understanding with regard to the Qur’an, that he was expelled from his own village.

Such were the history and stories of the scholars; none escaped from the games of the envious and treacherous. Such is the requirement and the nature of da`wah, it calls for sincerity and sacrifice.

The day we commit ourselves to the da`wah to the way of Allah and His Messenger, sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam, we should expect the great challenges and trials. Without being accompanied by sincerity and intense love for Allah and His Prophet, sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam, we will fail one by one. Therefore, we have to realize this reality from the beginning. As we say, “If one fears to be carried away by the waves, then do not build a house by the shore”.

Some people claim that Wahhabis refuse to be tied to a particular madhhab. Subsequently, people who subscribe to other madhaahib in few matters are Wahhabis. We say that our highest respect and honor are with these madhaahib.

We do subscribe to the Shafi`i madhhab in many issues. Nevertheless, the accusers are, as described by Dr. Yusuf al-Qardhawi:

“Those who are infatuated [with subscribing to a specific madhhab] do not allow its followers to exit from it, even when it is clear to its adherents that the evidences used are inauthentic. This is then extended to conclude that those who leave a madhhab are weak-hearted. In essence, this is making obligatory something that Allah does not make obligatory. It seems that they think that the Imams of these schools of thought have the power to make the Shari`ah and that their words are religious evidences that are held and could never be challenged or disputed. This, in reality, conflicts the very teachings of those Imams, for verily, they have prohibited people from blindly following them or other people. This also disagrees with the stance of the salaf of this `ummah – the Companions, radhiAllahu ‘anhum ajma`een, and those who follow them through the earlier decades which were the best of decades and the closest to the guidance of the Prophet, sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam. Thus, the great scholars of this ummah and the researchers (muhaqqiq) oppose the act of blindly following a madhhab, as it is similar to the action of the People of the Book who took their monks and priests as their gods besides Allah.” (Dr Yusuf al-Qardhawi, Al-Sahwah al-Islamiyyah bain al-Ikhtilaf al-Masyru` wa al-Tafarruq al-Mazlum, pg. 202, Cairo: Dar al-Sahwah).

Perhaps they should include al-Qardhawi in their Wahhabi list just like how the Americans claimed of him.

In the field of hadith, we talk about what is called by the scholars of hadith as “to invalidate or to prove some of the hadith practiced by our society as fabricated”. For example, we quote the commentaries of scholars on Ihya `Ulum ad-Deen, not to degrade Imam al-Ghazali in any manner, but for our own reminders. Sadly, those who do not fear Allah accuse us of thinking that we are more knowledgeable than Imam al-Ghazali.

I am quoting what is published in my book, Menangkis Pencemaran Terhadap Agama dan Tokoh-tokohnya (Deflecting Adulterations on the Religion and Its Scholars), in early 2004. As an example here, we will talk about Ihya `Ulum ad-Deen written by Imam al-Ghazali, rahimahullah (d. 505H) in specific. This is because, it is the most prominent [book] and is often used in our society.

We have to realize that this book is not the only book that contains inauthentic and fabricated ahadith (pl. hadith), for there are many other books with the same problem. To criticize the inauthentic and fabricated ahadith in this book does not at all indicate that we deny the contribution of the writer as well as the noble values it contains. As a respected figure, it is undeniable that al-Ghazali had his own contributions.

Nevertheless, this does not allow us to hide the truth. We pray for the forgiveness and mercy of Allah on him and us. But the question of truth and knowledge should be explained. Allah says:

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” [Surah al-Ma’idah 5:135]

As mentioned by al-Hafidh adh-Dhahabi (d. 748H) when commenting on the mistakes in Ihya `Ulum ad-Deen:
“I say: al-Ghazali was a great imam, but it is not among the requirement of a great scholar to be free from mistake.” (Adh-Dhahabi, Siyar `Alam an-Nubala’, 19/339, Beirut: Muassasah ar-Risalah)

It is an established fact for anyone who studies the sciences of Hadith that Imam al-Ghazali was not an expert in the field of hadith, except for those who have no knowledge in this matter.

So much so that Taj ad-Deen as-Subki (d. 771H, a scholar in the Shafi`i madhhab), who defended Imam al-Ghazali staunchly in his book, at-Tabaqaat, too acknowledged this fact. He said:
“What is considered as a defect in the book al-Ihyaa was the weakness of some of its ahadith because al-Ghazali was not known as an expert in the field of hadith.” (Taj al-Din al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Syafi`yyah al-Kubra, 3/449, Beirut :Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah)

Let us look at some of the commentaries by the scholars of hadith of this ummah on Ihyaa `Ulum ad-Deen:

• Al-Hafidh Imam Ibn Katheer (d. 774H) in his book, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah, said: “when I was in Damsyik and Bait al-Maqdis, al-Ghazali wrote his book, Ihyaa `Ulum ad-Deen, which is a strange book. It contains immense knowledge on the religion, in addition to the softness of Tasawwuf and the practices of the heart. However, it also contains numerous Ghareeb (odd), Munkar (denied) and fabricated ahadith.” (Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, 12/186, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah)

• Al-Hafidh Imam Ibn al-Jawzee (d. 597H) said: “Then came Abu Hamid al-Ghazali who wrote the book al-Ihyaa for the Sufi sects based on their principles. He filled his book with inauthentic ahadith while he did not know its falsehood.” (Ibn Jauzi, Talbis Iblis, pg. 190, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah)

• Al-Hafidh Imam adh-Dhahabi said: “Indeed, Ihyaa contains a number of inauthentic ahadith. If it does not include any manners, ways and Zuhd taken from the philosophers and deviated Sufi sects, it does have in it numerous benefits. We ask from Allah for beneficial knowledge. Do you know what is beneficial knowledge? It is what is stated in the Qur’an and explained by the Prophet sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam with his words or actions.” (Adh-Dhahabi, Siyar `Alam al-Nubala’, 19/339)

• Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 728H) said: “Abu Hamid (al-Ghazali) does not have expertise in the ahadith of the Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wasallam and the narrations of the salaf like the experts in these fields. They are able to differentiate between the authentic and inauthentic. Therefore, al-Ghazali mentioned fabricated and false ahadith and athar (sayings of the companions and the salaf) in his books, in which if he were to know about them, he would not have mentioned them.” (Ibn Taimiyyah, Dar`u Ta`arud al-`Aql wa al-Naql, 7/149, Riyadh: Dar al-Kunuz al-Adabiyyah).

Some then say, well, there are many other important issues [to focus on]. We say to that, alhamdulillah (all praises due to Allah), by Allah’s permission, we are among the earliest to address many important scholarly issues in this country, such as liberal Islam, Astora, Syi`ah and others.

We have numerous writings on those issues, and those are side issues that were discussed in order to answer questions addressed by the new generation who reads abundantly. However, your ears only hear that which you hate and are muted to that which you love. We ask for the forgiveness of Allah for us and for you.

Therefore, let us stay away from accusing and slandering others for these are signs of poor akhlaq and lowly personality. We are not as sad if the one who did it is “Shahrir Long”, but we will be very frustrated if the religious people, who should have good mannerism and self-dignity, are the ones that succumb to this.

Perhaps there are people who really want to be known as Wahhabi. But for us, we will say millions of time and more: “No to Wahhabi”.

Yes for Shafi`i, yes for Hanbali, yes for Maliki, yes for Hanafi, as long as there is no extremism and fanaticism. But “No to Wahhabi” for it does not have enough foundation to be indoctrinated as a school of thought.

This article was published in “Majalah i” by Karangkraf.