A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Wahabees

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WAHABEES or WAHABITES, a sect of religionists founded by Abdoulwehhab, about a century ago. He received an orthodox education at Medina, but early formed the design of reforming the Mahometan religion. As his scheme of reform was not likely to gain ground in Mecca or Medina, where interest furnished obvious motives for maintaining the ancient rites and customs, he began his career among the wandering Bedouin Arabs of the Desert. The sword was the weapon he made use of to promulgate his religion.

With regard to the religious tenets of this sect, their founder, while acknowledging fully the authority of the Koran, professed obedience only to the literal text of this book; rejecting all additions of the Imans and doctors of law, and condemning various practices of the Mahometans, which he supposed had sullied the purity of the faith.

The period of the reform of Abdoulwehhab may be reckoned from 1747.

As his design was to receive only the texts of the Koran, he annulled many rites, and renounced many opinions generally received by the Mahometans. For instance, every good mussulman believes, that after the death and burial of the prophet, his soul reunited itself to his body, and ascended to Paradise, mounted upon the mare of the angel Gabriel, named El Borak, the head and neck of which were of a fine form.

This event, indeed, is not an article of faith; but every mussulman, who did not believe it, would be looked upon as an infidel, and treated as such. Abdoulwehhab asserted, that the mortal remains of the prophet continued in the sepulchre the same as those of other men.

Among the Mussulmans it is customary to inter those, who have obtained the reputation of being virtuous, or saints, in a private sepulchre, more or less ornamented after their death, and to build a chapel over it, where their protection is invoked for the supplicant, and God is supposed to befriend their intercession.

Already had the well-informed mussulmans begun to despise these superstitions secretly, though they seemed to respect them in the eyes of the people. But Abdoulwehhab declared boldly, that this species. of worship rendered to the saints was a very grievous sin in the eyes of the Divinity, because it was giving him companions. In consequence of this his sectaries have destroyed the sepulchres, chapels, and temples, elevated to their honour.

In virtue of this principle Abdoulwehhab forbids veneration or devotion to the person of the prophet as a very great sin. This does not prevent him from acknowledging his mission; but he pretends he was no more than another man, before God made use of him to communicate his divine word to men, and, that when his mission was at an end, he became an ordinary man.

It is on this account that the reformer has forbidden his followers to visit the tomb of the prophet at Medina. When they speak of it, instead of making use of the form employed by other mussulmans, namely, " Our Lord Mahomet," or "Our Lord the Prophet of God," they only say Mahomet.

The grand doctrine of this sect is the unity of God. Their confession of faith is, "there is no other God than God ; Mahomet is the Prophet of God." Their public criers made this profession of faith to be heard in all its extent, from the top of the minarets of Mecca, which they have not destroyed, as well as the temple, which was under their dominion. They call themselves mussulmans by way of eminence, and when they speak of Islamites, they understand only by that word the persons of their sect, which they look upon as the only orthodox. They esteem the Turks, and other Mahometans as schismatics; but they do not treat them as idolaters, or infidels.

Abdoulwehhab never offered himself as a prophet, as has been supposed. He only acted as a learned Sheik reformer, who was desirous of reducing the Mahometan religion to the primitive simplicity of the Koran.

The religious services of this sect are performed in the open sky, and not below the roofing of a mosque. They once gained possession of Mecca and Medina. The former was taken in 1802, the latter in 1804. After they had conquered Arabia, they became formidable neighbours to the Pacha of Egypt, who conducted the war against them with energy. By his strenuous exertions they were driven with loss from the Arabian coasts; Mecca, Medina, and Jedda were retaken and restored to the authority of the Porte and to the Mahometan worship. It does not, however, appear that this success is complete, or that its consequences will be permanent.[1]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Legh's Travels in Egypt, p.45. Travels of Ali Bey, vol. ii. p. 44, 52, 118. Jackson's Journey from India, 1797. Dunbar's Essays.