First, this book is not about modern politics of terrorism or jihadi war or whatever, but it is about Ibn al-Wahhab and his writings.
Although the previous reviewer makes some very important points that call into doubt some of the author's choices of sources, I still feel that this is a very dynamic and thorough brush on this topic.
First, the book does not pretend to discuss the merits of those extremists who think they are or are labeled "Wahhabists" in the modern world, nor does it discuss what others currently view or percieve "Wahhabism" to be. Thankfully, such topics are not considered as they are highly political.
What is considered is the views, rulings, and opinions of the man who founded what is today, in my opinion, not "Wahhabism", but simply a more unifying and simplistic view of Islamic belief. The books demonstrates that the term "Wahhabism" is a complex term, and that the ideas of Ibn al-Wahhab were quite well developed. He was not an extremist or fundamentalists or zealot, but simply a religious interpreter who's views are often misunderstood. The books also shows, through its in-depth discussion of Wahhab's views, that the extremist and militant movements of today often labeled or known as "Wahhabism" should be called, and the author has firmly convinced me of this, Tamiyaism, who was a medieval islamic scholar that is cited by extremists as much as Wahhab.
I do not pretend to be a scholar on Islamic theology and thought, but this book is a great source for understanding the foundation beliefs of Islam and the interpreting view of Ibn al-Wahhab. He was a man that was principly concerned with "shirk", which was considered falsely believing in something. This was a concern similar to the iconoclast in Eastern Byzantine Orthodox in the middle ages. Here an example that concerned Wahhab was muslims praying to a certain tree, which he regarded as praying to something other than god.
The author writes very fluidly and does cite from Wahhab's works extensively and also does an analysis of Wahhab's own citations of preceeding islamic scholars in his original works, highlighting who he most often agreed/disagreed with.
I highly recommend this book for people with at least a basic understanding of Islamic thought such as Hadiths, Surahs, Fiqh, and the doctrine of Tawhid and even Sufiism and its veils.
I encourage the other reviewer to at least suggest some more books on the topic that can further clarify this topic.
Natana J. Delong-Bas's book, "Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad," which purportedly explains Wahhabism "accurately" and dispels "myths" propagated by "polemics" of all colors, media pundits and all, is a rather welcome contribution - or so it seems, at first glance. The three-page Introduction portrayed several people - including Stephen Schwartz (footnote 1,7,9,11), Khaled Abou El Fadl (footnote 3), and myself (footnote 6) -- as examples of misinformed individuals, in the least, who portrayed Wahhabism inaccurately in their works. To the author, their anti-Wahhabi rhetoric, like many others, flew in the face of the facts that she allegedly gathered in her more than 300 pages of research, much of it translated into English for the first time. Delong-Bas's point: Wahhabism just isn't the scary monster it is said to be. Maybe it really was a "pathbreaking" (Oxford Press), "groundbreaking" (John L. Esposito), endeavor, I thought.
Could the portrayal of Wahhabism as intolerant and fanatical by hundreds, maybe thousands, of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, authors, activists, students, etc. in 200+ years past be flawed? Should their positions be construed merely as a load of sophisticated/polemical gobbledygook? Does the author really open "the way for historians to reconsider and revise the standard, perhaps mistaken, notions about it" (David Commins)? One need not go to far into the book to answer such questions. Because of the author's main sources, the book fails miserably as a work of diligent scholarship.
In the Preface,Delong-Bas says: "Thanks are due to Faisal bin Salman, Abd Allah S. al-Uthaymin, and Dr. Fahd al-Semmari, Director of the King Abd al-Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for making the full corpus of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab's works available to me [...]." This same research foundation was also one of three sources that provided "financial support" for her book. What follows is a brief description of who the author is thanking.
The Foundation is named after King Abd al-Aziz (1902-1953), the Wahhabi founder of Saudi Arabia who slaughtered non-Wahhabi Muslims (and even Wahhabi Muslims of the Ikhwan) in his path to "victory".
Abd Allah S. al-Uthaymin, a Wahhabi, is the author of "History of Saudi Arabia: From the Movement Reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab to King Abd al-Aziz."
Faisal bin Salman, known as "H.R.H. (His Royal Highness)" in Saudi Arabia, is one of the princes of the Wahhabi Al-Sa'ud monarchy. Somehow, Delong-Bas (Oxford Press?) did not add the "H.R.H." acronym before the prince's name in the Preface -obviously a part of the book read by many. However, she remembered to add the acronym in a tiny-lettered footnote #8 (Introduction) hidden well in the back of the book that few readers would perhaps bother to read. Why did Delong-Bas/Oxford Press do this? Were they trying to hide something?
Dr. Fahd al-Semmari, a Wahhabi, was deputy secretary of the kingdom's 100th Anniversary Committee, in addition to his current role as general director of the King Abd al-Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives. The foundation's mandate is to glorify the heritage of Saudi Arabia, including Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab who is a part of the heritage.
On page 14, Delong-Bas states the four main sources of biographical information of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab:
(1) contemporary chronicles written by his supporters, the most important of whom were Husayn Ibn Ghannam and Uthman Ibn Bishr; (2) polemical works written by his opponents, the most important of whom was Ahmad bin Zayni Dahlan; (3) accounts written by Western travelers to Arabia; and (4) Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's own written works.
She then says, "Of all of these accounts, the chronicles contain the most biographical information and are considered to be the most accurate in terms of biographical information because of the proximity of the writers to their subjects."
Does close proximity to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab/"subjects" necessarily mean the sources will be the "most accurate in terms of biographical information"? Common sense says no because Ibn Ghannam and Ibn Bishr are clearly stated to be Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's "supporters". It's like contacting a pro-Nazi foundation for a biography of Adolph Hitler, and portraying sources by Hitler's admirers as the "most accurate" because they were among the closest in "proximity" to him. Is there not a high possibility that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's "supporters" mainly focused on his peaceful biographical aspects, and concealed his more extremist/jihadist aspects? Is it not possible that they, like any other supporter, would care to cast the biography of a man they like in a positive manner than in a negative manner? Common sense, again, says: In all likelihood.
There is, in fact, a high probability of inaccuracy from those sources, though this somehow escapes Delong-Bas's mind. Moreover, according to my count, the author has footnoted Ibn Ghannam only 4 times, but Ibn Bishr no less than 45 times, meaning that the bulk of "most accurate" biographical information of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab comes almost entirely from one source - again, from a pro-Wahhabi. How, then, can Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's biography, as presented in Delong Bas's book, be taken seriously by any objective scholar? It cannot.
While pro-Wahhabis are used as "most accurate" sources, information from Wahhabi opponents "has not been used extensively" because they (1) are "extremely polemical in style rather than factual or straightforward"; (2) they address "later developments" of the Wahhabi movement; and (3) "because of their polemical nature, these accounts tend to be more useful in reconstructing impressions of the movement than in recounting events or teachings." And that's why "polemical works have been largely discarded" in giving the biography of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the "early teachings of the movement."
But what makes the sources of two Wahhabi supporters more accurate than the works of Wahhabi opponents? While the former are closer in time to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, they are his biased supporters. The latter, however, though further away in time from the Wahhabi founder's period of existence, may - and indeed, do - have accurate information, especially on how Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings contradicted the teachings that orthodox Sunni Muslims had been following for over 1,000 years.
For example, Delong-Bas provides Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's interpretations of intercession (tawassul) in his "Kitab al-Tawhid" without stating that he contradicted many verses of the Qur'an, hadeeth, and interpretations provided by Sunni orthodox scholars (ulema) throughout the history of Islam (except Ibn Taymiyah and his followers who were the first to deviate from mainstream Sunni Islam on the issue). With an unorthodox interpretation of a genuinely valid Islamic practice, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab accuses the vast lot of Muslims who do 'tawassul' of committing polytheism (shirk) -- the only unforgivable sin in Islam. He then allows his followers to massacre them, believing that they are doing a very noble deed and following the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad when, in fact, they are doing exactly the opposite.
From a source perspective, how, to any basic researcher, can this book be called a "pathbreaking" and "groundbreaking" work when sources for a book on Wahhabism are provided by Wahhabis, when the sources themselves are written by Wahhabis, and when the research endeavor is partially financed by Wahhabis? I'm sure you see how "objective" and "balanced" Delong-Bas's research is.
Contact me by e-mail for a more detailed unveiling of Delong-Bas's pseudo-scholarship and insult to the moderate/orthodox Muslims. (...)