Before 9/11, few Westerners had heard of Wahhabism. Today, it is a household word. Frequently mentioned in association with Osama bin Laden, Wahhabism is portrayed by the media and public officials as an intolerant, puritanical, militant interpretation of Islam that calls for the wholesale destruction of the West in global jihad.In the first study ever of Wahhabism's founder, Muhammad Ibn al-Wahhab (1702-1791), Natana DeLong-Bas shatters these stereotypes. Her revisionist perspective reveals Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, not as the godfather of contemporary terrorist movements, but rather, as the voice of reform, advocating an Islamic society in which Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed and cooperated. A strong proponent of women's rights, he called for a balance of roles between women and men both within marriage and in access to education and public space.DeLong-Bas details his vision of jihad as strictly limited to self-defence of the Muslim community. Today's extremists like Osama bin Laden do not have their origins in Wahhabism, she shows.
Their focus on a cult of martyrdom, the strict division of the world into two necessarily opposing spheres, the wholesale destruction of both civilian life and property, and the call for global jihad are entirely absent from Ibn Abd al Wahhab's writings.This path-breaking book fills an enormous gap in the study of Islamic history.
Natana J. DeLong-Bas is a Research Fellow at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. She is author of Notable Muslims: A Biographical Dictionary and co-author of Women in Muslim Family Law. She has served as editor for and contributor to The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.