Middle East Studies

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Wahhabism and the Rise of the House of Saud


Dr. Tarik K. Firro is a lecturer in the Department of History, Philosophy and Judaic Studies at the Israeli Open University. His research focuses on Modern Islam, Wahhabi religious doctrine and the history of Saudi Arabia.

This book examines the role of Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and his successors in reconsolidating the religious principles of Wahhabism. It explains the role of the Sa’udi princes in crystallizing the core of the Sa’udi–Wahhabi political entity within their tribal society. Key to this explanation is the interrelation between sedentary and nomadic populations and the consequent impact on the development of Saudi political entities prior to the emergence of the Sa’udi Kingdom.

Texts of Wahhabi scholars are compared with those of the early Hanbali scholars, pinpointing the new religious elements introduced to foster the Wahhabi creed. Discussion focuses on the first and second generations of Wahhabi scholars who maintained the Wahhabi creed with great success, keeping its hegemony as the main doctrine in Sa’udi Arabia, and developing a takfiri discourse (accusing people of being infidels) which by the nineteenth century had become the main religious and political weapon by which the Wahhabis mobilized supporters against their political and religious adversaries. To better understand this development, the meaning of kufr (heresy) in Islam and its implications in various Islamic doctrines is examined closely.

The focus on the role of Wahhabi scholars in the nineteenth century sheds new lights on the principles of continuity and discontinuity in the historical development of Sa’udi political entities and explains the origin of the modern Sa’udi State. Although major socio-economic and cultural change is now taking place under the leadership of Prince Muhammad ibn Salman, the main religious structures of the state remain firmly in place. It remains to be seen how two diametric societal viewpoints will integrate or clash. This work is essential reading for all scholars and students of religious, cultural, social and political history of Sa’udi Arabia and Islam in the Middle East.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-934-0
Hardback Price: £70.00 / $84.95
Release Date: September 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-990-6
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: April 2019
Page Extent / Format: 224pp. 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Note on Transliteration


Chapter One
The Rise of Wahhabism within a Tribal Society
Najd’s Geography and Ecology
Wahhabism and Tribes in Najd
The Sedentary Area of Najd as a Matrix of Wahhabism

Chapter Two
The Theological and Ethical Origin of Wahhabism
The Emergence of Wahhabism
The Inspirers of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab
Purifying Islam from Alien Beliefs and Customs

Chapter Three
Facing Internal and External Challenges
Subjugating Religious and Political Opposition in Arabia
The Ottoman and Egyptian Intervention
The Ability of the Saudi–Wahhabi Movement to Survive

Chapter Four
Animating the Wahhabi Spark
Internalizing Wahhabi Principles in the Hearts of the Common People
The Role of ‘Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab
The Second Generation of Religious Scholars after the Egyptian Invasion
The Rise of a New Branch of the Saudis and a New Capital
The Theocratic Rule of Turki and Faysal

Chapter Five
Religion under Faysal and His Successors
Faysal’s Allies and Adversaries and the Restoration of the State
Faysal’s Territorial Sway
The Religious Aspect of Faysal’s Rule
The Role of Religious Scholars after Faysal’s Death
The Force of the Religious Scholars’ Network

Chapter Six
Takfir in Wahhabism: Thought and Practice
Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and the Takfir
The Boundaries between Tawhid (Monotheism) and Shirk (Polytheism)
Radicalizing the Takfiri Discourse
‘Abd al-Latif’s Takfiri Discourse
The Wahhabi Notion of Kufr versus other Islamic Notions of Kufr
The Significance of Transmitting Takfiri Discourse to the Masses

Epilogue: Religion and State in Islam and the Saudi–Wahhabi Case
The Features of the Islamic State in Historical Perspective
The Islamic State versus the Western State
The Perpetual Alliance between Princes and Religious Scholars in Saudi Arabia


Firro provides new insights into the sociopolitical, cultural, and religious background of the modern Saudi state. He follows main historical events that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which constitute what he believes are the main turning points in the history of the Saudi-Wahhabi movement and that still affect the political and religious life of modern Saudi Arabia. Present research follows the vicissitudes of the Wahhabi movement and investigates the religious and political cultural and social factors that enabled its religious and political leaders to keep it alive, despite internal and external challenges.

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