Wahhabism is an intolerant and aggressive form of Sunni Islam practiced primarily in Saudi Arabia, but also to a lesser extent in Qatar with some influence in the surround nations. It seeks to purify Islam from any practices or innovations that do not come from the teachings of Muhammad. The term Wahhabi is from the name of the Muslim scholar Muhammad bin Abd al Wahhab, who lived from 1703 to 1791 and who advocated this radical approach. Zealous followers of Wahhab are sometimes referred to as Unitarians or Salafiyyun (from the word for “follow”). Salafiyyun may refer to any movement that attempts to purify Islam, while Wahhabi refers to a more specific movement to be described here. For instance, the Taliban may be Salafiyyun but not Wahhabi. Muslims who follow Wahhabi beliefs do not necessarily call themselves Wahhabi; they simply call themselves Muslims. Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi beliefs are referred to as heathens or enemies.
Abd al Wahhab lived in the Arabian Peninsula and sought to purify Islam from many of the popular beliefs and practices that he felt were idolatrous, such as the veneration of saints and many Shiite traditions and practices. He called Muslims to go back to the fundamentals of Islam as found in a strict interpretation of the Koran. Muhammad bin Saud partnered with Abd al Wahhab to try to unify the various tribes of the Arabian Peninsula (thus the name “Unitarians”), which ultimately led to the founding of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the close ties between that country and Wahhabism. Many Wahhabi ideas were guiding principles for the formation of Saudi Arabian laws and societal norms.
The history of Wahhabism has often included military action and violent conflict to enforce Wahhabi ideals. In keeping with Wahhabi philosophy, Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries in the Muslim world. The Saudi government also supports the spread of Wahhabi ideas through financial support to Wahhabi mosques in other Muslim nations as well as in the United States and Europe. The 9/11 Commission found that Wahhabi ideals have contributed to the rise of terrorism. The European Parliament has identified Wahhabism as the primary source of global terrorism. The support of Wahhabism has been a source of tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia, although the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are allies and the U.S. continues to approve arms sales to the kingdom. The royal family in Saudi Arabia often condemns acts of terrorism and violence while continuing to support the propagation of Wahhabi beliefs.