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Wahhabism is a fundamentalist branch of Islam. It started out as a sect of Sunni Islam in the remote interior of the Arabian Peninsula and is practiced by those who follow the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), after whom the movement takes its name. The desert interior of the Arabian Peninsula, prior to modern travel, remained cut off from the Hejaz, or Mecca and Medina, by mountains. The inhabitants of the interior did not recognize the Hashemites or the Turkish caliphate's hegemony over Islam. Thus grew up a sect of desert dwellers viewing the urban areas of Mecca, Medina, Damascus, and elsewhere as corrupt centers of sin and vice, although they don't have a population cap for preventing towns from becoming cities. Abd al-Wahhab wanted to return Islamic practices to those of the first 300 years of Islam.
In 20th century, Wahhabis adopted the term Salafi to identify themselves. The Salafism (Wahhabism) doctrine can be summed up as taking "a fundamentalist approach to Islam, emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers – al-salaf al-salih, the 'pious forefathers'"; rather than living by the virtues in the Qur'an. From the beginning, they supported violent means to further their cause, even against the Muslim community.
Wahhabism can be used as an excuse for violence against women, foreigners, Jews, Shias, and even other Sunni practitioners.[note 1] Various theocratic nations such as Saudi Arabia have set up mutaween (religious police) to enforce behaviors according to the Wahhabi view of Islam.
Wahhabism is opposed to icons, shrines, and generally anything of cultural significance. This displays itself in the destruction of tombs housing Mohammed's relatives, and their destruction of parts of Mecca and Medina to make way for the likes of public restrooms, shopping malls, and hotels. By 1804, the Saudis had captured Mecca and Medina, and to the shock of the rest of the Muslim world, even made plans to destroy Muhammad's grave as idolatrous.  Celebration of the prophet's birthday, and prayer to dead loved ones, saints, or angels are also forbidden, as is the use of tombstones.
Whereas during the Protestant Beeldenstorm in northern Europe and the Catholic Spanish conquest of the Americas much religious art was destroyed, the temples themselves, large pieces of them, or the land on which they stood were usually reused. This can be done as a triumphant display of architectural spoila, but it's also a cost saving measure given the difficulty of completely removing temples without modern-day explosives like dynamite, and a deconstruction crew to haul away the heavy stones left behind. Although traditionalist, the high-yield explosives used in destroying shrines were invented by infidels like Alfred Nobel. It goes without saying that the destruction of UNESCO world heritage sites is about as strongly anti-science as a nerd being shoved into a locker, making an archaeologist's job of digging in a war zone as dangerous as Indiana Jones.
Some confusion exists in the West and media outlets over use of the term. A great schism has developed among modern-day believers who invoke the teachings of Abd al-Wahhab. They can be divided roughly into two camps: the state-supported Saudi religious establishment and the modern-day Salafists.
While Abd al-Wahhab advocated a very strict, puritanical form of Islam that rejected modern innovations (such as tolerance), it was not very popular outside the interior of the Arabian Peninsula, or even in the regions of the Hejaz (Mecca and Medina). Not until the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate and the inception of the Saudi state, and the Saudi state's absorption of Mecca and Medina, did Wahhabism spread throughout the entire Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and beyond. This was made possible by the economic success of the Saudi state and revenues from its vast oil supplies. The success of the Saudi state and Wahhabism, however, brought with it compromise and tolerance — a direct contradiction of fundamental Wahhabi teachings. The mere fact that the two holy cities were now governed by the Saudi state also gave its version of Islam prominence it never gained on its own.
Modern Salafists condemn the House of Saud, and its religious establishment, as having abandoned the basic principles of Wahhabism, and employing modernization and tolerance. For example, Shi'a Islam and jurisprudence is allowed to practice in the eastern provinces of the Arabian Peninsula bordering the Persian Gulf, whereas the Islamic State has been on a jihad to exterminate any vestige of Shia'ism in the territories it controls.
Wahhab and Islamic extremism
rantings writings of Ibn Taymiyyah, Abd al-Wahhab, and Sayyid Qutb are foundational to the modern Salafist movement. Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and the Islamic State all are considered Salafi-jihadists who use the restrictive and exclusionary teachings of Abd al-Wahhab. The Saudi religious establishment, whom Salafis consider paid apologists for the Saudi regime, refer to the Salafi-jihadists as "Qutbis". This is largely because of the link between the more secular Muslim Brotherhood and earlier radical groups. But the Salafi-jihadists are not secular in any sense.
Each of the two camps — the Saudi religious establishment (many who are descendants of Abd al-Wahhab), and the Salafis (with their violent Salafi-jihadi subset) — consider themselves purists of the Wahhabi tradition and the other camp as deviationist.
Another accusatory term which has entered the discussion which Salafist and Wahhabis accuse each other of is Kharijite centering upon the doctrine of takfirism. Takfirism is the controversial doctrine of accusing another Muslim of being, well, not another Muslim. This is usually done to justify capital punishment, whether within a judicial process or not.
Mainstream Sunni Repudiation
As a stand against Wahhabi Jihadism, an international Islamic Conference of over 100 Imams from around the world was organized in Grozny, Chechnya on August 27th, 2016. There "Takfiri Terrorism" was repudiated as contrary to the teachings and practice of Sunnism, and its perpetrators were formally excommunicated from the 'mainstream' Sunni community. Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb's statement read (in part):
"Ahluls Sunna wal Jama’ah are the Ash’arites or Muturidis (adherents of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi's systematic theology which is also identical to Imam Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari’s school of logical thought). In matters of belief, they are followers of any of the four schools of thought (Hanafi, Shaf’ai, Maliki or Hanbali) and are also the followers of pure Sufism in doctrines, manners and [spiritual] purification.”
He went on to note that Salafists were not of this tradition or practice, not from among its people, and not part of its community.
- See, for instance, the wars of Arabian unification.
- This spread of 'holy fascism' is a disaster
- Mecca for the rich: Islam's holiest site 'turning into Vegas'
- Mecca's mega architecture casts shadow over hajj
- The Destruction of Holy Sites in Mecca and Medina By Irfan Ahmed in Islamic Magazine, Issue 1, July 2006
- Nibras Kazimi, A Paladin Gears Up for War, The New York Sun, November 1, 2007
- John R Bradley, Saudi's Shi'ites walk tightrope, Asia Times, March 17, 2005
- "You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia", Alastair Crooke, Huffington Post
- Conference of "Sunnis Community" in Chechnya disown from the Salafist and Wahhabi
- From religion to politics, Saudi Arabia feeling chill of isolation
- Islamic conference in Chechnya: Why Sunnis are disassociating themselves from Salafists