There have been numerous sects that have splintered from the main body of Islam, and all have clearly defined themselves as separate traditions. None have been so clever and wily, and so successfully imposed their pernicious influence, as the Wahhabis and Salafis, who have insinuated themselves instead as a “reform” movement within Sunni Islam. Instead, they have characterized Sunni Islam as being founded on belief in the rightful successorship of the four righteous Caliphs, in contradistinction to Saudi Arabia’s traditional enemies, the Shiah of Iran.
Rather, the Wahhabis and Salafis represent a consequence of a wave of “revivalist” movements that began to emerge in the eighteenth century, sponsored by the British, with the aim of undermining Sunni Islam, which has historically been founded on following one of the four schools of legal interpretation, known as Madhhabs, a practice known as Taqlid.
Known for their nefarious strategy of Divide and Conquer, the British were intent on re-writing the laws of Islam to suit their purposes. However, Sunni Islam had formalized a highly sophisticated legal tradition that was effectively impervious to outside influence. According to Joseph Schacht, the renowned historian of Islamic Law:
Islamic law provides us with a remarkable example of the possibilities of legal thought and of human thought in general, and with a key to understanding the essence of one of the great world religions.
Within the first few centuries of its existence, these Madhhabs had settled the majority of the early legal questions in Islam, and strictly forbade the use of unqualified independent reasoning, known as Ijtihad, in order to protect the sanctity of Islam from violation. However, what all the British-sponsored “revivalists” held in common was a rejection of the Madhhab tradition, in favour of re-opening the Doors of Itjihad, which has resulted in the wholesale rewriting Islam, in order to lend false justification to the injustices they currently perpetrate under its name.
Initially, the followers of Mohammed, known as the Sahabah, would seek advice from those amongst themselves who had attained reputations for piety and advanced knowledge of the religion. However, as the Muslim empire expanded, the cases that required rulings became increasingly complex, and because they were not necessarily explicitly addressed in the Quran, it became necessary for judges (Qadis) to make use of their independent reasoning (Ijtihad). The word “Ijtihad” is derived from the same root as the word “Jihad,” and means to strive with one’s utmost effort.
Ijtihad is considered legitimized in a Hadith that refers to a consultation between the Prophet Mohammed and Muadh Ibn Jabl, a jurist who was on his way to Yemen. The Prophet asked Muadh how he would decide matters brought before him. He responded: “I will judge matters according to the Quran.” He then said, “If the Book of God contains nothing to guide me, I will act on the precedents of the Prophet of God, and if it is not in that either, then I will make Ijtihad [use his reason] and judge according to that.” The Prophet is said to have been very pleased with the reply.
Over time, rulings became increasingly codified through consensus (Ijma), unanimous agreement that was considered to reflect divine sanction. However, a new body of literature became available, known as Hadith, and comprising of saying reported from Muhammad. Therefore, Ijtihad came to be restricted to reasoning confined by recourse to available sources of evidence and accepted methodologies. These included the Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet, consensus of the community (Ijma), and analogy (Qiyas) or systematic reasoning.
Imam Shafi (767–820 AD) had been instrumental in bringing about this change, producing a system known as Usul al Fiqh. Then, through the communal process of collating the evidence and developing rulings, there initially emerged many different schools of thought and interpretation, but the reputations of only four surpassed and finally eclipsed the others. These are known as the four Madhhabs, each named after the scholars who founded them, being the Shafi of Imam Shafi, the Hanafi of Imam Abu Hanifa (699–767 AD), the Hanbali of Ahmed Ibn Hanbal (780–855 AD), and Maliki of Imam Malik (711–795 AD).
According to a well-known Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad said “differences of opinion among my community are a blessing,” and therefore, despite their differences, each school was considered as founded on valid conclusions, arrived at through the rigorous process of Ijtihad. Ultimately, as noted by Schacht:
By the beginning of the fourth century of the hijra (about A.D. 900)… the point had been reached when the scholars of all schools felt that all essential questions had been thoroughly discussed and finally settled, and a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that from that time onwards no one might be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at the most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all.
This consensus is referred to as the “Closing of the Doors of Ijtihad.” As for the common Muslim, he would from then on be required to follow one—and only one—of the four Madhhabs, a practice known as Taqlid. While it is possible, and even commendable, for any Muslim to read the Quran and Hadith on his own, when it comes to formulating rulings from these sources, or Ijtihad, it requires an advanced degree of knowledge. Therefore, from that point forward, the free use of Ijtihad was restricted to only those most qualified, known as a Mujtahid, being the four Imams, for which extensive and stringent requirements were put forward.
The closing of Ijtihad effectively acted as a fortress to protect Islamic law from any further controversy, and preserve the formulations of the most pious and talented of the Muslim scholars from corruption. As explained by Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), considered one of the fathers of modern historiography, and as one of the greatest philosophers of the Muslim world:
The people after that were able to close the door in the face of dispute at a time when terminology became more complex, and it was harder to achieve the rank of Ijtihad, and when it was feared that [Ijtihad] might get attributed to someone not from its people [an incompetent], who is not to be relied upon in neither his opinion nor his religion.
However, what all the revivalists held in common was following the precedent of a controversial Muslim scholar named Ibn Taymiyya (1263 - 1328). For his various controversial rulings and anthropomorphic doctrine, Ibn Taymiyya spent much of his career in jail. It was for his typical intemperance that Arab historian Ibn Battuta declared that Ibn Taymiyyah had a “screw loose.” Opinions about Ibn Taymiyyah during his lifetime varied widely. One of his opponents, who had the most success in refuting his views, was Taqi al Din Al Subki, who remarked, "his learning exceeded his intelligence."
Ibn Taymiyyah’s legal ideas remained largely in the framework of the Hanbali school, but his more controversial doctrines were adopted from the more anthropomorphic faction of the Hanbali school, though not representing the tenets professed by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal or his Madhhab. This Hanbali faction was opposed to the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools who have represented the Aqida, or “tenets of belief,” of the majority of Sunni Muslims, just as the Madhhabs have represented the Sharia or “Sacred Law.”
Those opposed to these two traditional schools of Aqida are regarded as people of Biddah, defined in a Fatwa or formal legal opinion the sixteenth century by Imam Ibn Hajar Haytami, who represents the foremost resource for legal opinion in the entire late Shafi school, as: “whoever is upon other than the path of Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a [people of the Sunnah and of the majority], Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a meaning the followers of Sheikh Abul Hasan Ash‘ari and Abu Mansur Maturidi, the two Imams of Ahl al-Sunna.”
Although Ibn Taymiyyah is remember by this adherents today as a vociferous opponent of the Sufis, he was a follower of Abdul Qadir al Gilani (1077–1166), the founder of the Qadiriyya Sufi order, which is particularly venerated in the Western occult tradition, where it is seen by some as the origin of the Rosicrucian movement. Gilani was also condemned for harboring heretical works in his school, particularly the writings of the Brethren of Sincerity, whose works were admired by generations of Kabbalists. According to Chacham Israel Joseph Benjamin II in Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855, Gilani “was nothing less than the famous Talmudist Joseph Hagueliti.”
After three centuries of his views being scrutinized by the leading scholars of the time, like al Subki and others, a Fatwa was finally pronounced by Ibn Hajar al Haytami in the sixteenth century, which declared:
Ibn Taymiyyah is a servant whom God forsook, misguided, blinded, deafened, and debased. That is the declaration of the imams who have exposed the corruption of his positions and the mendacity of his sayings. Whoever wishes to pursue this must read the words of the Mujtahid Imam Abu al Hasan al Subki, of his son Taj al Din Subki, of the Imam al Izz ibn Jama and others of the Shafi, Maliki, and Hanafi scholars... It must be considered that he is a misguided and misguiding innovator and an ignorant who brought evil whom God treated with His justice. May He protect us from the likes of his path, doctrine, and actions.
In their rejection of traditional Islam, all revivalists singled out Ibn Taymiyyah as the pre-eminent classical scholar, whose unique but controversial approach to the subject provided them with a precedent in their calls for a re-opening of the Doors of Ijtihad. As Joseph Schacht explained:
From the eighth/fourteenth century onwards the Hanbali school declined and seemed on the verge of extinction, when the puritanical movement of the Wahhabis of the twelfth/eighteenth century and especially the Wahhabi revival in the present century, gave it a new lease of life. The religious founder of this movement, Muhammad ibn Adb al Wahhab (d. 1201/1787), was influenced by the works of Ibn Taymiyyah. Whereas the Hanbali school had always been regarded by orthodox Islam as one of the legitimate schools of law, the intolerant attitude of the earlier Wahhabis towards their fellow Muslims caused them for a long time to be suspected as heretics, and they have come to be generally considered orthodox only since their political successes in the present generation.
Wahhabism as founded by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, in the seventeenth century, who according to the Memoirs of Mr. Hempher, was a British agent. Though the authenticity of the work has been questioned, in 1888, Ayyub Sabri Pasha, a well-known Ottoman writer and Turkish naval admiral who served the Ottoman army in the Arabian Peninsula, recounted Wahhab’s association and plotting with a British spy named Hempher. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Defense released a translation of an Iraqi intelligence document in September 2002, titled “The Emergence of Wahhabism and its Historical Roots,” which indicates that Abdul Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, and his sponsor ibn Saud, who created the Saudi dynasty that now rules Saudi Arabia, were reported by several sources as being secretly of Jewish origin.
Ultimately, Wahhab instigated the rejection of Taqlid, or following a Madhhab, in favor of re-opening the Doors of Ijtihad, which is the bedrock of the platform of the modern Salafi movement. Salafism begins with Jamal ud Din al Afghani, who was the Grand Master of Egyptian Freemasonry, as well as purported member of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, which supposedly also represented a revival of the Brethren of Sincerity. According to K. Paul Johnson, he was also chiefly responsible for the central teachings of H. P. Blavatsky, who is regarded as the godmother of the New Age movement, and whose books are considered “scriptures” of Freemasonry. In Afghani’s own words, as cited in Elie Kedourie, Afghani and Abduh: An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political Activism in Modern Islam:
We do not cut off the head of religion except with the sword of religion. Therefore, if you were to see us now, you would see ascetics and worshipers, kneeling and genuflecting, never disobeying God’s commands and doing all that they are ordered to do.
Afghani’s Salafi movement exploited the vacuum left behind by the collapse of traditional scholarship in the wake of British colonialism. Leading a modernist trend, they suggested that the deteriorating condition of the Muslims was due to their inability to mirror the institutions or technology of the Europeans. Therefore, Afghani and the Salafis insisted that a return to Ijtihad was needed, claiming that the Ijma of the scholars to close the “Gates of Ijtihad” was merely in response to political pressures, and had contributed to a period of “intellectual stagnation.” Effectively, as was typical of the Revivalists, the Salafis maintained that it was necessary to circumvent the teachings of the Madhhabs, and go “directly” to the sources, the religion of the forefathers, known as the Salaf, from which they gained their name.
Today, the Wahhabis reject the early Salafis for their Masonic affiliations, but have nevertheless retained the appellation. Chief among their influences was Muhammad Nasiruddin Al Albani (1914 – 1999), who began his career by becoming influenced by articles in al Manar, the mouthpiece of Rashid Rida, a Freemason and successor to Afghani’s leading pupil, Mohammed Abduh. Al Albani also studied under a student of Qasimi of Damascus, who was among the chief Revivalists responsible for reviving Ibn Taymiyyah’s reputation. Albani was first expelled from Syria, and then accepted a post in Saudi Arabia on the invitation of its chief Mufti, Ibn Baz, who would continue to support him throughout his career.
Al Albani’s trouble with the Saudis began when his pronouncements against Taqlid as “blind following” went so far that he even criticized the Saudis’ partial adherence to the Hanbali tradition. He went so far as to declare that the founder of Wahhabism himself, Ibn Abdul Wahhab, was not a true “Salafi” for following the Hanbali Madhhab. To al Albani, Hadith alone can provide answers to matters not found in the Quran, without relying on the Madhhabs. To al Albani, the mother of all religious sciences therefore becomes the “science of hadith,” through which he claimed to have identified over five thousand among them to be suspect.
Despite their differences with him otherwise, the Saudi state made use of al Albani's criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood to lend supposed religious authority to their agenda. Although the Saudis assisted the CIA in giving refuge to the Muslim Brotherhood, following a failed assassination attempt against Gamal Nasser in 1954, its members contributed to a wave of criticism against the state known as the Sahwa.
However, al Albani was the first among the Saudi scholars to dare to criticize the organization. His primary complaint against the Brotherhood was that they placed too much emphasis on “politics” instead of knowledge (Ilm) and creed (Aqeedah). Essentially, al Albani characterized all criticism of the state as futile banter, which disregarded the more pressing issue of reforming society which had fallen away from a “pure” understanding of Islam, in the perverted Wahhabi sense.
Thus, exploiting the reputation of al Albani, the Saudi state purged the university system of Muslim Brotherhood influences. They thereby have created a collaborationist version of Salafism, where any sense of social justice is absent, and which has become the primary version now promoted in its worldwide campaign. As noted by Bernard Heykal, in Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, although al Albani had been expelled for his influence over the violent attempt to take over the Grand Mosque in 1979:
On the other hand, it was equally possible for other followers of al Albani to wholeheartedly support the regime, as happened with his neo-Ahl al-Hadith disciples Rabi ibn Hadi Madkhali and Mohammed Aman al-Jami, who supported the Saudi invitation to American troops in 1990. They were allowed to gain control over such important institutions as the Islamic University of Medina in exchange for purging them of the Sahwist and Muslim Brotherhood critics of the regime. Whereas the “political” genealogy leads to Afghanistan and Jihadi-Salafism, the “apolitical” trend can be traced to Europe, as many foreign students who studied at institutions such as Medina's Islamic University, or other Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia, brought the Madhkali trend back to countries like France and the Netherlands.
This was certainly accomplished with the cognizance of the Saudi’s paymasters, the oil Supermajors, whose very livelihood depends on the stability of the Saudi regime. These collaborationist Salafis, now known as Madkhalis and al-Jamiyyah, denounced all Muslim Brotherhood ideologues as “innovators.” Most importantly, they required obedience to the rulers, even unjust ones, as a purported religious obligation, providing the pretense that opposition to the rulers would contribute excessive difficulties (Fitnah).
The collaborationist Salafis therefore do not concern themselves with issues of international politics, claiming that Muslims are not “ready” for the larger issues, but instead need to be educated so as to reform them of their “deviant” practices. This followed upon al Albani’s advice, where he said, “all Muslims agree on the need to establish an Islamic state, but differ on the method to be employed to attain that goal. [For me] only by the Muslims’ adhering to Tawheed [monotheism, according to Wahhabi prescriptions] can the causes of their dissensions be removed, so that they may march toward their objective in closed ranks.”
The Salafi have therefore focused their mission on “reforming” other Muslims on minor ritual details and creedal tenets as departures, called Biddah, from what they considered “true” Islam. Thus, deprived of knowledge of the true depths of the state’s corruption or complicity in the conquest of Muslim lands and exploitation of the rest of the world by the Western powers, with the Salafi movement, the Saudi regime created a neutered version of Islam.
The Biddah Brigade
Essentially, at the behest of American interests, the Saudis have robbed Islam of any sense of social justice, which is the message that the world is actually waiting to hear, and ensured that a politically amenable version is disseminated to other parts of the world. As explained by Joas Wagemakers, this Salafi doctrine has been propagated by an international legion of students educated at the Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia, such that it “was rapidly exported out of Arabia, so that it today constitutes an unavoidable element of Salafi Islam in many Muslim and Western countries.”
Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion and according to the 2010 German domestic intelligence service annual report, Salafism is the fastest growing Islamic movement in the world. What has made Salafism attractive to some is that, typically, adherence to Islam among modern Muslims is weak and uninspiring. Salafis, on the contrary, exhibit an intensity that can be misread as enthusiastic piety. What Salafism inculcates, however, is haughtiness.
And, though the Salafis reject the Madhhabs, they have essentially created their own by following the prescriptions of their three scholars, Bin Baz, Uthaymeen and Al Albani. The Salafis are easily recognizable for their insistence on certain modes of dress and behavior, which they deem to derive from “correct” interpretations of the evidence, and the fulfillment of which they see as a measure of piety. Their wives normally wear Nikab (Burqa), they insist on the beard for men, and normally wear white thobes, and keep their pant hems above their ankles. In prayer they hold their hands on their chests, and abut each others’ toes together.
Worse still, the Salafis have inherited the anthropomorphism of Ibn Taymiyyah, regarding God as “above” creation in order to “affirm” his attributes. All these minutiae are considered emblematic of their superior knowledge of Islam, and all those who do otherwise are condescended upon as “deviants.”
What the Wahhabis and Salafis tend to be universally condemned for is their lack of tact. In other words, their fanaticism, which paints a picture of Islam all too familiar in the West, the most egregious example being the Taliban. Everywhere they make their presence felt, the Wahhabis and Salafis have a tendency towards harsh criticism of other Muslims, for what they deem to be “innovations” (Biddah), and therefore have often been derisively referred to among other Muslims as the “Biddah Brigade.”
However, as the Prophet Mohammed remarked, “the only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners [Akhlaq],” and that “the best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.” Finally, the Prophet also said, “make things easy for people, and do not make them difficult for them, and give them good tidings and do not make them turn away (from Islam).”
Regrettably, for the fundamentalists, theirs is a vengeful, punishing God, who lifts the status of “Believers” and humiliates the “Unbelievers,” in the next world, as well as in this one. The Prophet Muhammad said in a well-known Hadith: “No one truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.” The leading Hanbali jurist, Ibn Rajab said: “The brotherhood referred to in this Hadith is the brotherhood of humanity.” But this is the message of Islam that has been forgotten.
Like the Jews and Christians before them, Muslims have lost sight of the “Spirit of the Law.” This also was the essence of Jesus’ message. When asked by the Jewish priests of his time to explain the meaning of the Law, Jesus replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” When asked to clarify who one’s “neighbor” was, he responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, to explain that, obviously, one’s neighbor is any other human being. In other words, that our responsibility is towards all men, regardless of race or religion.
The problem is partly as the Revivalists claim, that Muslims have to return to the purity of their religion to improve their situation. But the answer is not to be found in reinterpreting Islam, or in the more accurate performance of prescribed rituals, but in rediscovering the spiritual message articulated in traditional scholarship of the Maddhabs. As the Quran advises: “Verily never will God change a condition of a people until they change what is within their souls.”
 Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), preface p. v
 Abu Daud, Aqdiya, 11
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 Little, "Did Ibn Taymiyyah Have a Screw Loose,” p. 95
 Ahmad ibn al-Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.
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 Heykal, Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 78
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 Malik, Muwatta, Book 47, Number 47.1.8
 Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 759
 Bukhari Volume 1, Book 3, Number 69
 Sharh al-`Arba`în al-Nawawiyyah
 Ar Rad 13:11