From the 1630s to the 1680s the Kadızadeli movement dominated the political scene in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, the latter part of this period coinciding with the Ottomans’ greatest expansion of their land empire. Based on the teachings of Birgivi, and with clear influences from Ibn Taymiyya, the Kadızadeli movement worked to eradicate religious innovations, sometimes through the use of force. However, the Ottoman defeat at Vienna in 1683 marked the political downfall of the Kadızadelis in Istanbul and elsewhere in Ottoman lands. Yet within 60 years the movement of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb emerged in Najd with striking similarities. Both movements voiced strictures against religious innovations, particularly regarding seeking the intercession of the dead at grave sites, for which they accused their opponents of unbelief (kufr), and both were willing to use force if necessary to establish their opinions. This paper traces the historical and scholarly links between these two important movements, and includes a detailed examination of the scholarly credentials of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. This fuller contextualization should enable a clearer understanding of the religious climate in which Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb started his movement.
The similarities between the Ottoman Kadızadeli movement and the Muwaḥḥidūn movement of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb are striking. As with the Muwaḥḥidūn, the following features were characteristic of the Kadızadeli movement: opposition to kalām theology and opposition to religious innovations, in particular against loud dhikr in groups, the dancing rituals of certain Sufis and innovated grave visits, chiefly the practice of asking dead saints for their intercession at graves. With the aim of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahy ʿan al-munkar), both movements were marked by a willingness to use force against their opponents when deemed necessary. Indeed, the assertion that one movement was the precursor to the other is only strengthened by the clear chronology of the Kadızadeli movement appearing then disappearing (from the 1620s to the 1730s)1 before the appearance of the Muwaḥḥidūn movement (from the 1740s onwards).2 This paper aims to highlight historical and scholarly links between these two important reformist movements. The paper will begin by outlining the origins of the Kadızadeli movement, its development to take centre stage within Ottoman politics in Istanbul, and then its decline and withdrawal to areas within Syria. The early life and religious education of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb will then be covered, before highlighting his scholarly links to the Kadızadeli movement through his teachers. Importantly, by tracing the history of the Kadızadeli movement, the paper will go a considerable way to explaining the political and religious climate in which Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb found himself.
THE HISTORY OF THE KADIZADELİ MOVEMENT
Birgivi and Ebu’s-Su‘ud
The origins of the Kadızadeli movement can be traced to İmam Birgivi (d. 1573), who is generally considered the spiritual founder and whose books formed the basis for the teachings of the later Kadızadelis. İmam Birgivi was one of the most respected and influential Ottoman scholars in history. His works are popular and widely read, even to this day. Birgivi authored books on a variety of subjects including jurisprudence (fiqh), Arabic grammar and Qurʾānic recitation. In his key work al-Ṭarīqa al-Muḥammadiyya, he wrote extensively on faith, ethics, the rectification of societal corruptions, and the need to follow the Qurʾān and Sunna. Earlier in his life, Birgivi had been an initiate of the Bayrami Sufi ṭarīqa, before continuing his scholarly career. Al-Ṭarīqa al-Muḥammadiyya appears to have been written as a standard to judge and rectify Sufi practice within an orthodox Ottoman framework.3 In this work, Birgivi was particularly staunch against religious innovations, and this position was upheld by the Kadızadeli movement after him.4
The influence of the Ottoman Şeyhülislam Ebu’s-Su‘ud Efendi (d. 1574) on the Kadızadeli movement should also be considered. Ebu’s-Su‘ud Efendi had been a contemporary of Birgivi, and in many ways a rival, due to their clash over the subject of cash trusts.5 Ebu’s-Su‘ud had issued a legal verdict (fatwā) against the dancing and whirling (dawarān) practices of certain Sufi groups: he decreed that whoever considers dawarān to be worship commits unbelief; and whoever merely thinks that dawarān is permissible, then such a person is deviant.6 Ebu’s-Su‘ud also held notably tough opinions against the Shiʿa Safavids in Iran, considering them to be rebels and infidels to be fought in war.7 This is relevant, because after the death of Ebu’s-Su‘ud, the Janissaries would come under the official patronage of the Alevi-Bektashi Sufis in the 1590s.8 The Alevi-Bektashi Sufis were a subgroup of the Shiʿa who, in all irony, honoured the founder of the Safavid dynasty and archenemy of the Ottomans, Shāh Ismāʿīl.9
The Alevi-Bektashi Sufis held highly heterodox beliefs and practices. They adhered to the doctrine of waḥdat al-wujūd (‘unity of existence’), a belief that all beings including God share a single existence, which the Kadızadelis fiercely opposed and viewed as pantheistic.10 The Alevi-Bektashi Sufis (through their understanding of waḥdat al-wujūd) appear to have believed in a Trinity that they called ‘Allāh, Muḥammad, ʿAlī’, and that they worshipped as a single godhead.11 Alevi-Bektashi Sufis infiltrated other Sufi groups, spreading their doctrines using their Shiʿa tactic of taqiyya—a religious dispensation permitting deception or dissimulation when among non-Shiʿa.12 As well as being a response to the spreading of popular Sufi practices, the emergence of the Kadızadeli movement in the 1620–30s coincides roughly with the ascendancy of the Alevi-Bektashi Sufis within the Janissary military. By this stage, the Janissaries had already become known for corruption, discord and uprisings, threatening the local populace and even the Sultans themselves.13 When Sultan Osman II undertook to replace the Janissaries with a new army in 1622, the Janissaries revolted, deposed the young Sultan and promptly executed him.14
Around this time in the 1620–30s, Kadızade Mehmed Efendi (d. 1635) gained prominence as a mosque preacher and religious teacher, holding reputable posts at the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Ayasofya Mosque during his time in Istanbul. Kadızade’s career rise can be explained in part by support from Sultan Murad IV and his attempts to bring the Janissaries under control, as we shall see. Kadızade had been taught by the students of Birgivi, but due to the fact that it was Kadızade who popularized those teachings, the emerging movement was named after him. Like his predecessor Birgivi, Kadızade wrote works covering various topics, including matters of faith, jurisprudence, and condemnation of religious innovations, including innovated grave visits. Kadızade was clearly an admirer of Ibn Taymiyya, translating and supplementing one of Ibn Taymiyya’s works on the subject of governance for Sultan Murad IV. In doing so, Kadızade was outlining a vision for reform, emphasizing how to rectify societal corruptions, and highlighting the need to follow the Qurʾān and Sunna as the basis of a sound Islamic community.15
Not dissimilar to Birgivi before him, Kadızade had been attracted to the Sufi path earlier in life and had joined the Khalwatī ṭarīqa. He had later left the ṭarīqa dissatisfied, and resumed his career in mosque preaching. He then became vocal in condemning Sufi practices and the Khalwatīs bore much of the brunt of his condemnation. Kadızade was particularly known for his scholarly clashes with the Khalwatī Sufi Shaykh, ʿAbdülmecid Sivasi. Both Kadızade and Sivasi had enjoyed the patronage of Sultan Murad IV, and this may have gone a considerable way in popularizing their debate and spreading their fame. Sivasi was also a mosque preacher and both men started to amass followers. This saw an emerging debate amongst mosque preachers, with the rise of two rival groups competing for the same government preaching posts. Issues of religious controversy, usually reserved for scholars, were now being broadcast publicly on the pulpits of mosques by preachers from opposing camps.16 The group aligned with Kadızade came to be known by historians and their enemies as Kadızadeliler (Kadızadelis), although they preferred to be known in Turkish simply as Fakihler (fuqahāʾ in Arabic, i.e. jurists).17 It has been suggested that the term Kadızadeli was used by opponents attempting to distance them from orthodoxy and to designate them a newly emergent group.18 In this respect, there are similarities with the more recent use of the name Wahhābī.
Sultan Murad IV was known for his strict prohibitions of alcohol, tobacco and coffee in Istanbul, ordering the executions of those who broke these prohibitions. To understand the reasons for these bans, one should appreciate the nature of the recent discord occurring from among the Janissary troops. It is reported that, around that time, the Janissary soldiers were involved in all sorts of corruptions, such as smoking in the mosques, committing open fornication, shedding blood and raiding property. Coffee houses and taverns were known as the gathering places of Janissary discord, and so these prohibitions of tobacco and coffee should be understood in this context. Kadızade was certainly important in providing religious support for the Sultan in enforcing these bans.19
One of the main issues of Kadızadeli contention concerned innovated grave visits. Kadızade wrote Irshād al-uqūl, in which he addresses this issue, summarizing some of the arguments found in Ibn al-Qayyim’s Ighāthat al-lahfān. Kadızade’s position on innovated grave visits is strict and he compares the practice to the customs of pre-Islamic idolaters. By contrast, Sivasi defended such grave visits.20 The Kadızadeli movement also relied on a text called Ziyārat al-qubūr, most commonly attributed to Birgivi21 and again based on Ibn al-Qayyim’s Ighāthat al-lahfān. In Ziyārat al-qubūr, an opinion can be found that innovated grave visits, when taken to a certain level, were an issue over which blood could be spilt and property taken.22 In other words, the author considered it a matter over which war could be waged. This staunch opinion would have repercussions later through the centuries with the actions of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb.
From around the 1650s and after the death of Kadızade, Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Usṭuwānī (d. 1661) became the next famous Kadızadeli leader. He is a very important figure whose scholarship can be linked to Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. Al-Usṭuwānī was born in Damascus in 1608. Originally a follower of the Ḥanbalī school, he later switched to the Shāfiʿī school. He studied under scholars in Damascus and Egypt, later travelling to Istanbul, where he adopted the Ḥanafī school. During his career, he took positions at various mosques in Istanbul, including at the Ayasofya, the Sultan Ahmed and the Sultan Mehmed (Fatih) Mosques. Due to the strength of his scholarship and his effective preaching, al-Usṭuwānī assumed a role of leadership amongst the Kadızadelis. Through his popularity, he became the preacher for the elite guards at the palace of the Sultan. Al-Usṭuwānī’s influence as religious teacher in the palace grew further and he became known as ‘Padişah Şeyhî’(‘the Shaykh to the Sultan’)—to the young Mehmed IV.23
Under the leadership of al-Usṭuwānī, the Kadızadeli movement entered a new phase of militancy and heightened fervour. This period appears to have been characterized by Kadızadeli exhortations for laymen to participate in ‘enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong’, allowing them some use of force which, if left unqualified, contained the inherent danger of ensuing violence and vigilante behaviour. Al-Usṭuwānī himself held an uncompromising position against religious innovations and was willing to use state-endorsed violence to enforce that position if necessary. In his Risāla, his teachings recorded by a student in the Ottoman Turkish language, al-Usṭuwānī clarified the various forms of shirk (polytheism) and included under shirk the act of asking for intercession from the dead. In this work, he judged making vows and sacrifices to stones, trees and tombs as acts of kufr (unbelief), resulting in an eternal abode within hell.24 These are themes and views that would re-emerge some decades later in the book Kitāb al-Tawḥīd by Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb.
Around 1650–1, al-Usṭuwānī exerted his influence over the Grand Vizier, who gave a decree for the demolition of a Khalwatī Sufi lodge, with the Kadızadelis implementing that command. Attempts were made to extend this decree and destroy more Sufi lodges, but not without successful defence from Sufis and resistance from scholars who disapproved of forceful action against Sufi practices. During al-Usṭuwānī’s time, two Khalwatī Sufis wrote criticisms of Birgivi’s work, al-Ṭarīqa al-Muḥammadiyya, in an attempt to undermine the Kadızadeli movement. Al-Usṭuwānī and his followers took the matter to the Sultan, and after the verdict of a council of Ottoman scholars led by the Şeyhülislam, an injunction was passed preventing criticisms of Birgivi and his work.
In 1656, after the very recent appointment of Köprülü Mehmed Paşa as Grand Vizier, and sensing an opportunity for change, the Kadızadelis under al-Usṭuwānī set about implementing a plan for complete reform. Their vision was to secure the support of the young Sultan Mehmed IV, then to eliminate all religious innovations that had appeared since the beginning of Islam and to destroy Sufi lodges, forcing their opponents to renew their faith or face death. Kadızadelis gathered in the vicinity of the Fatih Mosque with weapons, ready for action and calling the people to rally to arms. Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed convened a meeting of scholars who judged the incitements of the Kadızadelis punishable by death. However, rather than having them executed, Köprülü Mehmed had al-Usṭuwānī and other Kadızadeli leaders exiled to Cyprus, with al-Usṭuwānī returning to Damascus later in 1656.
On his return, al-Usṭuwānī took a role in teaching at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, speaking about topics that the people there had never heard before.25 Later, he taught at the Salīmiyya School and attempted to gain the chief teaching position in the Umayyad Mosque, but the post was given to another candidate. Al-Usṭuwānī passed away soon afterwards.26 Although he had failed to obtain that chief role at the Umayyad Mosque, his son Muṣṭafā al-Usṭuwānī was appointed to that position some time after his father’s death, reportedly following his father’s path and method.27
The account of al-Usṭuwānī may surprise many people. With al-Usṭuwānī, we have an essentially (so-called) ‘Wahhābī’ vision to eliminate all religious innovations, using force if necessary, except that this existed about 50 years before Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb was born, and it was being implemented by an imam to the Ottoman Sultan. Some 80 to 90 years later, this vision would be enacted with greater success by Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb from outside the Ottoman lands. Given this striking similarity and the scholarly links between Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb and al-Usṭuwānī, which we will later examine in detail, the possibility that al-Usṭuwānī was the political and religious forerunner to Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb deserves further consideration and investigation.
VANİ, AL-MAGHRIBĪ AND THE KÖPRÜLÜ ERA
The history of the Kadızadeli movement in Istanbul does not end with al-Usṭuwānī; rather, interestingly, it continues with the very man who had organized his exile. It is clear that Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed had little tolerance for instigators of potential civil discord, and his exiling of the prominent Kadızadeli leaders appears to have been a political measure to exert his authority as the new Grand Vizier. It may initially be assumed that Köprülü Mehmed was an enemy to the Kadızadelis. However, rather than having the Kadızadeli leaders executed as originally decreed, he arranged instead for their exile—an act of leniency. Indeed, it is documented that Köprülü executed a number of Sufi leaders at around the same time, dealing with them much more severely. Köprülü went on to implement Kadızadeli-style bans on certain Sufi practices.28 T. Smith, who travelled to Istanbul at that time, gives the following description of Köprülü: ‘This man also forbade the Dervishes to dance in a ring and turn round, which before was their solemn practice at set times before the people’.29
Furthermore, when Köprülü Mehmed’s son Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Paşa took on the role of Grand Vizier after his father’s death, he became the major patron of the next famous Kadızadeli leader, Sayyid Vani Mehmed Efendi (d. 1685).30 Mehmed Vani and the Köprülü family are important because, through them, the Kadızadeli movement entered an era of heightened power. This Köprülü era, up until 1683, marks the last period of extended flourishing and expansion for the Ottomans, and their greatest landmass,31 during which they were implementing Kadızadeli policies.
After travelling widely for his religious education, Mehmed Vani had settled in Istanbul, establishing himself as an eloquent and persuasive preacher based at the Sultan Selim Mosque. He had already struck up a friendship with Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed, the son of the Grand Vizier. Through this friendship, when Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed replaced his father as Grand Vizier in 1661, Vani was able to gain the respect of Sultan Mehmed IV. Vani was appointed as teacher to the Sultan and also to the Sultan’s son, receiving the title of imperial preacher (Hunkar va’izi). Like al-Usṭuwānī before him, Vani became known as ‘Padişah Şeyhi’(‘the Shaykh to the Sultan’). Using his political influence, Vani managed to persuade the Sultan to forbid Sufi dancing rituals and innovated grave visits.32 In 1668, Vani gained support from the Grand Vizier and the Sultan to have a Bektashi shrine demolished,33 an act that was unlikely to have gained them any friends from the Alevi-Bektashi spiritual mentors of the Janissaries. Since the military were often the main enforcers of Kadızadeli prohibitions, it seems likely that there was competition between the Kadızadelis and the Alevi-Bektashis for the hearts and minds of the ordinary Janissary soldiers.
Around 1671, Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed established an important relationship with a Moroccan ḥadīth scholar called Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Maghribī (d. 1683), who also had reported affiliation with the Shādhilī Sufi ṭarīqa. About a year later, al-Maghribī was promoted to the guardianship of the Ḥaramayn awqāf (the trusts of the two Sacred Sanctuaries) in Makka and Madina. Importantly, he was also given a decree from the Ottoman Sultan to outlaw certain unorthodox Sufi customs. Despite his own Sufi connections, al-Maghribī had effectively become the agent for Kadızadeli reforms in Makka and Madina, with the prohibitions mirroring those in Istanbul at the same time.34
Grand Vizier Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed passed away in 1676,35 but the influence of Vani in Istanbul and of al-Maghribī in the Hijaz continued. As part of an expansionist Ottoman vision, and aiming to mobilize Janissary military zeal, Vani was appointed army preacher for the 1683 Vienna campaign, led by the new Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Paşa, the son-in-law of Köprülü Mehmed.36 This Vienna mission resulted in a major defeat for the Ottomans, which some chroniclers attributed to poor military planning, weak leadership, disunity in the military ranks and lack of piety.37
Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Paşa was later executed for this defeat.38 Vani was exiled to his land near Bursa, dying in 1685,39 with one account recording that he was murdered by enemies.40 After Vani’s exile, his reforms unravelled and the Kadızadeli political influence in Istanbul crashed. The Vienna defeat also left Sultan Mehmed IV very unpopular, and he was dethroned in 1687 in a military coup.41 Given the Alevi-Bektashi influence over the Janissary corps, their spiritual mentors would no doubt have opposed the recent Kadızadeli reforms, both politically and religiously. After the military coup, Mehmed IV was imprisoned and banished from Istanbul to Edirne, where he died around 1692–3.42 In the Hijaz, al-Maghribī’s venture into politics also left him unpopular. He was exiled from the region in 1682, dying in Damascus about one year later.43 The timing of his exile coincided closely with the Vienna defeat, and thus Kadızadeli political influence faltered in Istanbul and the Hijaz at almost the same time.
AL-NĀBULUSĪ AND ṢUNʿaLLĀH AL-ḤALABĪ
Following the defeat in Vienna and the sudden political weakening of the Kadızadelis, Damascus then became their main stronghold, probably due to a lasting influence from al-Usṭuwānī and his followers. Interestingly, one of the best pictures of Kadızadeli activity in Damascus can be constructed by examining the writings of an opposing Sufi scholar, ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1731).
Al-Nābulusī was a controversial Naqshbandī Sufi Shaykh, Ḥanafī jurist and ḥadīth scholar from Damascus. Many of his opinions on Sufi beliefs and practices put him in conflict with the Kadızadelis of his time.44 Al-Nābulusī reportedly characterizes his opponents with the following qualities: ‘they deny vocal Dhikr; they call the Sufis Kāfirs (unbelievers); they despise the descendants of the Prophet and they destroy their shrines; they claim you cannot make Duʿā (supplication) to the dead; these Turks give Fatwās on the impurity (Najāsa) of tobacco, saying the smoker’s prayer is null and void’.45
Al-Nābulusī concentrated a great deal of his scholarly efforts on attempting to refute his Kadızadeli opponents, as evidenced by his written output. His aim appears to have been a thorough deconstruction of the Kadızadeli movement and its positions. He wrote works defending music, Sufi whirling, and smoking tobacco, as well as defending the works of the Sufi Ibn ʿArabī and the doctrine of waḥdat al-wujūd. While in seclusion for seven years, he wrote a commentary on Birgivi’s al-Ṭarīqa al-Muḥammadiyya, which seems to have been an attempt to neutralize this work, given its importance for the Kadızadelis.
Additionally, around 1673, al-Nābulusī wrote a book about grave visits titled Kashf al-nūr ʿan aṣḥāb al-qubūr,46 asserting that the miracles of saints continue after death and that help can be sought directly from them. Within this work, he describes his opponents as fearing unbelief (kufr) and polytheism (shirk) for the common folk, and, in order to protect them, preventing visits to tombs, destroying the structures built over the graves of the pious, and removing the covering cloths, placed in decoration. He writes: ‘They say they perform this desecration to show the masses that dead saints have no power to defend themselves’, and then, significantly, al-Nābulusī proceeds to charge them with unbelief.47 He certainly demonstrates here a low threshold for accusing his opponents of unbelief, and this tendency is further evidenced in the following example.
In a letter written from Aleppo dated around 1730, he is asked: ‘What do you say of this situation: A man calls out “Yā Rasūl Allāh!” and another man says, “The Messenger of Allāh is dead. His madad (assistance) has ceased”. Please respond … because the second man is a Kadızadeli of high standing’. Al-Nābulusī then responds by seemingly equating this second man’s words with denial of the continuing prophethood of the Prophet, and therefore unbelief.48
This letter is important because it shows the presence of Kadızadelis in Syria—specifically Aleppo —even until the 1730s, just one decade before Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb declared his mission. Indeed, a scholar from Aleppo contemporary with al-Nābulusī, ṢunʿAllāh al-Ḥalabī (d. 1708) wrote a book called Sayf Allāh ʿalā man kadhaba ʿalā awliyāʾ Allāh (The sword of God against the one who belies the friends of God). In this work, ṢunʿAllāh al-Ḥalabī directly rebutted the concepts found in al-Nābulusī’s book on grave visits and strongly opposed asking help from dead saints:
Nowadays, multitudes from amongst the Muslims have emerged claiming that the saints have powers of disposal (tasarrufāt) in their life and after death, and through them help is sought in difficulties and calamities, and by their aspirations, matters of concern are resolved, so they come to their graves, call to them to fulfil their needs, adducing as evidence [for this practice] that these are miracles from them. Some who claim knowledge of juristic issues reinforce this for them, and support them with Fatwās and treatises … This, as you see, is speech containing negligence and excess, and extremism in the religion due to abandoning precaution. Rather, therein is eternal damnation and infinite punishment, due to what it contains of the odours of actual Shirk, and of contending with the authoritative Mighty Book and opposition to the beliefs of the Imams, and that which this Umma has agreed upon.49
Importantly, ṢunʿAllāh al-Ḥalabī is here reporting a new emergence: ‘Nowadays, multitudes from amongst the Muslims have emerged…’. It would seem highly likely that the political weakening of the Kadızadelis had allowed such groups to come out in strength and confidence, largely unopposed from Istanbul, and as a consequence, now much stronger in the rest of the Ottoman lands.
ṢunʿAllāh al-Ḥalabī’s work deals with the same basic issues as al-Nābulusī’s book, but from the opposite viewpoint. This raises the strong possibility that he wrote it as a direct refutation. Coming from Syria, being a Ḥanafī jurist and preacher (wāʿiẓ), and writing about Kadızadeli themes during this era, ṢunʿAllāh al-Ḥalabī’s biographical details would certainly appear to fit the Kadızadeli profile,50 bearing in mind that the Kadızadelis did not generally apply this name to themselves. Crucially, his book is referenced in early Saudi scholarship,51 so learning more about the life and works of this scholar seems important in order to determine whether he had any Kadızadeli links or contacts with known ḥadīth circles, particularly those in Damascus and the Hijaz.
His book, Sayf Allāh, seems to have been one of the very few works in response to the writings of ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī. Al-Nābulusī was perhaps so comprehensive in his deconstruction of the Kadızadeli movement that it would have been too difficult and time-consuming for the remaining Kadızadelis to mount an equally comprehensive academic defence. In any case, after the defeat in Vienna, the Kadızadelis had lost their political influence in Ottoman lands, and so such a full academic response was unlikely to have been politically fruitful. In his critiques, al-Nābulusī probably contributed to undermining the movement’s reliance on the works of Birgivi, and by doing so, inadvertently set the stage for a new reformer to continue the Kadızadeli efforts, with a fresh start and with greater emphasis on ḥadīth sciences.
AL-RŪMĪ AND THE 1711 CAIRO RIOT
Weakened after the 1683 Vienna defeat, and politically displaced by scholars like al-Nābulusī, the Kadızadelis would become more distanced from state religious institutions within Ottoman lands. In this context, it is worth mentioning the 1711 riot caused in Cairo by a Kadızadeli preacher and student of knowledge, known simply as al-Rūmī. His provocative sermons incited such discord that Azhar scholars openly responded to his contentions. Reading from the works of İmam Birgivi and echoing the themes of ṢunʿAllāh al-Ḥalabī’s work, al-Rūmī objected to various aspects of innovated grave visits and associated beliefs about the miracles of saints after death. He emphasized enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, condemning those who did not perform this duty, as he understood it. He demanded that Sufi lodges be converted into madrasas. Furthermore, he described those gathered in groups who ‘shout and jump until midnight on the pretense of performing a dhikr’52 as committing an act of unbelief, mirroring the tough fatwā of the Ottoman Şeyhülislam Ebu’s-Su‘ud against dawarān almost two centuries before. Azhar scholars responded by affirming the miracles of saints after death. They stated that if someone denies that the Prophet can see the Preserved Tablet, as al-Rūmī is reported to have denied, then ‘he must be rebuked by the ruler and [if he does not come to reason] be killed’.53 To this, al-Rūmī responded by declaring those Azhar scholars to be unbelievers and rallied his followers to action, resulting in an estimated thousand people, mostly Turkish soldiers, taking to the streets in support of the preacher. Due to the ensuing discord, the wider military was finally sent in and al-Rūmī forced to flee, travelling to Syria by boat.54
Given the staunch activism of al-Rūmī, it seems unlikely that he would have been satisfied to cease his preaching following his expulsion from Cairo. Indeed, given the staunchness of the Kadızadelis in general and their prominence on the Ottoman scene for so long, it seems almost inconceivable that they would remain silent and inactive despite their political weakening. Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, who lived in this time and climate, would somehow capture this mood in the era and effectively revive these Kadızadeli sentiments.
MUḤAMMAD IBN ʿABD AL-WAHHĀB AND HIS SCHOLARLY LINEAGES
Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb was born around 1703 to the tribe of Banū Tamīm, in ʿUyayna in the Najd region of modern Saudi Arabia. Najd at that time was outside Ottoman governance and instead was ruled by tribal chiefs and emirs. His father ʿAbd al-Wahhāb was from a respected line of Ḥanbalī scholars in that area. Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb travelled to the Hijaz and studied with various scholars, including Shaykh ʿAlī Afendī al-Dāghistānī, Shaykh ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm al-Najdī, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Aḥsāʾī, Shaykh Ismāʿīl al-ʿAjlūnī and Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī. He returned to ʿUyayna, staying there for a time, then travelled to Basra and studied under Shaykh Muḥammad al-Majmūʿī. It was in Basra, with its sizeable Shiʿa populations and their elaborate beliefs and rituals, that Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb appears to have first become openly vocal against religious innovations, particularly those relating to grave visits. He left Basra and travelled to al-Ahsa studying with scholars there, although it is clear he had already formed his strong views by then. He then returned to Najd to stay with his father, and on his father’s death is reported to have become active in his mission for reform. After some efforts, he formed a political and religious alliance with Muḥammad ibn al-Saʿūd, setting up the Emirate of Diriya in 1744,55 the first Saudi state.56
Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb wrote many books, concentrating on creedal matters, avoiding shirk (polytheism) and eliminating religious innovations, particularly on the issue of grave visits. Interestingly, in his book, al-Mufīd al-mustafīd fī kufr tārik al-tawḥīd, he presents a tough verdict taken from the Ḥanafī school, against Sufi dancing rituals,57 in common with the Kadızadeli position before him. He is best known for his work Kitāb al-Tawḥīd.58
Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb found himself initially opposed by many scholars within the Najd region, including his brother Sulaymān,59 and according to some reports, even his father.60 This is an indication that he was importing an understanding at variance with the common scholarship within the Najd area. An examination of his scholarly background certainly shows a strong influence from outside Najd, notably Damascus, even if he never actually travelled there.
The scholarly teachers of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb are mentioned in an early work of the Muwaḥḥidūn movement, commonly attributed to his grandson, Sulaymān, al-Tawḍīḥ ʿan tawḥīd al-khallāq fī jawāb ahl al-ʿIrāq. Here, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb is described as having studied under numerous scholars, specifically gaining scholarly authorizations (ijāzāt) in ḥadīth from three of his teachers, Shaykh ʿAli Afendī al-Dāghistānī, Shaykh ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm al-Najdī and Shaykh ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Aḥsāʾī, all of whom studied in Damascus. The ijāzāt mentioned in al-Tawḍīḥ from these three teachers all go back to Damascene ḥadīth circles during the time of al-Usṭuwānī, centering around the notable Ḥanbalī scholars, Abū l-Mawāhib, his father ʿAbd al-Bāqī, and Muḥammad al-Balbānī. In contrast, no apparent mention is made of any ijāzāt given from Shaykh Ismāʿīl al-ʿAjlūnī or Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī.61
Of the students of Abū l-Mawāhib, ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm al-Najdī had likewise been a Ḥanbalī jurist and scholar of ḥadīth, and was considered a prominent teacher of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. Abdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm was also born in Najd, later moving to Madina with his father and studying under scholars there. He travelled to Damascus to continue his learning, and later returned to teach in Madina. He reportedly passed on his teachings from Abū l-Mawāhib from Damascus to Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, with the works and ijāzāt he had received.62 Importantly, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb is reported to have documented in his own handwriting these ijāzāt from Abū l-Mawāhib, referring to him as Shaykh al-Islām.63 This is an honorific indicative of high respect and strong influence in scholarship, passed on to Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb by his teacher, ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm.
ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm was clearly concerned about the situation in Najd and had a plan. There is a very interesting report in which he asks Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, ‘Do you want me to show you a weapon I have prepared for al-Majmaʿa [his family’s hometown in Najd]?’. He then proceeds to show Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb his library of books, saying, ‘This is what I have prepared for them’(although he died before ever returning to his hometown).64 This incident shows that ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm had a strong role in conveying his vision for Najd to his student, imparting the contents of his library, his accumulated knowledge, and perhaps even a template for comprehensive change. There is also the undertone of a militant agenda here, with the chief emphasis on scholarly knowledge.
Another of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb’s teachers was Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī, who was a ḥadīth scholar with established affiliation to the Naqshbandī Sufi ṭarīqa, teaching in the Mosque of the Prophet in Madina. He was known for condemning religious innovations, calling for ijtihād and opposing taqlīd, and was undoubtedly influential on the outlook of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb in these respects.65 One of his own principal teachers had been Abū Ṭāhir al-Kūrānī, whose teachers included the Kadızadeli scholar, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Maghribī.66 Moreover, Abū Ṭāhir al-Kūrānī’s father and teacher, Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī, had studied in Damascus with ʿAbd al-Bāqī al-Ḥanbalī, the father of Abū l-Mawāhib.67 Thus, Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī’s scholarly lineage crossed through those same Ḥanbalī circles in Damascus, as well as the Kadızadeli-affiliated scholarship of Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Maghribī.
Why is the mention of scholarly authorizations (ijāzāt) important? A specific ijāza is an indicator that the teacher approved of his student and deemed him worthy of teaching that particular subject matter, whether narrating ḥadīth or instructing from a particular book. The specific ijāzāt of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb not only show from whom he took knowledge, but also indicate which teachers approved of him, and this is particularly relevant when those ijāzāt point in the same direction—to Damascus.
The fact that the cited ijāzāt of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb return to Abū l-Mawāhib demonstrates a strong transmission of scholarly approval and is highly pertinent, since Abū l-Mawāhib mentions that he was the student of the Kadızadeli-affiliated scholar, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Maghribī, and the Kadızadeli leader, Muḥammad al-Usṭuwānī.68
Abū l-Mawāhib had many teachers, but the particular influence of al-Usṭuwānī can be understood through Abū l-Mawāhib’s description of him. In his account of al-Usṭuwānī he seemingly approves of his teacher’s stern approach to enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, and mentions attending his sermons of exhortation and advice, as well as his scholarly gatherings, obtaining ijāzāt from him (although there is no apparent mention of any in ḥadīth). He mentions also that al-Usṭuwānī removed several reprehensible practices in Damascus, such as the wailing of women during funerals, and that he ordered the carrying of sticks with which to beat them.69 Abū l-Mawāhib relates this, but does not report disagreement with his teacher on this tough measure.
The examination of these scholarly lineages is interesting, but the cautionary words of Dallal should be remembered: ‘The “intellectual family-trees” of students and teachers cannot serve as evidence for common origins; education acquired from the same teacher could be, and indeed was, put to completely different uses by different students, and the commonality of the source does not prove that the outcome is identical or even similar’.70
Clearly, such ‘family-trees’ are indeed required to show common origins, so what Dallal seems to imply here is that these ‘family-trees’ are necessary but not sufficient to show common origins. In the case of the Kadızadeli movement and the Muwaḥḥidūn movement of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, not only can a commonality of source be demonstrated with the scholarly lineages, but also a commonality of outcome: their political, religious and militant visions were virtually identical. Furthermore, in this context Dallal does not mention the ijāza system, which provides evidence that the teacher approved of the student. This can be used to demonstrate a flow of scholarly approval and influence through the generations, which is what we have here.
Is there a direct transmission of teachings from al-Usṭuwānī to Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb through the few generations of teachers? Given the similarities in their militant approaches against religious innovations, the prominence of al-Usṭuwānī and the Kadızadeli movement in Damascus, where the teachers of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb had studied, and the close chronology of one movement disappearing (1730s) in the Ottoman heartlands and the other movement appearing (1740s) in Najd, some direct transmission of teachings seems highly likely. The teaching influence of al-Usṭuwānī in the Umayyad Mosque, as well as his son and other scholars such as al-Maghribī, is very likely to have been carried through scholars like Abū l-Mawāhib to the teachers of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb.
Essentially, this review of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb’s scholarly authorizations (ijāzāt) reveals that his teachers had been students from the Ḥanbalī ḥadīth circles in Damascus, at a time of heightened Kadızadeli activity there and during the crucial period when the Kadızadelis had suddenly lost their political influence in Istanbul. Featured prominently in these circles is the scholarly figure of Abū l-Mawāhib. Of the students of Abū l-Mawāhib, ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm appears to have been most important in imparting his vision for Najd to Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. The influence through these generations of scholars is emphasized further with Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb calling Abū l-Mawāhib Shaykh al-Islām when documenting the latter’s ijāzāt from ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm. Crucially, Abū l-Mawāhib had, in turn, been the student of the two most prominent Arab Kadızadeli-linked scholars, al-Maghribī and al-Usṭuwānī. Given this strong scholarly connection, what is striking is the similarity in the visions of al-Usṭuwānī and Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, particularly in their ambition and methods for eradicating religious innovations.
Even if a direct transmission of specific teachings cannot be decisively proved between Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb and the Kadızadeli scholars, the links remain. His scholarship was largely a product of Damascene Ḥanbalī circles, as evidenced by his ijāza qualifications, even if he never went to Damascus himself. Al-Usṭuwānī was also a product of Damascene Ḥanbalī circles earlier in his life, arriving at his staunch opinions prior to moving to Istanbul, and maintaining his links with those Ḥanbalī circles on his return to Damascus. The views of İmam Birgivi on religious innovations were essentially a mirror of the views of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim. When Birgivi’s views lost dominance amongst the Ottomans with the abrupt weakening of the Kadızadeli movement, the Ḥanbalī militant backlash could perhaps be viewed as inevitable.
The staunch Saudi policies, particularly on the theological issue of grave visits and associated beliefs, would eventually place them in opposition to the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans. The Ottomans, by this late stage, had largely adopted the opinions of those opposed to the Kadızadeli movement, such as al-Nābulusī, and were spreading such opinions all over the Muslim world via their influence over the ḥajj pilgrimage. This would lead to a prolonged conflict between the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans and the Saudis, eventually ending with the First World War and the abolition of the Caliphate, the consequences of which we still see to this day. The irony for the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans was that the actions of the Saudi state were consistent with the opinions of the Kadızadeli scholars who had dominated the political scene in the previous century.
During the Kadızadeli period, there were certainly other reformist movements, particularly within Sufism—sometimes termed ‘neo-Sufism’—prevalent in the Hijaz, dominating the ḥadīth circles there, and extending to the Indian Subcontinent. While sharing some similarities with the Kadızadelis in their opinions against religious innovations, such neo-Sufi movements were driven by the ṭarīqas and Sufi Shaykhs themselves and were marked by efforts to curb excessive Sufi practices, but generally without forceful methods. For instance, the reformist trends of the Naqshbandī Mujaddidī ṭarīqa of Aḥmad al-Sirhindī during that time could be considered within this category. However, one sees a general absence of actual Sufi Shaykhs amongst the prominent leadership of the Kadızadeli movement. Moreover, the Naqshbandī Mujaddidīs do not appear to have used forceful methods against those who disagreed with them, particularly within the Hijaz where Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb would have encountered them.71 For instance, there is a reported allegation that Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī warned against his student Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb; Dallal uses this report to support his conclusion on ‘intellectual family-trees’.72 It seems unlikely that Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb adopted his militancy from Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī; rather, the evidence would indicate an influence here from ʿAbdullāh ibn Ibrāhīm al-Najdī.
As highlighted, the term Kadızadeli was externally applied to the movement. Given this and the standard opinions against religious innovations throughout the Muslim world at that time and in preceding centuries, questions are raised regarding whether the Kadızadelis can be viewed as distinct from the orthodoxy at all and who exactly should be considered Kadızadeli. However, despite this reservation, the term Kadızadeli has gained general acceptance amongst historians and it does appear to carry validity in identifying a certain type of staunch activism within Ottoman society in the 1600s against religious innovations, particularly on the issue of grave visits. It is in this staunch activism, and in declaring opponents unbelievers, that the Kadızadeli movement seems to have most in common with the Muwaḥḥidūn movement of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, largely distinct from other groups and movements at that time. Both would cause consternation within the Ottoman establishment, and despite Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb starting his movement in Najd, it would remain enmeshed within the context of Ottoman politics.
Admittedly, the Kadızadelis did not seem to have a systematic and well-defined approach against their opponents.73 During the time of Kadızade, their strategy consisted largely of debates and sermons, without recourse to violence. Under the leadership of al-Usṭuwānī, and through gaining the support of the Sultan and the Grand Vizier, the Kadızadelis also used military force and violence against their opponents, leading to fears about civil discord within Ottoman society. With Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed, those implicated with instigating civil discord were punished, and during the Köprülü era with Vani, specific legislation was used to curb the excessive practices of Sufis. Such legislation undoubtedly left the Kadızadelis extremely unpopular with their opponents, including the Alevi-Bektashi spiritual mentors of the Janissaries. Indeed, the Vienna defeat in 1683 appears to have been used subsequently by opponents as a reason to topple the Kadızadeli power base in Istanbul. With the downfall of the movement, there is evidence of increasing vigilante behaviour from Kadızadeli followers; the 1711 Cairo riot, instigated by al-Rūmī, is one example of this. It is important to clarify that al-Rūmī is mentioned in the historical record as being a student of knowledge and not a scholar. In any case, the eventual failure of the Kadızadeli movement within Ottoman lands may be explained, in part, by their lack of a systematic and consistent approach to implementing their reforms. With the works of Birgivi, what appears to have started as an attempt to rectify Sufi practice, from within an Ottoman framework, ended with escalating anti-Sufi sentiment.
From his writings it would appear that Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb did not reference the scholars of the Kadızadeli movement. Perhaps he had been aware of the inconsistencies in the Kadızadeli approach and preferred to establish a more systematic methodology, avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors. Crucially, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb would be directing his militancy towards enemies outside the newly established Saudi state, in contrast to the Kadızadelis who directed their militant reformist efforts within Ottoman society. Internal civil discord is not a feature that Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb will have wished to replicate in his vision for a pure Islamic community.
Moreover, as a staunch Ḥanbalī, it is probable that Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb did not entirely approve of some of the theological positions found within the works of the Kadızadeli scholars, despite their opposition to kalām theology in principle. Moreover, in the writings of Abū l-Mawāhib, one finds a Sufi inclination, along with his Ḥanbalī scholarship and admiration for Ibn Taymiyya. It was common for scholars at that time to have had affiliations with Sufi groups, and one finds this with some of the Kadızadeli scholars as well, which probably gave them greater intimacy with the views of their opponents, but some influences would have likely continued. Admittedly, these Sufi influences appear to have been founded on a strict and conservative understanding within the scholarly tradition.74 The Kadızadeli scholars, while wanting to implement their Taymiyyan vision in the face of religious innovations, remained restricted within the framework of Ottoman scholarship, which explains some of their theological and spiritual leanings. Despite the influence of his teachers, once back in his homeland within Najd, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb would not be bound by the same framework in enacting that common Taymiyyan vision.
Thus, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb appears to have avoided such complexities of Ottoman scholarship, even from his own teachers, preferring to reference earlier scholars with greater authority, particularly those from the early generations of Islam. This is where the anti-taqlīd stance of Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī was clearly important.
It is also possible that Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb was simply not aware of the Kadızadeli movement due to geographical distance, but remained influenced through his line of teachers. In any case, it is clear that the Kadızadeli scholars and the teachers of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb were part of a large network of scholars who admired Ibn Taymiyya. It would seem that the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya were alive and widespread in Ottoman lands during this era, even before the arrival of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb and his movement. In this respect, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb was not in need of the Kadızadeli scholars and their works, since Ibn Taymiyya was the common source of reference. At the very least, his scholarship can be viewed as the Taymiyyan counter-response to post-Kadızadeli Ottoman scholarship, which would explain the close chronology between the end of the Kadizadeli movement and the start of the Muwaḥḥidūn movement.
The failure of the Ottoman Kadızadeli movement, after the Vienna defeat in 1683, as well as marking the beginning of the rapid decline of the Ottomans, goes a long way towards explaining the emerging movements in Muslim lands in subsequent decades and centuries. ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī was to become a central figure in the development of the late Ḥanafī school. He would be quoted widely by the Syrian Ottoman scholar Ibn ʿĀbidīn in his Radd al-muḥtār, which is considered the key reference work for the late Ḥanafī school.75 Aḥmad Riḍā Khān (Ahmad Raza Khan), the founder of the Indian Barelvi movement, was clearly influenced, and would also quote al-Nābulusī in his work al-Malfūẓ al-sharīf, when advocating their shared concept of calling on saints for help.76 Such opinions, promoted by al-Nābulusī and the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans, spread far throughout the Muslim lands as a result of Ottoman control over the Sacred Sanctuaries in Makka and Madina. In counter-response to religious innovations, reformist movements would sprout in areas outside Ottoman control, including the Waliullah movement in India, the movement of ʿUsman dan Fodio (ʿUthmān b. Fūdī) in West Africa77, and as we have examined, the Muwaḥḥidūn movement of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb in the Najd region. In the meantime, the Janissaries and Alevi-Bektashi Sufis would continue their hold over Ottoman politics, until eventually the Janissary corps was ruthlessly disbanded and the Bektashi lodges eradicated by Mahmud II in 1826, in what became commonly known as the ‘Auspicious Event’.78 The eventual disbanding of the Janissaries occurred two centuries after Osman II had unsuccessfully attempted similar measures in the 1620s. By the 1820s, the Bektashis had already left their mark, and the Saudi conflict with the post-Kadızadeli Ottomans was now fierce, fresh and in full momentum. For the Ottomans, an unresolved conflict that had started within their society had escalated into a war between states.