Islamic Religious Movements

Category: Term Paper

Islamic Religious Movements: Sanusiyya and Wahhabiyya

Sanusiyya is a Sufi brotherhood that was established in the 19th century by Muhammad b. Ali al-Sanusi in North Africa. Wahhabiyya is a doctrine that was established by Mohammad b. Abd al-Wahhab in the middle of 18th century, in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula. A separate Muslim State Subcontinent is an article that talks of Mohammad Iqbal and his advocacy for s fundamental rethinking of Islamic thought.

From its inception, the Sanusiyya was denounced by the French and European powers because the movement was seen as a centre of anti-western subversion tactics across the Sahara region. The movement was established as an organization that would teach Sufi to its followers. However, it was known for its political role in the Sahara. The leader of the movement, Mohammad al-Sanusi, emerged as an advocate of Sunni and moderate Sufism. He was interested in the creation of a centralized and hierarchical order. This movement expanded in several sequences, in the east-west direction and establishment in Cyrenaica. Despite the fact that the movement expanded as a religious development, it displayed aspects of political might as it fought with local powers and other Islamic organization in order to acquire suitable space, especially, into the center of the Sahara. The brotherhood exploited its advantage in the trans-Sahara route and achieved commercial benefits. However, it was not successful in the sense that European powers were able to fight its dominance. The first failure came when the movement met with the French advance in the south. The French took control of most of its strongholds after attacks, for instance, in 1902. Despite the fact that the Sanusi were able to fight back, they were defeated by the Italian troops starting from the 1920’s following the signing of accords that were never implemented, as agreed (Triaud, 2004).

When Mohammad al-Wahhab started leading the Wahhabiyya movement, he faced resistance from other Hanbali scholars who considered his teachings to be dissent. His core teachings were based on Tawhid and shirk. He used this to attack the religious behavior of his contemporaries. He argued that most of the Muslims throughout the world had gone into a state of religious ignorance. He used verses and Hadith from the Quran, as the basic material for his teachings. He observed that God is the only, almighty lord and creator of the world. He also stated that people were supposed to obey God alone. In 1902, the Wahhabiyya movement was notable following the establishment of the third Saudi-Wahhabi state in the Arab Peninsula. This led to the revival of Wahhabi doctrine and its propagation that was aided by the religious and paramilitary movement, Ikhwan (Peskes & Ende, 2004).

The Wahhabi doctrine was successful in the sense that it was able to quell the revolt of many groups of the Ikhwan from 1927. The Wahhabi doctrine was able to do this by suppression of the revolt, subordination under the state and partial transformation into groups of the National Guard called muttawwiun. The Wayyabi doctrine was able to conquer the Hidjaz in 1925 and eliminated the Hashimite rule. The Wahhabi’s intervened in the traditional practices of the pilgrimage led to serious problems and international crises, for instance, the mahmal incident that happened in 1926. The events that occurred caused serious tension between Saudi Arabia and some Muslim countries like Egypt and Iran. The Wahhabi principles were still upheld in the twentieth century. In fact, some of the principles of the Wahhabi movement have been used by militant zealots in their agitation against betrayal off religious teachings upheld by Wahhabi legitimacy, such as the seizing of the haram of Mecca in 1979. Wahhabiyya has been transformed particularly in the twentieth century showing its presence and success in the current world (Peskes & Ende, 2004).

Religion Should be a Private, Public, Moral, or Political?

In a separate Muslim State in the subcontinent, Mohammed Iqbal addressed the question of whether religion should be a private, public, moral, or political matter. The clarification of these issues was particularly important in India where Muslims hold the minority position. His view was that the construction of a polity along national lines was unacceptable to a Muslim if it serves to displace the Islamism principle of solidarity. Mohammad Iqbal observes that there are certain societies that segregate Muslims to an extent that internal harmony cannot exist. This is because people suspect each other’s intentions, in addition to the fact that that people want to dominate others. He states that this issue could be because of circumstances or the fact that people do not recognize that each group has a right to free development as dictates their cultural traditions. He observes that communalism is the best solution to such a scenario. He observes India as the best example where Muslims ought to live with people of other religions harmoniously. Thus, he states that the demand for the creation of a Muslim India is justified. The principle of European democracy cannot work India. The proposal of the formation of a North-West Indian Muslim state as the final destiny for Muslims has not been achieved yet.

Sanusiyya and Wahhabiyya are both Islamic movements that were established and existed in the nineteenth century. However, the difference in the two movements is that Sanusiyya was more inclined to political issues than to religious issues. The movement concentrated in amassing wealth and capturing territories to gain control of vast areas within North Africa particularly in the Sahara region. On the other hand, Wahhabiyya concentrated on religious aspects more than political aspects. Mohammad al-Wahhab concentrated on teaching his followers the teachings of the Quran and the way they should behave. While his opponents condemned his doctrine as one of a personal opinion, Mohammad al-Sanusi and his doctrine were denounced as tenacious and a center of anti-western subversion. The three movements had leaders who were scholars and understood their courses. Mohammad Al-Sanusi concentrated on political issues; Mohammad Al-Wahhab concentrated on religion while Mohammad Iqbal concentrated on fundamental rethinking of Islam.

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Mohammad al-Sanusi and Mohammad al-Wahhab fall under the category of traditional Islamists while Mohammad Iqbal falls under the category of revolutionary Islamists. Mohammad al-Sanusi and Mohammad al-Wahhab fall under the category of traditional Islamists because they worked to preserve the traditional values of their doctrines as Islamist movements. While al- Sanusi taught the Sufi, Mohammad al-Wahhab used verses and Hadith from the Quran to teach the concept of Tawhid. These teachings were meant to preserve and progress the teachings of their doctrines to ensure that they lasted. On the other hand, Mohammad Iqbal was a revolutionary Islamist because he called for radical changes with respect towards how other people from different cultures, races, and religions view Muslims. He called for a change to communalist that integrates every member of the community to a harmonious society irrespective of their religious background or affiliations.


In conclusion, Sanusiyya, Wahhabiyya and Mohamad Iqbal’s teachings are Islamic religious movements that existed in dissimilar parts of the planet and had certain reformist goals. Of all the three, it is only Wahhadiyya that managed to reach its goals. Sanusiyya and Mohamad Iqbal’s teachings failed to realize their reform goals because of resistances in their place of operation.

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