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Wahhabism is a rigorously fundamentalist form of Islam founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703 - 1792). It is the predominant form of Islamist Islam in the world today.

The basic text of this form of Islam is the Kitab at-tawhid (Arabic, "Book of Unity"). Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun ("Unitarians"); Non-Muslims refer to followers of his sect as Wahhabis.

Wahhabism aims to cleanse Islam of what its adherents view as innovations, deviances, heresies and idolatries. In his view, by following his theology and practice, a Muslim would return to the original form of Islamic faith that Allah originally had intended all of mankind to follow. Most historians (both Arab and non-Arab), however, hold that Wahhabism is in fact a new form of Islam, containing many changes in both theology and practice.

Wahhabi Islam forbids the use of gravestones as tending toward idolatry, and the use of minarets (see mosque), because they are not known to have been used in the time of Muhammad. Smoking is forbidden as a religious offense. Wahhabism is the official practice of Islam in Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia considers it a crime to convert to any other form of Islam, or to convert to any other religion.

Wahhabis consider Wahhabism to be the only true form of Islam. They do not regard Shi'as as true Muslims, and are particularly hostile to Sufism. They are hostile to all non-Muslim religions.

The spread of Wahhabism

Wahhabism, as a totalitarian ideology, sought to completely supplant traditional Sunni Islam and dominate the Islamic world. This process began in the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In 1924 the Wahhabi al-Saud dynasty conquered the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, creating the Saudi state. The spread of Wahhabi Islam has been facilitated by Saudi oil revenues; Saudi laypeople, government officials and clerics have donated many tens of millions of dollars to create Wahhabi religious schools, newspapers and outreach organizations.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist organization, received financial support from the Saudis in the 1950s, in order to act as a counterweight to the secular Arab nationalism of Egypt's leader Abdul Nasser. This caused the Muslim Brotherhood to turn in the direction of Wahhabism. Most militant Islamist organizations are Wahhabi organizations - for example the militant group Hamas is a Palestinian descendant of the Muslim Brotherhood. The exception is the Shi'a Hizballah organization.

Many mosques in the United States have been funded by the Saudi government and the government of other oil-rich states. Likewise, many imams have been trained in Saudi Arabia. These facts lead some to claim that Wahhabi teachings are prevalent in American mosques. However, the prevalence of such teachings is questionable, and many mosques can be found having imams and preachers who follow different though processes.

The spread of Wahhabism has also reached the Balkans and the Caucasus, where the Wahhabis typically attempted to attract groups of Muslims who were threatened by groups of non-Muslims. The most notable examples of Wahhabi influence can be found in the Russian republic of Chechnya. There have been many attempts to spread Wahhabism among the Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro (esp. Kosovo) and FYR Macedonia, but the majority still continue to follow their entrenched traditions which are much more modern and tolerant. Another reason for the poor acceptance of extremist Vehabi views in the Balkans is that both the allies and the enemies of the Muslims in the recent conflicts happened to be Christians.

See also Totalitarian religious group.