Book Review: “The Divine Lightning” by Imam Sulaiman ibn Abdul Wahhab – translated by Shaykh Abu Ja’far al-Hanbali
It’s quite pertinent that I post this review right now as I recently reviewed Shaykh Abu Ja’far’s other translation on the same topic quite recently. This is a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since I heard about it, I was always under the impression I would have to wait for my Arabic to improve before I could do so, especially given the fact many Muslims are afraid to talk about controversial topics such as this, but Shaykh Abu Ja’far again has stepped up to the plate.
The writer of the original work is Imam Sulaiman ibn Abdul Wahhab, a Hanbali jurist and scholar who lived in the area of Najd, in modern day eastern Saudi Arabia in the 18th century CE. What makes him, and his work, important is the fact that he was the brother of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the founder of the ‘Muwahiddun’ movement, more commonly referred to as ‘Wahhabism’, and in its modern day form termed ‘Salafism’. This entire piece of work was a complete refutation and dismissal of the teachings his brother was espousing at this time, and is relevant today because the teachings of Salafism are based solely on Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab’s interpretation of the faith of Islam.
What the writer does in his work is break down the specific teachings of his brother, and provide the evidence as to why what he was teaching was complete misguidance and not in accordance with the practice of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) and his companions and those who followed them. The writer quotes numerous excerpts from the books of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Imam ibn al-Qayyim, which is relevant as most Salafi teachers, both historically and today, use their writings as justification for what they preach. The writer generally has concentrated on the issue of orthodox creed, and determining what are the implications of applying the understanding of creed by Salafis on people who are outwardly Muslim. An important subject to concentrate on, as when it comes to heresiology, creed is where it counts the most, and is where the most detrimental implications abound if understood incorrectly. Many of the issues raised by the writer are poignant for many Muslims today of all kinds of persuasion, the labelling of fellow brothers in faith into categories is raised repeatedly by the writer, and the implications for doing so are explained in detail but at the same time concisely.
One important addition to the text by the translator is a discussion on whether or not Imam Sulaiman defected towards the Muwahiddun movement as purported by some historical texts. The discussion given is factual and well rounded. Personally, after having read the book, I would find it difficult to believe that someone who literally proved another person wrong, would just give up and join someone they know was falling into misguidance and error.
My only criticism would not be of the text itself, but the publication. The translation as always is sound, however I think the publishers could have made many improvements. There are a number or spelling mistakes in the footnotes, the typesetting at times proves cumbersome to read, and the most detrimental things are the long footnotes put at the bottom of a page and spreading across at times to take up another three whole pages. Many of the footnotes are extremely important in understanding the text well, but having to read very long footnotes breaks the concentration of the main text. Once you finish reading the footnote at times you forget the point that was being raised by the original writer when you go back to it. A companion mentioned that possibly having an addendum of a set of essays at the back would be beneficial for future publications, it would mean the text would flow, but at the same time the translator would have an opportunity to explain important points in detail. It would seem the publishers were trying to test a different approach, as ‘The Divine Texts’ had all its footnotes at the back, whereas as this one has all of them added to the page itself. Perhaps, God willing, in the future they will find an approach that is satisfying to the majority, this minor complaint shouldn’t take away credit for a tremendous task.
As always recommended reading.