Wahabees, Or Wahabites, an Arabian sect of Mohammedans, founded by Abd-el-Wahab in the middle of the 18th century in Nedjed, which, previous to the death of its founder in 1787, spread over a considerable portion of the Arabian peninsula. In, 1805 only Hadramaut and Oman remained free from subjection to it, Mecca having been taken by the Wahabite armies in 1803, and Medina in 1804. The temporal power of the Wahabees was largely reduced by the Porte in 1818, when their sheikh Abdallah, the great-grandson of Saoud, the friend and protector of Abd-el-Wahab, was compelled to surrender to Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mehemet Ali, and was taken to Constantinople and executed. The sect still exists, and is paramount in central Arabia, where, according to Palgrave, the dominions of the sultan of the Wahabees embrace not only Nedjed proper, but the adjacent provinces, and include 316 towns or villages, with a population of 1,219,000 in 1863. - Wahab reduced Mohammedanism to a pure deism; maintained that there had been no man directly inspired of God; that Moses and Jesus were virtuous men, but inferior in the perfection of their character to Mohammed, who however had no claim to be worshipped, since he was not of the divine nature.
There is, according to his instruction, no revealed religion, no divine book; the Koran is a good book indeed, but not a revelation from God; the Mohammedan religion is entitled to be called a divine religion, not as revealed by God to man, but because of its perfection. All reverence for the tomb or the birthplace of Mohammed, or any other saint, was in his view idolatry, and the worship of the prophet's tomb was prohibited while the Wahabees held Medina. Mohammed preached for all nations, and not for the Arabs alone; his doctrines were approved of God, and were to be propagated by the sword, and all who would not adopt them or who neglected compliance with them were to be severely punished or put to death. Traditions are not to be regarded as binding on the conscience. Good works are only the consequence of the rule that we should adore God as if he were present to our eyes; and though we cannot see him, we must know that he sees us. The use of wine, opium, or tobacco was sternly prohibited, and the immoral practices in which many of the Mohammedans indulged were forbidden under severe penalties. An income tax was levied, under the name of alms, on all the members of the sect, for the support of the government and the propagation of their creed.
The theocratic system of Wahab contemplated a divided power, the principal authority residing in the temporal chief, but the direction of all religious matters pertaining to the spiritual chief, and in all important matters the two advising together. Saoud, the first temporal chief of the Wahabees, had married the daughter of Wahab, and both the spiritual and temporal headship, after the death of the reformer, centred in the family of Saoud. During the period between 1765 and 1810 the chiefs acquired immense estates from the plunder of rebellious towns and the confiscation of their lands. Most of them afterward fell into the hands of Mehemet Ali. The present ruler of Nedjed and sultan of the Wahabees is a descendant of Saoud. - For an account of the Wahabite empire, see Palgrave's "Central and Eastern Arabia" (5th ed., London, 1869). See also Histoire dies Wahabites depuis leur origine jusqu'd Van 1809 (Paris, 1810), and Burckhardt's "Notes on the Bedouins and the Wahabys" (London, 1830).