The Wahhabis seen through European Eyes (1772-1830)

Deists and Puritans of Islam


In The Wahhabis seen through European Eyes (1772-1830) Giovanni Bonacina offers an account of the early reactions in Europe to the rise of the Wahhabi movement in Arabia. Commonly pictured nowadays as a form of Muslim fundamentalism, the Wahhabis appeared to many European witnesses as the creators of a deistic revolution with serious political consequences for the Ottoman ancien regime. They were seen either in the light of contemporary events in France, or as Islamic theological reformers in the mould of Calvin, opposing an established church and devotional traditions. These audacious but fascinating attempts to interpret the unknown by way of the better known are illustrated in Bonacina’s book.
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Biographical Note

Giovanni Bonacina, M.A. in Philosophy (1986), University of Milan, PhD (1993), University of Turin, is Professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Urbino. He has published monographs, translations and numerous articles mainly on German historical and political thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Table of contents



Chapter I: A Deistic Revolution in Arabia

1. Niebuhr: a new religion in Najd
2. Grounds for Niebuhr’s impressions and their early circulation
3. Volney: a “great political and religious revolution in Asia”
4. Olivier: wandering Wahhabis and Persian pilgrims
5. Browne: a Najd “rebel”

Chapter II: Literary Disputes and Colonial Sights

1. Silvestre de Sacy: a hypothesis of continuity of the Qarmatians
2. Rousseau: a “reforming sheik of Mohammedanism”
3. Corancez: “the cult of the Koran in its original simplicity”
4. Rousseau, Corancez and their sources
5. Waring: the fractured “foundation stone”
6. Valentia and other English voices: “the din of hostile arms” at Mecca

Chapter III: Muslim “Puritans”

1. Seetzen before the “emir of Wuhabisten”
2. Badia y Leblich: a “swarm of bees round the Kaaba”
3. European testimonies of the “redemption of Mecca”
4. Wahhabi hostages in Cairo: Mengin’s “Précis”
5. Burckhardt: materials for a history of the Wahhabis
6. Burckhardt: Arabia from “Puritanism” to “infidel indifference”





All interested in the history of Wahhabism and its understanding in Europe, and anyone concerned with the cultural relationship between Europe and Middle East on the eve of colonialism.