Force and Fanaticism

Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Beyond

July 2015 9781849044646 256pp


Wahhabism is an Islamic reform movement found mainly in Saudi Arabia. Closely linked to the Saudi monarchy, it enforces a strict code of morality and conduct monitored by mutawa (religious police), and governs every facet of Saudi life according to its own strict interpretation of Shariah, including gender segregation. Wahhabism also prohibits the practice of any other faith (even other forms of Islam) in Saudi Arabia, which is also the only country that forbids women from driving.

But what exactly is Wahhabism? This question drove Valentine to live in the Kingdom for three years, familiarising himself with its distinct interpretation of Islam. His book defines Wahhabism and Wahhabi beliefs and considers the life and teaching of Muhammad ibn Abd’al Wahhab and the later expansion of his sect. Also discussed are the rejection of later developments in Islam such as bid’ah; harmful innovations, among them celebrating the prophet’s birthday and visiting the tombs of saints; the destruction of holy sites due to the fear of idolatry; Wahhabi law, which imposes the death sentence for crimes as archaic as witchcraft and sorcery, and the connection of Wahhabism with militant Islam globally.

Drawing on interviews with Saudis from all walks of life, including members of the feared mutawa, this book appraises one of the most significant movements in contemporary Islam.


‘Dr Valentine has written an arresting study that combines the curiosity of the travel writer, the tenacity of a good journalist, and the rigour of the academic … provides not only an exhaustive account of Wahhabism’s founder, history and spread, doctrines, and practices, but also communicates something of the texture of its lived reality’ — Church Times

‘Valentine, a British Methodist pastor and teacher who taught in Saudi Arabia, has written a useful book about the desert kingdom … The author explores important topics, including the mutawwa, or religious police, and provides useful historical context, discussing the origins of “Wahhabism,” its alliance with the House of Saud, and the oil discoveries that changed everything.’ — The Jewish Voice

‘A thoughtful and comprehensive overview of Wahhabi Islam and its influence on public life in Saudi Arabia. The author’s mix of analyses and anecdotes makes for an interesting and easy read … Partly a travelogue, Force and Fanaticism also gives powerful impressions of life in the Kingdom, especially among ordinary people.’ — Middle East Journal

‘Admirable and comprehensive. Simon Valentine lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for three years and devoted much time and energy to mastering Wahhabi literature. He provides and invaluable guide to this history, beliefs and practices of Wahhabism. Erudite and well researched, this book — both informative and controversial — offers much food for thought, and self-critical reflection for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.’ — Ziauddin Sardar, author of Mecca: The Sacred City

‘A very useful primer on the religious and philosophical thought behind the Saudi regime which achieves a skilful blend of scholarly writing and colourful travelogue. Fascinating.’ — Christopher Davidson, author of After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies


Simon Ross Valentine is a freelance British lecturer and researcher into Islam and comparative religions who has taught part-time at Leeds University and Bradford University. His Islam and the Ahmadiyya Jama’at: History, Belief, Practice was published by Hurst in 2008.

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