Natana J. DeLong-Bas is an American scholar and the author of a number of books on Islam, as well as "numerous book chapters and encyclopedia articles" on the subject of "Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, Islamic thought and history, Islam and politics, and contemporary jihadism".
DeLong-Bas is assistant professor at the Boston College theology department. She also serves in a number of editorial, advisory and consulting roles. Previously DeLong-Bas has taught at Brandeis University and worked as a consultant for the RAND Corporation.
DeLong-Bas has expressed the view that there is too much negativity towards Wahhabism in the West, and in her writings has argued that Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was "not the godfather of contemporary terrorist movements", but
"a voice of reform, reflecting mainstream eighteenth-century Islamic thought. His vision of Islamic society was based upon monotheism in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews were to enjoy peaceful co-existence and cooperative commercial treaty relations."
DeLong-Bas believes that extremism in Saudi Arabia "does not stem from" Islam, but from issues such as oppression of the Palestinian people, "Iraq, and the American government's tying [the hands of] the U.N. [and preventing it] from adopting any resolution against Israel, have definitely added to the Muslim youth's state of frustration."
In an December 21, 2006 interview in the London daily Asharq Al-Awsat, DeLong-Bas was quoted as stating that she did "...not find any evidence that would make me agree that Osama bin Laden was behind the Attack on the Twin Towers". A month later in The Justice—the student newspaper of Brandeis University (where she was teaching at the time) -- she disputed the quote, stating: "Of course he did. He's the CEO of Al-Qaeda and the leader of their political agenda. All I claimed was that he didn't have anything to do with the logistics or the planning of the attacks themselves."
DeLong-Bas's book Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad was published in 2004 by Oxford University Press. It is based "on a close study of the 14 volumes" of collected works of Wahhabism's founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and has been called "the first extensive explication of the theology" of Wahhabism. It is divided into sections: a brief religious biography and history of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, theology, Islamic law, women and Wahhabism, jihad and the evolution of Wahhabism.
Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad has been praised as a "monumental work ... lucid and carefully documented", "often fascinating", and presenting "a nuanced discussion of Wahhab's Quranic interpretation", but also criticized as a "piece of scholarly trash" and of "markedly inferior quality", and guilty of "special pleading".
It has received positive reviews from David E. Long in Middle East Journal (a "monumental work ... a lucid and carefully documented assessment of Wahhabism."), Sara Powell in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs ("...a well-regarded, logically constructed, and considered --if perhaps somewhat sympathetic--analysis of Abd al-Wahhab's beliefs"), History magazine ("a ground-breaking study ... both controversial and informative").
But others have questioned the book and DeLong-Bas's views on Wahhabism. Author Stephen Suleyman Schwartz has called her an "apologist", criticizing her for among other things, receiving financial support from Saudi Arabia; not including as a source the correspondence of ibn Abd al-Wahhab, "which critics of Wahhabism and other Saudis consider key to understanding him"; and failing to mention the religious and/or governmental background of some Saudi Arabians mentioned in her acknowledgments.>
Journalist and author Michael J. Ybarra, called the book "often fascinating", and providing "a nuanced discussion of Wahhab's Quranic interpretation", but also complained that she "seems to bend over backward to give Wahhab the benefit of the doubt while dismissing his critics as biased." He also notes that DeLong-Bas "doesn't say ... where on earth" the tolerant form of Wahhabism described by her "ever existed", and that "the voice of Wahhab himself is largely absent from this book" because the author rarely quotes him.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, professor of law at University of California, Los Angeles who writes frequently on Islamic jurisprudence, expressed sorrow that Oxford University Press had published the book, stating "This doesn't qualify as scholarship -- it falls within the general phenomenon of Saudi apologetics."
Michael Sells, professor at the University of Chicago wrote that DeLong-Bas never challenges the propriety of Abd al-Wahhab's claim to authority to distinguish believers from unbelievers and to impose the most severe sanctions on those he disagrees with. Simon Ross Valentine suggested that the image of Wahhabism presented by Delong-Bas is a "rewriting of history that flies in the face of historical fact".
She focuses on four areas: theology, legal theory, proselytizing through education and jihad, and law on women.
Her book seemed to have been rushed into print with official Saudi support: DeLong-Bas thanked such individuals as Faisal bin Salman, whose status as a Saudi prince she failed to mention; Abd Allah S. al-Uthaymin, son of a notoriously extreme member of the Wahhabi clerical class in the kingdom; and Fahd as-Semmari, director of the King Abd al-Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. She also acknowledged the latter foundation for financial support.