Salafi jihadism

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Salafi jihadism or Jihadist-Salafism is a neologism used to describe a jihadist movement or ideology in the Salafi movement.

The terms "Salafist jihadists" and "Jihadist-Salafism" were coined by scholar Gilles Kepel in 2002[1][2][3][4] to describe "a hybrid Islamist ideology" of international Islamist volunteers in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union who had become isolated from their national and social class origins.[1] The concept is considered by some to be an academic term that "will inevitably be" simplified to "jihadism" or the "jihadist movement" in popular usage.[5]

Practitioners are referred to as "Salafi jihadis" or "Salafi jihadists". They are sometimes described as a variety of Salafi,[6] and sometimes as separate from "good Salafis"[3] whose movement eschews any political and organisational allegiances as potentially divisive for the Muslim community and a distraction from the study of religion.[7]

While Salafism had next to no presence in Europe in the 1980s, by the mid-2000s, Salafist jihadists had acquired "a burgeoning presence in Europe, having attempted more than 30 terrorist attacks among E.U. countries since 2001."[3] In the 1990, Jihadist-salafists of the Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya were active in the attacks on police, government officials and tourists in Egypt, and Armed Islamic Group of Algeria was a principle group in the Algerian Civil War.[1]

History and definition[edit]

Kepel [1][3] writes that the Salafis whom he encountered in Europe in the 1980s were "totally apolitical". But by the mid-1990s he met some who felt jihad in the form of "violence and terrorism" was "justified to realize their political objectives". The combination of Salafi alienation from all things non-Muslim—including "mainstream European society"—and violent jihad created a "volatile mixture".[3] "When you're in the state of such alienation you become easy prey to the jihadi guys who will feed you more savory propaganda than the old propaganda of the Salafists who tell you to pray, fast and who are not taking action".[3]

According to Kepel, Salafist jihadism combined "respect for the sacred texts in their most literal form, ... with an absolute commitment to jihad, whose number-one target had to be America, perceived as the greatest enemy of the faith."[8]

Salafi jihadists distinguished themselves from salafis they term "sheikist", so named because—the jihadists believed—the "sheikists" had forsaken adoration of God for adoration of "the oil sheiks of the Arabian peninsula, with the Al Saud family at their head". Principal among the sheikist scholars was Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz -- "the archetypal court ulema [ulama al-balat]". These allegedly "false" salafi "had to be striven against and eliminated," but even more infuriating was the Muslim Brotherhood, who were believed by Salafi Jihadists to be excessively moderate and lacking in literal interpretation of holy texts.[8] Iyad El-Baghdadi describes Salafism as "deeply divided" into "mainstream (government-approved, or Islahi) Salafism", and Jihadi Salafism.[6]

Another definition of Salafi jihadism, offered by Mohammed M. Hafez, is an "extreme form of Sunni Islamism that rejects democracy and Shia rule." Hafez distinguished them from apolitical and conservative Salafi scholars (such as Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz and Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh), but also from the sahwa movement associated with Salman al-Ouda or Safar Al-Hawali.[9]

According to Mohammed M. Hafez, contemporary jihadi Salafism is characterized by "five features":

  • immense emphasis on the concept of tawhid (unity of God);
  • God's sovereignty (hakimiyyat Allah), which defines right and wrong, good and evil, and which supersedes human reasoning is applicable in all places on earth and at all times, and makes unnecessary and un-Islamic other ideologies such as liberalism or humanism;
  • the rejection of all innovation (bid‘ah) to Islam;
  • the permissibility and necessity of takfir (the declaring of a Muslim to be outside the creed, so that they may face execution);
  • and on the centrality of jihad against infidel regimes.[9]

According to Michael Horowitz, Salafi jihad is an ideology that identifies the "alleged source of the Muslims’ conundrum" in the "persistent attacks and humiliation of Muslims on the part of an anti-Islamic alliance of what it terms ‘Crusaders,’ ‘Zionists,’ and ‘apostates.’"[10]

Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Al Sharif describes Salafi Jihadism as combining "the doctrinal content and approach of Salafism and organisational models from Muslim Brotherhood organisations. Their motto emerged as ‘Salafism in doctrine, modernity in confrontation’".[11]

Antecedents of Salafism jihadism include Islamist author Sayyid Qutb, who developed "the intellectual underpinnings" of the ideology. Qutb argued that the world had reached a crisis point and that the Islamic world has been replaced by pagan ignorance of Jahiliyyah.

The group Takfir wal-Hijra, who kidnapped and murdered an Egyptian ex-government minister in 1978, inspired some of "the tactics and methods" used by Al Qaeda.[3]

In Afghanistan the Taliban were of the Deobandi not Salafi school of Islam but "cross-fertilized" with bin Laden and other Salafist-Jihadis.[1]

Leaders, groups and activities[edit]


"Theoriticians" of Salafist Jihadism included Afghan jihad veterans such as the Palestinian Abu Qatada, the Syrian Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the Egyptian Mustapha Kamel, known as Abu Hamza al-Masri.[12] Osama bin Laden was its most well-known leader. The dissident Saudi preachers Salman al-Ouda and Safar Al-Hawali, were held in high esteem by this school.

Murad Al-shishani of the The Jamestown Foundation states there have been three generations of Salafi-jihadists: those waging jihad in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq. As of the mid-2000s, Arab fighters in Iraq were "the latest and most important development of the global Salafi-jihadi movement".[13] These fighters were usually not Iraqis, but volunteers who had come to Iraq from other countries, mainly Saudi Arabia. Unlike in earlier Salafi jihadi actions "a significant constituency of Egyptians" was not among the volunteers.[13][citation not found] According to Bruce Livesey Salafist jihadists are currently a "burgeoning presence in Europe, having attempted more than 30 terrorist attacks among E.U. countries" from September 2001 to the beginning of 2005".[3]

According to Mohammed M. Hafez, in Iraq jihadi salafi are pursuing a "system-collapse strategy" whose goal is to install an "Islamic emirate based on Sunni dominance, similar to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan." In addition to occupation/coalition personnel they target mainly Iraqi security forces and Shia civilians, but also "foreign journalists, translators and transport drivers and the economic and physical infrastructure of Iraq."[9]

In 2011, Salafist jihadists were actively involved with protests against King Abdullah II of Jordan,[14] and the kidnapping followed by a swift murder of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.[15][16]


Salafist jihadists groups include Al Qaeda,[6] the now defunct Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA),[8] and

According to Mohammed M. Hafez, "as of 2006 the two major groups within the jihadi Salafi camp" in Iraq were the Mujahidin Shura Council and the Ansar al Sunna Group.[9] There are also a number of small jihadist Salafist groups in Azerbaijan.[17]

The group leading the Islamist insurgency in Southern Thailand in 2006 by carrying out most of the attacks and cross-border operations,[18] BRN-Koordinasi, favours Salafi ideology. It works in a loosely-organized strictly clandestine cell system dependent on hard-line religious leaders for direction.[19][20]

Jund Ansar Allah is, or was, an armed Salafist jihadist organization in the Gaza Strip. On August 14, 2009, the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa, announced during Friday sermon the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Palestinian territories attacking the ruling authority, the Islamist group Hamas, for failing to enforce Sharia law. Hamas forces responded to his sermon by surrounding his Ibn Taymiyyah mosque complex and attacking it. In the fighting that ensued, 24 people (including Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa himself), were killed and over 130 were wounded.[21]

In the North Caucasus region of Russia, the Caucasus Emirate retains a hard-line Salafist-takfiri jihadist ideology. They are immensely focused on upholding the concept of tawhid, and fiercely reject any practice of shirk, taqlid, ijtihad and bid‘ah. They also believe in the complete separation between the Muslim and the non-Muslim, by propagating Al Wala' Wal Bara' and declaring takfir against any Muslim who is a mushrik (polytheist) and does not return to the observance of tawhid and the strict literal interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah as followed by Muhammad and his companions (Sahaba).[22]

In Syria and Iraq both Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS[23] have been described as Salafist-Jihadist. Jabhat al-Nusra has been described as possessing "a hard-line Salafi-Jihadist ideology" and being one of "the most effective" groups fighting the regime.[24] Writing after ISIS victories in Iraq, Hassan Hassan believes ISIS is a reflection of "ideological shakeup of Sunni Islam's traditional Salafism" since the Arab Spring, where salafism, "traditionally inward-looking and loyal to the political establishment" has "steadily, if slowly", been eroded by Salafism-Jihadism.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Jihadist-Salafism" is introduced by Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 219-22
  2. ^ ; and Guilain Deneoux, "The Forgotten Swamp: Navigating Political Islam," Middle East Policy, June 2002, pp. 69-71."
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Salafist movement by Bruce Livesey". PBS Frontline. 2005. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?| Martin Kramer| Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003, pp. 65-77.
  5. ^ Martin Kramer (Spring 2003). "Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?". Middle East Quarterly X (2): 65–77.  "French academics have put the term into academic circulation as 'jihadist-Salafism.' The qualifier of Salafism—an historical reference to the precursor of these movements—will inevitably be stripped away in popular usage."
  6. ^ a b c El-Baghdadi, Iyad. "Salafis, Jihadis, Takfiris: Demystifying Militant Islamism in Syria". 15 January 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "Indonesia: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don't Mix". International Crisis Group. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c "Jihad By Gilles Kepel, Anthony F. Roberts". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Suicide Bombers in Iraq By Mohammed M. Hafez". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Horowitz, Michael. "Defining and confronting the Salafi Jihad". 11 Feb 2008. Middle East Strategy at Harvard. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Al Sharif, Jamal. "Salafis in Sudan:Non-Interference or Confrontation". 03 July 2012. AlJazeera Center for Studies. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  12. ^ "Jihadist-Salafism" is introduced by Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 220
  13. ^ a b "The Rise and Fall of Arab Fighters in Chechnya" (PDF). Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "Jordan protests: Rise of the Salafist Jihadist movement". BBC News. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Body of Italian found in Gaza Strip house-Hamas". Reuters. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Italian peace activist killed in Gaza". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  17. ^ The Two Faces of Salafism in Azerbaijan. Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 40, December 7, 2007, By: Anar Valiyev
  18. ^ "A Breakdown of Southern Thailand's Insurgent Groups.". Terrorism Monitor (The Jamestown Foundation) 4 (17). September 8, 2006. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  19. ^ Rohan Gunaratna & Arabinda Acharya , The Terrorist Threat from Thailand: Jihad Or Quest for Justice?
  20. ^ Zachary Abuza, The Ongoing Insurgency in Southern Thailand, INSS, p. 20
  21. ^ Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 19, 2009.
  22. ^ Darion Rhodes, Salafist-Takfiri Jihadism: the Ideology of the Caucasus Emirate, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, March 2014
  23. ^ a b Hassan, Hassan (16 August 2014). "Isis: a portrait of the menace that is sweeping my homeland". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  24. ^ Benotman, Noman. "Jabhat al-Nusra, A Strategic Briefing" (PDF). circa 2012. Quilliam Foundation. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 

Further reading[edit]