Salafi movement

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The Salafi movement, also called the Salafist movement, Salafiyya and Salafism, is a reform[1] branch[2][3][4] movement within Sunni Islam.[5] The name derives from advocating a return to the traditions of the "ancestors" (salaf), the first three generations of Muslims said to know the unadulterated, pure form of Islam. Those generations include the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions (the Sahabah), their successors (the Tabi‘un), and the successors of the successors (the Taba al-Tabi‘in). Practically, Salafis maintain that Muslims ought to rely on the Qur'an, the Sunnah and the 'Ijma (consensus) of the salaf, giving them precedence over the later Islamic hermeneutic teachings.[6]

The Salafist doctrine is based on looking back to the early years of the religion to understand how contemporary Muslims should practice their faith.[7] They reject religious innovation or bid'ah and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic law).[8] The movement is sometimes divided into three categories: the largest group being the purists (or quietists), who avoid politics; the second largest group being the activists, who maintain regular involvement in politics; and the third group being the jihadists, who form a minority and advocate armed struggle to restore the early Islamic movement.[8] In legal matters, the Salafi are divided between those who, in the name of independent legal judgement (ijtihad), reject strict adherence (taqlid) to the four Sunni schools of law (madhahib) and others who remain faithful to these, chiefly the Saudi scholars, who follow the Hanbali Madhab.[9]


Salafis consider the hadith that quotes Muhammad saying, "The best of my community are my generation, the ones who follow them and the ones who follow them."[10] as a call to Muslims to follow the example of those first three generations, known collectively as the salaf,[11] or "pious Predecessors" (السلف الصالح as-Salaf as-Ṣāliḥ). The salaf are believed to include Muhammad himself,[12] the "Companions" (Sahabah), the "Followers" (Tabi‘un), and the "Followers of the Followers" (Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in).[13] Historically, the term Salafi as a proper noun and adjective had been used during the classical era to refer to the early theological school of Ahl al-Hadith.[14]


According to Bernard Haykel, "temporal proximity to the Prophet Muhammad is associated with the truest form of Islam" among many Sunni Muslims.[15]

Salafis are first and foremost religious and social reformers who are engaged in creating and reproducing particular forms of authority and identity, both personal and communal. They define [their] reformist project first and foremost through creedal tenets (i.e., a theology). Also important in its Manhaj (Ar:منهج i.e. Methodology) are certain legal teachings as well as forms of sociability and politics.[16]

The Salafi da'wa is a methodology, but it is not a madh'hab in fiqh (jurisprudence) as is commonly misunderstood. Salafis can come from the Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali, Hanafi or Zahirite law schools of Sunni Fiqh. In theology, Salafis are highly influenced by Hanbali doctrines.[17] The followers of Salafi school identify themselves as Ahlul Sunna wal Jama'ah and are also known as Ahl al-Hadith.[18][19][20] The Salafiyya movement champions this early Sunni school of thought, also known as traditionalist theology.[21]

Salafis place great emphasis on practicing actions in accordance with the known sunnah, not only in prayer but in every activity in daily life. For instance, many are careful always to use three fingers when eating, to drink water in three pauses, and to hold it with the right hand while sitting.[22]

Views on Taqlid (adherence to legal precedent)[edit]

The Salafi thought seeks the re-orientation of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) away from Taqlid (adherence to the legal precedent of a particular madhab) and directly back to the Prophet, his Companions and the Salaf. This preferred return to the pure way of the Prophet is termed "Ittiba" (following the Prophet by directly referring to the Scriptures).[23] In legal approach, Salafis are divided between those who, in the name of independent legal judgement (ijtihad), reject strict adherence (taqlid) to the four schools of law (madhahib) and others who remain faithful to these.[9][24][25]

Scholars of the Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia tend to follow the Hanbali madhab and generally permit Taqlid to Imams in following Fatwas (juristic legal opinions) and encourages following one of the four madhabs. While they doctrinally condemned Taqlid and advocated Ijtihad, historically the Wahhabi legal practice was grounded mostly within the confines of the Hanbali madhab, until recently. The doctrinal rejection of Taqlid by Wahhabis would lead to subsequent emergence of prominent Wahhabi ulema such as Sa'd ibn 'Atiq, Abd Ar-rahman Ibn Nasar As Sa'adi, Ibn 'Uthaymin, Ibn Baz, etc.; who would depart significantly from Hanbali law.[9][26][27][28][29]

Other Salafi movements, however, believe that taqlid is unlawful and challenge the authority of the legal schools. In their perspective, since the madhabs emerged after the era of Salaf al-Salih (pious predecessors); those Muslims who follow a madhab without directly searching for Scriptural evidences would get deviated.[30][31] These include the scholars of Ahl-i Hadith movement, Muhammad Nasir Al-Din al-Albani (d.2000), Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindhī (d. 1163), Ibn 'Amir al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 1182), al-Shawkānī (d. 1250), etc.; who completely condemn taqlid (imitation), rejecting the authority of the legal schools, and oblige Muslims to seek religious rulings (fatwa) issued by scholars exclusively based on the Qur’an and Hadith; with no intermediary involved.[32][33][27] The Ahl-i Hadith ulema would distinguish themselves from the Wahhabis who followed the Hanbali school while they considered themselves as following no particular school.[34] In contemporary era, Albani and his disciples, in particular, would directly criticise Wahhabis on the issue of Taqlid due to their affinity towards the Hanbali school and called for a re-generated Wahhabism purified of elements contrary to doctrines of the Salaf.[35][36][32]

Other Salafi scholars like Sayyid Rashid Rida (d. 1935) follow a middle course, allowing the layperson to do Taqlid only when necessary, obliging him to do Ittiba when the Scriptural evidences become known to him. Their legal methodology rejects partisanship to the treatises of any particular schools of law, and refer to the books of all madhabs. Following Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim, these scholars accept the rich literary heritage of Sunni Fiqh and consider the literature of the four Sunni law-schools as beneficial resources to issue rulings for the contemporary era.[37][27] At the far end of the spectrum, some Salafis hold that adhering to taqlid is an act of shirk (polytheism).[38]

Contemporary Salafis generally discard the practice of adhering to the established rulings of any particular madh'hab, condemning the principle of Taqlid (blind imitation) as a bid'ah(innovation) and are significantly influenced by the legal principles of the Zahirite school, historically associated with anti-madhhab doctrines that opposed the canonization of legal schools. Early Zahirite scholar Ibn Hazm's condemnation of Taqlid and calls to break free from the interpretive system of the canonized schools by espousing a Fiqh directly grounded on Qura'n and Hadith; have conferred a major impact on the Salafiyya movement.[39] Salafi legalism is most often marked by its departure from the established rulings (mu'tamad) of the four Sunni madhahib, as well as frequently aligning with Zahirite views mentioned by Ibn Hazm in his legal compendium Al-Muhalla.[40][27]

Scholarly Hierarchy[edit]

Bernard Haykel notes that due to the peculiarity of its methodology, Salafis enjoy a relatively less rigid scholarly hierarchy of authorities (ulema). Most Salafis unlike other traditional and pre-modern Muslims do not subscribe to a hierarchy that rigorously "constrains and regulates... the output of opinions". As an interpretive community, Salafi tradition, "in contrast to other Muslim traditions of learning", is "relatively open, even democratic".[41]

Differences from Kalam Theology[edit]

Modern-day proponents of the Athari school of theology largely come from the Salafi movement; they uphold the Athari works of Ibn Taymiyyah.[42] Ibn Taimiyya himself, a disputed and partly rejected scholar during his lifetime, became a major scholar among followers of the Salafi movement credited with the title Shaikh al-Islam. Other important scholars include scholars important in Islamic history, such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal. But non-Salafi Sunnis accuse Salafis of altering his actual teachings.[43]

Followers of the Salafi movement regard the primary sources Qur'an and Sunnah as self-explanatory, disregarding the use of interpretation and human reasoning. Salafis favor practical implementation as opposed to disputes with regards to meanings, meaning may be considered either clear or something beyond human understanding.[44] They believe that to engage in speculative theology (kalam), even if one arrives at the truth, is absolutely forbidden.[45] Atharis engage in strictly literal and amodal reading of the Qur'an and hadith (prophetic traditions) and only their clear or apparent meanings have the sole authority in creedal affairs. As opposed to one engaged in Ta'wil (metaphorical interpretation), they do not attempt to conceptualize the meanings of the Qur'an rationally; and believe that the real meanings should be consigned to God alone (tafwid).[46] Following the Salafi hermeneutic approach, Salafis differ from that of non-Salafis in some regards of permissibility.[47]

Many folk rituals related to the spiritual world practised by Muslims in some localites and regions, are considered shirk by followers of Salafism. Followers of the Salafi movement regard a number of practises related to jinn or spirits of Awliya (saints) as bid'ah and shirk. The wide range of beliefs about spirits and angels commonly accepted in Classical Islam is reduced to a limited scope of quotes from Qur'an and hadith, without further exegetical material and missing any reference to anecdotal experiences.[48][49]

Teachings of Ibn Taymiyya[edit]

The followers of the Salafiyya school look to the medieval jurist Ibn Taymiyyah as the most significant classical scholarly authority in theology and spirituality. Ibn Taymiyya's theological treatises form the core doctrinal texts of Wahhabi, Ahl-i Hadith and various other Salafi movements. According to the monotheistic doctrine of Ibn Taymiyya, Tawhid is categorised into two types: Al-tawḥīd al-rubūbiyya (Oneness in Lordship) and Al-tawḥīd al-ulūhiyya (Oneness in Worship). Ibn Taymiyya's interpretation of the Shahada (Islamic testimony) as the testimony to worship God alone "only by means of what He has legislated", without partners, is adopted by the Salafis as the foundation of their faith. In the contemporary era, Ibn Taymiyya's writings on theology and innovated practices have inspired Salafi movements of diverse kinds.[50][51] The increased prominence of these movements in the twentieth century has led to a resurgence in interest of the writings of Ibn Taymiyya far beyond traditional Salafi circles. Salafis commonly refer to Ibn Taymiyya by the title Shaykh al-Islām. Alongside Ibn Taymiyya, his disciples Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Ibn Kathir, Al-Dhahabi, etc. constitute the most referenced classical scholarship in Salafi circles.[52][53][54][55][56]

The scholarly works of Ibn Taymiyya, which advocate Traditionalist Creedal positions and intensely critique other theological schools, embody the theology of the Salafiyya school.[57] Ibn Taymiyya also cited a scholarly consensus (Ijma), calling on his acolytes to declare themselves as followers of the Salaf, stating:

"There is no shame in declaring oneself to be a follower of the salaf, belonging to it and feeling proud of it; rather that must be accepted from him, according to scholarly consensus. The madhhab of the salaf cannot be anything but true. If a person adheres to it inwardly and outwardly, then he is like the believer who is following truth inwardly and outwardly."



Historians and academics date the emergence of Salafism to late 19th-century in Egypt.[60][61][62][63] Salafis believe that the label "Salafiyya" existed from the first few generations of Islam and that it is not a modern movement.[62] To justify this view, Salafis rely on a handful of quotes from medieval times where the term "Salafi" is used.

One of the quotes used as evidence and widely posted on Salafi websites is from the genealogical dictionary of al-Sam'ani (d. 1166), who wrote a short entry about the surname "al-Salafi" (the Salafi): "According to what I heard, this [surname indicates one's] ascription to the pious ancestors and [one's] adoption of their doctrine [madhhabihim]."[64][65] The scholar Henri Lauzière from Northwestern University comments that, "al-Sam'ani could only list two individuals—a father and his son—who were known by it. Plus, the entry contains blank spaces in lieu of their full names, presumably because al-Sam'ani had forgotten them or did not know them."[65] Further, he states that "al-Sam'ani's dictionary suggests that the surname was marginal at best, and the lone quotation taken from Al-Dhahabi, who wrote 200 years later, does little to prove Salafi claims."[66]


The Salafi movement emphasizes looking up to the era of the Salaf al-Salih; who were the early three generations of Muslims that succeeded Prophet Muhammad. They consider the faith and practices of salaf al-salih as virtuous and exemplary. By seeking to capture values of the Salaf in their own lives, Salafis attempt to recreate a ‘golden age’, and revive a pristine version of Islam, stripped of all later accretions, including the four schools of law as well as popular Sufism. The emergence of Salafism coincided with the rise of Western colonialism across many parts of the Islamic world. Between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries, these reformist movements called for a direct return to the Scriptures, institutional standardisations and jihad against colonial powers.[67]

The movement developed across various regions of the Islamic World in the late 19th century as a response to European imperialism.[4][60][61][62][63] It was also influenced by the various Islamic 18th-century reform movements such as the Wahhabi movement in the Arabian Peninsula,[68] subcontinental reform movements spearheaded by Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, Shah Ismail Dehlawi and Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed[69][70] as well as the Yemeni islah movement led by Al-San'aani and Al-Shawkani.[71][72]

These movements advocated the belief that the Qur'an and Sunnah are the primary sources of sharia and the legal status quo should be scrutinized based on Qur'an and Hadith. Far from being novel, this idea was a traditionist thesis kept alive within the Hanbali school of law. The Wahhabi movement, under the leadership of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, forcefully revived Hanbali traditionism in 18th century Arabia. Influenced by the Hanbali scholars Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328) and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya(d. 751/1350); the teachings of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab were also closely linked to the formulation of proto-Hanbalism expounded by early Hanbali writers 'Abd Allah ibn Ahmad (d. 290/903), Abu Bakr al-Khallal (d. 311/923) as well as non-Hanbali scholars like Ibn Hazm, whom he cited frequently. Indian Hadith specialist Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, while rejecting Taqlid, also emphasised on involving the Fuqaha (jurisconsultants) in the study of hadith, their interpretations and rationalisation. Thus, he was accommodative towards classical structures of Fiqh. In Yemen, influential scholar Muhammad ibn Ali Al-Shawkani(1759-1834) condemned Taqlid far more fiercely, and his movement advocated radical rejection of classical Fiqh structures. The promotion of Ijtihad of these movements was also accompanied by an emphasis on strict adherence to Qur'an and Hadith.[73][74]


During the mid-nineteenth century British India, the Ahl-i Hadith movement revived the teachings of Shah Waliullah and Al-Shawkani; advocating rejection of Taqlid and study of hadith. They departed from Shah Waliullah's school with a literalist approach to hadith, and rejected classical legal structures; inclining towards the Zahirite school. In the 19th century, Hanbali traditionism would be revived in Iraq by the influential Alusi family. Three generations of Alusis, Mahmud al-Alusi(d. 1853), Nu'man al-Alusi(1899) and Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi(1857-1924); were instrumental in spreading the doctrines of Ibn Taymiyya and the Wahhabi movement in the Arab world. Mahmud Shukri Al-Alusi, a defender and historian of the Wahhabi movement, was also a leader of the Salafiyya movement. All these reformist tendencies merged into the early Salafiyya movement, a theological faction prevalent across the Arab world during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, which was closely associated with the works of Sayyid Rashid Rida(1865-1935).[75]

Late nineteenth-century[edit]

The first phase of the Salafiyya movement emerged amidst the reform-minded ulema of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth century. The movement relied primarily upon the works of Hanbali theologian Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, whose call to follow the path of Salaf, inspired their name. The early phase of this tradition sought a middle-way that synthesised between 'ilm and Tasawwuf. Damascus, a major centre of Hanbali scholarship in the Muslim World, played a major role in the emergence and dissemination of the ideas of this early trend of the Salafiyya. Some scholars in this phase like Amir 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri, re-interpreted Ibn 'Arabi's mystical beliefs and reconciled them with the opposing theological doctrines of Ibn Taymiyya to address new challenges. Other major figures in the movement included 'Abd al-Razzaq Al-Bitar, Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, Tahir al-Jaza'iri, etc. 'Abd al-Razzaq Al-Bitar (the grandfather of Muhammad Bahjat al Bitar, a disciple of Rashid Rida) was the leader of the more traditional branch of the reform trend, which would become the Salafiyya of Damascus. Years later, Rashid Rida would describe him as the "mujaddid madhhab al-salaf fil-Sham" (the reviver of the ancestral doctrine in Syria). While these reformers were critical of various aspects of popular Sufism, they didn't deny Sufism completely. The Cairene school of Muhammad Abduh emerged as a separate trend in 1880s, and would be influenced by the Damascene Salafiyya, as well as Mu'tazilite philosophy. Abduh's movement sought a rationalist approach to adapt to the increasing pace of modernisation. While 'Abduh was critical of certain Sufi practices, his writings had Sufi inclinations and he retained love for "true Sufism" as formulated by Al-Ghazali.[76][67]

The Damascene Salafiyya was also influenced by their reformist counterparts in Baghdad, especially the scholars of the Alusi family. Abu Thana' Shihab al-Din al-Alusi (1802-1854) was the first of the Alusi family of ulama to promote reformist ideas, influenced by Wahhabism through his teacher 'Ali al-Suwaydi. He also combined the theological ideas of Sufis and Mutakallimun (dialecticians) like Razi in his reformist works. Shihab al-Din's son, Nu'man Khayr al-Din al-Alusi, was also heavily influenced by the treatises of Siddiq Hasan Khan, an early leader of the Ah-i Hadith movement. He regularly corresponded with him and received an Ijazat(license to teach) from Siddiq Hasan Khan, and became the leader of the Salafi trend in Iraq. Later he would also send his son 'Ala' al-Din (1860-1921) to study under Hasan Khan. Khayr al-Din Alusi would write lengthy polemics and treatises advocating the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya. The Iraqi reformers rejected the validity of Taqlid in jurisprudence, calling for Ijtihad and condemned ritual innovations like tomb-visitations for the purpose of worship.[77]

Post-WW1 Era[edit]

By the 1900s, the reformers had already become commonly known as "Salafis", which in-part was also used to deflect accusations from their opponents; to emphasize that they were different from the Wahhabis of Najd. The Salafi turn against Ibn 'Arabi and Sufism would materialize a decade later, after the First World War, under the leadership of Rashid Rida. This second-stage of Salafiyya was championed by Rashid Rida and his disciples across the Islamic World, advocating a literalist understanding of the Scriptures. They were also characterised by a militant hostility to Western imperialism and culture. In addition to condemnations of tomb visits, popular Sufi practices, brotherhoods, miracles and mystical orders; Rida's criticism of Sufism extended to all of it and beyond the critiques of his fellow Salafi comrades. He questioned the murid-murshid relationship in mysticism, as well as the Silsilas(chains of transmission) upon which Tariqah structures were built. In particular, Rida fiercely rebuked political quietism and pacifist doctrines of various Sufi orders. The Salafiyya of Rida and his disciples held onto an ideal of the complete return to the religious and political ways of the salaf.[78][79] In calling for a return to the Salaf, Rashid Rida emphasised the path of the first four Rightly-Guided Caliphs (Khulafa Rashidin) and the revival of their principles. For this reason, he is regarded as one of the founding pioneers of the Salafiyya movement and his ideas inspired many Islamic revivalist movements.[80]

Contemporary era[edit]

The early Salafiyya was dominated by Pan-Islamists who had socio-political goals and advocated for the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate. However, contemporary Salafiyya are dominated by Purists who eschew politics and advocate Islamic Political Quietism. Contemporary Purist Salafism, widely known as "the Salafi Manhaj" emerged from the 1960s as an intellectual hybrid of three similar, yet distinct, religious reform traditions: the Wahhabi movement in Arabia, Ahl-i Hadith movement in India and Salafiyya movement in the Arab World of the late-19th and early 20th centuries. The person most responsible for this transformation was the Syrian Islamic hadith scholar Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, a protege of Rashid Rida, who is generally considered as the "spiritual father" of the Purist Salafi current and respected by all contemporary Salafis as "the greatest hadith scholar of his generation".[81][82]

By the 21st century, Salafi teachings and ideas have become mainstreamised that many modern Muslims, even those who do not self-identify as Salafi, have adopted various aspects of Salafism.[83]

At times, Salafism has also been deemed a hybrid of Wahhabism and other post-1960s movements.[84] Academics and historians have used the term "Salafism" to denote "a school of thought which surfaced in the second half of the 19th century as a reaction to the spread of European ideas" across the Islamic World and "sought to expose the roots of modernity within Muslim civilization".[85][86] Starting from the French scholar Louis Massignon, Western scholarship for much of the 20th-century considered the Islamic Modernist movement of 19th-century figures Muhammad Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (who were Ash'ari rationalists) to be part of the wider Salafiyya movement.[87][88][89][90] However, contemporary Salafis follow a literalist approach with a "heavy reliance on hadith", looking up to Ibn Taymiyyah and his disciples like Ibn Kathir, Ibn Qayyim, etc. whom they regard as important classical religious authorities.[91][92] Major contemporary figures in the movement include Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Taqi al-Din al-Hilali, ibn 'Uthaymin, Ibn Baz, Ehsan Elahi Zahir, Muhammad ibn Ibrahim, Rashid Rida, Thanā Allāh Amritsari, Abd al-Hamid Bin Badis, Zubair Ali Zaee, Ahmad Shakir, Saleh Al-Fawzan, Zakir Naik, Abdul-Ghaffar Hasan, Sayyid Sabiq, Salih al-Munajjid, Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Khaliq, Muhammad al-Gondalwi, etc.[93][94][95][96]

In the modern era, some Salafis tend to take the surname "Al-Salafi" and refer to the label "Salafiyya" in various circumstances to evoke a specific understanding of Islam that is supposed to differ from that of other Sunnis in terms of 'Aqidah (creed) and approach to Fiqh (legal tradition).[66]

Trends within Salafism[edit]

Some who have observed trends in the Salafist movement have divided Salafis into three groups – purists, activists, and jihadis.[97][98] Purists focus on education and missionary work to solidify the tawhid; activists focus on political reform and re-establishing a caliphate through the means of evolution, but not violence (sometimes called Salafist activism); and jihadists share similar political goals as the politicians, but engage in violent Jihad (sometimes called Salafi jihadism and/or Qutbism).[97]


"Purists" are Salafists who focus on non-violent da'wah (preaching of Islam), education, and "purification of religious beliefs and practices". They dismiss politics as "a diversion or even innovation that leads people away from Islam".[99] Also known as conservative Salafism, its adherents seek to distance themselves from politics. This strand focuses its attention on the study of Islamic sharia, educating the masses and preaching to the society. This methodology is seen as attracting a significant section of pious Muslims who seek to be driven solely by religious objectives but not political objectives. Conservative Salafis are disinterested in getting entangled in the problems and consequences that accompany political activism. According to them, a prolonged movement of "purification and education" of Muslims is essential for Islamic revival through reaping a "pure, uncontaminated Islamic society" and thereby establish an Islamic state.[100]

Some of them never oppose rulers. Madkhalism, as an example, is a strain of Salafists viewed as supportive of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.[101][102][103] Taking its name from the controversial Saudi Arabian cleric Rabee al-Madkhali, the movement lost its support in Saudi Arabia proper when several members of the Permanent Committee (the country's clerical body) denounced Madkhali personally.[104] Influence of both the movement and its figureheads have waned so much within the Muslim world that analysts have declared it to be a largely European phenomenon.[104]

Salafi activists[edit]

Activists are another strain of the global Salafi movement, but different from the Salafi jihadists in that they eschew violence and different from Salafi purists in that they engage in modern political processes.[105] Salafi-Activists have a long tradition of political activism in major Arab Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and its various branches and affiliates.[106]

Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e Islami, etc are heavily influenced by Activist Salafi thought.[107] The movement is very popular amongst the followers of the Salafiyya school, and is often referred to as "mainstream Salafism". The activist Salafis condemn violence, yet engage actively in the political processes of their societies to advocate for shari'a.[108] However, the movement is fiercely attacked by the followers of the Madkhalist strand of Quietist Salafism; who totally withdraw themselves from politics.[109] The Activist trend, who some call "politicos", see politics as "yet another field in which the Salafi creed has to be applied" in order to safeguard justice and "guarantee that the political rule is based upon the Shari'a".[99] Al–Sahwa Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Awakening), as example, has been involved in peaceful political reform. Safar Al-Hawali, Salman al-Ouda, Abu Qatada, Zakir Naik, etc. are representatives of this trend. Because of being active on social media, they have earned some support among youth.[109][110][111]

It's very simple. We want sharia. Sharia in economy, in politics, in judiciary, in our borders and our foreign relations.

— Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, the son of Omar Abdel-Rahman, Time magazine. October 8, 2012[112]

Salafi jihadists[edit]

"Salafi Jihadism" was a term invented by Gilles Kepel[113][114] to describe those self-claiming Salafi groups who began developing an interest in (armed) jihad during the mid-1990s. Practitioners are often referred to as "Salafi jihadis" or "Salafi jihadists". Journalist Bruce Livesey estimates Salafi jihadists constitute less than 1.0 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims (i.e., less than 10 million).[113]

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 Abd Allah ibn Baaz and Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh), but also from the sahwa movement associated with Salman al-Ouda or Safar Al-Hawali.[115] Abdullah Azzam, Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abubakr al-Baghdadi, etc. are the major contemporary figures in this movement. Jihadi Salafi groups include Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Al-Shabaab.

An analysis of the Caucasus Emirate, a Salafi jihadist group, was made in 2014 by Darion Rhodes.[116] It analyzes the group's strict observance of tawhid and its rejection of shirk, taqlid, ijtihad and bid‘ah, while believing that jihad is the only way to advance the cause of Allah on the earth.[116]

However, the purist Salafis often strongly disapprove of the activists and jihadists and deny the other's Islamic character.[117]

Regional groups and movements[edit]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Modern Salafists consider the 18th-century scholar Muhammed bin 'Abd al-Wahhab and many of his students to have been Salafis.[118] He started a reform movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd.[119] He invited people to Tawhid (monotheism) and advocated purging of practices such as shrine and tomb visitation, which were widespread among Muslims. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab considered such practices as aspects of idolatry, representative of impurities and inappropriate innovations in Islam which contradicted Tawhid.[17][120] While Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab stressed on the importance of obedience to sharia, he also obliged Muslims to uphold sharia by reading and following the Scriptures. Like their paragon scholar Ibn Taymiyya, Wahhabis did not believe in blind-adherence(Taqlid) and advocated engaging with the Qur'an and Hadith through Ijtihad(legal reasoning), emphasizing simplicity in religious rituals and practices. Thus, classical-era legal works by Fuqaha were not considered as authoritative as the Scriptures themselves, since the former were human interpretations while the Qur'an is the Universal, Eternal Word of God.[121]

The Salafi movement in Saudi Arabia is the result of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab's reform movement. Unlike other reform movements, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and his disciples were also able to secure a religio-political pact with Muhammad Ibn Saud and his House; which enabled them to engage in military expansionism and establish an Islamic state in the Arabian Peninsula. While the mainstream constituency believed in Islamic revival through education and welfare reforms, the militant elements of the movement advocated armed campaigns to eradicate local practices considered as innovation and demolished numerous shrines and tombs of saints(awliya).[122] It is believed that the Wahhabism is a more strict, Saudi form of Salafism,[123][124] according to Mark Durie, who states that Saudi leaders "are active and diligent" using their considerable financial resources "in funding and promoting Salafism all around the world".[125] Ahmad Moussalli tends to agree with the view that Wahhabism is a subset of Salafism, saying "As a rule, all Wahhabis are salafists, but not all salafists are Wahhabis".[126]

However, many scholars and critics distinguish between the old form of Saudi Salafism (termed as Wahhabism) and the new Salafism in Saudi Arabia. Stéphane Lacroix, a fellow and lecturer at Sciences Po in Paris, also affirmed a distinction between the two: "As opposed to Wahhabism, Salafism refers […] to all the hybridations that have taken place since the 1960s between the teachings of Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab and other Islamic schools of thought". Hamid Algar and Khaled Abou El Fadl believe, during the 1960s and 70s, Wahhabism rebranded itself as Salafism knowing it could not "spread in the modern Muslim world" as Wahhabism.[127][128]

Its largesse funded an estimated "90% of the expenses of the entire faith", throughout the Muslim World, according to journalist Dawood al-Shirian.[129] It extended to young and old, from children's madrasas to high-level scholarship.[130] "Books, scholarships, fellowships, mosques" (for example, "more than 1,500 mosques were built from Saudi public funds over the last 50 years") were paid for.[131] It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university.[132] Yahya Birt counts spending on "1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools" [133] at a cost of around $2–3bn annually since 1975.[134] To put the number into perspective, the propaganda budget of the Soviet Union was about $1bn per annum.[134]

This spending has done much to overwhelm less strict local interpretations of Islam, according to observers like Dawood al-Shirian and Lee Kuan Yew,[129] and has caused the Saudi interpretation (sometimes called "petro-Islam"[135]) to be perceived as the correct interpretation – or the "gold standard" of Islam – in many Muslims' minds.[136][137]

Salafis are often called Wahhabis, which they consider a derogatory term.[138]

Indian subcontinent (Ahl-i Hadith movement)[edit]

Ahl-i Hadith is a religious movement that emerged in Northern India in the mid-nineteenth century.[139] Adherents of Ahl-i-Hadith regard the Quran, sunnah, and hadith as the sole sources of religious authority and oppose everything introduced in Islam after the earliest times.[140] In particular, they reject taqlid (following legal precedent) and favor ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) based on the scriptures.[139] The movement's followers call themselves Salafi, while others refer to them as Wahhabi,[141] or consider them a variation on the Wahhabi movement.[142][143] In recent decades the movement has expanded its presence in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.[139][140]

Shah Waliullah Dehlawi(1703-1762) is considered as the intellectual forefather of the movement and its followers regard him as Shaykh al-Islam. Waliullah 's rejection of Taqlid would be emphasized by his son Shah Abdul Aziz(1746-1824) and later successors like Shah Ismail(1779-1831) in a puritanical manner; stripping it of their eclectic and rational aspects. This tendency culminated in the Jihad movement of Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi(1786-1831). This iconoclastic movement expanded Shah Waliullah's rejection of Taqlid as a fundamental creedal doctrine. They focused on waging physical Jihad against non-Muslims and banishing syncretic rituals prevalent amongst Muslims. Although the Indian Mujahidin movement led by Sayyid Ahmad shared close parallels with the Arabian Wahhabi movement and hence labelled as "Wahhabi" by the British; both movements mostly evolved independently. After the death of Sayyid Ahmad in 1831; his successors Wilayat ali, Inayat Ali, Muhammad Hussain, and Farhat Hussain continued Jihad activities of the "Wahhabi" movement throughout British India; spreading across Chittagong to Peshawar and from Madras to Kashmir. They played an important role in the Rebellion of 1857 and their anti-British Jihad has been described as "the most strident challenge" faced by the British during the 1850s. After the defeat of the revolt, the British would fully crush the Mujahidin through a series of expeditions, "Wahhabi" trials and sedition laws. By 1883, the movement was fully suppressed and no longer posed any political threat. Many adherents of the movement abandoned physical Jihad and opted for political quietism. The Ahl-i-Hadith movement emerged from these circles of religious activists.[144][145][146]

In 19th century British India, the revivalist Ahl-i Hadith movement had descended as a direct outgrowth and quietist manifestation of the Indian Mujahidin. The early leaders of the movement were the influential hadith scholars Sayyid Nazir Hussein Dehlawi(1805-1902) and Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal(1832-1890) who had direct tutelage under the lineage of Shah Waliullah and the Indian Mujahidin movement. Syed Nazeer Hussein was a student of Shah Muhammad Ishaq, the grandson of Shah Waliullah, and held the title ''Miyan Sahib'', which was strongly associated with the spiritual heirs of Shah Waliullah. Siddiq Hasan Khan was a student of Sadar al-Din Khan(1789-1868) who inturn, had studied under Shah 'Abd al-Azeez and Shah 'Abd al-Qadir, the sons of Shah Waliullah. His father was also a direct disciple of Shah 'Abd al Aziz. Yemeni scholars were also active in the Bhopal court of Siddiq Hasan Khan and he became a student of Muhaddith 'Abd al-Haqq of Benarus, who was a disciple of Shawkani in Yemen. He became profoundly influenced by the works Al-Shawkani; claiming frequent contacts with him via visions and in this way, an ijaza(permission) to transmit his works. Thus, the Ahl-i Hadith movement drew directly from the teachings of Shah Waliullah and Al-Shawkani; advocating rejection of Taqlid and revival of hadith. However, they departed from Shah Waliullah's conciliatory approach to classical legal theory; aligning themselves with Zahirite(literalist) school and adopted a literalist hadith approach. They also rejected the authority of the four legal schools and restrict Ijma(consensus) to the companions. Their ideal was to lead a pious and ethical life in conformity to the Prophetic example in every aspect of life.[147]

Folk Islam and Sufism, popular amongst the poor and working classes in the region, are anathema to Ahl-i Hadith beliefs and practices. This attitude towards Sufism has brought the movement into conflict with the rival Barelvi movement even more so than the Barelvis' rivals, the Deobandis.[148] Ahl-i Hadith followers identify with the Zahiri madhhab.[149] The movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia.[150][151] Jamia Salafia is their largest institution in India.


Salafis in Egypt are not united under a single banner or unified leadership. The main Salafi trends in Egypt are Al-Sunna Al-Muhammadeyya Society, The Salafist Calling, al-Madkhaliyya Salafism, Activist Salafism, and al-Gam’eyya Al-Shar’eyya.[152] Salafi-Wahhabi doctrines were introduced in Egypt by the Syrian scholar Rashid Rida starting from the 1920s.[153]

Al-Sunna Al-Muhammadeyya Society, also known as Ansar Al-Sunna, was founded in 1926 by Sheikh Mohamed Hamed El-Fiqi, a 1916 graduate of Al-Azhar and a student of the famed Muslim reformer Muhammed Abduh. It is considered the main Salafi group in Egypt. El-Fiqi's ideas were resentful of Sufism. But unlike Muhammed Abduh, Ansar Al-Sunna follows the tawhid as preached by Ibn Taymiyyah.[152]

Majority of Egyptian Salafis are affiliated to Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiyya. Established by Muhammad Hamid al-Fiqqi (a student of Salafi scholar Rashid Rida) to defend traditionalist Salafism, the movement shares a warm relationship with Arabian Wahhabi scholars and was a major benefactor of Salafi resurgence since the 1970s. The movement traces its initial Wahhabi contacts to Rashid Rida. Al-Azhar shares a close relation with Ansar al-Sunna. Most of the early leaders of Ansar al-Sunna were Azhari graduates and many of its contemporary scholars studied under Al-Azhar. Prominent scholars in the movement include Rashid Rida, Muhammad Hamid al-Fiqqi, Abd al-Razzaq ‘Afifi, Sayyid Sabiq, Muhammad Khalil Harass, etc.[154]

Salafist Call is another influential Salafist organisation. It is the outcome of student activism during the 1970s. While many of the activists joined the Muslim Brotherhood, a faction led by Mohammad Ismail al-Muqaddim, influenced by Salafists of Saudi Arabia established the Salafist Calling between 1972 and 1977.[155]

Salafist Call created the Al-Nour Party after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. It has an ultra-conservative Islamist ideology, which believes in implementing strict Sharia law.[156] In the 2011–12 Egypt parliamentary elections, the Islamist Bloc led by Al‑Nour party received 7,534,266 votes out of a total 27,065,135 correct votes (28%). The Islamist Bloc gained 127 of the 498 parliamentary seats contested,[157] second-place after the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. Al‑Nour Party itself won 111 of the 127 seats. From January 2013 onward, the party gradually distanced itself from Mohamed Morsi's Brotherhood regime, and was involved in the large-scale protests in late June against Morsi's rule that subsequently led to a military coup removing him from office in July that year.[158] A lawsuit against the party was dismissed on 22 September 2014 because the court indicated it had no jurisdiction.[159] A case on the dissolution of the party was adjourned until 17 January 2015.[160] Another court case that was brought forth to dissolve the party[161] was dismissed after the Alexandria Urgent Matters Court ruled on 26 November 2014 that it lacked jurisdiction.[162]

According to Ammar Ali Hassan of Al-Ahram, while Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood agree on many issues such as the need to "Islamize" society and legally requiring all Muslims to give alms, the former has nevertheless rejected the flexibility of the latter on the issue of whether women and Christians should be entitled to serve in high office, as well as its relatively tolerant attitude towards Iran.[163]


Islamic scholar Muhammad Ibn 'Ali ash-Shawkani (1759 - 1839 C.E) is regarded as their intellectual precursor by the Salafis in Yemen, upholding his works to promote Salafi revivalist ideas.[164] Beyond Yemen, his works are widely used in Salafi schools.[165] He also profoundly influenced other Salafi movements across the world such as the Ahl-i Hadith in the Indian subcontinent.[166]


Salafism has been dismissively labeled as "ultra-conservative", in the context of Tunisia after the 2011 revolution.[167]


Turkey has been largely absent from the growing literature on the phenomenon of transnational Salafism. Salafism is a minority strand of Turkish Islam that evolved in the context of the state's effort in the 1980s to recalibrate religion as a complement to Turkish nationalism. Although Salafism became a topic of discussion in media and scholarly writing in Turkish religious studies faculties, a continued lack of orthographic stability (variously, Selfye, Selefiyye, Selfyyecilik, Selefizm)" gives an indication both of the denial of its relevance to Turkey and the success of republican secularism in clearing religion from public discourse. Yet since the 1980s Salafi preachers trained in Saudi Arabia have been able to find a niche through publishing houses that have endeavoured to translate Arabic texts from the Saudi Salafi scene in an attempt to change the discursive landscape of Turkish Islam. In 1999, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs Diyanet, recognized Salafism as a Sunni school of thought.[168] Salafist preachers then started to make inroads into the Turkish society. With the implication of Turkish citizens and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in Syrian civil war, public discussion began to question the narrative of Salafism as a phenomenon alien to Turkey. Salafism becomes an observable element of religious discourse in Turkey in the context of the military regime's attempt to outmanoeuvre movements emerging as a challenge to the Kemalist secular order, namely the left, Necmettin Erbakan's Islamism, Kurdish nationalism, and Iran. Through the Turkish—Islamic Synthesis (Turk islam Sentezi), the scientific positivism that had been the guiding principle of the republic since 1923 was modified to make room for Islam as a central element of Turkish national culture. The military authorities oversaw an increase of more than 50 percent in the budget of the religious affairs administration (known as Diyanet), expanding it from 50,000 employees in 1979 to 85,000 in 1989. Pursuing closer ties with Saudi Arabia, Turkey involved itself in a more meaningful manner in the pan-Islamic institutions under Saudi tutelage, and Diyanet received Muslim World League funding to send officials to Europe to develop outreach activities in Turkish immigrant communities." A network of commercial and cultural links was established with Saudi businesses and institutions in banking and financial services, publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, and children's books.

Preachers who had studied at the Islamic University of Madinah, and applied the Salafi designation, also established publishing houses and charity organizations (dernek). Subject to periodic harassment and arrest by security forces, they adopted markedly more public profiles with AKP ascendancy over the military following a resounding electoral victory in 2002. The Turkish Salafis became active on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, complementing websites for their publishing enterprises. Saudi-based scholars such as Bin Baz, al-Albani, Saleh Al-Fawzan (b. 1933), and Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymeen (1925-2001) form the core of their references, while they avoid contemporary 'ulama' associated with the Muslim Brotherhood such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926), an Egyptian scholar based in Qatar. Turkish is their prime language of communication, but Arabic is prominent in special sections on websites, Arabic-language Salafi texts in their bookshops, and heavy use of Arabic terminology in their Turkish texts. The most well-established among them is Ablullah Yolcu, who is said to do "production of Turkish Salafism from Arabic texts". While Turkey has been outside the discussion on transnational Salafism, Meijer's observation that Salafism may succeed `when its quietist current can find a niche or the nationalist movement has failed' seems to speak surprisingly well to the Turkish case."[169]


Salafism is opposed by a number of Hui Muslims Sects in China such as by the Gedimu, Sufi Khafiya and Jahriyya, to the extent that even the fundamentalist Yihewani (Ikhwan) Chinese sect, founded by Ma Wanfu after Salafi inspiration, condemned Ma Debao and Ma Zhengqing as heretics when they attempted to introduce Salafism as the main form of Islam. Ma Debao established a Salafi school, called the Sailaifengye (Salafi), in Lanzhou and Linxia. It is completely separate from other Muslim sects in China.[170] Muslim Hui avoid Salafis, even if they are family members.[171] The number of Salafis in China are not included on percentage lists of Muslim sects in China.[172] The Kuomintang Sufi Muslim General Ma Bufang, who backed the Yihewani (Ikhwan) Muslims, persecuted the Salafis and forced them into hiding. They were not allowed to move or worship openly. The Yihewani had become secular and Chinese nationalists; they considered the Salafiyya to be "heterodox" (xie jiao) and people who followed foreigners' teachings (waidao). After the Communists took power, Salafis were allowed to worship openly again.[173]


An attempt at Salafist expansion among the Muslim Chams in Vietnam has been halted by Vietnamese government controls, however, the loss of the Salafis among Chams has been to be benefit of Tablighi Jamaat.[174]


Similar to Saudi Arabia, most citizens of Qatar adhere to a strict sect of Salafism referred to as Wahhabism.[175] The national mosque of Qatar is the Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque named after the founder of Wahhabism.[176] Similar to Saudi Arabian sponsorship of Salafism, Qatar has also funded the construction of mosques that promote the Wahhabi Salafism.[citation needed]

Unlike the strict practice of Wahhabi Salafism in Saudi Arabia, Qatar has demonstrated an alternative view of Wahhabism. In Qatar, women are allowed by law to drive, non-Muslims have access to pork and liquor through a state-owned distribution center, and religious police do not force businesses to close during prayer times.[177] Also, Qatar hosts branches of several American universities and a "Church City" in which migrant workers may practice their religion.[178][179] The adoption of a more liberal interpretation of Wahhabism is largely credited to Qatar's young Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Yet, Qatar's more tolerant interpretation of Wahhabism compared to Saudi Arabia has drawn backlash from Qatari citizens and foreigners. The Economist reported that a Qatari cleric criticized the state's acceptance of un-Islamic practices away from the public sphere and complained that Qatari citizens are oppressed.[177] Although Qatari gender separation is less strict than that found in Saudi Arabia, plans to offer co-ed lectures were put aside after threats to boycott Qatar's segregated public university.[177] Meanwhile, there have been reports of local discontent with the sale of alcohol in Qatar.[180]

Qatar has also drawn widespread criticism for attempting to spread its fundamental religious interpretation both through military and non-military channels. Militarily, Qatar has been criticized for funding rebel Islamist extremist fighters in the Libyan Crisis and the Syrian Civil War. In Libya, Qatar funded allies of Ansar al-Sharia, the jihadist group thought to be behind the killing of former U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens, while channeling weapons and money to the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group in Syria.[181] In addition, Qatar-based charities and online campaigns, such as Eid Charity and Madid Ahl al-Sham, have a history of financing terrorist groups in Syria.[182][183] Qatar has also repeatedly provided financial support to the Gaza government led by the militant Hamas organisation while senior Hamas officials have visited Doha and hosted Qatari leaders in Gaza.[184][185] Qatar also gave approximately $10 billion to the government of Egypt during Mohamed Morsi's time in office.[186]

Non-militarily, Qatar state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera has come under criticism for selective reporting in coordination with Qatar's foreign policy objectives.[187] In addition, reports have condemned Qatar's financing of the construction of mosques and Islamic centers in Europe as attempts to exert the state's Salafist interpretation of Islam.[188] Reports of Qatar attempting to impact the curriculum of U.S. schools and buy influence in universities have also spread.[189][190] The nearby Persian Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have been among the countries that have condemned Qatar's actions. In 2014, the three Persian Gulf countries withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar referencing Qatar's failure to commit to non-interference in the affairs of other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.[191] Saudi Arabia has also threatened to block land and sea borders with Qatar.[192] This blockade came to an end on 5 January 2021, when authorities from both Saudi and Qatar came on common grounds, with the midmanship of Kuwait.[193]


It is often reported from various sources, including the German domestic intelligence service (Bundesnachrichtendienst), that Salafism is the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world.[194][195][196][197] The Salafiyya movement has also gained popular acceptance as a "respected Sunni tradition" in Turkey starting from the 1980s, when the Turkish government forged closer ties to Saudi Arabia. This paved the way for cooperation between the Salafi Muslim World League and the Turkish Diyanet, which recognised Salafism as a traditional Sunni theological school, thus introducing Salafi teachings to Turkish society. Globally, Salafisation of Islamic religious discourse occurred simultaneously alongside the rise of pan-Islamist Movements, with an emphasis on the concept of Tawhid.[198][199]

Other usage[edit]

Modernist Salafism[edit]

As opposed to the traditionalist Salafism discussed throughout this article, academics and historians have used the term "Salafism" to denote modernists, "a school of thought which surfaced in the second half of the 19th century as a reaction to the spread of European ideas" and "sought to expose the roots of modernity within Muslim civilization".[85][86] They are also known as Modernist Salafis.[200][201][202][203]

The origins of contemporary Salafism in the modernist "Salafi Movement" of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh is noted by some,[204][205] while others say Islamic Modernism only influenced contemporary Salafism.[206] However, the former notion has been rejected by majority.[207][208][209] According to Quintan Wiktorowicz:

There has been some confusion in recent years because both the Islamic modernists and the contemporary Salafis refer (referred) to themselves as al-salafiyya, leading some observers to erroneously conclude a common ideological lineage. The earlier salafiyya (modernists), however, were predominantly rationalist Asharis.[97]

Groups like Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami etc. are inspired by Modernist Salafis.[210] Muslim Brotherhood include the term salafi in the "About Us" section of its website.[211]

Influence on Contemporary Salafism[edit]

In terms of their respective formation, Wahhabism and Salafism were quite distinct. Wahhabism was a pared-down Islam that rejected modern influences, while Salafism sought to reconcile Islam with modernism. What they had in common is that both rejected traditional teachings on Islam in favor of direct, ‘fundamentalist’ reinterpretation. Although Salafism and Wahhabism began as two distinct movements, Faisal's embrace of Salafi (Muslim Brotherhood) pan-Islamism resulted in cross-pollination between ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings on tawhid, shirk and bid‘ah and Salafi interpretations of ahadith (the sayings of Muhammad). Some Salafis nominated ibn Abd al-Wahhab as one of the Salaf (retrospectively bringing Wahhabism into the fold of Salafism), and the Muwahideen began calling themselves Salafis.[212]

In the broadest sense[edit]

In a broad sense, Salafism is similar to Non-denominational Islam (NDM), in the sense some of its adherents do not follow a particular creed.[213] Salafi (follower of Salaf) means any reform movement that calls for resurrection of Islam by going back to its origin. In line with Wahhabism they promote a literal understanding of the sacred texts of Islam and reject other more liberal reformist movements such as those inspired for example by [214] Muhammad Abduh or by Muhammad Iqbal.[208]

Criticism and Support[edit]

Western Opposition[edit]

Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam in sections of Western academia. Western observers and analysts often tend to equate the movement with Salafi jihadism, a hybrid ideology which espouses violent attacks against those it deems to be enemies of Islam (including Salafis) as a legitimate expression of Islam.[215][216]

German government officials[217] have stated that Salafism has a strong link to terrorism but have clarified that not all Salafists are terrorists. The statements by German government officials criticizing Salafism were televised by Deutsche Welle during April 2012.[218][219] According to the German political scientist Thorsten Gerald Schneiders, despite the Salafi claims to re-establish Islamic values and defend Islamic culture, some members of the movement interpret it in a manner which does not match with Islamic traditions and regard certain elements of Muslim culture such as poetry, literature, singing, philosophy, etc. as works of the devil.[220] According to the French political scientist Olivier Roy, most of the third generation Western Muslim immigrants tend to adopt Salafism and some of them may break off from their family heritage, marrying other converts, rather than a bride from their country of origin, chosen by their parents.[221] According to Marc Sageman, sections of the Salafi movement are linked to some terrorist groups around the world, like Al-Qaeda.[222]

However, according to other analysts, Salafis are not inherently political. Salafis may exhibit all sorts of diverse relations with the state depending on the environment, like the general populations to which they belong. They exhibit no demonstrable proclivity toward violence as a monolithic group. Those Salafis who engage in political participation or armed insurgencies, do so as part of a wider umbrella of political projects.[223] According to Roel Meijer, Western association of Salafism with violence stems from writings through the prism of security studies conducted in the early 2000s and from the popular Orientalist depictions that equated Islamic revivalists with violence during the colonial era.[224]

Islamic opposition[edit]

Scholars from Al-Azhar University of Cairo produced a work of religious opinions entitled al-Radd (The Response) to refute the views of the Salafi movement.[225] Al-Radd singles out numerous Salafi aberrations – in terms of ritual prayer alone it targets for criticism the following Salafi claims:[226]

  • The claim that it is prohibited to recite God's name during the minor ablution [Fatwa 50]
  • The claim that it is obligatory for men and women to perform the major ablution on Friday [Fatwa 63]
  • The claim that it is prohibited to own a dog for reasons other than hunting [Fatwa 134]
  • The claim that it is prohibited to use alcohol for perfumes [Fatwa 85].

One of the authors of al-Radd, the Professor of Law Anas Abu Shady states that, "they [the Salafis] want to be everything to everyone. They're interested not only in the evident (al-zahir), although most of their law goes back to the Muhalla [of the Ẓāhirī scholar Ibn Hazm], but they also are convinced that they alone understand the hidden (al-batin)!"[227]

The Syrian scholar Mohamed Said Ramadan Al-Bouti wrote a number of works refuting Salafism including Al-La Madhhabiyya (Abandoning the Madhhabs) is the most dangerous Bid‘ah Threatening the Islamic Shari'a (Damascus: Dar al-Farabi 2010) and Al-Salafiyya was a blessed epoch, not a school of thought (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1990).[225] The latter is perhaps the most famous refutation of Salafism in the twentieth century.[228]

Numerous academic rebuttals of Salafism have been produced in the English language by Khaled Abou El Fadl of the UCLA School of Law, Timothy Winter of Cambridge University and G.F. Haddad.[225] According to El Fadl, extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda "derive their theological premises from the intolerant Puritanism of the Wahhabi and Salafi creeds".[229] He also suggests that the extreme intolerance and even endorsement of terrorism manifest in the fringe elements of Wahhabism and Salafism represents a deviation from Muslim historical traditions.[229] El-Fadl also argues that the Salafi methodology "drifted into stifling apologetics" by the 1960s, marked by "anxiety" to "render Islam compatible with modernity". These apologetic efforts sought the defense of Islamic traditions from the onslaught of Westernization; while simultaneously maintaining the supremacy of Islam and its compatibility with modernity. However, according to El Fald, such efforts were being increasingly tainted by political opportunism and an unwillingness for critical engagement with the Islamic traditions.[230]

According to the As-Sunnah Foundation of America, the Salafi and Wahhabi movements are strongly opposed by a long list of Sunni scholars.[clarification needed][231] The Saudi government has also been criticised for its role in the destruction of early Islamic heritage sites in Arabia. There has been controversies over the recent expansionist projects in Mecca and Medina that destroyed historically important Islamic heritage sites to make way for "skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels". The actions of the Saudi government arose controversy across the Muslim World and Islamic activists across all sects, Salafis, Sufis, Shias, etc. ; stood up to condemn the actions of the Saudi government.[232][233]


Some classical scholars (including imam Nawawi, who is widely praised by Salafis[234][235]) categorized innovation into 5 types, yet Salafis consider all innovation to be sinful. This creates a strange paradox where they unwittingly accept some innovations and reject others. Salafis say that the compilation of the Qur'an under Abu Bakr's caliphate was not an innovation because bidah in religion is different from the linguistic meaning of bidah, one is forbidden the other is not,[according to whom?] hence is accepted by Orthodox Muslims as an obligatory innovation to preserve the Qur'an. On the other hand, other Salafis accept the validity of "good innovation".[236] The Salafi creed which divides tawhid into three types is said by critics to be an innovation which leads to excommunication, accusations of shirk, and violence against other Muslims.[237][238]


American ex-Salafi Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi, listed eight main positive characteristics of Salafism and its methodology:[239]

• The Salafi methodology gives importance to Scriptures allowing Muslims to take recourse to Islamic Texts for guidance and understanding, unlike other schools that discourage their adherents to pursue academic study of Scriptures and derive meaning from them.

• Encouraging critical engagement with modern culture in light of Qur'an and Sunna, as opposed to imitating Shaykhs. The Salafi methodology liberates people from "cultural Islam" to a universal Islam transcending time & space, as understood by the first three generations (Salaf).

• Censuring superstitious practices innovated into the religion and advocating for rituals as strictly prescribed in a Scriptural light.

• Encouraging Hadith sciences and its authentication studies. The Salafi movement caused a revival of Hadith sciences across the Islamic World, even having an effect on other movements.

• Encouraging a comprehensive awareness of academic Islam. An average Salafi would be more knowledgeable about academic discipline and it's various branches such as usul al-fiqh.

• Salafis have an "enviably pure theology" of the Athari creed, the earliest documented Sunni Creed, pre-dating the schools of Mutakallimun (Mu'tazila, Ash'arism and Maturidism).

• Expansion of Islamic knowledge and revival of Islamic libraries. The Salafiyya movement resulted in the revitalization of Islamic research and mass printing of various manuscripts covering all Islamic sciences. Even the critics of the Salafi movement benefitted from this.

• Avoidance of most innovations (bid'ah) and shirk in their beliefs and rituals, shielding Salafis from grave heresies suffered by other movements.[239]

Prominent Salafis[edit]


  • Dr. Yasir Qadhi, American Islamic cleric, professor at Rhodes College, and author; also Dean of Academic Studies at international al-Maghrib Institute[264] Yasir Qadhi has stated in several interviews that he is no longer a Salafi and he disagrees with the Salafiyya movement.[265] Some of the reasons he gave for leaving the movement is what he perceived as the hostility of the movement against non-Salafi Muslims, in addition to it not being "intellectually stimulating".[266] He stated that he disagrees "with some of the methodological aspects of the current Salafi movement"; while asserting that he continues to believe that the of following the generations of the Salaf is "a fundamental part" of Islamic faith. Yasir Qadhi advocates for "following the actions of the Salaf instead of following the Salafi movement" and claimed that he was influenced in this decision by his teacher Ibn 'Uthaymin. He further clarified that his theological views remain the same and continues to adhere to creed of the Salaf as manifested by the doctrines of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Bukhari, Ibn Taymiyya, etc.[267]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Esposito, John (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 275. ISBN 9780195125597. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  2. ^ Joppke, Christian (1 April 2013). Legal Integration of Islam. Harvard University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780674074910. Salafism, which is a largely pietistic, apolitical sect favoring a literalist reading of the Quran and Sunna.
  3. ^ Joas Wagemakers (2016). Salafism in Jordan: Political Islam in a Quietist Community. Cambridge University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9781107163669. These men adhere to the Salafi branch of Islam
  4. ^ a b "The Rise of European Colonialism". Harvard Divinity School. Archived from the original on 9 April 2018. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  5. ^ Bernard Haykel (2009). "Salafī Groups". In John L. Esposito (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195305135.
  6. ^ Bin Ali Mohamed Roots Of Religious Extremism, The: Understanding The Salafi Doctrine Of Al-wala' Wal Bara World Scientific, 14.09.2015 9781783263943 p. 61
  7. ^ Turner, J. (26 August 2014). Religious Ideology and the Roots of the Global Jihad: Salafi Jihadism and International Order. Springer. ISBN 9781137409577.
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  13. ^ "The way of the Sufis is the way of the Salaf, the Scholars among the Sahaba, Tabi’in and Tabi’ at-Tabi’in. Its origin is to worship Allah and to leave the ornaments of this world and its pleasures." (Ibn Khaldun (733–808 H/1332–1406 CE) Muqaddimat ibn Khaldan, p. 328, quoted in PAHARY SHEIK MOHAMMAD YASSER, SUFISM: ORIGIN, DEVELOPMENT AND EMERGENCE OF SUFI ORDERS Archived 27 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved March 2012
  14. ^ Meijer, Roel; Lacroix, Stéphane (2013). "Between Revolution and Apoliticism: On the Nature of Salafi thought and Action". Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-19-933343-1.
  15. ^ Haykel, Bernard (2009). "Chapter 1: On the Nature of Salafi Thought and Action". In Meijer, Roel (ed.). Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. Columbia University Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-231-15420-8.
  16. ^ Haykel, Bernard (2009). "Chapter 1: On the Nature of Salafi Thought and Action". In Meijer, Roel (ed.). Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. Columbia University Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-0-231-15420-8. Salafis are first and foremost religious and social reformers who are engaged in creating and reproducing particular forms of authority and identity, both personal and communal. Indeed, Salafis are determined to create a distinct Muslim subjectivity, one with profound social and political implications.It is important to understand Salafis as constituting a group that defines its reformist project first and foremost through credal tenets (i.e., a theology).Also important, though secondary, for their self-definition are certain legal teachings as well as forms of sociability and politics. I hope to show in this study that Salafism is a term that is heuristically useful because it is a marker of a distinctive form of engagement with the world, and one that is identifiable as such to many Muslims
  17. ^ a b "Salafi Islam", Global Security website
  18. ^ Asadullah al-Ghalib, Muhammad (2012). AHLE HADEETH MOVEMENT What and Why?. Kajla, Rajshahi, Bangladesh H.F.B. Publication: 35: Oxford University Press. pp. 625–643. ISBN 978-984-33-4799-2. In different books of Hadeeth and in reliable books of Fiqh, the Ahle hadeeth have been described as Ahle hadeeth, Ashabul Hadeeth, Ahle Sunnah wal Jama‘at, Ahlul Athar, Ahlul Haq, Muhadditheen etc. As the followers of Salaf-i-Saleheen, they are also known as Salafi.CS1 maint: location (link)
  19. ^ "Who are Ahl al-Hadeeth? What are their distinguishing features?". 2 September 2002. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021.
  20. ^ "Characteristics of the Victorious Group: Ahl al-Sunnah wa'l-Jamaa'ah". Archived from the original on 15 February 2021.
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  23. ^ ElMasry, Shadee (2010). "The Salafis in America". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden: Routledge Publishers. 56: 219–220. doi:10.1080/13602004.2010.494072. S2CID 144096423 – via tandfonline.
  24. ^ Hamdeh, Emad (9 June 2017). "Qurʾān and Sunna or the Madhhabs?: A Salafi Polemic Against Islamic Legal Tradition". Islamic Law and Society. 24 (3): 211–253. doi:10.1163/15685195-00240A01. ISSN 1568-5195.
  25. ^ The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, p. 484
  26. ^ Lacroix, Stéphane (2011). "Chapter 3: Resistance to Sahwa Ascendancy". Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi Arabia. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: Harvard University Press. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-0-674-04964-2.
  27. ^ a b c d Qadhi, Dr. Yasir (22 April 2014). "On Salafi Islam". Muslimmatters. Archived from the original on 17 January 2017.
  28. ^ Meijer, Roel (2014). "Between Revolution and Apoliticism: Nasir al-Din al-Albani and his Impact on the Shaping of Contemporary Salafism". Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 43, 61–62, 63. ISBN 978-0-19-933343-1.
  29. ^ Gauvain, Richard (2013). Salafi Ritual Purity: In the Presence of God. 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017: Routledge. pp. 8, 293. ISBN 978-0-7103-1356-0.CS1 maint: location (link)
  30. ^ Olidort, Jacob (2015). The Politics of "Quietist Salafism" (PDF). Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: Harvard University Press. pp. 7, 8.
  31. ^ Cooke, B. Lawrence, Miriam, Bruce (2005). "Chapter 10: The Salafi Movement". Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop. London: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 212–213. ISBN 0-8078-2923-4.
  32. ^ a b "From there he [Albani] learned to oppose taqlid in a madhab." Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies, p. 174. "Al-Albani had denounced Wahhabi attachment to the Hanbali school." Stephane Lacroix, George Holoch, Awakening Islam, p. 85
  33. ^ Meijer, Roel (2014). "Between Revolution and Apoliticism: Nasir al-Din al-Albani and his Impact on the Shaping of Contemporary Salafism". Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-19-933343-1.
  34. ^ Krawietz, Tamer, Birgit, Georges (2013). Islamic Theology, Philosophy and Law: Debating Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya. Berlin, Germany: Walter De Gruyter. pp. 165–166. ISBN 978-3-11-028534-5.
  35. ^ Meijer, Roel (2014). "Between Revolution and Apoliticism: Nasir al-Din al-Albani and his Impact on the Shaping of Contemporary Salafism". Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-19-933343-1.
  36. ^ Lacroix, Stéphane (2011). "Chapter 3: Resistance to Sahwa Ascendancy". Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi Arabia. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: Harvard University Press. pp. 84–85, 220. ISBN 978-0-674-04964-2.
  37. ^ Shaham, Ron (2018). Rethinking Islamic Legal Modernism. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Publishers. p. 37. ISBN 978-90-04-36954-2. In setting forth these premises, Rida appears to prepare the ground to steer a middle course.. Rida did not ignore the rich heritage of Islamic law, as did a number of his strict Salafi contemporaries. Instead, following Ibn Taymiyya and especially his student Ibn al-Qayyim, he viewed the literature of the four Sunni law-schools (without committing himself to the teachings of one school in particular) as a resource from which to draw guidance and inspiration for adapting the law to changing circumstances
  38. ^ "For many Salafis, both modernist and conservative, "worship" of created beings includes practicing taqlid within a madhab of fiqh." Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies, p. 165
  39. ^ Khan, Rehan (5 February 2020). "Salafi Islam and its Reincarnations- Analysis". Eurasia Review. Archived from the original on 5 February 2020.
  40. ^ Gauvain, Richard (2013). Salafi Ritual Purity: In the Presence of God. 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017: Routledge. pp. 8, 11, 229–230, 328, 347. ISBN 978-0-7103-1356-0. the identity of many modern Salafis is dependent upon their departure from the established rulings of the four Sunni law schools (madhahib), including that of Ibn Hanbal. Modern Salafis generally dislike the practice of following the established rulings of any particular law school and view the principle of legal “imitation” (taqlid) as a significant factor in the overall decline of the Muslim Umma... Zahiri influence on modern Salafi legal thought occurs almost entirely through the Muhalla of Ibn Hazm, .... more important than Ibn Hazm’s individual opinions to the Salafi scholars and ritual practitioners mentioned here is the unyielding Zahiri-style logic that underscores them... modern Salafis are endeavouring to shift Zahiri legal from the margins of orthodoxy into its centre CS1 maint: location (link)
  41. ^ Haykel, Bernard (2009). "Chapter 1: On the Nature of Salafi Thought and Action". In Meijer, Roel (ed.). Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement. Columbia University Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0-231-15420-8. And because of their adherence to a particular form of textual interpretation-one that emphasises a direct interfaçe with the texts of revelation.Salafis enjoy a relatively shallow and limited hierarchy of scholarly authoritics. Most Salafis -though not all- are unlike traditional, and pre-modern, Muslinms in that they do not subscribe to a developed and layered scholastic tradition of religious interpretation, which otherwise constrains and regulates, in rigorous tashion, the output of opinions. As such, it is striking how relatively easy it is to become an authority figure among the Salafis. In fact, as an interpretive community Salafıs are, in contrast to other Muslim traditions of learning, relatively open, even democratic
  42. ^ Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam, 2010: 38–48
  43. ^ Michael Cook, On the Origins of Wahhābism, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (July, 1992), p. 198
  44. ^ Bin Ali Mohamed Roots Of Religious Extremism, The: Understanding The Salafi Doctrine Of Al-wala Wal Bara World Scientific, 14.09.2015 9781783263943 p. 61
  45. ^ Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam, 2010: 36 "For the Atharis, the “clear” (i.e., zahir, apparent, or literal) meaning of the Qur’an and especially the prophetic traditions (ahadith) have sole authority in matters of belief, as well as law, and to engage in rational disputation (jadal), even if one arrives at the truth, is absolutely forbidden. A strictly literal, or perhaps amodal, reading of the Qur’an, as opposed to one engaged in ta’wil (metaphorical interpretation), or an attempt to rationally conceptualize its meanings, cannot be questioned and the “real” meanings should be consigned to God."
  46. ^ Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam, 2010: 36–7 "For the Atharis, the “clear” (i.e., zahir, apparent, or literal) meaning of the Qur’an and especially the prophetic traditions (ahadith) have sole authority in matters of belief, as well as law, and to engage in rational disputation (jadal), even if one arrives at the truth, is absolutely forbidden. A strictly literal, or perhaps amodal, reading of the Qur’an, as opposed to one engaged in ta’wil (metaphorical interpretation), or an attempt to rationally conceptualize its meanings, cannot be questioned and the “real” meanings should be consigned to God."
  47. ^ Bin Ali Mohamed Roots Of Religious Extremism, The: Understanding The Salafi Doctrine Of Al-wala Wal Bara World Scientific, 14.09.2015 9781783263943 pp. 62-63
  48. ^ TY - JOUR AU - Østebø, Terje PY - 2014 DA - 2014/01/01 TI - The revenge of the Jinns: spirits, Salafi reform, and the continuity in change in contemporary Ethiopia JO - Contemporary Islam SP - 17 EP - 36 VL - 8 IS - 1 AB - The point of departure for this article is a story about jinns taking revenge upon people who have abandoned earlier religious practices. It is a powerful account of their attempt to free themselves from a past viewed as inhabited by evil forces and about the encounter between contemporary Salafi reformism and a presumed disappearing religious universe. It serves to prove how a novel version of Islam has superseded former practices; delegitimized and categorized as belonging to the past. The story is, however, also an important source and an interesting entry-point to examine the continued relevance of past practices within processes of reform. Analyzing the story about the jinns and the trajectory of Salafi reform in Bale, this contribution demonstrates how the past remains intersected with present reformism, and how both former practices and novel impetuses are reconfigured through this process. The article pays attention to the dialectics of negotiations inherent to processes of reform and points to the manner in which the involvement of a range of different actors produces idiosyncratic results. It challenges notions of contemporary Islamic reform as something linear and fixed and argues that such processes are multifaceted and open-ended. SN - 1872-0226 UR - DO - 10.1007/s11562-013-0282-7 ID - Østebø2014 ER -
  49. ^ Stephen Burge Angels in Islam: Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi Akhbar al-malik Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-136-50473-0 p. 13-14
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  57. ^ Leaman, Oliver (2006). The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia. 270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA: Routledge: Taylor & Francis. p. 282. ISBN 0-415-32639-7. Ibn Taymiyya’s works extend to almost every area of contemporary intellectual life... Nearly all of his works are in the style of a refutation or a critique,... He embodies the theology of the Salafi (Traditionalist) movement and all his works are intense, focused and well-argued.CS1 maint: location (link)
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Further reading[edit]

  • Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014. ISBN 1610691776.
  • Botobekov, Uran (2021). "How Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Groups are Exploiting the Covid-19 Pandemic: New Opportunities and Challenges". In Käsehage, Nina (ed.). Religious Fundamentalism in the Age of Pandemic. Religionswissenschaft. 21. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. pp. 107–148. doi:10.14361/9783839454855-005. ISBN 978-3-8376-5485-1.