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Template:Salafi The Salafi methodology, also known as the Salafist movement, is a movement among Sunni Muslims named after the Salaf ("predecessors" or "ancestors"), the earliest Muslims, whom they consider the examples of Islamic practice.[1][2]

The movement is often described as related to, including, or synonymous with Wahhabism, but Salafists consider the term Wahhabi derogatory.[3] At other times Salafism is deemed a hybrid of Wahhabism and other movements since the 1960s.[4] Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam and, particularly in the West, with the Salafi Jihadis who espouse violent jihad against civilians as a legitimate expression of Islam,[5] though leading Salafi scholars have condemned attacks on civilians,[6][7][8][9] and Salafi who support such attacks are in a minority.[10]

Academics and historians use the term 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," and "sought to expose the roots of modernity within Muslim civilization."[11][12] However contemporary Salafis follow "literal, traditional ... injunctions of the sacred texts", looking to Ibn Taymiyyah rather than the "somewhat freewheeling interpretation" of 19th century figures Muhammad Abduh, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Rashid Rida.[11][13]

Salafism should not be confused with the ahl i-hadith sect of the Indian subcontinent. Salafis submit to scholarly authority (taqlid), for example those of the Arabian countries are generally bound by Hanbali jurisprudence. All Salafi scholars of Saudi Arabia, including Sheikh bin Baz, Sheikh Salih al-Uthaymeen, al Albanee, Sheikh Salih al-Fawzaan, Sheikh Saud bin Shuraim and Sheikh al-Sudais, advocate following an Imam rather than understanding scripture oneself. Sheikh al-Albanee stated "blind following of the earlier scholars is far better than this free-for-all; rather for the ordinary Muslim, following a scholar is obligatory and this free-for-all is haraam" ( i.e. forbidden, un-Islamic).[14]

Though Salafis always claim to be Sunni Muslims, some people claim that Salafis are a sect unto their own, and are thus different to orthodox (i.e. traditional) Sunni Muslims.[15][16][17] Such people sometimes claim that Salafis and Wahhabis are the same.[15][18] The basis of this claim is that Salafis do not acknowledge or follow any of the four schools of thought to which other Sunni Muslims adhere to. They have their own beliefs and laws, their own leaders and systems, a religion with strict and so-called extremist ways.[15][16][18][19]

In the Arab world, and possibly even more so now by Muslims in the West, the term Ahl-as-Sunnah ("People of the Sunnah") is frequently used instead, while the term Ahl al-Hadith ("People of the Tradition") is often used on the Indian subcontinent to identify adherents of Salafi ideology, though this term is used more often in the Middle-East to indicate scholars and students of Hadith). The Muslim Brotherhood includes the term in the "About Us" section of its website[20] while others exclude that organisation[21] in the belief that the group commits religious innovations.

Salafism has been described as the fastest growing Islamic movement in a 2010 German domestic intelligence service annual report.[22][23][24]


The first generations of Muslims are collectively referred to as the "Pious Predecessors" (as-Salaf as-Saleh),[25] and include the "Companions" (Sahabah), the "Followers" (Tabi‘un) and the "Followers of the Followers" (Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in). These are revered in Islamic orthodoxy and Sunni theologians since the fifth Muslim generation or earlier have used their example to understand the texts and tenets of Islam, sometimes to differentiate the creed of the first Muslims from subsequent variations in creed and methodology (see Madhab),[26] to oppose religious innovation (bid‘ah) and, conversely, to defend particular views and practices.[27][28]

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies, states that among Sunnis is "a strongly held view that temporal proximity to the Prophet Muhammad is associated with the truest form of Islam." [29] This veneration is based on a number of records of the sayings of Muhammad who said, "I am the best Salaf for you"[30] and, as narrated in the Sahih al-Bukhari of `Abd Allah ibn `Umar, a companion of Muhammad; "The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will come after them and then those who will come after them..."|Sahih al-Bukhari collected by Muhammad al-Bukhari.[31] The term has been in use since the Middle Ages.

The terms Salafi, Ahl-as-Sunnah ("People of the Sunnah") and Ahl al-Hadith ("People of the Tradition") are all considered[by whom?] to bear the same or similar connotation, and Muslim scholars have used them interchangeably throughout the ages, Ahl al-Hadeeth possibly being the oldest recorded term for these earliest adherents,[32] while Ahl as-Sunnah is overwhelmingly used by Muslim scholars, including Salafis as well as others, such as the Ash'ari sect, leading to a narrower use of the term "Salafi".[33]


Salafis view the Salaf as an eternal model for all succeeding Muslim generations in their beliefs, exegesis, method of worship, mannerisms, morality, piety and conduct: the Islam they practiced is seen as pure, unadulterated and, therefore, the ultimate authority for the interpretation of the Sunnah.[34] This is not interpreted as an imitation of cultural norms or trends that are not part of the legislated worship of Islam but rather as an adherence to Islamic theology. Salafis reject speculative philosophy (kalam) that involves discourse and debate in the development of the Islamic creed. They consider this process a foreign import from Greek philosophy alien to the original practice of Islam. The Imam, Al-Dhahabi (d. 748H / 1348) said:

It is authentically related from ad-Daaraqutnee that he said: There is nothing more despised by me than kalam. I say: He never entered into kalam nor argumentation. Rather, he was a Salafi.[35]

Salafis believe that the Qur'an, the Hadith and the consensus (ijma) of approved scholarship (ulama) along with the understanding of the Salaf us-salih as being sufficient guidance for the Muslim. As the Salafi da'wa is a methodology and not a madh'hab in fiqh as commonly misunderstood, Salafis can come from the Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali or the Hanafi schools of Sunni jurisprudence[36] and accept teaching of all four if supported by clear and authenticated evidence from the Sunnah. They support qualified scholars to engage in ijtihad in the face of a clear evidence be it from Qur'an or Hadeeth as opposed to total blind imitation (taqlid) if he is qualified. Their views in theology are based on the Athari creed as opposed to engaging in kalam, dialectics or any form of speculative philosophy.

Salafis condemn certain common practices as polytheism (shirk) and tawassul of religious figures, such as venerating the graves of Islamic prophets and saints or using amulets to seek protection.[37] They maintain that such practices are bid‘ah or heretical innovations are not permissible and should not be taught or practiced. Salafis believe that Islam declined after the early generations because of religious innovations and an abandoning of what they consider to be pure Islamic teachings; and that an Islamic revival will only result through emulation of early generations of Muslims and purging of foreign influences.

Salafis place great emphasis on following acts in accordance with the known sunnah, not only in prayer but in every activity in daily life. Many are careful to always use three fingers when eating, drink water in three pauses with the right hand while sitting,[38] and make sure their jellabiya or other garment worn by them does not extend below the ankle so as to follow the example of Muhammad and his companions.

Opposition to the use of Kalam

Salafi scholars are in staunch opposition to the use of kalam, dialectics or speculative philosophy in theology. This is because it is seen as a heretical innovation in Islam which opposes the primordial aspiration to follow the original methodology of the Salaf us-salih with regards to Aqidah. Statements of the early Imams of the early Muslims are in corroboration with this such as Imam Abu Hanifa who prohibited his students from engaging in kalam, stating that those who practice it are of the "regressing ones."[39] Imam Malik ibn Anas referred to kalam in the Islamic religion as being "detested",[40] and that whoever "seeks the religion through kalam will deviate".[41] In addition Imam Shafi'i said that no knowledge of Islam can be gained from books of kalam, as kalam "is not from knowledge"[42][43] and that "It is better for a man to spend his whole life doing whatever Allah has prohibited – besides shirk with Allah – rather than spending his whole life involved in kalam."[44] Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal also spoke strongly against kalam, stating his view that no one looks into kalam unless there is "corruption in his heart,"[45] and even went so far as to prohibit sitting with people practicing kalam even if they were defending the Sunnah,[46] and instructing his students to warn against any person they saw practicing kalam.[47]


Landmarks claimed in the history of Salafi da'wah are Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d.240 AH / 855 AD) who is known among Salafis as Imam Ahl al-Sunnah, and one of the three scholars commonly titled with the honorific Sheikh ul-Islam, namely, Taqi ad-Deen Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728 AH / 1328 AD) and Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751 AH / 1350).[48][49][50]

Early examples of usage

  • Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: "There is no criticism for the one who proclaims the madh'hab of the Salaf, who attaches himself to it and refers to it. Rather, it is obligatory to accept that from him by unanimous agreement because the way of the Salaf is nothing but the truth."[35]
  • The term salafi has been used to refer to the theological positions of particular scholars. Abo al-Hasan Ali ibn Umar al-Daraqutuni (d. 995 C.E., 385 A.H.) was described by al-Dhahabi as: "Never having entered into rhetoric or polemics, instead he was salafi."[51]
  • Also, al-Dhahabi described Ibn al-Salah, a prominent 12th century hadith specialist, as: "Firm in his religiosity, salafi in his generality and correct in his denomination. [He] refrained from falling into common pitfalls, believed in Allah and in what Allah has informed us of from His names and description."[52]
  • In another of his works, Tadhkirat al-huffaz, al-Dhahabi said of Ibn al-Salah: "I say: He was salafi, of sound creed, abstaining from the interpretations of the scholars of rhetoric, believing in what has been textually established, without recourse to unjustified interpretation or elaboration.[53]
  • In his book, Tabsir al-Muntabih, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani mentioned the ascription al-Salafi and named Abd al-Rahman ibn Abdillah ibn Ahmad Al-Sarkhasi al-Salafi as an example of its usage. Ibn Hajar then said: "And, likewise, the one ascribing to the salaf."[54]
  • Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani also used the term, salafi in describing Muhammad ibn al-Qaasim ibn Sufyan al-Misri al-Maliki (d. 966 C.E., 355 A.H.) He said that al-Malaiki was: "Salafi al-madh'habsalafi in his school of thought."[55]
  • In the book Al-Ansaab by Abu Sa'd Abd al-Kareem as-Sama'ni, who died in the year 1166 (562 of the Islamic calendar), under the entry for the ascription al-Salafi he mentions an example or more of people who were so described in his time.[56] In commenting upon as-Sama'ni, Ibn al-Athir wrote: "And a group were known by this epithet."[57]

Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab

Many today consider Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab as the first figure in the modern era to push for a return to the religious practices of the salaf as-salih.[58] His evangelizing in 18th century Arabian Peninsula was a call to return to the practices of the early Muslims. His works, especially Kitab at-Tawhid, are still widely read by Salafis around the world today, and the majority of Salafi scholars still reference his works frequently.[59] After his death, his views flourished under his descendants, the Al ash-Sheikh, and the generous financing of the House of Saud and initiated the current worldwide Salafi movement.

The vast majority of Salafis reject the Wahhabi label because they consider it unfounded, an object of controversy,[60] holding that Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab did not establish a new school of thought but restored the Islam practiced by the earliest generations of Muslims. Followers of Salafiyyah consider it wrong to be called "Wahhabis" as the 17th Name of God is al-Wahhab ("the Bestower") and to be called a "Wahhabi" denotes the following of a person other than what in actuality is the believed following of the Qur'an and Sunnah.[61] Wahhabism has been called a "belittling" and derogatory term for Salafi,[62] while another source defines it as "a particular orientation within Salafism,"[36] an orientation some consider strongly apolitical,[63][64] and yet another describes it as a formerly separate current of Islamic thought that appropriated "language and symbolism of Salafism" until the two became "practically indistinguishable" in the 1970s.[65]

Trevor Stanley states that, while the origins of the terms Wahhabism and Salafism "were quite distinct" – "Wahhabism was a pared-down Islam that rejected modern influences, while Salafism sought to reconcile Islam with modernism" – they both shared a rejection of "traditional" teachings on Islam in favor of a direct, more puritan interpretation. Stéphane Lacroix, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at Sciences Po in Paris, also affirmed a distinction between the two: "As opposed to Wahhabism, Salafism refers here 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. Al-Albani’s discourse can therefore be a form of Salafism, while being critical of Wahhabism."[4]

The migration of Muslim Brotherhood members from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Saudi King Faisal's "embrace of Salafi pan-Islamism resulted in cross-pollination between Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab's teachings on tawhid, shirk and bid‘ah and Salafi interpretations of the sayings of Muhammad.[66]

Contemporary Salafism

Salafism is attractive to its adherents because it underscores Islam's universality.[67] It insists on affirmation of the literal truth as understood by its apparent meaning of Qur'anic scripture and Hadeeth,[67] yet may challenge secularism by appropriating secularism's traditional role of defending the socially and politically weak against the powerful.[68]

Opposition to extremism

In recent years the Salafi methodology has wrongly come to be associated with the jihad of extremist groups and related groups that advocate the killing of innocent civilians. While some terrorists claim to be Salafi, these acts have consistently been strongly opposed by some Salafi scholars such as Sheikh Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, Sheikh Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen and Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd Allah ibn Baaz who had all issued fatawa (religious verdicts) forbidding suicide bombing declaring the act as being totally haram (forbidden).[6] [7] [8] [9]

Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd Allah ibn Baaz said with regards to suicide bombings:

" ...such an act is never correct because it is a form of killing oneself and Allāh subhanahu wa ta'ala says: 'And do not kill yourselves. [Sūrah al-Nisā 4:29]' And the prophet salAllahu 'aleihi wa selim said: 'Whoever kills himself by any means, he will be punished by it on the Day of Resurrection. [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 670]' The person should rather strive and seek to guide them and if fighting is legalized and legislated, then he fights alongside the Muslims. If he’s then killed in this way, then Allāh is praised. But as for killing himself by booby-trapping his body with explosives, thereby killing others and himself, this is wrong and completely impermissible. Rather, he should fight with the Muslims only when fighting is legitimately legislated. As for the [suicidal] actions of (some of) the Palestinians, they are wrong and produce no benefit. Instead, it is compulsory upon them to call to Allāh by teaching, guiding, and advising and not by such actions as these."[69]

The groups and individuals that carry out terrorist attacks are regarded as being out of the fold of the methodology of the Salaf, misguided and deviant; chiefly erroneous "Qutubi jihadism" groups.

It has been noted that the Western association of Salafi ideology with violence stems from writings done "through the prism of security studies" that were published in the late 20th century, having persisted well into contemporary literature.[70] More recent attempts have been made by academics and scholars who challenge these major assumptions.

Trends Loosely Associated with Salafism

Salafist jihadism

Salafi Jihadism was a term coined by Gilles Kepel[71][72] to describe those self claiming Salafi groups who began developing an interest in 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 0.5 percent of the world's 1.9 billion Muslims (c. 10 million).[71] However those who take their actions beyond the limits of the shari'ah (such as terrorist attacks against civilians) are seen as deviant and not being true "Salafis".

Purists, Madkhalism

"Purists" are Salafists who focus on non-violent da'wah, education, and "purification of religious beliefs and practices". They dismiss politics as "a diversion or even innovation that leads people away from Islam".[74]

Madkhalism is a term typically referring to the strain of Salafists viewed as supportive of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.[75][76][77] Originally taking its name from controversial Saudi Arabian cleric Rabee Al-Madkhali, the movement lost its support in Saudi Arabia proper when several members of the country's clerical body known as the Permanent Committee denounced Madkhali personally.[78] 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.[78]

Salafist activism

It has sometimes been described as a third strain of the global movement, being different from the Salafist Jihadists by eschewing violence and from the Salafist Madkhalists by engaging in modern political processes.[79] Due to numerical superiority, the movement has been referred to the mainstream of the Salafist movement at times.[77] This trend, sometimes called "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"[74]


Qutbism is a movement which has, at times, been described both as a strain of Salafism and an opposing movement,[62] providing the foil to Madkhalism in that the movement is typically found in radical opposition to the ruling regimes of the Middle East.[75] Qutbism has, at times, been associated with the above mentioned Salafist Jihadist trend.[79]

Despite some similarities, the different contemporary self-proclaimed Salafist groups often strongly disapprove of one another and deny the other's Islamic character.[80]

Comparison with other movements

Main article: Islamism

Some Salafi Muslims often preach disengagement from Western activities, and advocate being apolitical and being against any form of extremism, "even by giving them an Islamic slant."[81] Instead, it is thought that Muslims should stick to traditional activities, particularly Dawah. Nevertheless, Salafis do not preach willful ignorance of civil or state law. While preaching that the Sharia takes precedence, Salafi Muslims conform to civil or state law as far as they are required, for example in purchasing mandatory auto insurance.

Arab Spring

Salafi have been notable following insurrections in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. In the 2011–12 Egypt parliamentary elections, the Islamist Bloc led by Al‑Nour party despite having only "a few months of party politicking experience" managed to receive 27.8% of the vote, or 127 of the 498 parliamentary seats contested, to form the second-largest parliamentary bloc.[82] 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 restricting private property rights by 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 the Brotherhood's relatively tolerant attitude towards Shia Iran in its foreign policy.[83]


Salafism has been recently criticized by Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA School of Law. El Fadl argues that the Salafi methodology "drifted into stifling apologetics" by the mid-20th century, a reaction against "anxiety" to "render Islam compatible with modernity," by its leaders earlier in the century.[84] He attacks those who state "any meritorious or worthwhile modern institutions were first invented and realized by Muslims". He argues the result was that "an artificial sense of confidence and an intellectual lethargy" developed, according to Abou El Fadl, "that took neither the Islamic tradition nor" the challenges of the modern world "very seriously."[85][86]

According to the As-Sunnah Foundation of America, the Salafi and Wahhabi movements are strongly opposed by a long list of Sunni scholars.[87] The Saudi government has been criticised for damaging Islamic heritage of thousands of years in Saudi Arabia.[88][89] Though Salafis when told about this were as opposed to it as other Muslims.[90] The Salafi movement has been linked by Marc Sageman to some terrorists group around the world.[91]

Treatment of Salafism in China

Salafism is intensely opposed by a number of Hui Muslims in China, by the Gedimu and Sufi Khafiya and Jahriyya. So much so that even the Yihewani (Ikhwan) Chinese sect, which is fundamentalist and was founded by Ma Wanfu who was originally inspired by the Salafis, 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) menhuan in Lanzhou and Linxia, and it is a completely separate group from other Muslim sects in China.[92] Muslim Hui avoid Salafis, even if they are family members, and they constantly disagree.[93] The number of Salafis in China are not included on percentage lists of Muslim sects in China.[94] The Kuomintang Sufi Muslim General Ma Bufang, who backed the Yihewani (Ikhwan) Muslims, persecuted the Salafis, forcing them into hiding. They were not allowed to move or worship openly. The Yihewani had become secular and Chinese nationalists, and they considered the Salafiyya to be "heterodox" (xie jiao), and people who followed foreigners' teachings (waidao). Only after the Communists took over were the Salafis allowed to come out and worship openly again.[95]

German government's statement on Salafism

German government officials[96] 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 on Deutsche Welle broadcasts for the week of April 18, 2012.[97][98]

Prominent Salafi scholars


Yusuf Estes

Saudi Arabia

  • Muhammad Al-Sumaalee[99]
  • Abdullah Yolcu
  • Ubeydullah Arslan
  • Necmi Sarı
  • Ebu Zerka
  • Feyzullah Birışık
United Kingdom

See also

Islam portal


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