Salafi Movement

The Salafi movement, also called the Salafist movement, Salafiya and Salafism, is a reform branch movement within Sunni Islam that developed in Egypt in the late 19th century as a response to Western European imperialism. It had roots in the 18th-century Wahhabi movement that originated in the Najd region of modern-day Saudi Arabia. The name derives from advocating a return to the traditions of the salaf, the first three generations of Muslims, which they said was the unadulterated, pure form of Islam. Theoretically, 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 Tabi‘in). Practically, Salafis maintain that Muslims ought to rely on the Quran, the Sunnah and the consensus of the salafs alone, ignoring the rest of Islamic hermeneutic teachings.

The Salafist doctrine is based on looking back to the early years of the religion to understand how the contemporary Muslims should practise their faith. They reject religious innovation or bid’ah and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic law). 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. 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, especially to Hanbali Madhab, the parent school of Salafi doctrine.

In the Persian Gulf states, the majority of the Salafis reside in Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. 46.87 per cent of Qataris and 44.8 per cent of Emiratis are Salafis. By contrast, Bahrain has 5.7 per cent Salafis, and Kuwait has a population that is 2.17 per cent Salafis. The Salafi literalist or fundamentalist creed has also gained some acceptance in Turkey.

At times, Salafism has been deemed a hybrid of Wahhabism and other post-1960s movements. Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam. Western observers and analysts often, incorrectly, equate the movement with Salafi jihadism, a hybrid ideology which espouses violent attacks against those it deems to be enemies of Islam as a legitimate expression of Islam.

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” and “sought to expose the roots of modernity within Muslim civilization”. However, some contemporary Salafis follow “literal, traditional … injunctions of the sacred texts”, looking to Ibn Taymiyyah or his disciple Ibn Kathir rather than the modernistic approach of Salafism of 19th-century figures Muhammad Abduh, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Rashid Rida. Major figures in the movement include Ibn Taymiyyah, Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, Rabee al-Madkhali, Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi’i, Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani and Saleh Al-Fawzan.

Ittiba’u ila salafush shalih

Ittiba’u ila salafush shalih


See also: The Companions And The Tabi‘Un

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.” as a call to Muslims to follow the example of those first three generations, known collectively as the salaf, or “pious Predecessors” (السلف الصالح as-Salaf as-Ṣāliḥ). The salaf are believed to include Muhammad himself, the “Companions” (Sahabah), the “Followers” (Tabi‘un), and the “Followers of the Followers” (Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in).


According to Bernard Haykel, “temporal proximity to the Prophet Muhammad is associated with the truest form of Islam” among many Sunni Muslims.

The Salafi da’wa is a methodology, but it is not a madh’hab in fiqh (jurisprudence) as is commonly misunderstood. Salafis may be influenced by the Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali or the Hanafi schools of Sunni fiqh. But for practical reasons, Salafis carry all the attributes of Hanbali Madhab.

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.

Views on Taqlid (adherence to legal precedent)

In legal matters, 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. Salafi scholars from Saudi Arabia are generally bound by Hanbali fiqh and advocate following an Imam rather than having individuals try to interpret and understand scripture alone.

Other Salafi scholars, however, believe that taqlid is unlawful. From their perspective, Muslims who follow a madhab without searching personally for direct evidence may be led astray. The latter group of preachers include Nasir al-Din al-Albani.

At the far end of the spectrum of belief, some Salafis hold that adhering to taqlid is an act of polytheism.

Differences to Classical Sunnism

Modern-day proponents of the Athari school of theology largely come from the Salafi (or Wahhabi) movement; they uphold the athari works of Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taimiyya himself, a disputed and partly rejected scholar during his life time, 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 Sunnis accuse Salafis of altering his actual teachings.

Followers of the Salafi movement, regard the primary sources Quran 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. They believe that to engage in speculative theology (kalam), even if one arrives at the truth, is absolutely forbidden.

Atharis engage in an amodal reading of the Qur’an, 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 meaning should be consigned to God alone (tafwid).

Following the Salafi hermeneutic approach, Salafis differ from that of non-Salafis in some regards of permissibility.

Many Muslim practises related to the spiritual world are considered shirk by followers of Salafism. Followers of the Salafi movement regard a number of practises related to jinn or spirits of 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 Quran and hadith, without further exegetical material and missing any reference to anecdotal experiences.


The Salaf would Honour the Sunnah

The Salaf would Honour the Sunnah

Historians and academics date the emergence of Salafism to late 19th-century in Egypt. Salafis believe that the label “Salafiyya” existed from the first few generations of Islam and that it is not a modern movement. 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].” 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.” 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.”

In the modern era, however, many Salafis adopt 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 creed, law, morals, and behavior.

Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab

Main article: Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab

Modern Salafists consider the 18th-century scholar Muhammed bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab and many of his students to have been Salafis. He started a reform movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd. He advocated purging practices such as shrine and tomb visitation, which were widespread among Muslims. ‘Abd al-Wahhab considered this practice to be idolatry, representative of impurities and inappropriate innovations in Islam. He is also known, amongst the contemporary Salafi movement, as one of the most knowledgeable scholars of Islam for his exhaustive invitation to Tawhid (monotheism), which is the first and foremost condition to be considered a Muslim.

Trends within Salafism

Some who have observed trends in the Salafist movement have divided Salafis into three groups – purists, activists, and jihadis. 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).


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”.

They never oppose rulers. Madkhalism, as an example, is a strain of Salafists viewed as supportive of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. 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. 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.

Salafi activists

Main article: Activism

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. The movement has often been incorrectly referred to as the mainstream of the Salafist movement at times. This 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”. Al–Sahwa Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Awakening), as example, has been involved in peaceful political reform. Safar Al-Hawali and Salman al-Ouda are representatives of this trend. Because of being active on social media, they have earned some support among the more naive youth.

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

Salafi jihadists

Main article: Salafi jihadism

Boko Haram … the Salafi jihadism cancer in Nigeria

“Boko Haram”… the Salafi jihadism cancer in Nigeria

Salafi Jihadism” was a term invented by Gilles Kepel 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).

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. 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. 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.

However, the purist Salafis often strongly disapprove of the activists and jihadists and deny the other’s Islamic character.

Views on violence

Main article: Islam and Violence

In recent years, the Salafi methodology has come to be associated with the jihad of extremist groups that advocate the killing of innocent civilians even though it states in the Qur’an that killing of innocents is wrong. The European Parliament, in a report commissioned in 2013 claimed that Wahhabi and Salafi groups are involved, mainly via Saudi charities, in the support and supply of arms to rebel groups around the world. Some Salafi scholars appear to support violent extremism. The Egyptian Salafi cleric Mahmoud Shaaban “appeared on a religious television channel calling for the deaths of main opposition figures Mohammed ElBaradei – a Nobel Peace Prize laureate – and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi”.

Other salafis have rejected the use of violence. The Saudi scholar, Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen considered suicide bombing to be unlawful and the scholar Abdul Muhsin al-Abbad wrote a treatise entitled: According to which intellect and Religion is Suicide bombings and destruction considered Jihad?. Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani stated that “History repeats itself. Everybody claims that the Prophet is their role model. Our Prophet spent the first half of his message making dawah, and he did not start it with jihad”.

Some other Islamic groups, particularly some Sufis, have also complained about extremism among some Salafi. It has been noted that the Western association of Salafi ideology with violence stems from writings “through the prism of security studies” that were published in the late 20th century and that continue to persist.

Regional groups and movements

Saudi Arabia (Wahhabism)

Main article: Wahhabism

Wahhabism is a more strict, Saudi form of Salafism, 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”. 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”.

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.

Its largesse funded an estimated “90% of the expenses of the entire faith”, throughout the Muslim World, according to journalist Dawood al-Shirian. It extended to young and old, from children’s madrasas to high-level scholarship. “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. It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university. Yahya Birt counts spending on “1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools”  at a cost of around $2–3bn annually since 1975. To put the number into perspective, the propaganda budget of the Soviet Union was about $1bn per annum.

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

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

Indian subcontinent (Ahl-i Hadith movement)

Main article: Ahl-i Hadith

Ahl-i Hadith is a religious movement that emerged in Northern India in the mid-nineteenth century. 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. In particular, they reject taqlid (following legal precedent) and favor ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) based on the scriptures. The movement’s followers call themselves Salafi, while others refer to them as Wahhabi, or consider them a variation on the Wahhabi movement. In recent decades the movement has expanded its presence in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

Syed Nazeer Husain from Delhi and Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal are regarded as the founder of the movement. Folk Islam and Sufism, commonly popular with the poor and working class in the region, are anathema to Ahl-i Hadith beliefs and practices. This attitude toward Sufism has brought the movement into conflict with the rival Barelvi movement even more so than the Barelvis’ rivals, the Deobandis. Ahl-i Hadith followers identify with the Zahiri madhhab. The movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia. Jamia Salafia is their largest institution in India.


There are 5 to 6 million Salafis in Egypt. 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. Since 2015 the Egyptian government has banned books associated with the Salafi movement.

Al-Sunna Al-Muhammadeyya Society, also known as Ansar Al-Sunna, was founded in 1926 by Sheikh Mohamed Hamed El-Fiqi (d.), 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.

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.

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. 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, 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. A lawsuit against the party was dismissed on 22 September 2014 because the court indicated it had no jurisdiction. A case on the dissolution of the party was adjourned until 17 January 2015. Another court case that was brought forth to dissolve the party was dismissed after the Alexandria Urgent Matters Court ruled on 26 November 2014 that it lacked jurisdiction.

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 its relatively tolerant attitude towards Iran.


Salafism has been dismissively labeled as “ultra-conservative”, in the context of Tunisia after the 2011 revolution.


Turkey has been largely absent from the growing literature on the phenomenon of transnational Salafism. Salafism is a fringe 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. 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.”


In France, in 2015 police say that salafism is represented in 90 out of 2500 investigated religious communities, which is double the number compared to five years earlier.

In November and December 2016, authorities closed four salafist mosque in Ecquevilly, the El Islah mosque in Villiers-sur-Marne and two in Seine-Saint-Denis (Clichy-sous-Bois and Stains).

In December 2017, a salafist mosque in Marseille was closed by authorities for preaching about violent jihad.

In August 2018, after the European Court of Human Rights approved the decision, French authorities deported salafist Elhadi Doudi to his home country Algeria because of his radical message he preached in Marseille.


Salafism is a growing movement in Germany whose aim of a Caliphate is incompatible with a Western democracy. According to the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, nearly all Islamist terrorists are Salafists, but not all Salafists are terrorists. Therefore, the agency evaluated the Salafist movement beyond the actions by Salafists and analysed the ideological framework of Salafism which is in conflict with the minimal foundations of a democratic and open society. Salafists calling for the death penalty for apostasy is in conflict with freedom of religion. The dualistic view on “true believers” and “false believers” in practice means people being treated unequally on religious grounds. The call for a religious state in the form of a caliphate means that Salafists reject the rule of law and the sovereignty of the people’s rule. The Salafist view on gender and society leads to discrimination and the subjugation of women.

Estimates by German interior intelligence service show that it grew from 3,800 members in 2011 to 7,500 members in 2015. In Germany, most of the recruitment to the movement is done on the Internet and also on the streets, a propaganda drive which mostly attracts youth. There are two ideological camps, one advocates political Salafism and directs its recruitment efforts towards non-Muslims and non-Salafist Muslims to gain influence in society. The other and minority movement, the jihadist Salafism, advocates gaining influence by the use of violence and nearly all identified terrorist cells in Germany came from Salafist circles.

In 2015, Sigmar Gabriel, Vice-Chancellor of Germany, spoke out, saying “We need Saudi Arabia to solve the regional conflicts, but we must at the same time make clear that the time to look away is past. Wahhabi mosques are financed all over the world by Saudi Arabia. In Germany, many dangerous Islamists come from these communities.”

In November 2016, nationwide raids were conducted on the Salafist True Religion organization.

According to the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne, the number of Salafists in Germany grew from 9,700 in December 2016 to 10,800 in December 2017. In addition to the rise, the Salafist movement in Germany was increasingly fractured which made them harder to monitor by authorities. According to the office, street distributions of Quran took place less frequently which was described as a success for the authorities. Radicalisation changed character, from taking place in mosques and interregional Salafist organisations to more often happening in small circles, which increasingly formed on the internet. A further development was a rise in participation of women.

According to the FFGI at Goethe University Frankfurt, wahhabist ideology is spread in Germany as in other European country mostly by an array of informal, personal and organisational networks, where organisations closely associated with the government of Saudi Arabia such as the Muslim World League (WML) and the World Association of Muslim Youth are actively participating.

In February 2017, the German Salafist mosque organisation Berliner Fussilet-Moscheeverein was banned by authorities. Anis Amri, the perpetrator of the 2016 Berlin truck attack, was said to be among its visitors. In March 2017, the German Muslim community organisation Deutschsprachige Islamkreis Hildesheim was also banned after investigators found that its members were preparing to travel to the conflict zone in Syria to fight for the Islamic State. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, these examples show that Salafist mosques not only concern themselves with religious matters, but also prepare serious crimes and terrorist activities.


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. Muslim Hui avoid Salafis, even if they are family members. The number of Salafis in China are not included on percentage lists of Muslim sects in China. 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.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Many Islamic religious buildings were damaged or destroyed in the Bosnian War during the 90s, estimates say up to 80%, and some are rebuilt with the aid of funds from Saudi Arabia in exchange for Saudi control which became the starting point of the wahhabist influence in Bosnia. According to a study from 2005, over 3% of the mainstream Sunni Muslim population (around 60,000 people) of Bosnia and Herzegovina identified themselves as wahhabist. Despite the wahhabism that came along with Saudi aid to rebuild the mosque and with Gulf-trained imams, all-covering veils such as niqab and burqa are still a rare sight.


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.


Representatives from the mosque in Gävle are promoting this variant of Islam, which in Sweden is considered extreme. According to researcher Aje Carlbom at Malmö University the organisation behind the missionary work is Swedish United Dawah Center, abbreviated SUDC. SUDC is characterised as a salafist group by a researcher of religious history at Stockholm University and it has many links to British Muslim Abdur Raheem Green. According to professor Mohammed Fazlhashemi, salafists are opposed to rational theology and hate Shia Muslims above all. Three Muslim community organisations in Malmö invited reportedly antisemitic and homophobic salafist lecturers such as Salman al-Ouda. One of the organisations, Alhambra is a student society at Malmö University.

In Hässleholm the Ljusets moské (translated: “mosque of the light”) is spreading salafi ideology and portray shia Muslims as apostates and traitors in social media while the atrocities of the Islamic state are never mentioned. In 2009 the imam Abu al-Hareth at the mosque was sentenced to six years in jail for the attempted murder of a local shia Muslim from Iraq and another member set fire to a shia mosque in Malmö.

In 2017 Swedish Security Police reported that the number of jihadists in Sweden had risen to thousands from about 200 in 2010. Based on social media analysis, an increase was noted in 2013.

Salafists in Sweden are supported financially by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. According to police in Sweden, salafists affect the communities where they are active.

According to Swedish researcher Magnus Ranstorp, salafism is antidemocratic, homophobic and aims to subjugate women and is therefore opposed to a societal order founded on democracy.


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

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. Also, Qatar hosts branches of several American universities and a “Church City” in which migrant workers may practice their religion. 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. 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. Meanwhile, there have been reports of local discontent with the sale of alcohol in Qatar.

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. 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. 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. Qatar also gave approximately $10 billion to the government of Egypt during Mohamed Morsi’s time in office.

Non-militarily, Qatar state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera has come under criticism for selective reporting in coordination with Qatar’s foreign policy objectives. 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. Reports of Qatar attempting to impact the curriculum of U.S. schools and buy influence in universities have also spread. 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. Saudi Arabia has also threatened to block land and sea borders with Qatar.

United Kingdom

A 2017 report found the number of Salafi and Wahhabi mosques in Britain had increased from 68 in 2007 to 110 in 2014. The report found that Middle Eastern nations are providing financial support to mosques and Islamic educational institutions, which have been linked to the spread of extremist material with “an illiberal, bigoted Wahhabi ideology”.


Worldwide there are roughly 50 million Salafi Sunnis, including roughly 6 million Salafis in Saudi Arabia, 7 to 8 million Salafis in India, 5 to 6 million Salafis in Egypt, and 1.6 million Salafis in Sudan. Salafi communities are smaller elsewhere, including roughly 10,000 in Tunisia, 17,000 in Morocco, 7,000 in Jordan, 17,000 in France and 5,000 in Germany.

It is often reported from various sources, including the German domestic intelligence service, that Salafism is the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world.

Other usage

Modernist Salafism

Main article: Islamic Modernism

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”. They are also known as Modernist Salafis. However contemporary Salafis follow “literal, traditional […] injunctions of the sacred texts”, looking to Ibn Taymiyyah rather than the “somewhat adulterated interpretation” of 19th-century figures Muhammad Abduh, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Rashid Rida, who many of the Salafi scholars vehemently warn against.

The origins of contemporary Salafism in the modernist “Salafi Movement” of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh is noted by some, while others say Islamic Modernism only influenced contemporary Salafism. However, the former notion has been rejected by majority. 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.

Groups like Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami etc. are inspired by Modernist Salafis. Muslim Brotherhood include the term salafi in the “About Us” section of its website.

Influence on Contemporary Salafism

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.

In the broadest sense

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. 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  Muhammad Abduh or by Muhammad Iqbal.


Islamic opposition

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. Al-Radd singles out numerous Salafi aberrations – in terms of ritual prayer alone it targets for criticism the following Salafi claims:

  • 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)!”

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). The latter is perhaps the most famous refutation of Salafism in the twentieth century.

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. El Fadl argues that fanatical groups such as al-Qaeda “derive their theological premises from the intolerant Puritanism of the Wahhabi and Salafi creeds”. He also suggests that the extreme intolerance and even endorsement of terrorism manifest in Wahhabism and Salafism represents a deviation from Muslim historical traditions. El-Fadl also 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.

According to the As-Sunnah Foundation of America, the Salafi and Wahhabi movements are strongly opposed by a long list of Sunni scholars. The Saudi government has been criticised for damaging Islamic heritage of thousands of years in Saudi Arabia. For example, there has been some controversy that the expansion projects of the mosque and Mecca itself are causing harm to early Islamic heritage. Many ancient buildings, some more than a thousand years old, have been demolished to make room not only for the expansion of the Masjid al-Haram, but for new malls and hotels. Though some Salafis who attended a lecture by The City Circle in the UK, were equally as opposed to it as other Muslims. The Salafi movement has been linked by Marc Sageman to some terrorist groups around the world, like Al-Qaeda.

Sociological criticism

Although Salafist claim to re-establish Islamic values and protects Islamic culture, sociological observations show that they often interpret it in a manner which does not match with Islamic traditions, with some members of the movement regarding inherit elements of Islamic culture, such as music, poetry, literature and philosophy as works of the devil. Generally, Salafis do not adhere to traditional Islamic communities, and those who do, often oppose the traditional Islamic values.


Salafis are accused of having a double-standard on their views on innovation, rejecting some innovations and accepting others. Classical scholars (including imam Nawawi, who is widely praised by Salafis) 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, hence is accepted by Orthodox Muslims as an obligatory innovation to preserve the Qur’an. 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.

German government’s statement on Salafism

German government officials 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.

Prominent Salafis

  • Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, late Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti
  • Abdullaah al-Ghudayyan, late Saudi Arabian Salafi scholar (died 2010)
  • Abdullah el-Faisal, Jamaican Muslim leader
  • Abdur Raheem Green
  • Abu Qatada, Jordanian cleric
  • Ali al-Tamimi, contemporary American Islamic leader
  • Anjem Choudary, 21st-century British Salafi figure
  • Anwar al-Awlaki, leader of American/Yemeni terror group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Bilal Philips, Canadian Salafi imam
  • Feiz Mohammad
  • Haitham al-Haddad, British Salafi cleric
  • Muhammad Al-Munajjid, Salafi scholar, founder of IslamQA, answering theological and juridical questions of Islam .
  • Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, late Saudi Arabian Salafi scholar (died 1999)
  • Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani (died 1999), Albanian-Syrian scholar who published more than 100 books, lectured widely, and taught briefly in Saudi Arabia
  • Muhammad Asadullah Al-Ghalib, (born 15 January 1948) a Bangladeshi salafi academic, reformist Islamic scholar and the leader of a puritan Islamic movement Ahle Hadeeth Movement Bangladesh (AHAB). He published more than 50 books and founding chief editor of an Islamic research journal in Bangla language, Monthly At-tahreek.
  • Mohammed Yusuf (Boko Haram), Nigerian Muslim
  • Abu Bakar Bashir, leader of Indonesian terror group (Jema’ah Islamiyah)
  • Nasir al-Fahd, Saudi Arabian Salafi scholar who supports jihad, opposes the Saudi state, and in 2012 proclaimed allegiance to ISIS
  • Omar Bakri Muhammad, 21st-century Salafi Jihadist preacher
  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of terrorist group (Islamic State, known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh)
  • Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabian cleric who developed and led the terror group Al-Qaeda
  • Rabee al-Madkhali, Saudi scholar and former head of the Sunnah Studies Department at the Islamic University of Madinah. He is disassociated with extremist insurgent groups.
  • Umar Sulaiman Ashqar, late author of the Islamic Creed-series.
  • Zakir Naik, Salafi ideologue in India
  • Mohammad Abu Rumman, Salafi ideologue and educator.
  • Abdullah Yolcu, salafi preacher and educator in Turkey.


  • Yasir Qadhi, American Muslim cleric, professor at Rhodes College, and author; also Dean of Academic Studies at international al-Maghrib Institute Dr. Yasir Qadhi has stated in several interviews that he is no longer a Salafi and he disagrees with the Salafi movement. Some of the reasons he gave for leaving the movement is the violence and hostility of the movement against non-Salafi Muslims as well as it not being “intellectually stimulating”. He believes the movement to be violent, flawed, and not very faithful to the actual Salaf. He claims that he advocates for “following the actions of the Salaf instead of following the Salafi movement.”

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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