CONTEMPORARY SALAFISM emerged as a form of radical religious reform, aiming to displace the heritage of traditional Muslim scholarship. But while religious reform has long been a feature of the Islamic world in the modern period, the Salafist formula for this reform is retrograde. It sets itself against all other religious currents within and outside of Islam, against the competing political and intellectual currents of liberalism and secularism, even the epistemological foundations underpinning modernity. It is important to make the association of Salafism with the current rise in religious extremism. Salafist doctrine is isolationist and damages social cohesion. Its educational and cultural orientations prime the mentality of its followers to uncompromising, radical interpretations that deliberately override the interests and rights of the ‘other.’ The exportation of Salafist culture, in the form of Wahhabism, has been condemned by Muslims scholars at Cairo’s al-Azhar university as the cause of terrorism, the rejection of diversity, the oppression of women and religious minorities, as well as the destabilization of Muslim States.

For although the Salafist method is primarily focused on doctrine and religious practice, it exhibits at least the language of what one might term ‘proto-politics’. It assumes that its programme for reform must apply to behaviour in the public sphere as the pietistic requirements of the community are seen to be ill-served by the political and social structures of the state. To insulate itself meanwhile from contamination, Salafism advocates non-participation in political life and effectively promotes a parallel society, all of which has political implications.

The Salafist discourse is the arena from which militant forms of Islam develop. Jihadists (who refer to themselves as ‘Jihadi-Salafists’) capitalize on its narrowed cultural and doctrinal spectrum and on the groundwork Salafism lays towards rejectionism and social exclusivity, by extending the culture of alienation beyond the social, doctrinal and intellectual levels, to the political level in the elaboration of the new identity of the Islamic Umma.

Salafist doctrines, and Islamist political ideas based on these doctrines, are increasing their grip to the point where they are de facto becoming the norm. The more Salafism gets to define the ‘centre-ground’ of Islamic belief the more damage it will wreak to social cohesion, to political stability and the progress of human rights. The articles in this section challenge Salafism’s claim to authenticity and moral authority.

Riyadh Hammadi

The Arab is enamoured of his past and his predecessors and entirely ignores his present and his future - Jamal al-Din al-Afghani

As in all cases of rupture the primary role goes to human intellect; the human intellect alone, freed by secularism from the shackles of reverence for predecessors and for obscurantism, can arise and unleash technology and the means to production ... Any extending of what has become a part of the heritage can only reproduce mummification – George Tarabishi


Those who call for the return to the text via a return to the legacy of Arabic rhetoric in its “golden age” accuse the proponents of modernity of perpetrating an epistemological rupture with this heritage and claim that the future cannot be guaranteed other than through a cultural connection with its past civilisation.

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Said Nachid

The Qur’ānic text does not stint at calling for killing and fighting. Indeed in one of its verses (Qur’ān,  II, 216) it states: Warfare is ordained for you’. Based on this clear unequivocal statement the extremist religious preacher ‘Abd al-Salām Farag deduced, in his book The Absent Obligation, that killing was an individual duty for every Muslim, for its being analogous to the verse: ‘Fasting is prescribed for you (Qur’ān II,183).

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Mahmud Karam

It is perhaps an obvious point to make that the Islamic religious mind in general, through all its various historical phases, doctrinal reflections and affiliations, has a predilection for certainty and automatically accepts established precedent, expelling the process of doubt in all its levels, gradations and methods from its vocabulary, from its literary output, its methodology and culture. In this way the religious mindset continues to maintain firmly its established absolute, doctrinal precedents that are specific to it, preserving them intact from phase to phase or from generation to generation.

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