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.

Yusuf Aba al-Khayl

In our Islamic environment we have become used to classifying discourses according to several modes: there is the extremist mode with its representatives, and there is the moderate mode, with its own conspicuous figures and their supporters. Similarly, there is a type of collective intellectual denial, that might be termed a third mode, a ‘diluted style’, with its representatives so designated perhaps in spite of themselves.

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Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari

The extremist element in contemporary religious discourse manifests itself in three conspicuous aspects: the male dominance attitude which excludes women; the denunciation of treachery attitude that calls into question the doctrinal propriety of others and their intentions;

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Fakhir al-Sultan

 

There are some who claim that there is a difference between the extremist and moderate religious currents, while there is in fact no difference separating the moderate from the extremist religious discourse. Both start from the same intellectual premises and employ the same ‘devices’.

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