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.

Mohammed al-Sanduk

Most contemporary historians and philosophers of history believe that civilisation is characterised in general by the emergence of a number of social, intellectual and cultural features, of which the most salient are:

1. A complex pattern of (hierarchical) social structure that leads to the governance of a community by an élite. This feature demonstrates the correlation of civilisation with power and social structure.[1]


Dr. Soheib Bencheikh

ISIS has invented nothing for it to be qualified in any sense as ‘sectarian’. Other than its extreme brutality, this group is simply applying to the letter what the Sunnis have always understood by their religion. So, according to a formal logic, the factions of ISIS and al Qaeda are the most coherent groups in the Sunni world – internally coherent, coherent with their archaism, and above all coherent with the single theological juridical version of Islam existing at present, one that is sacralised and promoted by everyone, above all by official Islam [1].


Babikir Faysal Babikir

The phenomenon of violence is considered to be multifaceted and incapable of being reduced to a single cause, being generated by a number of psychological, political, social and economic factors. The various causes intersect with one another to varying degrees in preparing the agent of violence. But the common factor behind all these causes is a system of ‘ideas’, or what we might call an ideology, by which the agent may be managed and controlled to the point of being prepared to kill even at the expense of sacrificing himself.