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Salafiyya Movement


modernist islamic intellectual movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which had some following among sunni elites living in the ottoman empire.

The Salafiyya movement sought to engineer a religious revival and reform that would incorporate Western conceptions of modernity and assert the religious and cultural identity of Islam at the same time. The most prominent spokesmen of the movement were Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (18381897), Muhammad Abduh (18491905) and Rashid Rida (18651935). The members of the movement (salafis ) took the line that the values of early Islam were compatible with those of modern Europe. In so doing, they attributed to Islam mainly secular virtues such as rationalism, the encouragement of sciences, political power, and democracy. In this way they were able to place blame for the relative decline of Islamic societies and power vis-à-vis the West on Muslims who over time had diverged from Islam's original teachings. For this trend, the salaf or "forefathers," had in fact two complementary meanings. One was the early companions of the Prophet Muhammad, who were perceived to have abided by the Qurʾan and the sunna (deed and/or utterance of the Prophet) as closely as possible. Using this conception of the salaf, the Salafiyya emphasized the return to the scriptures. The second meaning of the salaf denoted reverence for the founders of the Islamic schools of law and for particular medieval jurists, such as al-Ghazali, who influenced the Salafiyya in one way or another.

The central part of the Salafiyya program consisted of legal reform through reinterpreting Islamic law (the shariʿa ) to make it compatible with Western and modern values. In fact, the Salafiyya became caught between two opposing trends: (1) a Westernizing trend, which wanted to adopt Western secular codes and legislate completely outside Islamic law, and (2) a traditional trend, which was perceived as adhering to rigid and premodern interpretations of the four jurisprudence schools of Sunni Islam. Striving to pursue a third alternative, the Salafiyya renounced the widespread nineteenth-and twentieth-century belief in Sunni circles that the gate of reinterpretation of Islamic law (ijtihad) had been closed at some point between the tenth and twelfth centuries. For the Salafiyya, ijtihad should be permissible in all aspects of transactions (mu'amalat), except where there is an explicit text (nass) in the Qurʾan or in an authentic sunna. The Salafiyya also called for unifying the interpretation of the shariʿa by employing two general principles. The first was the principle of public interest (maslaha), which was treated as one of the sources of Islamic law. The second principle was a combination (talfiq), whereby, for the interpretation of a religious precept in the field of transactions, the judge would not be confined to the opinion of one Islamic school of law but could make use of the interpretations of any school. The Salafiyya movement may also be regarded as a forerunner of Arab nationalism, since it emphasized Arab-based Islam and the Arabic language, albeit concurrent with modern sciences.

Politically, the Salafiyya produced two trends. One was the trend of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, which emphasized fighting the advance of Western imperialism into the East, in general, and in Muslim lands, in particular. This made al-Afghani validate several lines of political approach to mobilize various Muslim and non-Muslim groups against the West. He thus spoke in terms of both religious and secular nationalism. He called for healing the divisions between the Sunnis and Shiʿites by concentrating on the common religious basics among these two largest of Muslim sects.

The second trend was that of Muhammad Abduh. After working closely with al-Afghani for a short period, Abduh dissociated himself from his friend's politics, shunned political activism, and concentrated on the issues of Islamic religious reform through education and jurisprudence.

As for Rashid Rida, generally speaking, he followed Abduh's political line during the period preceding World War I; however, he shifted his position and adopted an anti-Western activist political line, akin to that of al-Afghani, after the waras a reaction to the establishment of direct European rule in most of the core Arab-Islamic areas, namely Syria and Iraq.

In Morocco, as in the Arab East, the Salafiyya movement condemned the doctrines and practices of popular Sufi orders, which it regarded as having no textual basis in Islamic thought. Politically, the Moroccan Salafiyya championed the nationalist liberal anticolonial cause and gained popularity thereby, especially because the rival Sufi orders cooperated with the French, in one way or another, after France proclaimed Morocco a protectorate in 1912. As an intellectual reformist movement, however, the Salafiyya of Morocco, and especially one of its leaders, Allal al-Fasi, emphasized the need for internal reform in Muslim society and to that end pursued a social line of self-help.

see also abduh, muhammad; afghani, jamal al-din al-; rida, rashid; shariʿa.


Abun-Nasr, Jamil. "The Salafiyya Movement in Morocco: The Religious Basis of the Moroccan Nationalist Movement." Middle Eastern Affairs, no. 3, St. Antony's Papers, no. 16, edited by Albert Hourani (1963).

Commins, David Dean. Islamic Reform: Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Gibb, H. A. R. Modern Trends in Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947.

mahmoud haddad

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