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It claims that the religion founded by Muhammad and his companions was perfect at the time of its creation but that it has subsequently been weakened by materialist interferences, rationalism, and innovations. Salafis tend to be anti-imperialist and blame Western civilization for corrupting and contaminating Islamic society.
The term salaf refers to the predecessors, or the first three generations of Muslims. But the Salafi school of thought appeared in modern times as a reaction against Western influences. The views have gained wide mainstream acceptance throughout the Middle East. The term Qutbism is used for more radical and violent ideas.
The Salafi school, while of relatively recent origin (19th century), largely follows a train of thought attributed to the 13th century imam Ibn Taymiyyah who issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the Mongolian conquerors. While the Mongolian Khans adopted the Islamic religion, Taymiyyah insisted they did not implement or follow Sharia law, declared them takfir or unbelieving apostates[note 1], and could be righteously overthrown. Modern Salafists view Islam as under assault from the corrupting influences of Western Civilization; various leaders of Islamic nation states, whether secular or religious, have made peace treaties or participated in international conventions with non-Islamic governments (or the enemies of God). The success of Taymiyyah's revolution in throwing off the Mongolian invaders is an inspiration to modern Salafi theorists.
Salafism teaches that voting in democratic elections is un-Islamic, whereas some Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood have formed political parties, field candidates, and encourage voter participation. As traditionalists they have been compared to the Amish but without the aversion to the decadent western technologies like guns and cars used to wage modern war.
Salafism makes up at most 10% of the global Muslim population, but it is undeniable that Salafism has had an outsized impact on the global Muslim community relative to it's size, with Salafi ideas and labels creeping into non-Salafi Islam such as the labeling of Sufis as "grave-worshippers" and the general opposition to bidah (meaning "innovation").
Salafism's competition with the ideals of democracy is a hotly-debated issue.
Some basic tenets of Salafism
- The people of God (ummah) are perpetually at war with the enemies of God (kafir).
- There is no making peace with the enemies of God.
- The earth is divided into two camps, Dar al Salam (the Realm of Peace) and Dar al Harb (the Realm of Conflict).
- Nation States are an artificial concept created by Western Christendom and Western Imperialism, and imposed upon Islam.
- There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his Prophet.
- Only Allah can create law as spoken through the mouth of his Prophet Mohammad.
- Western parliamentary democracy is an attempt at man-made-law, and thus blasphemous.
- The United Nations Charter is a Western creation, an attempt at man-made-law, and an effort to create a Peace Treaty between the people of God and the enemies of God.
- Signatories to the UN Charter are unbelievers.
- Anyone who makes a Peace Treaty with unbelievers, such as Anwar Sadat or the Saudi ruling clique, are apostates and unbelievers.
- Avoid any "distractions" like entertainment and music at all costs, because they are viewed to be haram by Salafi Muslims.
Contrasts with Wahhabism
Although the term is often used interchangeably with "Wahhabism", this is objected to by its followers. While the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab are a cornerstone of modern Salafism, the term 'Wahhabi' has become more associated with the Saudi religious establishment that receives funding and provides the veneer of legitimacy to the Saudi regime. The descendants of al-Wahhab have intermarried over generations with the descendants of Muhammad ibn Saud, mostly all of the present day House of Saud ruling class also carry the Wahhabi bloodline. Today's leading Salafi writers have branded the Saudi ruling family as unbelieving apostates of Islam, in particular Abu Muhaamad al-Maqdisi's 1989 book, The Obvious Proofs of the Saudi State’s Impiety.
- "What is Salafism? In Tunisia, the Answer is Far From Clear", Tristan Dreisbach, August 23, 2013
- Wood, Graeme (2017). The Way of the Strangers. Random House. p. 22.
- "What is Salafism?" courtesy of religious scholar Filip Holm via his Youtube channel "Let's Talk Religion".
- The First of Five Pillars.
- The Mideast Threat That's Hard to Define, Youssef Michel Ibrahim, The Washington Post, August 11, 2002. Retrieved from cfr.org
- Millat Ibrahim (The Religion of Ibrahim), Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, 1985.