Islamism, Salafi and Wahhabis

 The words Islamism, Islamist, Salafist and Wahhabist all conjure various images to each of us, and not all of them the will be the same degree.  What we can say is that most of these images provokes extremist views, either from those within or from without those that are connected to them.  Actually, what do they mean?   


Islamism is another word for “political Islam”.  Wikipedia does a sincere effort in describing Islamism as: “set of ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system; that modern Muslims must return to their roots of their religion, and unite politically.   Islamism is a controversial term and definitions of it sometimes vary. Many confuse or conflate Islamism with Salafism, however early Salafism is the contrary to modern Islamism.[1] Leading Islamist thinkers emphasized the enforcement of sharia (Islamic law); of pan-Islamic political unity or caliphate.”   

As with most ideologies, there is no single version of what is an Islamist and equally elements at various times are hijacked by sub-groups within it.  Equally, Islamism may be the force or a push for a utopian goal within an existing Muslim community or state just as much as it is the effort by Muslims outside the Muslim world attempting to push for political power over their own community or the greater community.  In this last case, in conflict with the existing non-Muslim and Muslim non-Islamist communities.   

Islamism has been defined by Robert Pelletreau, probably the most experienced US Diplomat dealing with the Muslim World, (and also quoted by Wikipedia) as:   

  • “The modernist attempt to claim that political sovereignty belongs to God, that the Shari’ah equates to state law, and that it is a religious duty on all Muslims to create a political entity that reflects the above.”[10]
  • “Islam as a modern ideology and a political program”,[9]
  • “the belief that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life”,[11]
  • “the ideology that guides society as a whole and that law must be in conformity with the Islamic sharia”,[12]
  • “a movement that seeks cultural differentiation from the West and reconnection with the pre-colonial symbolic universe”,[13]
  • “the organised political trend, owing its modern origin to the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, that seeks to solve modern political problems by reference to Muslim texts”,[14]
  • “the whole body of thought which seeks to invest society with Islam which may be integrationist, but may also be traditionalist, reform-minded or even revolutionary”,[14]
  • “the active assertion and promotion of beliefs, prescriptions, laws or policies that are held to be Islamic in character,”[5]
  • a movement of “Muslims who draw upon the belief, symbols, and language of Islam to inspire, shape, and animate political activity;” which may contain moderate, tolerant, peaceful activists, and/or those who “preach intolerance and espouse violence

From this we can point out that by simply supporting the concept that Islam is not only a way of life but a social and political faith does not necessarily but in most cases is at conflict with the set of freedoms and values established within most western nations.     


For example, the former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, award-winning Finance Minister and now Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is considered an advocate of Islamism.  He is not an advocate for global domination of Islam, does not call for war against western values nor does he demand a global caliphate.  But what he does, is advocate that Islam in its purist concepts is also a political concept.   

To a similar level, the current ruling political party the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) (AKP) is also following the base-level and moderate version of Islamism that seeks to incorporate Islamic principles not just at an individual level but at a social and political level.   

The question then must follow, is it the same as the following?   

Ayatollah Khomenei and the Islamism-inspired Iranian Revolution believes that the imitation of the early Muslims and the restoration of Sharia law were essential to Islam and that secular, Westernizing Muslims were actually agents of the West serving only Western interests.  A direct and announced opposition to a perceived set of westernized values and standards.   

Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan and the Sudanese Brotherhood have not only turned Islam into politics but have embraced militancy and force to ensure its dominance.   They have made it a matter of force that their own version of Islamic dogma will not only dominate but must be followed by others.   

Similarly, Islamists such as the global-terrorist group Al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad have chosen to forcibly reject democracy and what they refer to as self-proclaimed Muslims (those Muslims whom do not follow them) .  

Most of us have heard the names of Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Iranian Revolution and correctly link them to the ugliness of radicalism, extremism and use the generalized term Islamism or Islamist, not necessarily realizing that there is a general political term behind it.   


Radicalism by its very nature means a willingness to alter their faith, standards and morals to suit that radical agenda, does that work similarly with Islamism?  It does.  The term Salafi or Salafism is a radical off-shoot or sect of Islam that very much is a form of Islamism.   


Within Islamism there are the “guardians of the tradition” of the Salafism and Wahhabi movements, and a “vanguard of change” which is commonly known as the Muslim Brotherhood (the latter focussing on the linking of Islamism with pan-Arabism)     The Muslim Brotherhood’s history dates back before the turn of the last century and has a strong nationalist independence history but more recently has been hijacked by the Salafi movement that centres on the importance of “sharia rather than the building of Islamic institutions,” (The Future of Political Islam, (2003), p.194-5, Fuller), and pushes a theological cause to reject anything to do with Shia Islam.   

Salafi according to the is:   

Salafi is a term often used to describe fundamentalist islamic thought.   

The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi, that is, “following the forefathers of Islam.” This branch of Islam is often referred to as “Wahhabi,” a term that many adherents to this tradition do not use. Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun (“Unitarians”, or “unifiers of Islamic practice”). They use the Salafi Da’wa or Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’a. Wahhabism is a particular orientation within Salafism. Most puritanical groups in the Muslim world are Salafi in orientation, but not necessarily Wahhabi.   

The Salafiyyah are a movement, and like the Sufis, can come from the Maliki, the Shafi, the Hanbali, or the Hanafi. But, that said, the Salafiyyah movement, is primarily confirmed to the Hanbali, and in particular the Wahhabiyyah, and their theological equivalents. The Salafiyyah movement to return Islam to it’s purest roots (like the Islamic Amish!) has taken as reference points the teachings of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal , Al Barbahaaree, or Al Laalikaa’ee, or Ash-Shaatibee, or Adh-Dhahabee, or Al Layth ibn Sa’d, or Abu Haneefah, and other scholars who adhered to the methodology of the salaf.   

As-Salaf us-Salih (or briefly: the Salaf) refers to the first and best three generations of Muslims. They are the Companions (Sahabah) of the Prophet (S), their immediate followers (Tabiun), and the followers of the Tabi’in. The meaning in the Arabic language is “Those who precede, have gone before”. It is a word used by the earliest scholars for “The first three generations of Muslims” and those who are upon their way in accordance with the Ahaadeeth of the Messenger Muhammad (sallAllaahu` alayhi wa sallam) which is reported in Saheeh al-Bukhaaree: The best of people/mankind is my generation, then those that follow them, then those that follow them.   

Salafists make nothing more clear than what they reject and from this it could be clearly defined as being for the purposed of this blog as “radical”.  An inability to tolerate an alternative, an assumption within the principle ideology that other reject (what some would also call philosophically as “the lie”), the need to push that assumption even if it throws contradictions and takes on a life itself and the ultimate value judgement that all but them are righteous with the public in general being simply stupid and foolish requiring to be told what to think and do.   

Salafist teachings point out that there are 11 “deviant sects” of Islam – or alternatively those Muslims that are not Salafists themselves:   

Introductory Materials
Basic materials highlighting the splitting and differing in the Ummah and that its cause is the introduction of newly-invented matters and principles into the religion.
The Khawarij
The very first sect to split away from the main body of the Muslims. They will remain in the Ummah till they fight alongside Dajjal against this Ummah.
The Raafidah (Shi`ah)
Initiated by the Jew, Abdullah bin Saba, this sect has developed into what we now know as the Shi’ah whose beliefs and thoughts are repugnant beyond belief.
The Qadariyyah
The deniers of Divine Pre-Determination who claimed that Allaah has no power of His creation and that mankind is totally independent of His Will and Power.
The Murji`ah
One of the earliest sects. They did not include actions in the definition of faith and claimed that sins do not affect a persons faith.
The Ash`arees
A sect that denies the Attributes of Allaah, ta’weel being one of its outstanding hallmarks.
The Mu`tazilah
The Mu’tazilah are from the Rationalist school of thought and have very many deviations in their methodological principles.
The Baatiniyyah
The Baatiniyyah claim that there is the internal hidden aspects to things and also the outward manifestations of things and that they have exclusivity to the internal hidden matters.
The Soofees
The Sufis have introduced many innovations into Islam in the name of Tasawwuf and have justified such practises by fabricated statements and unsound arguments.
The Ismaa’eelis
The Ismaa’eelis are an offshoot of the Raafidah (Shi’ah) and share some of their characteristics. Aga Khan is their supreme leader and, in their view, has characteristics and attributes similar to those of Allaah.
The Qadianis
The Qadianis are disbelievers, outside the fold of Islam and were instigated by British Imperialists in 19th century India. They hold that Ghulam Ahmad Mirza was a prophet.

(note spellings directly quoted from the source)   

Salafists believe only in the Koran, the Sunnah, certain Haddiths and the words of the first three generations of followers.  Interestingly, and to some not-suprisingly, they added a number of new “rightly guided” followers, namely the creators of the Salafist movement.   It could be argued in philosophical terms, that this is the core of “the lie” and to some the concept that as good as their intentions may have been, that the words of three-plus generations of 7th and 8th century followers must be taken literally.   

Within Salafism there is another component to add to the mixture, those whom are called Wahhabists.   


Wahhabists call themselves “Muwahiddun” (in English:  Unitarians).  They are an ultra-conservative Islamic sect based on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, an 18th century theologian and scholar.   It is the largest sub-sect of Islam in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Abd-al-Wahhab advocated to completely purge Islam of what he considered innovations in Islam, though other Muslims would say his opposition to change itself is an innovation – the innovation of stopping the clock.   

Conceptually what makes Wahhabists different from other Salafists is that they do not follow any particular scholar (other than those of al-Wahhab and those that he followed).   Many have argued that this concept is why Wahhabists are so extreme, non-conformist, radical and to a degree dangerous.     

Wahhabism also denounces the practice of blind adherence to the interpretations of scholars, except his own interpretation, and the blind acceptance of practices that were passed on within the family or tribe. Of the most widely used excuse of the pagans around the time of the prophet was that they worshiped idols because they saw their forefathers engaged in that practice. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab wrote in support of the responsibility of the individual Muslim to learn and obey the divine commands as they were revealed in the Quran and the Sunnah. – A History of the Modern Middle East. Third Edition. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2004. Page.123   

Wahhabists, for example, do not support any fatwas by accepted Islamic Schools or Institution and often make their own such as those often quoted in the media and on blog-sites demanding the killing of foreigners (by the non-cleric Osama bin-Laden) or the banning of women from working, schooling etc.)   

What is obviously clear is that as a radical strain of an already radical Salafist ideology under the banner of a controversial Islamism code, Wahhabists are willing to force their view on those around them and beyond.  The puritanical Wahhabis denounce not only those Muslims that do not support their views as heretics (which ironically all five Islamic Schools of jurisprudence considers to call another Muslims an un-believer as “haram” or forbidden) but are also mausoleums, shrines and combination mosque-shrines as heresy and are willing to and have destroyed them.   

The links to modern-day Islamist terrorism is mostly linked to Wahhabist and salafist communities.   The chain of events that have increased since the Iranian Revolution in 1978 that motivated the already Wahhabi dominated Saudi population to force even tighter control over that Kingdom has led us to the situation that the world is in today.   The Wahhabi self-proclaimed militant leader Osama bin-Laden is a product of Wahhibist teachings and politics.   

As Wahhabi is as much a part of an ideology, it is important not to forget that it is just as much a political venture, and thus can be classed as a classic radical political ideology as that of a religious one and the standards that apply to all forms of radicalism apply here as well.   

1) The lie – that their way is the only way, that the west are out to destroy Islam and western values (and any non-Wahhabi value) is “haram”.     

2) The hard-sell and abuse of context – the use of mass-media, war, force, terror, to “defend” Islam and push for that elusive Caliphate that we can assume is a Wahhabi one.   

3) The assumption that the “people” be it the Muslim Ummah or the western population are stupid.   That they need to be told how to think and what to do and that they will or at worst must follow “the lie”.   


Though there is arguments that the concept of Islamism is not malign, it certainly is a cause that is often hijacked by various existing politics agendas, both Muslim and non-Muslim.     

As previously mentioned, the highly respected Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim is an Islamist but in the sense that he believes that in an Islamic environment there is a “political Islam” and supports that the tenants and principles of Islam does create a politic. It also works within the “Concept of Normality” in opposition to the “Concept of Radicalism” set by Erasmus.    The argument is that radicalism is willing to change its faith, standards and morality to suit its agenda rather than the other way.  Thus, the “other way” is that agendas should only be designed or molded by one’s faith, standards and morality.  In this case Anwar Ibrahim and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are correct in their assumption.   

Salafi and its more ugly brothers the Wahhabists though are certainly malign, are extreme, radical and prone to serious violence to ensure its way is the only way.  It is certainly the element that is the cause for the vast majority of terrorism in the world and a promoter of the cause of a violent Islamism that has and is currently being followed by political militants, however much they think it is done in the name of God.   


Salafists and Wahhabists are present in Europe and the West and are a cause for genuine fear and concern.  They are a security risk because of the ideological links to insurgency, terrorism and war.   Their efforts to sway and push militant islamism to the Muslim immigrant populations is also well-known and they also have the money to sweeten “the lie”. They push many elements from non-integration, demanding a level of Islam that is neither accepted nor common-place in the actual Muslim world to obstinate and active disobedience and disrespect to western governments.   Simultaneously they encourage their own variant of Islam as the only solution – the ugly radical version.   

My own conclusion is that not only is Salafist and Wahhabist ideological a danger to the West but in fact Islamism is incompatible as well.  Though I fully understand the ideals and concepts of Ibrahim and Erdoğan, they are ideals for their world and does not equate to the morals and standards that have bene developed for Europe and most of the West.    Europe has almost completely secularized religion from State and though the values of the faiths that make up Europe is reflected in the laws via reflecting them, Islamism directly links it.   

Islam, for my part is not only welcome in Europe but already a part of it – in fact it always has been to varying degrees), but from an individualistic and social level only.  If necessary, I would argue that the problem with Islam in Europe is that because of history and the old-political-Christianity, there has been no opportunity to create a separate and clearly defined European-Muslim identity – one that is clearly European, faithfully Islamic and equally secular to the level that Christianity and Judaism is.


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