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Islamic Studies Arab Salafism
by
David Commins

Introduction

The term Salafism is derived from the Arabic phrase al-salaf al-salih, which means “the pious ancestors,” customarily defined as the first three generations of Muslims. Salafists believe that Muslims have strayed from correct belief and worship and that it is necessary for them to return to the way of the pious ancestors for the sake of individual salvation and collective welfare. In their view, Islam was corrupted by ritual innovations and theological heresies imported by converts from other religions, but they do not agree on what exactly Muslims would revive were they to restore Islam in its pristine form, owing to the diversity of ideas that one can mine in the early Islamic sources. While there is not a unified Salafist school of thought, most Salafists have emphasized two themes. The first is theological correctness in the name of combating external rationalist and antinomian/Sufi influences. The second is the elimination of customs in worship they deem illegitimate innovations. The pivotal personality for establishing this trend was Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, whose life coincided with the peak of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad during the 9th century. A broader conception of Salafism encompassing the full range of religious sciences, including ethics and politics, emerged in the life and thought of the Syrian Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya. Centuries later his intellectual originality and bold activism continue to inspire Muslims to take up the Salafist cause. Around the turn of the 20th century, Muslim modernists proposed that returning to the way of the pious ancestors meant injecting flexibility into law, social customs, and political institutions. In modern times, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi tradition claims the Salafist mantle for its strict theological doctrine and enforcement of conformity with its conception of correct worship and public behavior. In the last few decades of the 20th century, a Wahhabi-inflected Salafist current has spread in Muslim societies and Muslim communities in the West. Its proponents do not regard the modernists as Salafists, faulting them on theological grounds. Most contemporary Salafists are devoted to rigorous observance of correct belief, worship, and personal conduct, and they view other Muslims as either lax or misguided. A minority of contemporary Salafists belong to a militant tendency emphasizing the duty of jihad against foreign enemies and infidel rulers.

Reference Works

Concise and authoritative entries in reference works on Islam provide the beginner with reliable introductions to Salafism’s historical development, major concepts, and significant personalities. The major reference for the field of Islamic studies is Bearman, et al. 1954–2009. It may take the reader some time to get accustomed to the transliteration of non-Western names and terms, but the range of topics in this massive work makes it worth the effort. CD-ROM and online editions facilitate cross-referencing entries. For a less comprehensive but more accessible introduction to modern Islam, Esposito 2009 is a reliable and handy reference. Readers primarily interested in trends since the late 20th century may consult Moussalli 1999 for thumbnail sketches on individuals, groups, and terms. Oxford Islamic Studies Online is a searchable database containing concise introductions to concepts and personalities.

  • Bearman, P. J., Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, eds. The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Rev. ed. 12 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1954–2009.

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    Entries by leading scholars provide essential information about major thinkers in the Salafist tradition from the premodern era and the modernist phase. Excellent for reading guides to primary sources and important secondary works.

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  • Esposito, John L., ed. Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

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    This electronic database gives the reader access to several major reference works on Islam published by Oxford University Press, including Esposito 2009. With a subscription, the reader can quickly browse entries on major Salafist thinkers and find suggestions for further reading.

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    • Esposito, John L., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Rev. ed. 6 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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      This source covers the entire Muslim world since 600, with entries on personalities, countries, movements, and institutions. Its entries for Salafism and various Salafist figures include useful guides to further reading.

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    • Moussalli, Ahmad S. Historical Dictionary of Islamic Fundamentalist Movements in the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1999.

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      This reliable guide by an authority on contemporary Islamic thought places Salafist personalities and groups in the context of related movements. The bibliographical essay is highly recommended.

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    Textbooks

    No single work treats Salafism’s full historical development from the 9th century to the present. Given Salafism’s marginal place in the history of Islam, it is useful for beginners to consult a textbook on basic features of Islam, the evolution of doctrines and institutions, and the course of Muslim political history. A number of surveys meet this need by depicting the varieties of religious expression at different times and places. Esposito 2011 and Denny 2011 are college textbooks that have gone through several updated editions. Knysh 2011 is a newer college textbook. Ruthven 2006 is pitched toward the educated general audience. For the modern historical context of Salafism, the most comprehensive introduction is Voll 1994.

    • Denny, Frederick Mathewson. An Introduction to Islam. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.

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      This expansive survey is notable for its attention to Islam’s place in the history of Middle Eastern religions. Chapters on Sufism and Sufi orders and sections on popular customs and beliefs depict the sorts of religious expressions that Salafists consider illegitimate innovations. An accessible guide for the undergraduate reader.

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    • Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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      This widely used textbook is notable for its coverage of modern developments, particularly Islamist political movements and controversies over social change that engage Salafist thinkers and activists.

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    • Knysh, Alexander. Islam in Historical Perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.

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      This introduction to Islam has the virtue of devoting entire chapters to Shiʿism, Sufism, and rational theology, all of which Salafism aspires to correct or eliminate.

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    • Ruthven, Malise. Islam in the World. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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      This sophisticated book brings a refined literary touch to the customary topics of a survey, emphasizing political and social dimensions of Islam’s history and contemporary issues.

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    • Voll, John Obert. Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World. 2d ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.

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      This clearly written survey offers an accessible introduction to the major currents of religious thought in the Muslim world from Africa to Southeast Asia since the early 1700s.

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    The Hanbali Heritage

    Salafism is usually traced to the doctrines and legacy of the 9th-century Baghdad religious figure Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (b. c. 780–d. 855). For a succinct introduction to Ibn Hanbal’s life, personality, and impact, the reader will find Melchert 2006 helpful. Makdisi 1981 provides an overview of how Western scholarship long misinterpreted the Hanbali law school and its place in the history of Islamic thought. The specialized monograph Hurvitz 2000 explores the web of religious and moral convictions that distinguished Ibn Hanbal’s followers as a separate school of law. The most penetrating analysis of Hanbali theology is al-Azmeh 1988.

    • al-Azmeh, Aziz. “Orthodoxy and Ḥanbalite Fideism.” Arabica 35 (1988): 253–266.

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      This is a precise treatment of the assumptions and attitudes that underpin Hanbali theology as well as its political and legal corollaries. A rewarding source for the advanced reader.

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    • Hurvitz, Nimrod. “Schools of Law and Historical Context: Re-Examining the Formation of the Hanbalī Madhhab.” Islamic Law and Society 7 (2000): 37–64.

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      This article offers a lucid overview of historiography on the rise of Islamic schools of law in general and the Hanbali school of law in particular. It then focuses on the moral preoccupations of its early affiliates.

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    • Makdisi, George. “Hanbalite Islam.” In Studies on Islam. Translated and edited by Merlin L. Swartz, 216–274. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

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      A masterly study that weaves together the history of Islamic studies in the West and the significance of the Hanbali heritage in Muslim religious thought, including theology and Sufism. For advanced readers.

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    • Melchert, Christopher. Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

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      A scrupulous, concise treatment of the life and religious convictions of the Baghdad scholar whose rejection of rationalist theology in favor of faithful adherence to transmitted doctrine informs Salafist belief.

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    Ibn Taymiyya

    Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (b. 1263–d. 1328) is the primary intellectual inspiration for today’s Salafist current. For a concise review of his life and thought, Laoust 1971 is a good place to start. Although surpassed by recent scholarship, the fullest study of his contributions to Muslim intellectual history is Laoust 1939. Ibn Taymiyya drew little attention from Western researchers after Laoust until the late 20th century, when a new generation of scholars began to reexamine the sources and revised many of Laoust’s observations. Ahmed 1998 is a stellar example of the reappraisal of Ibn Taymiyya in more recent years. Later research is represented by the essays in the outstanding collection Rapoport and Ahmed 2010, which includes Saleh 2010 on his original contribution to interpretation of the Qurʾan, el-Rouayheb 2010 on his posthumous reputation among Muslim scholars, and Hassan 2010 on the ways contemporary Salafists draw authority for their views from his writings. To get an idea of Ibn Taymiyya’s intellectual range and methods, the reader may consult the translations in Memon 1976 on his polemic targeting ritual innovations in popular religion, and Ibn Taymiyya 1993 on his critique of Hellenistic influences in Muslim philosophical thought.

    • Ahmed, Shahab. “Ibn Taymiyyah and the Satanic Verses.” Studia Islamica 87 (1998): 67–124.

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      This article is a model case study of Ibn Taymiyya’s original interpretive method invoking the pious ancestors, and places his verdict on the Satanic Verses and definition of prophetic infallibility in the context of earlier and later Muslim scholarly opinion.

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    • Hassan, Mona. “Modern Interpretations and Misinterpretations of a Medieval Scholar: Apprehending the Political Thought of Ibn Taymiyya.” In Ibn Taymiyya and His Times. Edited by Yossef Rapoport and Shahab Ahmed, 338–366. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      This essay surveys moderate and militant Muslim understandings of Ibn Taymiyya’s views on politics and the caliphate.

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    • Ibn Taymiyya, Taqi al-Din Ahmad. Ibn Taymiyya against the Greek Logicians. Translated by Wael B. Hallaq. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

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      This translation of Ibn Taymiyya’s refutation of Greek logic offers an illuminating specimen of his intellectual preoccupations and rhetorical methods. For advanced readers.

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    • Laoust, Henri. Essai sur les doctrines sociales et politiques de Taḳī-d-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taimīya. Cairo: L’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1939.

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      This classic work remains the most thorough study of Ibn Taymiyya’s doctrines, although later scholarship such as the essays in Rapoport and Ahmed 2010 offer corrections on various aspects of his influence and views on theology and jurisprudence.

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    • Laoust, Henri. “Ibn Taymiyya.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Rev. ed. Vol. 3. Edited by B. Lewis, V. L. Ménage, Ch. Pellat, and J. Schacht, 951–955. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1971.

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      This encyclopedia entry is a bit dated but provides a good general idea of its subject’s life and times.

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    • Memon, Muhammad Umar. Ibn Taimīya’s Struggle against Popular Religion. The Hague: Mouton, 1976.

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      This work includes a summary of Ibn Taymiyya’s life and ideas about illegitimate innovations in worship, then provides an abridged translation of Ibn Taymiyya’s major treatise condemning practices that he considered expressions of polytheism. Important for giving English readers an extensive sample of his reasoning.

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    • Rapoport, Yossef, and Shahab Ahmed, eds. Ibn Taymiyya and His Times. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      This collection of thirteen essays reflecting current research on Ibn Taymiyya’s life, theology, methodology, and legacy is the most valuable English-language reference on him.

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    • el-Rouayheb, Khaled. “From Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 1566) to Khayr al-Din al-Alusi (d. 1899): Changing View of Ibn Taymiyya among non-Hanbali Sunni Scholars.” In Ibn Taymiyya and His Times. Edited by Yossef Rapoport and Shahab Ahmed, 269–318. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      This essay provides a meticulous overview of Ibn Taymiyya’s reputation and influence on scholars outside the Hanbali law school up to the emergence of modernist Salafism.

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    • Saleh, Walid A. “Ibn Taymiyya and the Rise of Radical Hermeneutics: An Analysis of An Introduction to the Foundations of Qurʾanic Exegesis.” In Ibn Taymiyya and His Times. Edited by Yossef Rapoport and Shahab Ahmed, 123–162. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      This essay summarizes Ibn Taymiyya’s innovative method for interpreting the Qurʾan that made reports from the pious ancestors, rather than philology, the criterion for understanding revelation. The author briefly discusses his influence on medieval and modern Sunni exegesis.

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    Wahhabism

    Because the Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia has been the focus of controversy since its emergence in the mid-1700s, scholarly consensus on its significance and influence has proven elusive. Al-ʿUthaymin 2009 gives a straightforward description of the Wahhabi founder’s life and doctrine. For a translation of the doctrine’s core treatise, the reader may consult Ibn Abd al-Wahhab 1986. An irenic interpretation of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s theology, jurisprudence, and political career is DeLong-Bas 2004. Peskes 1993 examines heated debates between Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his adversaries. Commins 2006 examines Wahhabism in tandem with the Saudi dynasty over the course of their 250-year history. A comprehensive study of Wahhabi ulama in the first half of the 20th century is provided in Steinberg 2002. For insight into how Wahhabism began to exert influence outside Arabia in the 20th century, one should read the fine study Mayeur-Jaouen 2002.

    • Commins, David. The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

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      This historical overview traces the Wahhabi movement from its origins to the early 21st century with an emphasis on how it attained dominance in central Arabia and its political implications in the history of the Saudi dynasty.

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    • DeLong-Bas, Natana J. Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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      This controversial interpretation of the doctrine of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab presents him as a moderate social reformer and disputes conventional depictions of him as an intolerant preacher.

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    • Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Muhammad. Kitāb al-tāwhid: Essay on the Unicity of Allah, or What Is Due to Allah from His Creatures. Translated by Ismail Raji al-Faruqi. Kuwait: International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, 1986.

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      This is the English translation of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s first treatise, which warns against the many guises of polytheism in worship and speech.

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    • Mayeur-Jaouen, Catherine. “Les débuts d’une revue néo-salafiste: Muhibb al-Dîn al-Khatîb et Al-Fath de 1926 à 1928.” Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée 95–98 (2002): 227–255.

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      The subject of the article is seldom mentioned in histories of Salafism, but he played a signal role in establishing a foothold for Wahhabi doctrine in Egypt and the Fertile Crescent as the modernist current of Salafism was petering out.

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    • Peskes, Esther. Muhammad b. ʿAbdalwahhāb (1703–92) im Widerstreit: Untersuchungen zur Rekonstruktion der Frühgeschichte der Wahhābīya. Beirut, Lebanon: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993.

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      In addition to describing the religious controversy surrounding Wahhabism’s emergence, this book compares the two earliest Saudi chronicles to suggest shifts in the Wahhabi view of other Muslims.

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    • Steinberg, Guido. Religion und Staat in Saudi-Arabien: Die wahhabitischen Gelehrten, 1902–1953. Würzberg, Germany: Ergon, 2002.

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      This is the major work on Wahhabi ulama during the reign of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, covering their roles in politics, law, education, and society, giving due attention to their participation in stabilizing the modern Saudi kingdom.

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    • al-ʿUthaymin, Abd Allah Salih. Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb: The Man and His Works. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009.

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      This accessible introduction to the teachings of Wahhabism’s founder is notable for a thorough survey and description of his writings. Suitable for beginners.

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    19th-Century Iraq

    Together, a handful of scholarly articles tell the complex story of Wahhabi-inflected Salafism in late Ottoman Iraq. For the first half of the 19th century, Abu-Manneh 2003 and Weismann 2003–2004 uncover the connections between Baghdad religious scholars and Wahhabis. Nafi 2002 carries the story to the middle of the 19th century in a study of a pivotal figure in the rise of the Alusis, the most important family in Baghdad’s Salafist trend. Fattah 2003 follows the Alusi story to its end in the early 20th century.

    • Abu-Manneh, Butrus. “Salafiyya and the Rise of the Khalidiyya in Baghdad in the Early Nineteenth Century.” Die Welt des Islams 43 (2003): 349–372.

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      The most detailed account we have of Wahhabi-inspired Salafism’s emergence in Iraq and how its theological adversaries responded by supporting a new strain in Sufism.

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    • Fattah, Hala. “‘Wahhabi’ Influences, Salafi Responses: Shaikh Mahmud Shukri and the Iraqi Salafi Movement, 1745–1930.” Journal of Islamic Studies 14 (2003): 127–148.

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      This article examines the Arabian Wahhabis and Baghdad Salafists through a broader regional lens than other studies do. The result is a rich treatment of religious and political factors that underscores the gaps between proponents of reviving the way of the pious ancestors.

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    • Nafi, Basheer M. “Abu al-Thanaʾ al-Alusi: An Alim, Ottoman Mufti, and Exegete of the Qurʾan.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 34 (2002): 465–494.

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      This erudite article delves into the intellectual roots and social dimensions of an important 19th-century religious scholar of Baghdad whose family name became identified with the cause of modernist Salafists into the early 1900s.

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    • Weismann, Itzchak. “The Naqshbandiyya-Khalidiyya and Salafi Challenge in Iraq.” Journal of the History of Sufism 4 (2003–2004): 229–240.

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      This succinct article examines the intellectual and political contexts in Baghdad surrounding the Salafists in the mid-1800s.

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    Overviews of Modernist Salafism

    No single monograph treats the history of Salafists who embraced the cause of purifying religious practices of innovations and articulated the modernist vision that looked to early Islamic sources for broad principles rather than a fixed set of theological doctrines. Merad 1978 is a superb overview of developments in the Arab world. Reference articles such as Shinar 1995 on North Africa and Ende 1995 on Egypt and Syria provide useful sketches. Haykel 2003 is the definitive study of a Yemeni scholar whose work was an inspiration to 19th-century Salafists striving for a reconstruction of religious sciences. Because of Salafism’s marginal significance before the late 20th century, there are few traces of Salafist writings in English translation. Kurzman 2002 contains several excerpts by prominent Salafi modernists.

    • Ende, W. “Salafiyya: Egypt and Syria.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Rev. ed. Vol. 8. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W. P. Heinrichs, and G. Lecomte, 906–909. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.

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      A basic reference for the major personalities and ideas in the modernist Salafist trend of the late 19th century.

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    • Haykel, Bernard. Revival and Reform in Islam: The Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkānī. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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      A meticulous study of the historical background, life, and thought of the late-18th-century/early-19th-century Yemeni scholar. While he was not a modernist, he was one of the most influential figures in the modern revival and definition of the Salafist movement.

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    • Kurzman, Charles, ed. Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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      Notable for encompassing the Muslim lands of Asia and Africa beyond the Middle East, this collection of fifty-two translated passages conveys the geographical reach of modernist Salafism. Topics include political reform, education, women’s rights, and flexible religious interpretation.

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    • Merad, A. “Islah.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Rev. ed. Vol. 4. Edited by E. van Donzel, B. Lewis and Ch. Pellat, 141–163. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1978.

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      This masterful survey of modernist Salafism covers the major countries of the Arab world.

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    • Shinar, P. “Salafiyya: North African.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Rev. ed. Vol. 8. Edited by C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W. P. Heinrichs, and G. Lecomte, 900–906. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.

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      A basic reference for the major personalities and ideas behind the movement in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

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    Muhammad Abduh

    The starting point for comprehending Abduh (b. 1849–d. 1905) is Sedgwick 2010, notable for its synthesis of more recent scholarship. Hourani 1962 sets the broad historical framework for Abduh’s intellectual production and legacy. The classic work that represents early Western assessment of Abduh’s intellectual influence is Adams 1933. An exemplary close textual study of the implications of Abduh’s writings for Muslim political theory is Kerr 1966, also important for examining the views of Abduh’s follower Rashid Rida, who moved in a conservative direction in the decades after his master’s death. Specialized works include Haj 2009, on Abduh’s meaning in the context of the classical Islamic intellectual tradition, and Gesink 2009, which questions his heroic standing as an educational reformer. The translation of his treatise on theology, Abduh 1966, conveys the complexity and flavor of his thought.

    • Abduh, Muhammad. The Theology of Unity. Translated by Ishaq Masaʾad and Kenneth Cragg. London: Allen & Unwin, 1966.

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      This translation of Abduh’s classic treatise that frames Islam as a rational religion open to flexible adaptation and the findings of modern science is for advanced readers.

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    • Adams, Charles C. Islam, and Modernism in Egypt: A Study of the Modern Reform Movement Inaugurated by Muhammad ʿAbduh. London: Oxford University Press, 1933.

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      The first English-language monograph on modernist Salafism is dated but important for understanding the initial Western appreciation of Abduh’s life and thought.

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    • Gesink, Indira Falk. Islamic Reform and Conservatism: Al-Azhar and the Evolution of Modern Sunni Islam. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009.

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      This revisionist account views Muhammad Abduh’s campaign for reshaping Egypt’s leading seminary through the lens of institutional contests and rivalries, reducing his stature from hero to activist administrator.

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    • Haj, Samira. Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality and Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

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      This work marks an important departure in studies of Muhammad Abduh, as well as of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, with a sophisticated reading of their works as parts of an extended conversation inside a discursive tradition. Suitable for advanced readers.

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    • Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

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      This classic study in the tradition of the history of ideas devotes separate chapters to Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida that illustrate both the former’s contributions to modernism and the latter’s drift toward Wahhabi-inflected Salafism in his later years.

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    • Kerr, Malcolm. Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Ridā. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

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      This detailed study in the tradition of the history of ideas is the most thorough treatment of intellectual dimensions and implications in Abduh’s and Rida’s writing. It is helpful in clarifying the substantial differences between their ideas. For advanced readers.

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    • Sedgwick, Mark. Muhammad Abduh. Oxford: Oneworld, 2010.

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      This accessible introduction to Abduh’s life and thought offers an original synthesis of recent research. It weaves together discussion of Abduh’s diverse political engagements and writings on religion and society to present him as a more complex subject than the heroic figure in Adams 1933.

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    Modernist Salafism in the Arab World

    The first study of modernist Salafism outside Egypt is the classic work Merad 1999 on its fluorescence in Algeria between the world wars. Religious, political, and social contexts in Syria receive close study from Commins 1990 and Weismann 2001. Ghazal 2010 expands the horizon of modernist Salafism to encompass Ibadi Muslims in Algeria and the western Indian Ocean rim.

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

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      This study of modernist Salafism in Syria traces its local genesis, trajectory, intellectual orientation, and political vicissitudes.

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    • Ghazal, Amal N. Islamic Reform and Arab Nationalism: Expanding the Crescent from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean (1880s–1930s). New York: Routledge, 2010.

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      This book is the result of wide-ranging research that broadens the geographical scope of modernist Salafism to Oman and Zanzibar as well as uncovers its theological reach into circles of Ibadi (Kharijite) scholars.

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    • Merad, Ali. Le reformisme musulman en Algérie de 1925 à 1940: Essai d’histoire religieuse et sociale. 2d ed. Algiers, Algeria: Editions el Hikma, 1999.

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      A major study of the leading thinkers and activists in Algeria’s modernist Salafist movement inspired by Abduh and Rida, with attention to the social dynamics that undermined the sway of Sufi brotherhoods. Analysis of writings underscores the absence of Saudi-Wahhabi influence in the period.

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    • Weismann, Itzchak. Taste of Modernity: Sufism, Salafiyya, and Arabism in Late Ottoman Damascus. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2001.

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      A rich history of 19th-century religious, social, and political contexts for the emergence of Salafism in Syria, notable for its careful attention to the important incubating role of Sufi currents.

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    Overviews of Contemporary Salafism

    For scholarly literature on contemporary Salafism, it is essential to turn to edited volumes and professional articles. Haykel 2009 provides the best introduction to the historical background and core concepts of Salafism. Rougier 2008 likewise pays attention to historical background and sketches a typology of current Salafist tendencies. Wiktorowicz 2006 sets out a typology of Salafist groups according to their political orientations. Wagemakers 2009 concentrates on one influential Salafist thinker and comes up with a somewhat different typology.

    • Haykel, Bernard. “On the Nature of Salafi Thought and Action.” In Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement. Edited by Roel Meijer, 33–57. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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      Notable for its lucid treatment of theological and juridical positions characteristic of classical and contemporary Salafis as well as for situating the modernists in relation to them. Essential reading.

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    • Rougier, Bernard. “Introduction.” In Qu’est-ce que le Salafisme? Edited by Bernard Rougier, 1–21. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008.

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      This essay offers a perceptive overview of historical and contemporary facets of Salafism that takes into account the influences of Ibn Taymiyya and Wahhabism.

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    • Wagemakers, Joas. “A Purist Jihadi-Salafi: The Ideology of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 36 (2009): 281–297.

      DOI: 10.1080/13530190903007327Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This fine-grained examination of the formulations espoused by an influential Jordanian-Palestinian thinker situates him in relation to fellow militants and reformist Salafists.

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    • Wiktorowicz, Quintan. “Anatomy of the Salafi Movement.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 29 (2006): 207–239.

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      This is an excellent study of Salafist intellectual methods and sources and their practical implications for political action. The article also identifies areas of disagreement that have resulted in divisions between reformist and militant factions among Salafists in the Arab world.

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    Salafism in Saudi Arabia

    Saudi Arabia’s support for Wahhabi doctrine at home and abroad gives the kingdom a central part in debates over the definition of Salafism. Lacroix 2011 tells the story of how the Muslim Brotherhood spurred a generation of Saudi religious political activists, while Hegghammer 2010 focuses on the militant strain of Salafists that waged a terrorist campaign in the kingdom from 2003 to 2007. Hegghammer and Lacroix 2011 sheds light on the emergence of a dissident Salafist group in Medina and the background to the 1979 takeover of the sanctuary in Mecca. Al-Rasheed 2007 examines the spectrum of voices and positions in Saudi religious polemics. Meijer 2007 gives a deep analysis of the Saudi theorist and leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

    • Hegghammer, Thomas. Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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      This study of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is notable for conceptual sophistication and empirical richness in tracing the movement’s roots to Saudi Arabia’s support for Muslim causes, the global jihadist movement, and militant networks in the kingdom.

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    • Hegghammer, Thomas, and Stephane Lacroix. The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-’Utaybi Revisited. Bristol, UK: Amal, 2011.

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      This slim volume contains two well-researched essays. One covers the life and legacy of an important Salafist scholar, Nasir al-Din al-Albani, whose career and influence spanned Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The other essay gives essential background on the Saudi Salafist group that seized the Mecca sanctuary in 1979.

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    • Lacroix, Stéphane. Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi Arabia. Translated by George Holoch. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

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      This splendid work examines how Saudi Arabia’s integration of Muslim Brothers from surrounding Arab countries into religious and education institutions resulted in the formation of a hybrid tendency known as the awakening, or sahwa. Fine-grained analysis of the sahwa’s major figures and internal differences.

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    • Meijer, Roel. “Yūsuf al-ʿUyairī and the Making of a Revolutionary Salafi Praxis.” Die Welt des Islams 47 (2007): 422–459.

      DOI: 10.1163/157006007783237419Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This case study of a Saudi militant ideologue demonstrates the dynamism of Salafist formulations and their engagement with immediate political conditions as well as rival religious currents.

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    • al-Rasheed, Madawi. Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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      This monograph by a close observer of Saudi affairs provides fine-grained analysis of debates in the Saudi religious camp during the 1990s and early 2000s. It gives the reader a clear idea of the positions of the official Wahhabi establishment as well as Salafists, both reformers and militants.

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    Salafism in Local Contexts

    Scholarship on more recent Salafist movements around the Muslim world is found in professional journals and edited volumes. The essays in Meijer 2009 and Rougier 2008 give a clear picture of variations in Salafism as it has emerged in diverse locations and political circumstances. Wiktorowicz 2001 sets the Salafist current of Jordan in relation to the government and the rival Muslim Brotherhood. Knysh 2007 and Hasan 2007 are outstanding case studies of how Salafism has taken root outside the Middle East and its impact in local religious life and society.

    • Hasan, Noorhaidi. “The Salafi Movement in Indonesia: Transnational Dynamics and Local Development.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27 (2007): 83–94.

      DOI: 10.1215/1089201x-2006-045Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This insightful survey traces the evolution of Salafism from the 1980s to the early 2000s, with attention to the impact of funding from Saudi Arabia and of Indonesia’s political dynamics in order to explain the movement’s shifting emphases from revivalism to activism to militant jihad.

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    • Knysh, Alexander. “Contextualizing the Salafi-Sufi Conflict (from the Northern Caucasus to Hadramawt).” Middle Eastern Studies 43 (2007): 503–530.

      DOI: 10.1080/00263200701348847Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This study on tensions and rivalry between Salafists and Sufis in two regions that came under Marxist rule offers a rich exploration of historical developments, political dynamics, and local variation.

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    • Meijer, Roel, ed. Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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      The geographical and topical scope of the eighteen essays in this volume offers unmatched perspective on Salafist thought and action in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Western Europe.

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    • Rougier, Bernard, ed. Qu’est-ce que le Salafisme? Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008.

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      This collection of fourteen articles represents different disciplinary approaches to contemporary Salafist figures and currents in Arabia, North Africa, the Levant, and Western Europe.

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    • Wiktorowicz, Quintan. The Management of Islamic Activism: Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and State Power in Jordan. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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      This splendid study deploys social movement theory to analyze the political context and the informal networks of radical Salafist activists, both reformists and militants, referred to as “Jihadis.”

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    LAST MODIFIED: 04/24/2012

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0139

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