Who are the Salafi?

With increasing troubles in the Middle East, and terror threats rising, many governments across the world have pointed the blame squarely at the Salafist movement of Islam. Salafis have been linked with ISIS, al Qaeda, and various other terrorist groups. The recently resigned national security advisor Michael Flynn is adamant in his belief that Salafist ideology is what unites a range of terrorist groups, while the French and German governments have vowed to crack down on Salafist mosques to mitigate the terror threat from within their own borders.

But what exactly is Salafism?] In essence, it is a movement dedicated to emulating the religious practices of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. “Salaf,” which means ancestor in Arabic, refers to the first three generations of Muslims who came into direct contact with the Prophet and lived by his example. Modern-day Salafis believe that there is a need to get back to these ideals, instead of following teachings which have become, in their eyes, corrupted in the intervening centuries.

Salafism is a minor group within Islam, but they hold a lot of sway in the Muslim world, particularly in Saudi Arabia where they make up the majority of Sunni Muslims. In the West, though, the majority of Salafis are by no means radical. Rather, like many Christians do with the Bible, they simple look to the Quran for guidance on how to live their lives, with particular attention paid to the Hadith, which is made up of sayings and teachings from the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, many people who could be classified as Salafis are now avoiding adopting the title because of its associations with radicalism.

While the Salafi movement may be at odds with some more liberal Muslim groups, it does not have a central organization, or even a widely-accepted ideology. Instead, Salafis are simply one in a long list of Muslim denominations, and although groups like ISIS may boast of their Salafi beliefs, that’s not to say that their views are widespread within the Salafi community.

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