The Salafi Movement- FAQ

Jerusalem, Jan. 24 - Salafism is an ideology that asserts that Islam has strayed from its roots. The Arabic word "salaf" means "ancient one" and refers to the companions of the Prophet Mohammed. Salafists call for the restoration of authentic Islam as expressed by a loyalty to its original teachings and texts.

Salafi jihadists, who are only one movement within Salafism and who constitute less than 1 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims view life as being divided between the world of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the land of conflict or war (dar al-harb).

Where did the Salafis originate?

The Salafist school of thought is relatively new; it came from the origins of the more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, which began in Egypt in the 1920s. Sayid Qutb, a member of the brotherhood and an Islamic theorist in his own right, provided the intellectual basis for what would become Salafism. After studying in the United States, he returned to Cairo and began preaching a more radical interpretation of Islam that evolved into Salafism.

What do they believe?

Although they espouse a wide range of beliefs, Salafis are generally strict social and religious conservatives. Through jihad, they wish to extend the Muslim world so that all of humankind can live under its umbrella. Some believe Jihad should be advanced through violent means; others through non-violent, humanitarian means.

However, almost all Salafis stress the need to be loyal only to Muslims, and to hate, be suspicious of, not cooperate with, and ensure only minimal/necessary interaction with non-Muslims.

What is their position on Israel?

Possibly to gain international credence, the Al-Nour Party has so far sounded surprisingly moderate on Egypt-Israel relations and the future of the 1979 peace treaty. Party spokesman Yousri Hammad said in December 2011 that "Egypt is signatory to international treaties and these have to be respected... This is not my personal opinion or that of the party chairman. It is part of the party’s policies.”

Yet the party also said they will seek to amend the peace treaty to take out its “exploitative causes” according to a statement issued in late December.

In the coastal Palestinian enclave of Gaza, Salafist groups bent on global Jihad began penetrating the ironclad rule of Hamas, a terrorist group that has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. Since 2007, when Hamas solidified control of the strip, Salafists have challenged the rulers’ authority by stirring internal unrest and firing rockets on Israel even when Hamas has ostensibly held to a ceasefire agreement.

The brashest challenge posed by the Salafists to Hamas yet came in April 2011, when Salafist elements kidnapped longtime Italian activist and Gaza resident Vittorio Arrigoni to demand the release of Salafist prisoners in Hamas jails as well as a ransom. Before the deadline, and for reasons unclear, they murdered him. The events caused many observers to question whether Hamas- some officials from the group predictably blamed Israel- had full control of the Gaza Strip, or whether it had ceded some to even more extreme terrorist groups.

Who are their key leaders?

Salafism as a global movement within Islam does not have specific figureheads. Its now-potent political outgrowth in Egypt, in the form of the Al-Nour Party, is led by Chairman Emad Abdel Ghaffour along with a senior circle of officials.

What is their expected role in Egyptian politics?

Prior to the revolution that overthrew longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Salafists avoided politics altogether, instead focusing on social welfare while eschewing democracy as an ideal for Egypt.

At a rally near Cairo in August, the party even called the liberal political Bloc in Egyptian politics of “Zionism” and “Freemasonry.”

“We must obliterate the liberalism that was introduced by Sadat and Mubarak and reinstate the rule of Islam,” said Shaaban Darwish, a member of the party’s supreme committee.

Yet Al-Nour, representing Salafism, was formed in May 2011 precisely to participate in the fragile Egyptian political process. In the first round of voting in the Egyptian Parliamentary Elections that began in November and end in January, the Salafist Al-Nour Party gained 33 of the 156 parliamentary seats contested, a 21% share and the second highest behind the Muslim Brotherhood. This surprised most observers who estimated the party would only gain a 10% slice, given pre-voting polls. In the second round of voting in early December, the Al-Nour came in second place again with 28% of the seats to the Muslim Brotherhood’s 48%.

Voters will return to the polls for the final phase of voting in late January.

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