Quran’s Stand on the People of the Book

The Quran enjoins on man to co-exist in peace and respect each other’s faith. The Quran says that God has made the universe full of variety and the mark of His creativity is manifest everywhere. The heavens, the earth, the oceans and the flora and fauna are marked with variety and difference in shape and colour.  The way of living and eating habits of people is also different. Therefore, the religions and the way of thinking of different peoples also differ. This is according to the scheme of things of God. He says that if he had willed, all the people of the world would have believed in one religion. But through difference in faith and way of worship of God, he wants to test man’s faith and wants to see how man tries to co-exist in peace with others despite difference in way of thinking.

A general opinion found among the Muslims is that the Quran abrogates all the previous scriptures whereas the Quran has been called Zikr – a reminder of the previous scriptures and it corroborates all the previous Books. The Quran indeed calls Islam the best religion but does not abrogate the previous scriptures — The Gospel, the Old Testament and Psalms and other ancient scriptures. Akmalto Lakum Dinakum means that the Deen started to be revealed with Prophet Adam and culminated on Prophet Muhammad pbuh:

“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”. (Al Maida: 3)

But the general Muslims have the view that Akmalto Lakum Dinakum means that the Deen started with the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad pbuh and completed when the Quran was fully revealed to him pbuh, limiting the meaning of the Deen. The truth is that the Quran does not abrogate the previous scriptures. It only warns the people of the Book making innovations in faith like Trinity or calling Jesus the son of God as it warns Muslims against innovations and wrong practices that are found among them.

“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son.” (Al Nisa: 171)

On many occasions, the Quran mentions the People of the Book in very good words. Not only that, the Quran enjoins on the People of the Book to persevere on their Scriptures and guide their life according to the commandments of the Book that was revealed to them. It says that those who believe in the divine scriptures believe in one God and the Day of Judgment and do good deeds are blessed people and they can live peacefully side by side with Islam with their own religious identity.

“To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you” (Al Maida: 48)

God has made the system of the world on democratic lines and religious, linguistic, political and cultural democracy has been existing on earth and this democracy has remained intact through ages. In other words, all kinds of ideologies and thoughts of schools survive and grow together. No system has ever been so powerful as could destroy all the other schools of thought and ideologies and establish a cultural, religious or political uniformity on earth. In every age, all the religions existed together and the followers of any single religion could never become so powerful so as to destroy all the other religions. The Quran says:

“Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.” (Al Hajj: 40)

There are aggressive and irresponsible elements in all the religions who pose danger to other religions but God’s democratic system is so strong and powerful that they have never been able to disturb this democratic equilibrium in the world.

Quran is of the opinion that the followers of the previous scriptures are also on the right path. Some of the people among them may have gone haywire as some people among the Muslims have also gone haywire and have made innovations.

The Quran makes its view clear in the following verses.

“Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous.”(Al-e-Imran: 113-114)

The Quran further says:

“And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah: They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account.”(Al-e-Imran: 199)

About the Jews too, the Quran has the same view:

“There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the opposite.”(Al Araf: 168)

The Quran clubs all the religious groups that believe in one God, believe in the Day of Judgment and do good deeds and calls them blessed people:

“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”(Al Maida: 69)

“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve”.(Al Baqar : 62)

The Quran displays a liberal outlook by enjoining on the People of the Book to establish their religious scriptures in the following verse:

“If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil.”(Al Maida: 66)

“Say: “O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.” It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith”. (Al Maida: 68)

Muslims of the world are expected to behave in a manner that establishes peace among different religious groups by having dialogue with them and concentrate on the similarities and points of agreement among the religions rather than focusing on the points of differences.  Therefore, the Quran produced the concept of interfaith dialogue 14th centuries ago but unfortunately, they think that this concept is foreign to Islam due to their ignorance of the democratic principles it preaches.

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).”(Al Ankabut: 46)

“Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors”. (Al-e-Imran: 110)

To sum up, the Quran has equal respect for the previous scriptures and their followers if they persist on their basic principles and teachings which was originally revealed to them. The Qurans calls all the people of the Book blessed as they believe in one God, Day of Judgment and do good deeds.

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Muslims must discard the intolerance of Islam

Now Germany too has banned full-face veils. France had done that earlier. Switzerland banned minarets in 2010. Islamophobic politicians are gaining acceptance in most European countries. Donald Trump has already been elected president of the United States.

Muslims, however, don’t get it. They just refuse to understand why fear of Islam is deepening in every society, India being no exception. They just take bans on veils or minarets as attacks on their religious freedom.

They never worry about the lack of religious freedom in Muslim societies, not even for Muslims from minority sects or those considered heretic. They do not understand that religious freedom is indivisible.


Indian Muslims have just observed the 24th anniversary of the demolition of Babri mosque. But only recently so many Hindu temples were vandalised in next-door Bangladesh. Hindu girls are routinely kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and raped in the name of marriage.

But one doesn’t hear a word of condemnation from ulema or Muslim institutions. Does Islam allow freedom of religion? Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow building of temples or churches in its land.


If there is one jihad that would be permissible according to the Quran’s teachings, it would be a jihad against Saudi Arabia, forcing it to allow worship places of other religions. When Muslims were permitted to defend themselves with arms 13 years after the advent of Islam, it was to protect freedom of religion per se, not just that of Muslims.

In the words of the Quran (22:40): “And had it not been that Allah checks one set of people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would have been utterly destroyed.”

But how come, we feel concerned only when it is a matter concerning a mosque or a supposedly “Islamic” veil being banned and do not bother if Muslim and avowedly Islamic states do not allow religious freedom to other groups. Not only that. We have scholars who claim that while non-Muslims have perfect freedom to practice their religion in an Islamic state (not quite true, of course), Muslims do not have that freedom at all.

Once born to a Muslim parent, you are doomed for ever to be a Muslim or else. Well, your throat will be slit, no less. Indeed, there are “revered” ulema in various schools of thought who say that if someone is seen so much as not attending Friday prayers, his throat should be slit.


Writes Salman Tarik Kureshi, a noted Pakistani scholar: “A person greatly admires Hazrat Maulana Rashid Gangohi, the outstanding scholar who was one of the founders of the Deoband madarsa. The gentleman to whom I refer is a kindly soul, who can be depended upon for help by others. However, when in the course of conversation I chanced to remark that the most basic virtue lay in kindness towards others, he contradicted me. Kindness, he contended, was reserved for ‘pious, practising Muslims’. As for others, they should be given a chance to mend their ways, after which ‘they would be Wajibul Qatal (liable to be killed)’. Another person I chanced to meet — a finance man, no less — feels that people who do not attend Friday prayers ‘should simply be killed. Slit their throats!’”


Denying freedom of religion to Muslims and ex-Muslims, not to speak of non-Muslims, indeed has a long and gory history. The Quranic dictum (2: 256) “la ikraha fid Deen” (Let there be no compulsion in religion) did not leave an impact beyond the life of Prophet Mohammad.

Forcible conversions started with the first Caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) fighting Ridda (apostasy) wars against the tribes who had left Islam after the demise of the Prophet. They were all brought back to the fold of Islam or killed.

Similar is the case of Khwarij in the time of the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali (RA) and beyond to neo-Khwarij today, also known as Wahhabi or Salafi. These groups mostly kill Muslims whom they consider “heretics” including Shias and Ahmadis.

We Muslims need to be reminded of this history to be able to understand our present. Until we start respecting and accepting other religions and the human right of someone born a Muslim to leave the faith, we should not expect respect from others.

We should not confuse their magnanimity with our right. Rights always have corresponding duties. Let us Muslims discard Islam supremacism and accept for a change that Islam is a spiritual path to salvation, one of the many.

I know looking within and finding out how we are contributing to the growing Islamophobia is difficult, but we have no option but to do so.

Source URL: https://www.dailyo.in/politics/islam-islamophobia-germany-burqa-veil-ban-babri-masjid-europe-trump-jihad-terrorism/story/1/14439.html

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Why Deobandis are wooing Sufis

Sectarian unity is certainly an admirable goal. The intention behind it, however, is also very important. Wahhabi Deobandi and Sufi-Barelvi sects, who call each other kafir (infidel), are seeking to unite for some months now. But towards what end?


The initiative was taken by Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan of Bareilly who visited Deoband in May 2016, following the International Sufi Conference in March, attended by the Prime Minister, in which he was not invited. Deobandi Maulana Mahmood Madani of Jamiat-ul-Ulema reciprocated with a mega gathering at Ajmer Sharif along with Barelvis a few months later in November.

Deobandis are touting their new-found love of Sufism, and claiming to be followers of Hazrat Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. They even published in front-page ads in Urdu newspapers their Shijra (pedigree), showing the proximity of their elders to Sufi sheikhs. They sought to bury the hatchet after a century of sectarian war with Sufi-Barelvis in which they called Sufism “pollution” and “perversion” of Islam.


As recently as in March 2016, Jamiat chief Maulana Arshad Madani had severely castigated the World Sufi Forum as the BJP-led government’s bid to divide the Muslim community over Sufism versus Wahhabism. He said: “Sufism is nothing: It is no sect of Islam and is not found in the Quran. This is a thing for those who don’t know Quran and Hadith.” Even in the Ajmer Conference, Deobandi leaders did not express any regret over the abuses heaped on Sufism. Deoband did not display any change in its theological understanding of Sufism.

Deobandis ending their century-old schism with Sufis and Barelvis, initiated by them, would have been a momentous occasion. But they merely resolved to fight any change in Muslim Personal Law. One can only conclude that Deoband is merely trying to create and lead as large a front of Muslims against the BJP-led government as possible. It knows that despite Wahhabism’s recent Saudi petrodollar-inspired growth, Deoband still has fewer followers. By and large Indian Muslims continue to remain Sufism-oriented. It’s not only Deoband, however, that is seeking unity with Sufi-Barelvis merely for political reasons. Even Maulana Tauqeer Raza Barelvi had said while visiting Deoband: “We should stick to our religious (sectarian?) beliefs and get united to fight with common enemy, this is the only way out.”


Who is the enemy? The BJP-led government, of course. But why now? Primarily because it is showing signs of allowing gender justice-based reforms in Muslim Personal Law. While this has embarrassed and silenced Sufi Ulema and Mashaikh Board which had invited the Prime Minister to speak from its forum, all other groups are trying to unite to oppose the possibility of a ban on instant triple talaq.

For Deoband, however, there is an additional factor. It has been close to the powers that be for most of our post-Independence years. Now it is feeling disempowered. So, while opposing a possible reform in Muslim Personal Law, it is also telling the government that we too are Sufis if that is what you prefer: align with us.

Bringing Muslims together on a purported platform of protecting the religion and fighting the kafir is not difficult. A belief in Islamic supremacy has been promoted among Muslims for centuries. All madarsas, Barelvi or Deobandi, teach principles of fatwa from Rasmul Mufti (Roadmap for Muftis). Two principles are taught repeatedly: A) Al-islamu Ya’lu Yu’la Wala ‘alaih (Islam will always be superior or victorious; It will never be surpassed or defeated). B) Al-kufru millatun wahida (all kafirs are one nation).


No wonder, Barelvi muftis have no objection to Tauqeer Reza Khan uniting with Deobandis for fighting the “kafir” government. But when one of their own, Pakistani scholar Maulana Tahirul Qadri, suggested ways for genuine sectarian unity in a book Firqa Parasti Ka Khatima Kaise Ho (How to end  ectarianism), the same Barelvi muftis issued a fatwa against him. Muslims of every sect are kafirs in the eyes of ulema of other sects. Solving ideological disputes to unite with each other is unthinkable. But, they can and should unite to fight the kafirs of a different religion.

As long as this Muslim-kafir binary informs the consensus theology of ulema, it will be difficult for Muslims to live amicably with others. Temporary sectarian unity which could threaten permanent communal harmony is not the way forward. As Muslims, we need to not only bridge our internal divides, but also stop thinking in terms of kafir and momin. We cannot survive as Muslims in the 21st century multicultural world with our antiquated notions of supremacy and separatism.

Source URL: https://www.dailyo.in/politics/deobandis-sufi-barelvi-islam-india-bjp-muslims-sectarian-deoband-sufism-muslim-personal-law-triple-talaq/story/1/14963.html

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Don’t let Eid al-Adha’s qurbani descend into a blood orgy

Today is the holiest day in the Muslim calendar. It marks the “festival of the sacrifice”, known as Eid al-Adha or Baqr Eid, celebrated at the end of Hajj.

Eid al-Azha has great spiritual significance. It is a celebration of Prophet Ibrahim’s total surrender to God’s will. When God asked him to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, went so far as to bring his beloved child to the metaphorical sacrificial block.

However, Prophet Ibrahim’s son was replaced by a lamb which got sacrificed instead. It was merely the intention of sacrifice that God required.

“It is not their flesh, nor their blood, that reaches Allah; but your devotion will reach Him.” (Quran 2:196; 2:28. 35 -37)

Its significance is obvious. God is clearly telling Muslims that it is not the sacrifice which will please God, but their “devotion”.

Unfortunately, it is this very dimension that is missing in today’s festivities. Sacrifice, in the manner God intended, would require sacrificing something dear to you.

It should not merely be a ritual of buying goats and sheep and killing them in such large numbers that their meat can’t even be consumed, as happens every year in Saudi Arabia.


Prophet Mohammad was very emphatic in his views on animal sacrifice: “if you MUST kill, kill without torture.”

Unfortunately, this admonition is also ignored. The two million animals that were sacrificed in Saudi Arabia at the end of Hajj yesterday had been brought to the country in most horrible conditions, many of them dying en route.

I personally witnessed the torture animals go through when I was in Karachi on Baqr Eid, a few years ago. The whole city appeared to have turned into a slaughterhouse.

One could hear the cries of goats and sheep for days before Eid, while they were still being traded in city squares and even in roundabouts on major arterial roads.

The animals apparently knew what fate was awaiting them. It was the obscenity of the whole scene that I cannot forget. Baqr Eid, the holiest of days, had descended into an orgy of blood-letting, with the “devotion” that God requires completely missing.

The callousness we Muslims display towards animals would give the impression that the religion of Islam is indifferent to the fate of animals.

In fact, Islam requires Muslims to protect, not just human rights, but huqooqul ibaad or the rights of all creations of God.

Huqooqul ibaad is considered so important that it is given primacy even over huqooq Allah or our duties towards God. While God may forgive us for our transgressions, given his Benevolent and Merciful nature, His creations will not even recognise us on the Day of Judgement.

So we must fulfil our duties towards creations of God in this very world, since we cannot hope for forgiveness from them on the Day of Judgement.

Muslims should also remember the conduct of the Prophet in treating animals with kindness. On many occasions, during his journeys, he delayed prayers for the sake of first relieving the animals of their burden, and giving them food and water.

He would refuse to lead prayers until animals were looked after first. He told several stories of people being forgiven all their sins for having shown consideration for a dog or a cat.

According to Imam Abu Dawud, the Prophet forbade the hitting of animals on their faces and branding them. He also forbade sports based on animal fights.

Multiple instances of this concern for animals can also be found throughout the Quran. The story of Prophet Salih, told in the Quran (6:73 and 7:77-78), involves the destruction of the Thalmud, a nation whose people killed a she-camel against the express orders of Prophet Salih (pbuh).

The story of Prophet Noah’s Flood, as described in the Quran, clearly states that he was asked to first load a pair of all animals and then his followers.

Contemporary Muslims clearly need to learn from their scriptures, follow the Prophet, and stop this cruelty to animals.

The situation is changing for the better, at least in some places. The blood orgy in Karachi is having a salutary effect. Some people in Pakistan have stopped sacrificing animals and started giving money to charity on the advice of some Islamic scholars. I know of a few individuals in India who have also started this practise.

Hopefully, encouraged by the South Asian Muslim media, this will eventually become the norm.

Source URL: https://www.dailyo.in/politics/eid-al-adha-sacrifice-animal-slaughter-hajj-prophet-ibrahim-quran-pakistan-saudi-arabia/story/1/12898.html

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Dhaka attack: Facing the challenge of Zakir Naik

Mumbai-based Muslim preacher, winner of prestigious Shah Faisal Award from Saudi Arabia, Dr Zakir Naik, is in the news again.

This time for having influenced two of the terrorists who carried out the recent attack in Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery, as his videos radicalised Indian Mujahideen and others.

What makes Dr Naik so influential among millions of South Asians is his forthrightness. Unlike other preachers, he does not mince his words.

“If he (Osama bin Laden) is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him,” Naik said in a widely watched 2007 YouTube video. “If he is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America, the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”

It has become difficult for the last several years to criticise Zakir Naik in tens of millions of South Asian Muslim homes either in the subcontinent or abroad.

What would shock a normal rational human is what makes him so loved. Sample this:

“People in the West eat pork and hence behave like pigs. Pigs are the only animals in the world that invite their friends to have sex with their partners. Westerners also do the same.”

But Naik is most popular for his staged acts of conversion shown on television. He is considered an expert in comparative religion, as he quotes chapter and vase from several religious texts, but actually he is an expert in denigrating other religions, seeking to prove them wrong.

This satisfies many Muslims’ sense of Islamic superiority, a sort of instinct evolved over a millennia and a half under the influence of supremacist, exclusivist theologians revered by all.

Our focus should not be so much on Zakir Naik as on the question: why and how he has so easily succeeded in radicalising millions of Muslims. Saudis and Ahl al-Hadith have only provided him logistical support.

In my view, the reason he has succeeded is that he is not saying anything new. He is using the theology of consensus, the same theology that is taught in universities and madrasas.

His distinction is in the presentation, using modern means of communication. He is reaching those who did not have access to this theology before.

That is why Ulema cannot oppose him or other militant preachers. Sufi-Barailvis and even Deobandis have tried. They are angry because these preachers have exposed their hypocrisy. They quote contextual, war-time verses from Quran.

They quote dubious Hadith, the so-called sayings of the Prophet. Ulema are not willing to say that these war-time verses do not apply to us anymore as we are not fighting those wars for which they were meant.

They are not willing to say that these narrations of Hadith cannot be trusted as they were collected scores and hundreds of years after the demise of the Prophet.

They are not willing to say that since Quran considers killing of even one innocent person tantamount to killing of humanity, how can the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself violate the Quran and justify and order killing of innocents, as quoted in the Hadith used by militant preachers.

Unless Ulema correct their own theology, they cannot save the community from radicalisation.

Source URL: https://www.dailyo.in/politics/dhaka-attack-zakir-naik-ramzan-madrasas-quran-hadith-prophet-muhammad/story/1/11580.html

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The Regress of Knowledge: Understanding the Concept of Salafism in Traditional Sunnism

The term Salafism – like jihad – has been absorbed into mainstream Western media discourse, especially with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Much of the use of this term, however, is conceptually shrouded in confusion – even in academic circles.

Contemporary discussions on Salafism in the academia can be broadly categorised under those that grapple with the subject from the perspective of political science, and those who do so from a religious studies perspective.

The former tend to discuss the concept in a fleeting manner – usually by not much more than identifying Salafism’s theoreticians, such as Abdul Wahhab and Ibn Taymiyya – and focus instead on the political, economic and the social dimensions behind the rise of Salafi movements. There is, accordingly, little interest in the conceptual genealogy but also the contested meanings of the concept of Salafism in the Islamic tradition.

In the area of religious studies, the concept of Salafism has gained increased attention since 9/11. In this body of work, the concept of Salafism has been theorised in a more nuanced manner. One thinks particularly of the work of Khaled Abou El Fadl, and more recently of Frank Griffel and Henri Lauziere.

In this article I argue that the concept of Salafism in traditionalist Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (and, to a lesser extent, in theology) pertains to a number of interrelated phenomena:

Highly contested and continuously appropriated approaches to Islamic epistemology and hermeneutics characterised by heavy textualism in at least two variant forms – Mazhab and Ahl-Hadith based;

an outlook/worldview that emerged among the post-righteous generations of Muslims (as-Salaf as-Salih/Salafi, from which the concept of Salafism is derived) which tried to make sense of the various theological, political, moral and social schisms that occurred in immediate post-prophetic period, culminating in a particular soteriology whose linchpin was the joint concept of the sacred past and the retrogressive nature of time and history;

the theological cum epistemological doctrine of ‘Adalat Al Sahaba (collective probity of Prophet’s Companions) which serves as a defence of Sunni theology and/or response to the competing theological paradigm embodied by Imamate (Shi’i) theology.

I argue that such a conceptualisation of Salafism is imperative if we are to understand and counter the religious narrative promoted by the scholars associated with the Islamic State, including their employment of Salafism in justifying religiously sanctioned violence.

Salafism as Epistemology

Early Muslim history was characterized by a number of very significant and, for subsequent generations of Muslims, traumatic schisms, both religious and political in nature. As a result, a number of competing theological and political doctrines among Muslims emerged which posed not only a serious political but also salvific problem for the subsequent generations of Muslims who were intent on establishing the correct parameters of doctrines, beliefs and practices considered to be in accordance to the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet.

One aspect of this struggle for religious legitimacy among the post-righteous generations of Muslims (as-Salaf as-Salih), chronologically speaking was by linking one’s theological, political or legal views to that of the As-Salaf As-Salih. This would, in turn, imbue these competing factions with the sense of normativity, credibility and authority.

As a corollary, the concept of Salafism – or what I also term a Salafi worldview – can be conceptualized in terms of the idea of the “emulation-worthiness” of the first century religious and political authorities who were perceived as having remained faithful to the teachings of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet in relation to ‘aqida (beliefs), Manhaj (methodology) and ‘Ibadah (worship) in contrast to those who are deemed( from a perspective of a particular group of Muslims) to have deviated.

Moreover, towards the end of the second Islamic century, this Salafi-embedded worldview started to shape the epistemological boundaries of the Islamic thought, particularly in relation to the increased importance of Sunna and its documentation in the form of written reports about the early Muslim community (Hadith/Akhbar) though a chain of narrators whose ultimate linchpins were the Companions of the Prophet. In this context, in Sunnism, the mechanism that was developed to authenticate Sunna depended entirely epistemologically on upholding the collective moral probity of all of the Prophet’s Companions, as well as adopting an expansive definition of a “Companion.”

The increased epistemological importance of the Salafi worldview is evident, for example, from the fact that the founders or initiators of the various Islamic sciences sought the ideas and the views among the As-Salaf As-Salih as intellectual antecedents in order to bestow legitimacy to their respective disciplines. Moreover, we find that the epithet Salafi, designating a person who is pious or possessing various kinds of noble characteristics and virtues features (but not a developed legal theory or systematic theology) frequently in various writings of Muslim scholars.

The centrality of this concept of the imitation of the Salaf in the Sunni Islamic tradition can be further gleaned from the fact that Muslim scholars’ views regarding the Salaf has significant implications regarding whether or not their views could be considered part of Sunni orthodoxy. It also had a profound effect on the nature of Islamic law.

It is also worth noting that the identity and the chronological cut off point of as-Salaf as-Salih in Islamic jurisprudence has had different meanings, as various groups have defined Salaf according to their own orientation and school of thought. Therefore, given the various definitions of as-Salaf as-Salih generations (and who belongs to them), this aspect of the concept of Salafism is also contested in the Islamic tradition.

It is important to highlight that there have been ongoing disagreements over who the Salaf are, and on the basis of which methodology (Manhaj) can we understand or have access to authentic knowledge about them, even within traditional Sunnism. The two major contenders are the so-called Mazhab-based and the Ahl-al Hadith-based approaches. However, the Salafi-embedded worldview I here describe is shared by both, including the Salafi/jihadist groups such as the ISIS who, as I have argued elsewhere, in terms of their Manhaj are virtually identical to the ahl-al Hadith.

Salafism As Sacred Past

The idea of a “sacred past” is, of course, not peculiar to Muslims and it can take a number of different forms. For example, in the European context, it was expressed in the form of nineteenth-century nationalism.

What we could call the Salafi mindset seems to have emerged in the late-second century of the Islamic calendar. As testified by the definition used by Al-Suyuti, the genesis of the Salafi mind-set is best understood in the light of the political and theological schisms that took place in the Muslim community in the first century Hijri. At that time, the concept of Salafism was used as an anchoring point for various ideologically competing groups who were all eager to show that their views, unlike those of others, were consistent with those figures who were held in high esteem during the inception of the Muslim community.

This is, for example, evident in the use of word as-Salaf as-Salih in treaties attributed to a renowned figure of early Islam, Hasan al-Basri’s (d. 110/ 728), to support the doctrine of free will to which he, unlike his interlocutors, considered as being a doctrine espoused by the as-Salaf as-Salih. Recent research suggests that the concept of Salafism was also developed in relation to the rival ascending and ever more systematically developed Imami theology.

I will say more about this when I examine the function of Salafism as what I refer to as anti-Shi’i oppositional dialectics. As briefly alluded to above, this quest for religious legitimacy by linking one’s theological, political or legal views to that of the as-Salaf as-Salih would, thus, imbibe these factions with the sense of normativeness, credibility and authoritativeness. The same holds true for the contemporary usages of Salafism.

From a historical point of view, the earliest usage of the terms as-Salaf as-Salih is therefore to be understood as a particular outlook of the as-Salaf as-Salih generations of Muslims on the early historical events that took place after the Prophet’s death regarding the issues considered unresolved in the Qur’an and Sunna as well as the means of getting to terms with the above mentioned political and doctrinal schisms that plagued the nascent Muslims community. This Salafi doctrine proved particularly important for the formation of what now is largely considered “mainstream” traditionalist Sunnism in the fourth/fifth century of the Islamic calendar.

Salafism As Retrogressive History

I have already noted that over time the imitation of the Salaf became a very important element of what it means/meant to be a pious Sunni Muslim as the Salaf were considered to embody the original example of the Prophet (Sunna) that was subsequently more or less corrupted or in danger of becoming so.

One of the important phenomena that emerged from this is the idea that process that I elsewhere described as “hadihtification of Sunna” and traditionalisation of Islamic thought as encapsulated in the premise that the Sunna of the Prophet could only be preserved and be remained faithful to only by means of Sahih (sound) Hadith as authenticated by the early classical Hadith specialists (Muhadithun) such as Bukhari and Muslim.

From the preceding discussion, we can thus deduce that the concept of Salafism in pre-modern Islamic thought is also to be conceptualized by means of a particular understanding of the concept of history and time – namely, their regressive nature – and their relation to the present and future. It is encapsulated by the idea of the imperative of going back to ideal model of the Prophet’s Sunna that only existed in the past and that was for all purposes embodied in the Sahih Hadith narrations.

This Salafi embedded worldview is, itself, often justified on the basis of a few isolated Hadith going back to the Prophet Muhammad in which he reportedly asserted that the best people were his generation and then the next and then the following and so on and that there was no year or day except that which followed was worse than it.

It is important to highlight again that this Salafi-embedded worldview evident in both the Mazhab and ahl-al Hadith-based thought, therefore, defers to the past to provide all the answers and constantly imposes itself upon the present. In other words, the authenticity of Muslim identity can only be established by returning to a fixed point in historical time – that of the Prophet and the early Muslim community.

Salafism As A Response To Imamate Theology

Another important element of the concept of Salafism is its anti-Imamate orientation, which highlights the strong sectarian origins of the concept. In this sense it is rooted in the doctrine of ‘adala al-Sahaba, the collective integrity of the Companions that in classical Sunnism evolved over a number of centuries becoming widely affirmed sometime in the fifth century Hijri.

This doctrine was very much reflective of the idea of “multiple and competing articulations of community and authority in the sectarian atmosphere of the later medieval period.” It finds its roots in the theology of Murji’ism according to which it is not only possible but also desirable to make a distinction between faith and practice and “postpone judgements” regarding the “status” of a sinner.

One such significant competing conceptualization – theological/sectarian and political in nature – to Sunnism was that of Shi’ism of course and its Imamate theology which challenged, among others, the doctrine of ‘Adala al-Sahaba. To Sunnis, the Imamate-based theology which persisted, even if peripherally, as a challenge to the Sunni social and doctrinal domination, was clearly diametrically opposed to the concept of the ‘Adala al-Sahaba and as such unacceptable.

At this junction it is in order to highlight that the doctrine of ‘Adala al-Sahaba also plays an important epistemological role in traditionalist Sunnism. This is because it forms a linchpin in the process of traditional textualist methodologies of authenticating Sunna of the Muhadithun on the basis of the Isnad-based system whose entire integrity depends on the (individual) probity of the Sahaba.

In this context it is worthy to remind ourselves that the separate forms of canonised Sunni and Shi’i Hadith collections different exactly on this assessment of the probity of the Sahaba.


From the above we can conclude that the concept of Salafism emerged from the sectarian context of early Islam and is characterised by an epistemologically regressive outlook/worldview of the post-Salaf communities of Muslims who attempted to appropriate the concept on the basis of differing but partially overlapping mixture of epistemology, methodologies and hermeneutics.

These attempts at appropriation were motivated by not only for the purposes of claiming normativity and authenticity but also for the purpose of attaining salvation as the Salaf were seen as extensions of Prophet’s legacy, the Sunna, as the surest, if not the only, way of attaining salvation.

Salafi Jihadist groups such as ISIS are also Salafis in the sense described above and because they do this poses some real questions how effective traditional Sunnism (not to mention Salafism), especially in the long run, is in terms of offering an effective counter religion based narrative to that of ISIS.

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