Back to the Future: The Many Faces of Salafi Islam

The Salafis are a very broad, amorphous grouping of Muslims who believe that the only way to salvation is to follow, strictly and fully, the way of life of the earliest Muslims (whom they revere as the "Salaf us Saleh", or "Righteous Predecessors", the 'Puritans' of the Muslim collective, if you like). Although they would like to present themselves to other Muslims as belonging to a timeless tradition, Salafism in fact can be traced to around the time of the collapse of the Crusader states, when a Damascene Islamist preacher, Ibn Taymia (1263-1328) began to preach a puritan, unornamented form of Islam which had little or no foreign innovations ("bid'a"). For most of history, the Salafis spurned modern political formations, putting them at odds with, amongst others, the Muslim Brotherhood. Although Ibn Taymia's teachings did not spread too far at the time, it did, centuries later, give birth to the rise of Wahhabism in what was to become Saudi Arabia.

Both Salafia and their subset, the Wahhabis, had little or no time for temporal politics for a very long time, before a young man in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sought to remake his country in the Salafi-Wahhabi mould. Not all Salafis look the same, and the guys above are a fashionable rogues gallery of exceptional Salafis.

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Juhayman Al Otaibi was a tribal Wahhabi--a form of Salafism in Arabia--who led the siege of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, in 1979. He was part of a small group who took Salafism's frugal interpretation of Islam to heart and wanted to overthrow his own government to bring this to life.

Juhayman Al Otaibi was a tribal Wahhabi--a form of Salafism in Arabia--who led the siege of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, in 1979. He was part of a small group who took Salafism's frugal interpretation of Islam to heart and wanted to overthrow his own government to bring this to life.

If Juhayman had a contemporary godfather, it might have been Omar Abdulrahman, who was a leading figure of Egypt's Jamaat Islamia. Starting as a more violent offshoot of the modernist Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat quickly became a hotbed of Salafi radicals, from which Ayman Zawahiri emerged.

If Juhayman had a contemporary godfather, it might have been Omar Abdulrahman, who was a leading figure of Egypt's Jamaat Islamia. Starting as a more violent offshoot of the modernist Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat quickly became a hotbed of Salafi radicals, from which Ayman Zawahiri emerged.

Abdulrahman Sudais embodies the conflict inherent in Salafism: Although an adherent of a form of Salafism, Sudais is also fiercely loyal to the Saudi Arabian government, and is in fact the preacher of sermons at Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, where millions come to hear his Quranic recitations.

Abdulrahman Sudais embodies the conflict inherent in Salafism: Although an adherent of a form of Salafism, Sudais is also fiercely loyal to the Saudi Arabian government, and is in fact the preacher of sermons at Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, where millions come to hear his Quranic recitations.

In Saudi Arabia's smaller, more democratic neighour, Kuwait, the Salafis have also learned to harness people power. One Salafi, Mohammed Hayef Al Mutairi, uses his parliamentary seat to bring Islamist and tribal demands to the government's attention. Hayef is often at odds with Kuwait's rulers.

In Saudi Arabia's smaller, more democratic neighour, Kuwait, the Salafis have also learned to harness people power. One Salafi, Mohammed Hayef Al Mutairi, uses his parliamentary seat to bring Islamist and tribal demands to the government's attention. Hayef is often at odds with Kuwait's rulers.

The various strands of Salafi Islam--the political conservatives in the Gulf, and radicals in Greater Syria-- were united by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian lecturer in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. Osama Ben Laden was once Azzam's protege, and he politicized an entire generation of Salafis.

The various strands of Salafi Islam--the political conservatives in the Gulf, and radicals in Greater Syria-- were united by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian lecturer in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. Osama Ben Laden was once Azzam's protege, and he politicized an entire generation of Salafis.

While there have been notable Palestinian Salafis, the group as a whole dislike the Palestinians  for their espousal of modernist politics. One Salafi who is very much opposed to the Palestinians is Ali Halabi, who has called for the assassination of numerous Palestinian political figures.

While there have been notable Palestinian Salafis, the group as a whole dislike the Palestinians for their espousal of modernist politics. One Salafi who is very much opposed to the Palestinians is Ali Halabi, who has called for the assassination of numerous Palestinian political figures.

Salafis take their hand gestures with them around the world--just look at Abu Qutada. The extremist preacher sought asylum in the UK in the 1990s, and started preaching British interests in the Middle East. Currently detained in England, he was sentenced to life in prison in his native Jordan.

Salafis take their hand gestures with them around the world--just look at Abu Qutada. The extremist preacher sought asylum in the UK in the 1990s, and started preaching British interests in the Middle East. Currently detained in England, he was sentenced to life in prison in his native Jordan.

Every Salafi always gets his way. When Ahmed Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan to find that the Soviets were leaving anyway, he decided to see what he could do to join the global jihad. Iraq was a godsend to him--in that he could kill other, innocent Muslims. Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in 2006.

Every Salafi always gets his way. When Ahmed Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan to find that the Soviets were leaving anyway, he decided to see what he could do to join the global jihad. Iraq was a godsend to him--in that he could kill other, innocent Muslims. Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in 2006.

Juhayman Al Otaibi was a tribal Wahhabi--a form of Salafism in Arabia--who led the siege of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, in 1979. He was part of a small group who took Salafism's frugal interpretation of Islam to heart and wanted to overthrow his own government to bring this to life.
If Juhayman had a contemporary godfather, it might have been Omar Abdulrahman, who was a leading figure of Egypt's Jamaat Islamia. Starting as a more violent offshoot of the modernist Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat quickly became a hotbed of Salafi radicals, from which Ayman Zawahiri emerged.
Abdulrahman Sudais embodies the conflict inherent in Salafism: Although an adherent of a form of Salafism, Sudais is also fiercely loyal to the Saudi Arabian government, and is in fact the preacher of sermons at Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, where millions come to hear his Quranic recitations.
In Saudi Arabia's smaller, more democratic neighour, Kuwait, the Salafis have also learned to harness people power. One Salafi, Mohammed Hayef Al Mutairi, uses his parliamentary seat to bring Islamist and tribal demands to the government's attention. Hayef is often at odds with Kuwait's rulers.
The various strands of Salafi Islam--the political conservatives in the Gulf, and radicals in Greater Syria-- were united by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian lecturer in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. Osama Ben Laden was once Azzam's protege, and he politicized an entire generation of Salafis.
While there have been notable Palestinian Salafis, the group as a whole dislike the Palestinians  for their espousal of modernist politics. One Salafi who is very much opposed to the Palestinians is Ali Halabi, who has called for the assassination of numerous Palestinian political figures.
Salafis take their hand gestures with them around the world--just look at Abu Qutada. The extremist preacher sought asylum in the UK in the 1990s, and started preaching British interests in the Middle East. Currently detained in England, he was sentenced to life in prison in his native Jordan.
Every Salafi always gets his way. When Ahmed Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan to find that the Soviets were leaving anyway, he decided to see what he could do to join the global jihad. Iraq was a godsend to him--in that he could kill other, innocent Muslims. Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in 2006.
Juhayman Al Otaibi was a tribal Wahhabi--a form of Salafism in Arabia--who led the siege of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, in 1979. He was part of a small group who took Salafism's frugal interpretation of Islam to heart and wanted to overthrow his own government to bring this to life.
Juhayman Al Otaibi was a tribal Wahhabi--a form of Salafism in Arabia--who led the siege of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, in 1979. He was part of a small group who took Salafism's frugal interpretation of Islam to heart and wanted to overthrow his own government to bring this to life.
If Juhayman had a contemporary godfather, it might have been Omar Abdulrahman, who was a leading figure of Egypt's Jamaat Islamia. Starting as a more violent offshoot of the modernist Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat quickly became a hotbed of Salafi radicals, from which Ayman Zawahiri emerged.
If Juhayman had a contemporary godfather, it might have been Omar Abdulrahman, who was a leading figure of Egypt's Jamaat Islamia. Starting as a more violent offshoot of the modernist Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat quickly became a hotbed of Salafi radicals, from which Ayman Zawahiri emerged.
Abdulrahman Sudais embodies the conflict inherent in Salafism: Although an adherent of a form of Salafism, Sudais is also fiercely loyal to the Saudi Arabian government, and is in fact the preacher of sermons at Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, where millions come to hear his Quranic recitations.
Abdulrahman Sudais embodies the conflict inherent in Salafism: Although an adherent of a form of Salafism, Sudais is also fiercely loyal to the Saudi Arabian government, and is in fact the preacher of sermons at Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, where millions come to hear his Quranic recitations.
In Saudi Arabia's smaller, more democratic neighour, Kuwait, the Salafis have also learned to harness people power. One Salafi, Mohammed Hayef Al Mutairi, uses his parliamentary seat to bring Islamist and tribal demands to the government's attention. Hayef is often at odds with Kuwait's rulers.
In Saudi Arabia's smaller, more democratic neighour, Kuwait, the Salafis have also learned to harness people power. One Salafi, Mohammed Hayef Al Mutairi, uses his parliamentary seat to bring Islamist and tribal demands to the government's attention. Hayef is often at odds with Kuwait's rulers.
The various strands of Salafi Islam--the political conservatives in the Gulf, and radicals in Greater Syria-- were united by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian lecturer in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. Osama Ben Laden was once Azzam's protege, and he politicized an entire generation of Salafis.
The various strands of Salafi Islam--the political conservatives in the Gulf, and radicals in Greater Syria-- were united by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian lecturer in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. Osama Ben Laden was once Azzam's protege, and he politicized an entire generation of Salafis.
While there have been notable Palestinian Salafis, the group as a whole dislike the Palestinians  for their espousal of modernist politics. One Salafi who is very much opposed to the Palestinians is Ali Halabi, who has called for the assassination of numerous Palestinian political figures.
While there have been notable Palestinian Salafis, the group as a whole dislike the Palestinians for their espousal of modernist politics. One Salafi who is very much opposed to the Palestinians is Ali Halabi, who has called for the assassination of numerous Palestinian political figures.
Salafis take their hand gestures with them around the world--just look at Abu Qutada. The extremist preacher sought asylum in the UK in the 1990s, and started preaching British interests in the Middle East. Currently detained in England, he was sentenced to life in prison in his native Jordan.
Salafis take their hand gestures with them around the world--just look at Abu Qutada. The extremist preacher sought asylum in the UK in the 1990s, and started preaching British interests in the Middle East. Currently detained in England, he was sentenced to life in prison in his native Jordan.
Every Salafi always gets his way. When Ahmed Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan to find that the Soviets were leaving anyway, he decided to see what he could do to join the global jihad. Iraq was a godsend to him--in that he could kill other, innocent Muslims. Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in 2006.
Every Salafi always gets his way. When Ahmed Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan to find that the Soviets were leaving anyway, he decided to see what he could do to join the global jihad. Iraq was a godsend to him--in that he could kill other, innocent Muslims. Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in 2006.