OPINION: Is Salafism Evil? A fine line between modern Salafists and the Ikhwan

3 mins read

by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Modern Salafists strive to achieve Ikhwan’s political agenda.

The Salafists are blamed for most of the horrendous acts these days. Even before the first bullet was fired by the Syrian opposition, President Bashar Assad attributed the murders and destruction committed by his own army to the Salafists saying they are supported by Saudi Arabia and the West.

In Egypt, the young revolutionaries accused that the Salafists were supporting Mubarak and the West but it was found later that the Salafists were at the forefront of the revolution and even involved in attacks launched against the embassy of the United States.

In Tunis, leader of the ruling Islamic awakening party is now criticizing the Salafists whom he used to praise earlier. The party is now making use of the forces of ousted leader Ben Ali to hound the Salafists for the attack on US Embassy and schools.

In Libya, the Salafists have been driven out of Benghazi and their political headquarters set on fire on the charge of killing the US ambassador and attacking the consulate.

They are also blamed for other — but no less horrendous — incidents such as attacks on the Egyptian security forces in Sinai, violation of the Israeli border and killing a soldier. Are the Salafists always the bad guys and the Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) the good guys?

When we try to find who really are the Salafists we come to the conclusion that technical words and nomenclature do not represent facts. The modern Salafists are, in my view, a group of political activists still in the first phase of the growth of Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen.

On the other hand, the traditional Salafists, who do not have political views, are characterized by their strict stance on social issues such as codes of female dress, length of men’s gowns, beard and music. The traditional Salafists do not have any political views because they believe in the legitimacy of a ruler or government so long as it is not against the Shariah.

But this concept is hardly acceptable to the new Salafists, who are an extremist group at the primary phase of the Ikhwan’s growth. In Afghanistan, the Salafists and the Ikhwans have merged to form the Salafi-Jihadist group. Modern Salafists strive to achieve Ikhwan’s political agenda.

In my view there are no political “Islamist” ideologists but they mostly share views of the Ikhwan. They support the Ikhwan’s activities both politically and financially and have the same political voice and mindset.

That is why I believe that calling extremist groups as political or jihadi Salafists will be only partially correct while the fact remains that they are the Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen, although in the primary stage of development. When they have fully grown and intellectually matured they could be called the real Ikhwan.

But the matured stage of the Brotherhood is more dangerous than when it was an underground party. However, now Ikhwan is an open political party operating like any other party even though there are people who are skeptical about it.

All Islamists are Brotherhood men irrespective of whatever name we call them — Freedom and Justice Party, Salafists or Awakening party, or even Al-Qaeda. The difference is only in the degree of their Ikhwan ideology ranging between moderate Abdul Munim Abul Fatouh to the extremist Ayman Al-Zawaheri.

At the final analysis they all politically belong to each other. But the danger is when they resort to arms or profess the takfir (condemning opponents as heretics) ideology, or use their status as religious preachers. The takfir is more dangerous than armed attacks. That is why many people demand separation of the men of religions from politics excepting those who are ready to enter politics without any religious guise.

Article first published on Arab News.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. He tweets under @aalrashed.

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