Exclusive Sneak Peek at the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought — Salafis

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought is the first reference to Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today. Comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible, the Encyclopedia provides much-needed context for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. In this exclusive excerpt, Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, uncovers the complex history of Salafis in the context of Islamic political thought:


The Salafi designation is contested in the scholarly literature as well as among some Muslims, and because of this there is considerable confusion about to whom it applies and the nature of its doctrines. A historically grounded definition maintains that Salafis adhere to a literalist theology that rejects allegorical interpretation and reason- based arguments and claim to be faithful to the teachings of the theological Hanbalis or the ahl al-יּadűth. Salafis insist that their beliefs are identical to those of the first three generations of Muslims, al-salaf al-ጃăliיּ (pious ancestors), from whom they take their name. Their attention is directed at convincing other Muslims of the superiority of Salai teachings and of the need to abandon reprehensible innovations (bida’) allegedly not rooted in Islam, such as superstitious beliefs and the intercessionary practices associated with the cult of dead saints. Sufis and Shi’is in particular are the target of Salafi polemical attacks for partaking in forms of unbelief (kufr) by not being faithful to a strict conception of God’s oneness (tawיּűd). Salaflsm’s most prominent premodern authorities are Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), his student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350), and a number of reformist scholars who followed in their footsteps, such as Muhammad b. ’Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792) and Muhammad al-Shawkani (d. 1834), among others. Because Salafis are concerned with theological purity, they engage in exclusionary practices that can attain the level of excommunication (takfűr) of fellow Muslims, and embedded in this is the potential for direct action against individuals or institutions.

View the rest of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought excerpt here: Salafis