Chapter Two: Faith and Religious Identity

Who are the Salafis/Wahabis?

Amongst the Hanbalis, there is a well-known movement called the Salafi movement. One of the most well-known Salafi groups are the wahabis, a movement with its origins in Saudi Arabia. Wahabis are vehemently against tomb worship, and many of the folk practices of Islam that have been tied to Sufism and/or reverence for particular mystics and holy men (often referred to as walis in Arabic).  According to Hanbal’s Islamic theology, these practices are seen as a form of idol worship, defined as a partnering of mortal human beings with God. This is fundamentally in contradiction with one of the main tenets of Islam: monotheism, or tawhῑd.

Salaf means ancestors, and the Salafis, or followers of the Salaf, believe that the spiritual and temporal practices of the earliest Muslims and companions of the prophet provide a comprehensive guide for current-day life and government. Muslim intellectuals of the 19th and early 20th century, grappling with the prospect of modernization and Westernization, saw much potential in this approach because of the universal principles contained in the Qur’an, the prophet’s words and the way he and his companions conducted themselves. The ideal was that they would find a way to adopt Western technology and institutions while applying Islamic concepts to how they would be adopted. As the movement progressed, however, it became more of a fundamentalist movement, and currently one hears about Salafis in the news primarily in connection to radicalization.