Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Moderate Salafism and the Challenge of De-Radicalization: The Case of Pakistan

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Moderate Salafism and the Challenge of De-Radicalization: The Case of Pakistan

Article excerpt


Salafism, generally described as Wahhabism (named after the 18th century preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab/1703-1792), is a Sunni sect that normally advocates abolition of popular religious practices such as visitation to shrines and tombs (Commins, 2006; For more about the term Wahhabi, see Encyclopedia Britannica; Dillon, 2009). Abd al-Wahab initiated his revivalist activity in the Najd region, mainly drawing inspiration from the teachings of Medieval theologian Ibne Taymiyyah. The British also adopted this term and expanded its use in the Middle East. In the US, the term "Wahhabi" was used in the 1950s to refer to "puritan Muslims." However, Salafists today would not like to be called Wahhabis (see "The King of Arabia," Life Magazine, 31 May 1943, p.72; Wiktorowicz, 2006). The state of Saudi Arabia is considered to be the main financial sponsor of Abd al-Wahhab's teachings around the globe (Glasse, 2001). The phenomenal growth in Wahhabism is reported to have become possible due to the official patronage by Saudi Arabia through petro-dollars during the 1970s (El-Fadl, 2005). The other key contributing factor in the Salafi expansion is the Khomeini Revolution in Iran which became the "other" of its ideology (ibid).

Salafism and/or Wahhabism, which are used as synonyms in problematic ways, are key terms widely used both in academic scholarship and popular media. Salafism is more often associated with all different kinds of Islamist movements (and thus with violence and militancy) across the globe which may or may not be ideologically rooted in Salafism. In popular perception, Salafism invokes an image of a male person sporting long beard and wearing long white dress. Likewise, a "typical Salafist" woman is supposed to be covered in black dress. Their main Islamist career is generally thought to be committing suicide attacks on their opponents (see proceedings of the AJCS conference on Salafism in the Arab world; see also, Ali, n.d). Due to such portrayals and media constructions, Salafism has been groomed into an overarching category deployed inaccurately to refer to "any Islamic movement that has an apparent tendency toward misogyny, militant-ism, extremism, or strict and literal interpretation of the Quran and Hadith" (DeLong-Bas, 2004, pp. 123-124).

A handful of studies have critically examined the interchangeable use of Salafism with terrorism and ultraconservatism (Chabkoun, 2014). An example of academic revisit is the international conference organized by the Al-Jazeera Center for Studies (AJCS). Conference proceedings indicated Salafist varieties in the Arab world and thus contested the confinement of the Salafi movement to a singular social expression. The delegates agreed on the non-singular manifestation and the existence of a multiplicity of forms within the Salafist phenomenon. Pakistan and any other South Asian examples, however, were not taken up during the conference. Ahmad Ban (2013) refers to different social trajectories of Salafism in Egypt that "branch out into a diversity of Salafist movements, which intersect, proliferate, coexist and compete with each other at times" (also see here Lakatos, 2014 on the Arab Spring in Egypt). These include charity and proselytization movements, political organizations, militant groups, and youth groups (ibid).

To overcome the limitations (geographical focus excluding Pakistan) of previous studies conducted on Salafism, this research mainly focuses on the empirical example of Pakistan and thus bridges the gap in academic literature. Theoretically, the research deviates from the widespread security-driven approaches to the study of Salafism in Pakistan. This departure enables us to take a humanistic angle towards out research subjects and prevents us from falling prey to essentialism.

After a brief introduction, the remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Section one presents a brief review of literature and an analysis of the gaps in academic scholarship on the subject. …

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