The Taliban follow Salafism

Salafism - Ideology of Modernity

Bernd Ridwan Bauknecht

After studying Islamic Studies and Empirical Cultural Studies (M.A.), he works as a teacher for Islamic religious instruction in Bonn. He was a member of the second German Islam Conference and also works as an expert for the Dialogforum NRW. His work focuses on religious education and religiously based extremism. He is doing his doctorate on Koran didactics and, in addition to a monograph, has written numerous articles in anthologies, magazines, encyclopedias and school books.

The Kaaba in Mecca is the main shrine of the Muslims, here surrounded by four buildings that symbolize the four schools of law Hanafiya, Malikiya, Schafi'iya and Hanbaliya. Detail from a Turkish miniature. (& copy Roland and Sabrina Michaud / akg-images)

The term Salafism is derived from the Arabic term "as-salaf as-salih" (as-salaf as-sālih˙ - The scientific transcription of the Arabic terms is given in brackets - Note d. Author.), Which is commonly translated as "righteous ancestors". This usually refers to the first three generations of Muslims, based on the prophetic work of Muhammad from the year 610 to the year 850. Unlike in the European context, where a generation spans 30 years, a human life of 80 years applies in Islamic historiography as a measure of a generation.

According to their own understanding, a Salafist is first of all someone who only recognizes the Koran, the tradition of the prophets and the belief and way of life of the ancestors as sources of an authentic Islam. This conviction need not cause concern at first, because in the eyes of many devout Muslims, turning to the sources of religion is worth striving for.

But many Salafists also consciously turn to public space and aim to convert society as a whole to piety. In this form, Salafism, on the one hand a withdrawn and on the other hand thoroughly missionary piety movement, is in part comparable with purist currents in Christianity.

Turning to public space can, however, lead to an ideologized and politicized reading of religion, according to which it is necessary to enforce a binding, inviolable and immutable order of human life in all areas of state, law and society, which is supposed to be prescribed by God. Instead of popular sovereignty, according to this reading, "God's sovereignty" is the supreme principle of order. On the other hand, the proponents of this ideological conception of religion strictly reject "man-made" laws such as those passed by parliaments.

Almost all Salafists have the same set of doctrines, but their correct application is hotly debated. While many of them are committed to jihadism (arab. & # 287ihad(Effort, struggle, effort, commitment), in the sense of an individual obligation to fight (mostly to enforce one's own positions), there are other Salafist subcultures that reject democratic values, see the armed struggle as legitimate and focus on it their thoughts and actions.

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Categories of Salafism

A three-part categorization of Salafism, which is widely accepted in science, goes back to the US political scientist Quintan Wiktorowicz. Accordingly, Salafists do not differ so much in their doctrines of faith (aqida), which are firmly anchored, as in the method (manhaj), which specifies how doctrines of belief should be applied to different areas of life and in dealing with society. So there are:
  1. "Purists": They emphasize the non-violent methods of proclamation, purification and education.
  2. "Political Salafists": You emphasize the application of Salafist beliefs for politics.
  3. "Jihadists": They take a more militant position, arguing that the circumstances call for violence and revolution.
Despite many overlaps, the security authorities follow this three-way division. The group of "political Salafists" and the "jihadists" are under surveillance by the police and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.



Salafism is a form of Islamism, a political ideology that uses Islam as a source of legitimation. The Islamic scholar Tilman Seidensticker (Islamismus, München 2014, p. 9) defines Islamism as follows: "Islamism is about efforts to reshape society, culture, state or politics on the basis of values ​​and norms that are viewed as Islamic." One of these endeavors is to distance oneself from parts of one's own religious-political history. Because, according to the Islamist point of view, the growing religious tradition tending towards diversity has led the Islamic world into the misery of the present, in which it is oppressed and dominated by the western world and its values.

To remedy this misery, Islamists want to put the "sovereignty of God" into practice. Religion is made absolute and is supposed to permeate individual, social and state life. But here a crucial dilemma arises: Who interprets and decides what divine intention is? Neither in the Koran nor in the traditions of the Prophet (or on the part of the twelve Imams of the Shiites) are there any indications of the specific way of exercising power. Within the established Islamic theology there are differentiated schools of methods (madhab, Pl. madahib, i. d. R. reproduced with "legal school"), but Salafism rejects the traditional reference to these method schools. For young people in particular, the simplified, reductionist theological doctrine, as it is often represented in Salafist circles, seems appealing. Because it promises alleged clarity, orientation and salvation and places itself in the light of absolute truth.

In addition to the broad spectrum of Salafism, the best-known Islamist groups include the Muslim Brotherhood founded in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban, the Nigerian Boko Haram and the Islamic State ( IS), which temporarily spread in Iraq and Syria. The development towards simplification and absolutization cannot only be observed in the context of Islam. Comparable "fundamentalist" or charismatic currents that strive for pure religion can also be found in Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. According to Seidensticker, the content elements are similar: timeless certainty of salvation for the followers of their own religion, a good-bad dualism, allegedly literal commitment to a scriptural canon and totalitarian visions based on an idealized primordial society.

Islam and its beliefs. (& copy picture-alliance, dpa-infographic, globe 5449)

This comparison makes it clear that a religion is often used to legitimize radical attitudes and actions, but does not have to be responsible for them. With regard to Islam, however, the term "Islamic fundamentalism" has not caught on in academic journalism over the past 15 years. Instead, the term "Islamism" is used in general. Salafism with its turn to public space and Islamism in general with its open political agenda point beyond a mere anti-modernization ideology as found in many fundamentalisms. Nevertheless, due to the orthographic similarity between "Islamism" and "Islam" - especially in adjectival use (Islamist and Islamic) - the term is controversial, especially among many Muslims, as it is often fatally confused in public discussion and in the media.

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Sunnis and Shiites

After the Prophet's death, a heated discussion broke out about his successor. One group was of the opinion that the rightful succession lay with the "rightly guided caliphs": The first were `Abdallāh Abu Bakr (632-634), the father of Muhammad's favorite wife Aisha, then` Umar ibn al-Chattāb (634-644 ), Uthmān ibn Affān (644-656) and `Alī ibn Abī Talib (656-661).

At the same time, another group emerged who believed that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, should have been the Prophet's first successor. The Prophet's cousin was murdered by the supporters of the later fifth caliph because he wanted to come to power. The "Party of Ali" (Shī` atu `Alī) forms the group of Shiites. They believe that only a blood relative of Muhammad should have been his successor or caliph, and so they see Ali as the only legitimate successor. After Ali's death, the Shiites split from the rest of the Muslims and appointed Hassan (Ali's first son) as the second imam. The third imam was Hussein, the second grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He died a martyr [in 680] in the battle of Karbala. Therefore, Karbala (in today's Iraq) is another central pilgrimage destination for Shiites after Mecca.

Other important Shiite sub-groups differ in how many and which imams they recognize. The Zaidites recognize five imams from the succession of Ali. The Ismailis' Seven Shiah recognizes seven imams and does not consider the blood relationship to the prophet to be decisive. The Imamites, the Twelve Shia, recognize twelve imams. For them, however, the twelfth is the "Hidden Imam", the Mahdi, whose return as savior of the world they are waiting for. In all three directions the first three imams are the same, namely Ali and his sons Hassan and Hussein. In the case of the Twelve Shiites, the respective imam is considered to be the successor of Ali. This imam represents a high authority and even holds political power in Iran, for example.

Sunnis and Shiites also differ fundamentally in which of the many hadith collections that have arisen over time are authoritative for them. Six canonical collections of hadiths have been established for Sunni Muslims (kutub as-sitta).

Shiite Muslims use to find the most important or authentic statements of the Prophet, especially four canonical collections of hadiths (kutub al-arab`a).

The islam. For children and adults, explained by Lamya Kaddor and Rabeya Müller, Verlag C. H. Beck, Munich 2012, p. 77 f.