Briefing: Salafia – the radical Islamic group

The Times (England), Aug. 30, 2002
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,343-399222,00.html
by julian lee

The man charged with attempting to hijack a flight from Sweden to London was travelling with a group who were on their way to a Salafi Islamic Conference in Birmingham. Salafia has been linked to the September 11 hijackers, Richard Reid, the British ‘shoe bomber’ and terror suspects arrested in Europe.

  • Salafia is not a sect but an interpretation of Islam, defined by the fact that it does not follow rigidly any of the four schools of Islamic law, Hanbali, Malakim, Shafi and Hanafi, but instead chooses what it regards as the best aspects from each school.
  • It takes its name from the Arabic word “salaf” meaning forefathers. Followers attempt to emulate the behaviour of the first three generations of Muslims that followed the death in the 7th century AD of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • The interpretation has become increasingly popular in recent years, as it has been regarded as a modernising influence. The leading centre for the study and export of Salafi ideas is the Islamic University of Medina, in Saudi Arabia, which was founded by the king in 1961 “to convey the eternal message of Islam to the entire world”.
  • Ultra-conservative elements of Salafia tend to place great emphasis on jihad, the Islamic term for a holy war. However only a minority of Salafis are militant. There are extremist wings to Salafia such as the Salafist Preaching and Combat Group, an outlawed organisation that has been linked to a number of terrorist attacks, including a bomb blast in Paris in 1995.
  • In its earliest days, followers of Salafia attempted to adapt the teachings of Muhammad to modern life as they believed Islam had become too rigid in its adherence to the four schools of law.
  • Salafia encompassed the first feminist movements in Islam and applauded modern science as being an authority that was on an equal footing with the Koran. Because of its refusal to adhere to any one school of thought, Salafia has been vilified by many Muslims for its unorthodox approach to the religion.
  • Newspaper reports last October suggested that all of the suspected Islamic terrorists arrested in Europe after September 11 followed an extreme version of Salafia. The FBI found evidence in the briefcase of one of the September 11 hijackers, linking him to Salafism.
  • Richard Reid, the British ‘shoe bomber’ who is accused of trying to blow up a transatlantic flight to the United States, became a Salafi follower after he left prison (he had served a five year sentence for robbery and theft) in 1996. He worshipped at a Brixton mosque.
  • The Muslim parliament of Great Britain estimates the number of UK Muslims who follow the Salafi way is fewer than 1,000. Communities are spread across Britain, with significant pockets in Birmingham, London and Manchester. The Blackburn constituency of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has two Salafi mosques.
  • Professor Bernard Haykel, Professor of Islamic Law at New York Unviersity, says there are huge divisions in Salafism between those who advocate violence and those who do not: “There are two types of Salafi. The numerical majority are those who do not advocate violent action. All the rest are known as Jihadi Salafis. They advocate violence against Westerners, America and Israel, certainly, and also against Muslims who they see as being turncoats who don’t subscribe to their ideologies.”
  • The Birmingham conference, which takes place between August 30 and September 1, consists of a series of seminars about Islam and speakers including Sheikhs from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait.
  • Its organisers strongly deny any link between Salafia and terrorism: “You cannot say you are a Salafi and jump on an airline and kill people or do the same on a bus in Tel Aviv and say you are following the true path of Islam,” said Abu Khadija, a Trustee of Salafi Publications, which is organising the event.

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