With its claim to constitute an authentic religiosity, Salafism exerts a strong power of fascination over the younger generations of European Muslims

This article was published in Oasis 28. Read the table of contents

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With its claim to constitute an authentic and uncontaminated religiosity, Salafism exerts a strong power of fascination over the younger generations of European Muslims, to whom it seems able to offer ethical certainty in a confused and rapidly changing world.  The example of the United Kingdom demonstrates how this interpretation of Islam has spread, from what forms of international support it has benefited and which currents it has brought into being.


Over the last decade, debates about Islam in Europe have been dominated by security concerns in light of the increased acts of terrorism committed by Muslims inspired by global networks such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Specifically, politicised Islamists and ultraconservative Salafi forms of Islamic religiosity have been linked to these international movements and have become the target of political and media concerns. Salafism in particular has been accused of providing the religious ideology that rationalises terrorist violence. This article provides a brief overview of Salafi beliefs and practices and outlines the migration, settlement and growth of Salafism in Britain and its possible future trajectories.



A New Religious Paradigm


Despite a growing body of academic literature on the subject, Salafism appears to be confounding analysts and commentators who misunderstand its religious nuances and internal diversity.[1] This is further complicated by the fact that some Salafis advocate peaceful co-existence while others employ violence to achieve social change. In any case, it is important to acknowledge that Salafism as religious paradigm has evolved over time and it needs to be understood contextually in relation to its theological claims and historical development.


Salafism as a term refers to a religious stream within Sunni Muslims which is “based on the pure, undiluted teachings of the Qur’an, the Sunna (Prophetic Traditions) and practices of the early Muslim generations (the Salaf).”[2] The reverence for these early Muslims is based upon their chronological proximity to the Prophetic period as they were noted for their exemplary piety and involvement in the early territorial expansion of Muslim power. This led some prominent theologians to suggest a causal relationship between the faith of the “pious forefathers” and their subsequent success in building the first Islamic empires.


A defining feature of Salafism is the insistence on correct, “pure” belief and action. The desire for religious hygiene is articulated in discourses about purity of belief, body and social interactions. This is manifested in a continuous state of boundary maintenance between Muslims and non-Muslims and “pure and impure Muslims.” The idea of theological purity—encapsulated in the slogan of “returning to the Qur’an and Sunna”— is one of the most well known of catchphrases in the linguistic repertoire of Salafis and indirectly hints at the impurity/deficiency of non-Salafi Muslims. This simple, seductive phrase, underlines the importance of referring directly back the two textual sources of authority in Islam—the Qur’an and Hadīth. This bears a resemblance with some forms of Protestant literalism which insist upon the clarity of scripture accessible to lay readers.

Salafism relies upon a literalist scripturalism, alternating between a set of binary opposites: tawhīd (oneness of God) as opposed to shirk (polytheism), loyalty to the Prophetic Sunna (personal behaviour) in matters of religious ritual as opposed to bid‘a (religious innovation) and rejection of most of Muslim intellectual history, let alone the by-products of modernity such as rationality, the humanities or liberalism, which are also considered bid‘a potentially contaminating Islam. Icontinua a leggere

To cite this article

Printed version:
Sadek Hamid, “Salafism in the UK. The Reasons for its Success”, Oasis, year XIV, n. 28, December 2018, pp. 87-95.

Online version:
Sadek Hamid, “Salafism in the UK. The Reasons for its Success”, Oasis [online], published on 27th March 2019, URL: https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/the-success-of-salafism-in-the-united-kingdom.