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Sectarian incidents like the burning of churches in Imbaba have put the spotlight on Salafis. Who are they, and what do they espouse, asks Amani Maged

ICC Note:

Al-Ahram reports on the founding and nature of Salafis, a radical Islamist group in Egypt that is responsible for the killing of many Christians. Though ICC is not in complete agreement with the article, the research of Salafi roots explains the Islamic ideology behind recent attacks targeting Christians.

5/12/2011 Egypt (Al-Ahram) – Who exactly are the Salafis? What kinds of them are there? What is their relationship to the government and what is their political future? Some have announced that they plan to establish political parties. How will recent events affect their popularity? 
It appears that Salafis come in various shades. They do not rally behind a single leader, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. Rather, they have a collection of sheikhs, each of which has its own following, and they have their own associations.

The history of Salafism in Egypt dates to the height of the university student movements in the 1970s, which is when Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya first made its appearance. Although most of the members of this society signed up with the Muslim Brotherhood, a significant number moved in another direction. This applies in particular to the Islamist students in Alexandria University who were influenced by Salafi thought that hailed from Saudi Arabia and was transmitted primarily by Al-Azhar university professors. Instead of joining the Muslim Brotherhood after withdrawing from Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, such individuals, most known among who was Mohamed Ismail Al-Muqaddam, formed a kernel of Salafism that began to grow as more and more students were attracted to that school of thought.

The third group consists of “jihadists”, a term that is generally applied to radical Islamist groups that espouse violence as a means to bring about change. The jihadist Salafis take their inspiration from leaders of the first generations of Islam, or the “pious forefathers”, for whom jihad — holy war — was a pillar of the creed. They hold that a pious Muslim is duty-bound to fight governments and rulers who do not apply Islamic law and the principle of the dominion of God, and who also ally with non-Muslim countries that make war on Muslim peoples and occupy Muslim territories. Sayed Qotb is regarded as the father of modern jihadist Salafi thought. The movement’s most famous leaders are the billionaire founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, who was recently assassinated by the United States, and the Egyptian physician Ayman El-Zawahri, and two of its most notorious ideological mentors are Abu Mohamed Al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada Al-Filistini.

The organisational side of the Salafis also has several branches or institutions, most notably the Ansar Al-Sunna Al-Mohamediya Society (the Followers of the Sunna of the Prophet Mohamed), founded by Sheikh Mohamed Hamed El-Fiqi, an Al-Azhar scholar. The society advocates a staunch monotheism and strict adherence to the Sunna, as understood by the Companions of the Prophet, and to Quranic scripture. It is, therefore, opposed to practices that are based on superstition and calls for an all-embracing Islam the embraces both faith and society, and the mode of worship and the mode of rule.

The third organisational form of Salafism is Wahhabism. Originating in Saudi Arabia and first introduced into Egypt more than a quarter of a century ago, Wahhabism acquired increasing currency in Egypt with the return of Egyptian workers following the Gulf War in 1991.

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