Salafism is a religious trend that advocates a literal and ultra-orthodox reading of Islam. Salafism is sometimes considered a sectarian movement, and it has been growing in the Maghreb since the eighties.
Salafism is derived from the Arabic word “salaf”, which literally means “predecessors”. The term “essalaf essalah” means “pious predecessors”, and refers to the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Salafism is not a homogeneous movement, but rather a complex and ever-changing one covering a wide spectrum of political opinions that often castigate each other.
In Tunisia, for instance, there are three major Salafi trends:
- Predicative or missionary Salafism aiming for the latent Islamisation of society, as well as its purification and education. This movement advocates an apolitical, nonviolent vision of Islam, for an organized lifestyle based on the fatwas, i.e. religious opinions, of Saudi scholars.
- Jihadist Salafism advocating direct, violent action, and claiming affiliation with al-Qaeda.
- The Liberation Party, “Hizb Tahrir”, campaigning for the re-establishment of the Caliphate and the overthrow of “infidel regimes”.
Salafists are a minority – as some experts estimate their number to be about 6,000 -, but they take center stage with their activism and dramatic interventions, such as accusing Nessma TV of broadcasting a blasphemous film, and trying to impose the niqab on the Manouba Faculty of Letters.
Furthermore, it must be recognized that the Salafi ideology controls several places of worship and most of the Islamic literature exposed in front of mosques.
But what’s the future of Salafists in the 21st century?
It should be emphasized that the practice of power and the need for alliances will bring a lasting change to the “Islamist” parties that came into power in Tunisia and Morocco. After decades of generational and organizational stagnation due to repression, these parties will experience new dynamics and internal conflicts.
Gobalization and global interdependence will determine new positions and a common ground for a watered down Islamist ideology that respects the modern legacy of Maghreb countries.
Moreover, these ruling parties that will be in charge of the economic and social sectors, will adopt a logic of compromise and gradualness. Consequently, they will face Salafism that is often in a position of breakage and rejection.
This situation will lead to disputes and divisions. Activists will have to position themselves behind doves and hawks, and extremist activists may join Salafists in a violent, anti-state and anti-West opposition.
This inevitable confrontation will weaken the Salafists who are not protected by the “Islamic state”. In the short term, they may make the most of the disillusionment of activists who are disappointed by the policies of Islamic governments, but they will be unable to have a global political vision because their role is merely that of a conservative lobby.
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