Salafi Islam

The Spring 2011 edition of Trumpet Sounds carried an article on the Muslim Brotherhood. It looked at its history and explained why despite being persecuted by the state it had steadily gained in popularity. The article predicted that the Muslim Brotherhood was poised to fill the political vacuum left by the overthrow of Mubarak.

What was not foreseen at the time was the rise of an even more extreme brand of conservative Islam. The Salafi Al-noor party has gained about 25% of the popular vote in Egypt. They gained support by claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood who has been prepared to achieve its goals through political means was not being true to Islam.

The Salafism originated in the mid 19th Century as an intellectual movement at al-Ahazar University in Cairo.  The name Salafi comes from as-salaf as-saliheen, the ‘pious predecessors’. It looks back to the early Muslims who it holds practiced Islam correctly. With the clamp down on fundamentalists by Nasser and Sadat many Salafi’s fled to Saudi Arabia where they were welcomed by King Faisal. Over time the two conservative branches of Islam the Salafi’s and the home grown Arabian Wahhabi’s, have merged although there are many sub groups and much infighting.

During the last year Saudi Arabia has used its huge financial power to change the direction of the Arab Spring. Today in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt we are seeing the rise of ultra conservative Islamic parties which have been sponsored by Saudi Arabia. The last year has witnessed the spread of Saudi hegemony over the region.

According to our media Syria is in the throes of a popular uprising against a violent dictator. Another interpretation of events is that a struggle is taking place between the government of Assad and the Saudi funded Salafi’s. The Saudi’s supported by the USA want to topple Assad because of his alliance with Iran the arch enemy of the Gulf States.

The Assad regime is unquestionably awful. But for the minority groups such as the Christians who have benefited from toleration by the Syrian government the prospect of a Salafi takeover is far worse. With the rise of the Salafi’s the speed at which the Middle East will return to fundamentalist Islamic practices will accelerate. We need even more to pray for the Christians in the Middle East that they may have wisdom how to live in a turbulent time.