Salafism is a fundamentalist Islamic movement that strives to practice Sunni Islam as it was practiced by Muhammad and his closest disciples. Although Salafis practice differently, Salafis by and large agree that Islam has been corrupted by “centuries of human interpretation” and call for a return to the practices and beliefs of the al-salaf al-salih (the “pious forefathers”), the first few generations of Muslims after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Salafis also typically renounce bida (religious innovation) and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic canonical law).

There are three main strains of Salafism today: quietist Salafis, Salafi-Jihadis, and Salafi-Takfiris. So-called quietest Salafis—comprising the overwhelming percentage of the global Salafi population—typically consent to the geopolitical status quo and strongly oppose rebellion and anarchy. Until the rise of modern Islamist terrorism, Salafism was traditionally associated with the quietest consensus.

Salafi-Jihadis, by contrast, distinguish themselves from quietist Salafis through their willingness to exert violence upon certain populations. The most notorious example of such a group is al-Qaeda, the anti-Western terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Today, al-Qaeda and its global affiliates and offshoots continue to target the United States, Western Europe, Western Christendom, and so-called “Zionist entities” and their allies in pursuit of a reorganization of the geopolitical world order around sharia.

Salafi-Takfiris, finally, supplement the same commitment to violent jihad and sharia with a willingness to embrace takfirism, the process by which self-described Muslims accuse other self-described Muslims of apostasy. Under the Salafi-Takfiri worldview, the so-called enemies of Islam include not only the Western world but also entire religious groups, including the world’s 200 million Shiite Muslims. Unlike Salafi-Jihadis, who may still be willing to practice takfir on individual self-described Muslims, Salafi-Takfiris are known to sweepingly accuse whole groups of apostasy, thereby calling for the genocide of entire religious sects. ISIS, founded as al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004, is the most notorious proponent of this form of Salafism.

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