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News | July 9, 2019

Owl in the Olive Tree post on "Culture as Counter Extremism: West African, European, and Southeast Asian Cases"

By Mark Woodward and Muhammad Sani Umar

Minerva-funded researcher Mark Woodward and Muhammad Sani Umar's Owl in the Olive Tree blog post on "Culture as Counter Extremism: West African, European, and Southeast Asian Cases".

While only a small percentage of Muslims are Salafis, most Muslim violent extremist movements (VEM) are rooted in Salafi teachings. Salafism is a revivalist Islamic theology rooted in the teachings of the 13th-14th century jurist Ibn Taimiyyah. Wahhabism, the only form of Islam permissible in Saudi Arabia, is based on those of his 18th century disciple, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Contempory versions of their teachings are known as Salafi-Wahhabism in many Muslim societies. The Saudi state, individual donors, and non-governmental organizations have spent untold billions of dollars to promote Salafi-Wahhabi teachings. They have generated a great deal of publicity and have established sustainable communities in many Muslim societies. They have not, however, been nearly as successful as it might appear. Surveys we conducted in eight countries in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Western Europe indicate that 85 to 90 percent of Muslims are Sufi-oriented traditionalists who reject Salafi teachings (2016 A Cross-National Survey of Muslim Attitudes). What we have found is that most analyses of Islamist extremism underestimate the role of cultural resistance to VEMs.

There are many kinds of Salafism. Those who established isolated communities, living pious lives as far removed as possible....

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