[Image credit: Women wearing niqabs in London. From PaoloNapolitano. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.]
London: Rejecting the myth that Salafis secretly support terrorism while publicly claiming to respect the law of the land, a British author after an extensive rsearch of more than two and half years found that they are actually explicitly against terrorism, non-violent and their mission is to nurture peacefully distinct Muslim identities.
"Salafism, often referred to as ‘Wahhabism’, is widely regarded as a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that fuels Jihadism and subjugates women. Some even lump ISIS and Salafism together—casting suspicion upon the thousands of Muslims who identify as Salafi in the West. After gaining unprecedented access to Salafi women’s groups in London, I discovered the realities behind the myths", Anabel Inge, a British researcher, said in an article published on Oxford University Press's blog (OUPblog).
"While aspects of their purist creed are shared by Jihadi groups, mostprobably the vast majority of—Salafis in Europe are explicitly against terrorism. Not only that, but they tend to oppose all formal political forms of organisation, such as political parties and campaign groups. Although they believe that the shari’a is the best system, they do not seek to impose it on non-Muslim countries", Anabel Inge, the author of 'The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman: Paths to Conversion' - due to release in November this year, added.
"Instead, their (not uncontroversial) mission is peacefully to nurture distinct Muslim identities. This includes a duty to proselytize to both non-Muslims and Muslims who have, in their view, ‘deviated’ from the ‘correct’ path", she said.
"During nearly two-and-a-half years of fieldwork with Salafi groups, I never witnessed any explicit or implicit support for Jihadism, or calls for shari’a for the United Kingdom. I only ever witnessed condemnation of the former, and express prescriptions to obey the law of the land.
"While it is, of course, possible that Salafis moderate their speech in front of researchers, it would become almost impossible to keep this up after a few months of regular interaction. That’s why long-term participant research is so valuable", she said.
"Once I became a familiar face in Salafi circles, I became less conspicuous and people were less likely to react to my presence. In fact, a few women felt comfortable enough to tell me about their prior sympathy with or involvement in Jihadi groups, such as Al-Muhajiroun, and why they had left these. Other Salafis had actually helped them to understand that terrorism was forbidden by the scriptures", she added.
"In Britain, the ‘Salafi’ label has been associated with non-violent, often quietist groups since at least the end of the 1990s. These Salafis have condemned Al-Qa‘ida and ISIS vocally and vociferously on public platforms—occasionally at some risk to their personal safety and reputations", she said.
"One preacher, for instance, encouraged his online followers to ‘mass distribute’ an anti-ISIS leaflet he had written, in which he urged anyone with information about terrorist plots to ‘inform the authorities’. That same preacher reported receiving death threats from ISIS sympathizers", she said.
Anabel Inge also rejected the myth that the Salafi Muslims are downtrodden, backwards, 'brainwashed', uneducated, alienated ‘drop-outs’ of society whose lack of education makes them ill-equipped to make sensible, rational decisions about their lives.
"My impression as a researcher was that these women are at least as likely as the general UK population to pursue higher education. Most of my interviewees had already started or finished university, and just one had no plans for further education. Most were also keen to launch or pursue existing careers", she said.
"Although five decades of research on New Religious Movements have yielded no empirical evidence for the so-called ‘brainwashing thesis’, it is nonetheless often regarded as the primary reason why people become ‘Islamic extremists’", she said.
"I found no evidence of so-called brainwashing. On the contrary, I found that the Salafi conversion process was largely intellectual, rather than based on social or other pressures.
"Each woman’s story was unique, but all spoke of coming to see Salafism as an approach that made rational sense to them. Typically, I was told that Salafism was an evidence-based methodology, with every single prescription tied to ‘authentic’ scriptural ‘proofs’, rather than to culture or human opinion. This gave the women—most of whom had been exposed to a plethora of Islamic interpretations—the reassuring certainty that they were following the ‘pure’ Islam", she said.