The Salafi movement or Salafist movement or Salafism is an ultra-conservative reform branch or movement within Sunni Islam that developed in Arabia in the first half of the 18th century against a background of European colonialism. It advocated a return to the traditions of the “devout ancestors” (the salaf). Some scholars define this movement as Modernist Salafism.
The movement emerged as a liberal one, in later 18th century Egypt – this variant is nowadays qualified as Modernist Salafism – before taking its contemporary orientation in the 1920s, which ascribes itself in the ideology lineage of Ibn Taymiyya and has merged with the wahhabism which is now considered as synonymous.
Some 21st-century scholars have suggested there was a medieval form of Salafism, but there is little evidence of this. Generally scholars believe the Modernist form has been superseded since the mid-20th century by what is called Purist Salafism.
The Salafist doctrine can be summed up as taking “a fundamentalist approach to Islam, emulating Muhammad and his earliest followers – al-salaf al-salih, the ‘pious forefathers’.” “They reject religious innovation or bid’ah, and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic law).” The movement is often divided into three categories: the largest group are the purists (or quietists), who avoid politics; the second largest group are the activists, who get involved in politics; and the smallest group are jihadists, who form a small minority.
The Salafi movement is often described as being synonymous with Wahhabism, but Salafists consider the term “Wahhabi” to be derogatory. At other times, Salafism has been described as a hybrid of Wahhabism and other post-1960s movements. Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam. Particularly in the West it is associated with Salafi jihadists, who espouse jihad as a legitimate expression of Islam against those they deem to be enemies of Islam.[page needed] Traditional Salafism concentrated in Saudi Arabia is opposed to the newer groups calling themselves people of Salafism, such as the Muslim Brotherhood concentrated in Egypt, whose leaders such as Sayyid Qutb call for revolutions and secularism in deep contrast with Saudi Arabia historically.
In legal matters, Salafis are divided between those who, in the name of independent legal judgement (ijtihad), reject strict adherence (taqlid) to the four Sunni schools of law (madhahib), and others who remain faithful to these.