We frequently hear about Salafis these days. They have made unexpectedly big gains in the Egyptian parliamentary elections and are rearing their heads wherever we look in the Arab world.
But who are they?
A lot has been written about Salafis and that other variant of their's, Wahhabism, which is prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula and has been aggressively exported by Saudis to Arab countries and other places as well, such as Bosnia, the Caucasus and sub-Saharan Africa.
The conventional definition of a Salafi, which comes from the Arabic world salaf, meaning ancestor, is one who believes that Muslims should follow the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, and that this following should be reflected not only in leading a similar life to Muhammad’s in terms of acts of worship and behaviour, but also in appearance. Hence, the wearing of baggy kaftans and the growing of unruly beards.
You can always spot Salafis by their unkempt appearance. The male would typically sport a wild, scruffy beard and the female would look like a sack of potatoes (see below).
But there is another way of looking at Salafis. They are idolaters. In appearance and behaviour, Salafis practice the very idolatry which the advent of Islam was supposed to have wiped out from the Arabian Peninsula and the countries that subsequently became Muslim. Here's why I think so
Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, his successor, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, who became the caliph, delivered his inaugural speech in which he said:
O' Muslims, those of you who worshipped Muhammad let them know that he is dead; but those of you who worshipped God let them know that He is Alive, and will never die.
My argument is that, through their obsession with imitating every aspect of the deceased prophet, especially what they believe he looked like, the Salafis have in fact turned him into a substitute for God. At best, they worship him as God's equal and, at worst, they worship him in place of God.
In other words, Salafis are not Muslims. They are idolaters who might as well go and worship statues, just as the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula did before Islam.
And we all know what God commanded Muslims to do with idolaters (for which you can read Salafis):
Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage... [I]f they attack you put them to the sword. Thus shall the unbelievers be rewarded: but if they desist, God is forgiving and merciful. Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme. But if they desist, fight none except the evil-doers (2:190–93).