Salafism as a Problematic for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

Document Type


Publication Date



The phenomenon of "global Salafism," as distinct from "Islamism," or "Political Islam," was only recognized by Western scholars comparatively recently. Over the last ten years, these scholars have laid the foundations for the study of Salafism as a cohesive ideological movement with members from across the Muslim world. It is now understood that, despite the wide range of political and theological views contained within these, a shared understanding of Muslim history, methodological approaches, and preferred classical scholars characterizes most, if not all Salafi environments, regardless of their geographical locations. Ethnographically detailed, historically sensitive studies on Salafism have now been carried out in several countries. Strangely, despite the strong Salafi presence in Egypt's post-'Arab Spring' political landscape, Egypt is not one of these. At a time when the need to understand the workings of Salafism, in both local and transnational guises, seems increasingly urgent, this article pauses to ask why this process of reflection has taken so long to develop. Several concrete reasons for Western scholarship's apparent myopia in the context of Salafism, both general and specific to Egypt, are here identified. The article concludes by drawing attention to some of the potential benefits of incorporating Salafi ideas and figures into contemporary Western Middle Eastern Studies curriculae and research programs.