Fundamentalist Salafism Finds a Home Amongst Palestinians

Salafi Islam, often called ‘Wahabbism’ (though its followers could see that term as derogatory- Wahabbism is a more recent subgroup within Salafism), is a fundamentalist movement that has become popular among jihadists across the Muslim world. The movement urges adherents to return to the original, pure Islam that was practiced by Muhammad and the first three generations of followers, or As-Salaf us-Salih. Salafists emphasize strict shari’a law, and seek to disassociate Islam from what they consider outside influences, such as philosophy and politics. They forbid innovations, or bid’ah, that they say have improperly been introduced into Islam. Salafists view many practices throughout the Muslim world as innovations, and as such, the movement causes deep rifts among Muslims. For instance, the Salafi teaching (from Salafipublications.com),
gives an idea of how staunchly opposed Salafists are to bid’ah. There is also an emphasis on monotheism, and Salafists condemn many common Muslim practices as shirk, or polytheism.

The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) also warned against the People of Innovation, from befriending, supporting or taking from them saying: “Whoever innovates or accommodates an innovator then upon him is the curse of Allaah, His Angels and the whole of mankind.” Reported by Bukhaaree (12/41) and Muslim (9/140)

Salafism has appealed to many disaffected young European Muslims, who are attracted to the simplicity and universality of its teachings. It has also spread rapidly via the internet, offering young Muslims in the “diaspora” a neo-Islamic identity that links them to a global movement very different from the more localized Islamic identities that their parents brought with them from the old world.

In a Jerusalem Post op-ed, Jonathan Spyer details the growing Salafi influence in Gaza and the West Bank. Not surprisingly, the growth of Salafism as borne a wave of violence associated with protecting fundamentalist Muslim beliefs.

Analysis: Salafism – the worrying process of self-radicalization
Published Jul. 24, 2008
Jonathan Spyer , THE JERUSALEM POST

Over the last two months, Israeli security forces have arrested six young Arab men suspected of seeking to form an extreme Islamist cell for the purpose of carrying out high-profile terror attacks in the capital. Two of the six held Israeli citizenship, while the other four were residents of east Jerusalem. It appears that they were radicalized through involvement in an Islamic study circle and via the Internet. Two Arab Israeli citizens from the town of Rahat were arrested in recent weeks on similar suspicions.

This is an especially worrying case. The two suspects are southern Bedouin. Southern Bedouin have been undergoing a worrying process of Islamization, as one can clearly see by the growing number of new mosques sprouting up in their towns. They were suspected of passing information on to Al-Qaeda.

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these events reflect strange, unfamiliar patterns. Place them on a broader canvas, however, and the novelty sharply decreases. The latest events appear to reflect the arrival of global jihad methods and codes of practice to our shores.

They are the most visible part of a broader and little-remarked-upon process taking place in Jerusalem, the West Bank and (particularly) in Gaza. This is the growing presence of preachers, organizations and individuals committed to the extreme Sunni Islamist current known as “Salafiyya.” This is the ideology associated with al-Qaida. However, it is important to stress that what is happening is the penetration of ideas and models of activity, rather than the establishment of a new, centralized movement.

The process whereby young men become radicalized through contact with Islamist ideas via preachers or the Internet and then go on to form ad hoc terror cells has been observed in Muslim communities in Europe and further afield. So how is Salafism gaining its foothold west of the Jordan River? Through the relatively simple formula of preaching, education, the creation of groups of devotees, and the subsequent self-organization of those devotees.

In the West Bank, the removal of Hamas-affiliated imams in over 1,000 mosques has paradoxically opened the door for the rising prominence of Salafi-oriented preachers.

Some of the radical preachers are associated with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) party. This veteran Islamist group was long regarded as a curiosity because of its failure to maintain an armed wing and its refusal to engage in active politics. However, HT has enjoyed an unprecedented rise in popularity in the West Bank over the last 18 months. Many of its imams are known to be in contact with the broader, amorphous Salafi subculture. HT itself is not a Salafi grouping. But its role as a radicalizing force and then a conduit for young men to violent activity is a key concern.

Salafi Imams with significant regional links are also active. The presence of a certain Saudi-Palestinian sheikh in the city of Nablus, for example, is attracting the attention of the authorities. This individual, whose brother is in a Saudi jail accused of al-Qaida ties, has been in Nablus since early 2008. He has a lot of money (presumably from supporters in Saudi Arabia), and has been engaging in ‘Dawa’ (outreach) activities, gathering around himself a circle of young activists committed to the Salafi-Jihadi path.

Despite the significance of their activities in the West Bank, it is Hamas-controlled Gaza that remains the key area of activity for the Salafis. In Gaza, the Salafis have been particularly engaged in activities associated with the enforcement of Islamic “morality,” as they define it. These have included a rash of “honor killings” of both women and men. For example, members of the Salafi al-Saif al-Haq al-Islam vigilante group are considered responsible for the murder of the owner of the Teachers Bookshop – the only Christian bookshop in Gaza – on October 7 of last year.

32 year old Rami Ayyad was kidnapped, shot, stabbed, and dumped near the bookshop.

In the same month, Lina Suboh, daughter of a prominent Gaza university professor, was also murdered. These are two of hundreds of such killings that have taken place in Gaza over the last 18 months. They have been accompanied by bombings of various dens of iniquity in the Strip – including restaurants and cafes that allowed mixed dining.

But the Salafis are not concerned only with Palestinian internal moral health. Prominent individuals within existing political organizations are known to sympathize with this trend. This is particularly noticeable in Hamas’s armed wing in Gaza, Izzadin Kassam. Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, a leading tactician in the group, is considered close to the Saudi-Palestinian imam mentioned above. Rayyan is the most prominent of a large number of individuals in Izzadin Kassam in Gaza who are known to adhere to the uncompromising ideas of Salafism.

With Fatah and Palestinian secular politics in decay, and Hamas facing the failures associated with governance in the real world, the stage is set for the further growth of the Salafi trend. Its growth should be placed within the context of a broader Islamization of Palestinian politics and society, in line with regional trends.

It is not possible to draw any causal link between the growth of Salafism and the “self-radicalization” associated with it, and the three acts of terror by apparently “self-radicalized” individuals in Jerusalem over the last months. Undoubtedly, however, behind the scenes, this is an angle of investigation energetically being pursued.

On Wednesday, the Israeli security cabinet held its first discussion ever on the issue of the global jihad. One may assume that this discussion was not held purely for the general education of cabinet members. Salafi-Jihadism, with its hard-to-trace links between idea and deed, its loose frameworks of organization, and its utterly uncompromising ambitions, has arrived among us.

The role of the internet here offers an interesting parallel between the spread of new religious movements at the introduction of the printing press in the early 16th century, and a similar phenomenon at the introduction of cyberspace, another profound communications revolution, at the beginning of the 21st century. The major difference is that while when Christians try and recreate the life of the earliest disciples of Jesus, they tend to become pacifistic; when Muslims try to recreate the life of Muhammad’s disciples, they tend towards Jihad. And given the propensity of even the most pacific of Christian movements to become violent and authoritarian (Anabaptists at Münster), the prognosis is very worrisome here.

13 Responses to Fundamentalist Salafism Finds a Home Amongst Palestinians

  1. Carol Herman says:

    Those who have the oil, continue to set the rules.

    Now, made worse with China coming on line as a big user of energy; pushing more demand on the saud’s; where the American navy “delivers.”

    During Gulf War One, some of the navy ships were called “cruises.” Since nothing was going to upset the Bush’s, and their oil industry compatriots, in giving the saud’s what they wanted. (Though the saud’s took their time, and frightened the elder Bush, no end, while he was in the White House. And, the saudi clan actually hemmed and hawed.)

    Then what?

    Bush, Jr., wanted to run for the presidency. SO he had to appeal to “prince” Bandar, back in 1998. To get the green light. To run.

    Bush didn’t exactly make it “in” in 2000. But go ahead, try to find something nice about Gore, as his running mate; and you begin to see elections in the USA running with “less than talent” in their fuel tanks. (Both parties.)

    WHile innept policians run around Israel’s knesset; where suddenly Bibi plays the starring role. You won’t believe this, but Bibi was in the race, in the spring of 2006, that Ehud Olmert won.

    Olmert is a man of peace. Hated by members of his own party. And, this lunacy shows.

    Meanwhile, back in August 2001 … That’s before 9/11 … the junior Bush wrote a letter (hand written. 3 pages). To the king in Riyadh, promising Israel on a platter. It was such a good letter, the king even called up arafat on the phone. And, funded his trip into Riyadh to see this “masterpiece.” Still unseen by Americans. (Perhaps seen by the Mossad? But they don’t share their spectacular results! Why not? It would give away the methods they use to obtain “such and such.”)

    Does Obama have a chance? Well, it’s up there with the same “chance” Livni has. (Not much, in my book.)

    While there’s a paralysis on display in Israel. As if no one can lift a pen to tell the truth. (Which would include the crazy religious lunatics “waiting for Armageddon.)

    So many missed opportunities.

    With outcomes favoring those who hold oil reserves under their sands and soils.

    Hard to figure out outcomes. But, today, the police are threatening the russian guy. Gad-amn-ya. Or some such. WHich means that there are things going on with Jerusalem voters that have panicked the religious set. To send their police force out, yet again, to attack a candidate.

    Perhaps it’s just a minor Armageddon? Between factions? Where, oops. If the russian wins … say buh bye, in general, to anything not russian. (Perhaps? Close enough to Ben Gurion’s vision to pass muster?)

    Meanwhile ALL arab states are WEAK governments! That’s why they use whips and guns to keep their “subjects” under control. And, they’re fascinated by the threats they’d work IF they got their hands on nukes.

    Oh, yeah. Over in the United States, the CIA and the FBI are in turf battles. Along with the Pentagon and State.

    If Obama wins? He didn’t put this into his “note in the wall.” But I doubt he’d care to journey back, again. If Obama loses the election in November? Hard feelings that will be blamed on the Jews.

    While the USA and Israel both have their fair share religious lunatics; nothing comes close to the strange dreams the Wahhabists have. (Where they aren’t liked much. Heck, they weren’t even liked in Afghanistan!) But people have very short memories.

    And, the saud’s have tons of money.

    You want predictions? Olmert, a man of peace, met what happened to Jesus Christ, so long ago. But there’s no rising up after death. Do political deaths count?

  2. oao says:

    religion is all about power and control; it is about people stopping to think independently and critically.

    innovation, knowledge, reason — all these work against religion and disrupt the power of those at the top of the religious pyramid, who have either invented or conveniently convinced themselves that some “god” wants people to do what it (read: they) want. elegantly, as a divine source of power, it cannot be questioned or overturned. check and mate.

    religion is a human invention from the times when knowledge and reason were nil in relative terms. given what we have learned since then (which we would have never had had religion kept its power), anybody believing in this crap deserves what it gets.

  3. oao says:

    Olmert is a man of peace. Hated by members of his own party. And, this lunacy shows.

    you can’t be serious. his conversion to peace is a very recent one, because it was politically convenient.
    he would have never been PM were it not for the political circusmtances of sharon’s illness. he is incompetent and corrupt to the bone.

    it’s his notion of peace that’s lunacy. it has nothing to do with reality and everything with his self-centered effort to overcome his utter failures.

  4. oao says:

    You want predictions? Olmert, a man of peace, met what happened to Jesus Christ, so long ago.

    better i don’t comment, as i will be accused of being offensive.

  5. Rich Rostrom says:

    Bring back the Spanish Inquisition!

    Seriously, it looks today as though “religious police” are needed. A lot of dangerous and destructive activities take place, or are encouraged, under the cover of religion.

    For the last few centuries, religion was largely neutered, especially in the West. Religious organizations surrendered their exclusivist claims and state support, and in return the state renounced any authority over religion.

    But that exclusion from state control created an ‘ecological niche’: predatory and destructive groups survived in religious cover, e.g. Scientology. Cult groups like the FLDS proliferate.

    Much of what the Inquisitors did what we now call “deprogramming”: arguing with cult followers about their beliefs and forcing them to confront the nonsense in their indoctrination. Their authority for this came from the Church. But nowadays, no one has similar authority. The state, in particular, must be absolutely silent on religious doctrine, however horrendous the implications of a doctrine.

    To defeat Jihadism may well require confronting and refuting religious doctrines held by some Moslems. Who has the authority to do this?

    Some Moslem states (notably Iran and Saudi Arabia) have an “established church” with state-backed power to promote or enforce religious orthodoxy. But the West generally condemns them for this, as much as for character of their doctrines.

    (That is how jihadist preachers claim sanctuary in the West. The employment of state power in religious disputes is anathema in the West, even if directed against malignant doctrine or its advocates.)

    If Jihadism continues to flourish, there will, eventually, be some kind of drastic reaction. It might be Christian reaction, or it might be violent atheism, in either case bent on the general extinction of Islam

  6. KHarn says:

    Once again, CAROL HERMAN goes off-topic in order to rail against President Bush. Whatever will you do when he leaves office? You have so much invested in hating him!

    Written by OAO
    “innovation, knowledge, reason — all these work against religion and disrupt the power of those at the top of the religious pyramid,…”

    Strangely, science has florished under SOME religions while dying under others.

    >“Whoever innovates or accommodates an innovator then upon him is the curse of Allaah, His Angels and the whole of mankind.”)<

    And yet they spread this message via the INTERNET. Is this ironic, or just RETARDED?

  7. IRS says:

    …mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent…

  8. oao says:

    there will, eventually, be some kind of drastic reaction. It might be Christian reaction, or it might be violent atheism, in either case bent on the general extinction of Islam

    I don’t think so. by all appearances, neither christianity nor atheism have it in them to counter islam. in fact, they are doing everything in their power to ignore the jihad, appease the jihadis, and dhimmify themselves.

    Strangely, science has florished under SOME religions while dying under others.

    no. science has been stifled by religion and the latter has managed to survive only where it did not confict with the former. had religion not been politically neutered, we would have never had the knowledge of today.

    And yet they spread this message via the INTERNET. Is this ironic, or just RETARDED?

    religion has never bothered with consistency, by definition. and islam the least: there is no causality in islam, everything is the will of allah.

  9. Cynic says:

    there is no causality in islam, everything is the will of allah.

    Only when it’s in their favour. When not then it’s against the will of allah; and then they have an excuse to deny their culpability and go mad.
    Hypocrites, liars and rogues.

  10. oao says:

    Only when it’s in their favour. and then they have an excuse to deny their culpability and go mad.

    That’s what happens when you do away with causality. Then you can use the will ao allah every which way but loose as it suits you. if you’re not bound by reason, logic and consistency, hey man, you’re free. and you’re never responsible. god is a wonderful invention for that.

    Hypocrites, liars and rogues.

    no, no, no. you just don’t understand the mind of god. just submit to him and you’ll see the light.

  11. Lorenz Gude says:

    This article reminds me very much of Michael J Totten’s recent post ‘The Bin Ladens of the Balkans’ which describes similar Saudi backed salifist missionary activity using violence and coercion in Macedonia. It is clear that Salifi Islam is still on the march, has plenty of money and knows how to proselytize and coerce. The coercion, the thuggery, will be its undoing because because people have many other lifestyles to compare with this puritanical Wahabbism. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan perhaps the scariest words are: ‘We are here from Saudi Arabia and we’re here to help’

  12. oao says:

    It is clear that Salifi Islam is still on the march, has plenty of money and knows how to proselytize and coerce.

    And they face a collapsing culture which is too stupid and fearful not to be proselitized/coerced.

    The coercion, the thuggery, will be its undoing because because people have many other lifestyles to compare with this puritanical Wahabbism.

    I don’t think so.

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