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  Why Salafi Islam is hostile towards traditional Islam: through the example of Turkey

Ismail Mollagil
2017 12 27

Everyone wants to understand how it happened that AKP (Justice and Development Party), which has been the ruling party of Turkey for 15 years, is dragging the country to disaster, in whatever light we view it. Not only for sociologists, but for all people it is important to understand the mentality that is behind this party, and why this mentality is hostile towards Turkish people, history, experience, identity, nature and sociology, why it so ruthlessly and harshly causes harm to the country. I suppose that such notions as "Salafism" and "booty" will help us to understand this topic better.

Salafism is an ideology that rapidly increases its influence among Muslims both in Sunni dominated countries and in Europe and America. Due to the fact that this ideology is capable of channelling the disappointment, resentment and impatience of collapse periods, it has recently become quite popular in the Islamic world, which is experiencing the crisis of civilization. In view of the cash support behind this ideology, the tension in the world politics, the unrest in the Islamic world, etc., the likelihood of its further spread is quite strong.

Not only radical structures, but also groups with moderate views, consciously or not, are under the growing influence of Salafism. From this point of view, Salafism is more like an inter-religious mentality than a separate school of Islam. This is a mentality you can see everywhere starting from political Islam and finishing with various tariqahs (sects). This mentality can often be observed among groups preaching violence, but it can also be found among extremely peaceful movements. Due to these characteristics of Salafism, it will be more appropriate to call it an ideology.

Well, why should we be concerned about the spread of Salafism? The Salafi ideology is based on the following statement: "Religion elevated us, but now we are at the bottom, because we turned away from the main essence of Islam. Therefore we need to get back to this essence, to the religion of our ancestors (Salafi)". Salafi here usually means the first three generations of Muslims.

Despite the fact that the Salafi trend and political Islam are different, they affected each other from the point of view of their fundamental ideas. As you know, AKP is a party of political Islamists. As we can see from the history and our days, having gained power, the representatives of the Salafi trend start going to extremes, in particular, they view those who think differently as murtads who fell away from faith, and consider the lives of such people, their property, women and children as war booty. Due to this, putting these views into practice, they formed different insurgency movements and shed blood of many Muslims.

This basic principle leads to certain practical and theoretical conclusions that deepen the crisis in the Islamic world even more. We will list some of them.

The denial of mind and science

When it comes to the mind, the Salafi ideology generally views this question as follows: instead of submitting dogmas to the mind, they submit the mind to dogmas. For them, mind is a confusing tool. Therefore, the mind should be turned off, especially when reading texts you should not ask too many questions. From this point of view, the representatives of Salafism are profound opponents of such methods as interpretation and comparison (conclusions based on comparison).

Similarly, they consider science to be only a tool for the transfer of certain information. Thus, religion for Salafists consists of information transfer and narration. Any compromise between the mind and information transfer does not make sense, and the search for such a compromise shows the lack of your faith.

On the other hand, according to the words of one Salafi scholar Abdullah ibn Baz, "Religion is very simple." It should not be made more complicated than it is. The questions that our mind prompts us will needlessly add complexity to this simple structure. Those who ask questions should stay away from such disciplines as philosophy, theology, social and political sciences.

• Within the state of emergency, which was announced in 81 provinces of Turkey by the decree taken by the Council of Ministers after the events of July 15, 2016, 934 schools, 104 educational and charity foundations, 35 medical institutions, 109 student dormitories, 1125 associations for education and social assistance, 199 syndicates were closed. Most of them were closed due to their affiliation to Gulen’s community. Only from the Ministry of Education 33 230 people were dismissed (https://www.amerikaninsesi.com). On the basis of the same decree, 15 Turkish universities were closed. 8 693 teachers from 110 different higher educational institutions were dismissed. Some of them were arrested. The closure of universities placed 61 382 students in a difficult position regarding their studies. Again, within the framework of the aforementioned decree, 149 mass media were closed, 231 journalists were arrested (https://turkeypurge.com). In the process that began after July 15, 2016, an unprecedented mass destruction of books started in the country. The history of Turkey did not know such a destruction starting from the world-famous Mongol invasion and ending with our days. Millions of books, magazines, encyclopaedias were burnt or secretly thrown away in the woods by AKP supporters or the frightened owners of these books. 20-25-year-old Internet archives belonging to the media organization closed by AKP regime were completely deleted.

The denial of traditions

Salafi circles generally deny such Islamic sciences as kalam, tasawwuf and philosophy, which constitute a part of the intellectual and spiritual Islamic tradition. According to the Salafi philosophy, the Salafi were not engaged in these sciences, the Islamic tradition within these sciences extremely deviated from its true essence, philosophy is misleading, kalam is dangerous and tasawwuf is a fictitious science that was invented later on. In the result of this extreme rejection, Salafism moves away from traditions, and thus from the wisdom accumulated within them. This situation inevitably leads to externalism. As a result, you have only the outward form of religion and rituals, which means primitive and inconsistent normativism and formalism. The fact that in more recent times the talks about religion have become so shallow is due to the influence of this mentality.

• Due to the fact that Salafism considers itself to be the essence of Ehli Sunnet (true followers of Sunnah), and thereby places itself in the centre of Islam, the representatives of Salafism look down on the representatives of other Islam schools, ostracize and have negative attitude towards them. This is a reason for disdaining all historically developed Sufi tariqahs (sects) and jamaats (communities), the desire to bend them to submission and to destroy those who disobey. In Turkey, everything possible is done in order to put an end to all existing religious structures, and first of all, to Gulen’s community, or to bend them to submission. For example, thousands of institutions belonging to Gulen’s community were confiscated, seeking to undermine its financial state, and on the other hand, these institutions were transferred to other communities and tariqahs. In this way, these communities and tariqahs become the accomplices of the committed crimes, receive support, but the worst thing is that they are destroyed spiritually. It will eventually lead to digging a pit for the Muslim community (Ehli Sunnet), which has united the diversity of religious schools for centuries.

The denial of culture and nature

The general Salafi approach is to deny any interpretation of Islam except within the framework of Hejaz-Nejd culture. Salafism considers the interpretations of Islam, created within Turkish, Kurdish, African, Persian, Indo-Pakistani, Chinese, and other cultures, distorted. The Salafi do not accept that different interpretations of Islam, depending on the needs of a particular territory, are an inevitable necessity, but consider them to be a betrayal of the essence of Islam. Thus, Salafism either disdainfully treats local cultures or rejects them. In addition, it declares the invalidity of religious synthesis, created in the light of local cultures within many centuries, and thereby creates tension. To illustrate this denial of local culture, we can remind of the barbarous destruction of Buddha statues that used to exist in Afghanistan untouched for thousands of years, despite the presence of Muslims there.

• Erdogan also turned such historical monuments as Dolmabahçe Palace, Yildiz Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace, Huber Pavilion into its offices and ruined their historical architecture with various concrete extension, calling them restoration. By giving permission to businessmen in his immediate circle for the construction of skyscrapers, he spoilt the silhouette of historical Istanbul. He forced the construction within the forest zone of Bilkent University, built a palace in Ataturk forestry that is a protected area, allowed the construction at high-mountain pastures (yayla) in the Black Sea region of Turkey, which led to the destruction of greenery. As he admitted himself, he transformed such cities as Istanbul and Bursa into concrete jungles. Unfortunately, in other cities of Turkey, the authorized representatives of AKP also caused damage or even destroyed buildings that belong to historical and cultural heritage.

The notion of booty

The booty is defined as property, money and prisoners captured from the enemy during the war, as well as property and things stolen during looting. According to the Islamic rules, the one-fifth of war booty is paid to the state treasury, while the remaining part is left to the soldiers as their ‘sword share’. It is obvious that AKP government labelled Turkey as a plunderable "enemy", and using religious arguments managed to convince its electorate on this issue. Otherwise, it is impossible to understand this madness. After all, AKP voters many times repeated in their social accounts that the property, wives and lives of these "enemies" are halal (permissible in accordance with the Islamic law). In the result of this "looting" the obtained booty includes the following:

134 194 people lost their public posts (work and salary from the state to their supporters), 95 458 people were placed in detention (detention can last up to two years), 47 685 people were put under arrest (about 17 000 women and 700 babies), 2 099 schools, dormitories and universities were closed (these buildings and property are distributed among the supporters of the regime), 1 289 companies were expropriated (their total market value is more than 10 billion Euros) (http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr).

Ill temper

Salafism is basically dissatisfied with the time it exists in. Its representatives want to return to the past, which they crystallize in their minds. However, since this is an unreal longing, the tense reality makes them feel angry. They are constantly irritated, because the world invariably disproves them. They feel dissatisfaction, because their desire to simplify everything faces the complexity of real life. This is nihilism at the same time. Just like other puritan trends, Salafi ideology is forced either to resort to violent means or to shrink into oneself.

• AKP supporters’ nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire times roughly uses all the values, symbols and notions that have come down from the history. This nostalgia that found its reflection in the foreign policy triggered the occurrence of various political events from Sisi’s coup in Egypt to the internal war in Syria, all of which have become harmful for Turkey. As a result, Turkey found itself in tense relations with all its neighbours and is forced to accept about 3 million Syrian refugees. Being so close to joining the EU, it is on the edge of disrupting all relations with the EU now. Turkey passes and receives diplomatic notes from the USA, it even found itself in the situation when the issue of disengagement from NATO is on the agenda.


It seems that Salafism negatively influences the worldview of many Muslims on various issues, including such concepts as mind, science, tolerance, culture, art, women's rights, etc. In order to defeat this ideology, it is necessary to focus on such notions as mind, individual, science and pluralism. Moreover, strong self-confidence is necessary in this issue. Uncertainty and compliance in relation to this ideology will not bring much benefit.

At the same time, it is necessary to put on the agenda such issues as freedom within the framework of traditions, due evaluation of mind, avoidance of scarifying individuals for the sake of society, respect for art, active participation and equality. It is necessary to promote these concepts among people and, of course, to reinterpret them with due account of modern conditions. In the face of the Salafi ideology, one must rely on the strength of traditions, understand the modern era and act with strong self-confidence.

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