This important collection, which brings together some of the most prominent and insightful researchers in the field, explores how representatives of various strands of Salafism have sought to deal with the forces unleashed during and after the Arab uprisings. The contributors show that, while the uprisings had little to do with religion in the first instance, one of their unintended consequences has been a remarkable set of transformations in the discourse, action, and social and political positioning of Salafi actors across the Middle East. Drawing on fieldwork in locations from Morocco to Kuwait, they trace new debates between scholars, activists and publics, shifts within existing movements and realignments in their relations with each other, and most importantly an effusion of newly politicized Salafi currents across the region. The most famous example of these novel political actors is the al-Nour Party in Egypt, which emerged out of historically quietist circles in Alexandria in the wake of the 2011 uprising and within months was able to ally with other new Salafi parties to secure 25 per cent of the vote in that year’s parliamentary elections. While the story of al-Nour is told here by Khalil al-Anani, other contributors—in studies mostly arranged country by country—trace less well known but nonetheless very significant shifts elsewhere. Standout chapters include one by Zoltan Pall, who shows how debates about the legitimacy of public protest and revolution led to the increasing fragmentation of the Salafi scene in Kuwait; an account by Joas Wagemakers of how Salafis in Jordan have been polarized, as the country’s Jamʿiyyat al-Kitab wa-l-Sunna movement cheered on new Salafi parties abroad and in doing so spurred renewed resistance to politicization from their quietist Salafi compatriots; and Stéphane Lacroix’s narration of unusual alliances between Sahwa figureheads, ‘Islamo-liberals’ and Shiʿi activists in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Thomas Pierret offers an impressive synthetic overview of the formidably complex, interconnected patchwork of militant movements that has emerged in the context of the Syrian civil war. Importantly, the focus on the dynamics of politicization throughout much of the volume is juxtaposed with a study by Laurent Bonnefoy of the ways in which figureheads of quietist Salafism, including the Saudi scholar Rabiʿ al-Madkhali and the Yemeni Yahya al-Hajuri, responded to this unprecedented challenge to their authority. His account underscores that, while quietists were initially caught off guard by the uprisings and found themselves in the uncomfortable position of lending support to failing rulers like Muammar al-Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh, the turmoil and violence that has followed has the potential to bolster their message that popular political contention is a recipe for chaos and divisive partisanship. A strength of the volume is that it serves to illustrate that, while the Arab uprisings did catalyse this new wave of politicization and quietist reaction, 2011 was not a clear-cut moment of breach. Rather, dynamics that played out across the region at this point were shaped by the differing histories of Salafism within each country, as well as by historical Salafi dynamics in other countries. It is well known that the Saudi Sahwa from the early 1990s provided an influential model for Salafi political action beyond the Kingdom’s borders. But it is also the case that Salafis have been engaging in parliamentary politics in Kuwait since the early 1980s, under the influence of the Egyptian expatriate scholar ʿAbd al-Rahman ʿAbd al-Khaliq. Not only in Pall’s chapter but also in passing references in other country case studies, Kuwaiti Salafis emerge here as having exerted important influence beyond Kuwait’s borders in the period from 2011. Judit Kuschnitzki, in her chapter on Yemen, observes that ʿAbd al-Khaliq had long been a point of reference for some within that country’s al-Hikma association, which helped to pave the way for the emergence of Yemen’s first Salafi party—the Rashad Union—in 2012. Meanwhile, Lacroix notes that those behind the founding of Saudi Arabia’s first political party in 2011—the Umma Party—took inspiration from past works by the Kuwaiti scholar Hakim al-Mutayri. Meanwhile, Pall and Pierret together show that these long-established Kuwaiti Salafi networks became a key transnational hub for channelling funds to militant movements in Syria. Another important point that is confirmed throughout the volume is the array of power-laden struggles at stake in the evolution of Salafism in recent years. The book’s subtitle points to the influence of ‘people power’ and it is certainly true that Salafism appears to have been profoundly impacted by displays of peaceful mass protest effecting sweeping political change. This played out both in a positive sense in that Salafis found inspiration in these episodes of popular mobilization, and also in a negative sense in that they feared being marginalized unless they staked a claim in the uprisings themselves. But Salafism in this period has also been shaped by many other structures and forms of power. Geopolitics has of course been key, as regimes across the region have allied themselves with different factions in Syria and elsewhere; and there are hints here of how competition for such backing has contributed to shaping the stances taken by local Salafi actors. But we also learn more about how the repressive and regulatory powers of states within their own borders have shaped Salafism. Wagemakers, for example, touches upon the ways in which Jordanian Salafis have been caught up in the state’s efforts to bureaucratize and co-opt civil society. In many ways, this book has the feel of a postscript to Global Salafism (Hurst, 2009), an earlier edited collection which marked the consolidation of a growing research agenda committed to approaching modern Salafism as something more than just a security concern. Indeed Roel Meijer, the editor of that earlier volume, provides the concluding chapter here. That being the case, what does this latest contribution tell us about how this research agenda has progressed in the intervening period? Something that is clear in these pages is how firmly the influence of an even earlier pioneer of scholarship on Salafism, Quintan Wiktorowicz, continues to be felt. One way in which this legacy plays out is the concern with typologies that is to the fore in this book, just as it is a key feature of the wider literature. Besides his study on Jordan, Wagemakers also contributes a chapter critiquing Wiktorowicz’s influential argument that all Salafis share the same basic creedal principles but that their differing interpretations of social and political realities divides them into three categories—the ‘purists’ who spurn politics, the activist ‘politicos’ and militant ‘jihadis’. These debates about categorization are taken up in many of the other chapters. To some readers, this drawn-out debate about typologies might at first glance seem frivolous. Yet it is shown here to be a productive endeavour that generates real insights. It offers ways into considering important questions about the relationship between religious principles and political action, for example. It also provides a point of reference for appreciating the new layers of complexity and ambiguity brought about by developments in recent years. For example, we hear of ‘quietists’—designated as such because they ‘profess unconditional loyalty to incumbent Muslim regimes’ (p. 147)—who are deeply engaged on the battlefields of Syria. We also hear how Salafis in Kuwait have developed what in some ways sounds like distinctively ‘purist’ arguments in favour of joining that country’s political opposition. Political opposition is permitted under the constitution, they reason, which has the endorsement of the ruler; thus, to join the opposition does not conflict with what they understand to be a religious requirement to respect the authority of the incumbent ruler. The second of Wiktorowicz’s legacies is felt in the theoretical touchstones that feature throughout the volume. The primary contribution of most of the chapters is empirical and they should be valued first and foremost on those terms. But many authors make at least passing reference to theory, to help them make sense of their case studies; and to the extent that they do, the rather staid brand of social movement theory that was pioneered by Wiktorowicz as a framework for understanding Islamist movements remains a key influence, alongside some use of the concept of post-Islamism. These are more or less predictable points of reference and—in keeping with the broader literature on Salafism, and even Islamism more generally—this kind of social movement theory in particular all too often seems to be used primarily as a source of vocabulary to describe insights that could have been delivered without it, rather than offering real explanatory leverage. It is to be hoped that, as the literature on modern Salafism continues to grow and evolve, scholars will continue to cast the net more widely for analytical tools to help them think in new ways about this complex phenomenon. The value of doing so is underlined in Meijer’s concluding chapter, where he makes refreshing use of a definition of politics informed by the work of French political theorists like Chantal Mouffe. In doing so, he is able to sketch the outlines of an original and potentially fruitful framework for understanding the different Salafi currents’ complex relations with ‘the political’. Overall, this is a valuable and insightful volume, which will be an essential reference not only for scholars with a specific interest in Salafism but also for those researching the Arab uprisings and their aftermath, or the relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East. Its accessibility makes it suitable for reading assignment at either undergraduate or postgraduate levels. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 8, 2018
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