The phobia of Salafis, and the stereotyping

The Salafi School of thought in Islam is widely criticized for upholding fundamental Islamic stand vis-à-vis society and politics of Kashmir. In Kashmir, the Indian Barelvi movement that upholds innovations and customs over the actual historical-contextual teaching of Islam is on the rise. Whenever the Salafi School addresses the fallacies of the Barelvi movement, it often turns into a violent confrontation between the members. On the eve of Eid-e- Milad, this year, a Salafi Imam (preacher) was physically assaulted in South Kashmir. The incident brought home a point that Salafis are neither tolerated and nor are their views heard in a majority Muslim State of Kashmir.

The opinions about this Islamic School and its followers have universally become antagonistic. The western media with reports on the problems between West and the Muslim world has sought to criminalize the Salafis in an almost vicious way. It has used terms like Wahabism as ahistorical terms synonymous with terrorism. All of this comes from their experience in Syria with the Islamic State of Levant and Syria (ISIS) or Daaish as they are known in Arabic. The Islamic State claims to have its ideological partiality laid on Salafism.

The West seems to have missed out on the fact that ISIS cannot be synonymous with the entire School of thought. A religious thought is available for everyone to study, embrace or denounce. If any party claims to have adopted a certain ideology, it is the organization that is liable to follow the teachings of its ideological brain. It is up to the human wit to first thoroughly study the ethics of Salafism, then compare that to the engagements of ISIS and look into it that if there is any teaching or instruction that bridges the organization to its claimed mother ideology.

A constructive criticism is welcome to any School of thought, however, when criticism is merely based on presumptions and stereotypes, it becomes difficult to discern. The Salafist religious ideology is seen as some kind of terrorism sponsor in the West, clearly due to its antagonistic relation with ISIS but in Kashmir, Salafism faces prejudice even from Muslims who consume Western media, completely sidelining its history and contribution.  The frustration from the West is understandable, but the irrational outbursts of fellow Muslims in Kashmir are a disappointment and a setback to the spirit of unity and debate. There are people who are specifically assigned a job of provocation, and they don’t leave any stone unturned until their malice does the magic and divides people on petty issues.

The West seems to have missed out on the fact that ISIS cannot be synonymous with the entire School of thought. A religious thought is available for everyone to study, embrace or denounce.

In Kashmir, another criticism of followers of Salafism is that they defend the state of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia. They are suddenly held responsible for all the issues the kingdom faces on human rights or minority rights front. I do not deny Salafis have a soft corner for Saudi Arabia, but the nature of this soft-corner in politicized in a manner that ends of alienating them.

This soft-corner emanates from the way the Saudi monarchy takes care of Islam’s holy sites and the services they provide to Muslims around the world. In fact, Kashmiris or Muslims from any part of the world have a little say in the Saudi Monarchies internal and external matters of their absolute sovereignty. A kind of state where even Saudi nationals have a little say, what do opinions of few Kashmir Salafis hold up to? The power that Saudi monarchs enjoy is immune to any influence, and it is not this power that attracts the soft corner of Salafis. It is the religious service they render to Al-Harm that is appreciated by Salafis more than any other school.

Solely based on this soft-corner that many claim that the Salafi School of thought approves monarchy as a political system. The opinions of a religious school do not matter to political power, were Salafis in Kashmir to criticize Saudi government, little would change on the ground. If so, then Iranian Ayatollah regime would have desisted from killing the Syrians by supporting Assad government, due to widespread criticism from the Muslim world.

The frustration from the West is understandable, but the irrational outbursts of fellow Muslims in Kashmir are a disappointment and a setback to the spirit of unity and debate.

The policies of Saudi Kingdom, mainly external policies, are widely debated. The Kingdom has many loopholes in its policies, especially it’s banning of dissent within though it’s terrible but not enough reason for Salafis to cut their relation to the Kingdom. No one can abandon the religious obligation of pilgrimage on the ground of political disagreement. Thus, the Salafis’ support to the Kingdom is based on religious grounds, uninvolved in any political concerns. There may be people in Salafi School who openly denounce the monarchy while there are some who support it. It is also dependent on one’s political thought. The stereotypes projected intentionally are always aimed to pass a deceptive message, and thereby ignite any possible instability. In the volatile times like this, one must remain vigilant of such provocations and apply his wit to adjudge the difference between ‘reality’ and ‘media portrayal’.

(The writer is a student of law at Kashmir University)


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