While they do perhaps share some broad conservative values, Salafis aren’t a monolithic group. Many people I’ve spoken to, however, have suggested that all Salafis are enemies of ‘Western civilization’ and should therefore be feared. These are two sentiments which were echoed in a recent New York Times article, ‘Don’t fear all Islamists, fear Salafis’.
In my years of research, I’ve met and discussed religious beliefs and feelings towards Western cultures with several Salafi groups around the U.S. One fieldwork trip to Atlanta, Georgia was particularly memorable (one sign outside of the mosque read, ‘No weapons’). The research team and I walked in and sat at the back of the small room to wait for prayers to finish. At the end of prayers, many young men warmly engaged us. We explained to them that we were researchers interested in chatting to them. Many of them were happy to do so.
While there were a few tense moments around conversion and opposition to Christianity, every single person I met in that Atlanta mosque said that terrorism was strictly forbidden in Islam. They said that Osama bin Laden wasn’t a good Muslim and that they don’t necessarily agree with Christianity but they’d be happy to live side-by-side with Christians.
These are just some of the sentiments which were echoed in an article, ‘Salafis work to counter intolerance’, by Nada Zohdy in Common Ground. Zohdy’s article covers the Salfyo Costa of Egypt, a group that presents Salafis as,
a stark counter-narrative to the dominant discourse about Salafis found both in the West and the Muslim world. This is a unique organisation that aims to dispel some of the widespread negative generalisations about Salafis, while uniting diverse Egyptians to work together to improve their country. It is important that we in the West and Muslim-majority countries take heed of such voices because of their potential to counter intolerance.
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