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Othering in Salafi Islam. Examples, Effects and Explanations

Panel Chair: Susanne Olsson | Thursday, August 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Salafism as a new religious movement in contemporary Islam has become a worldwide phenomenon. Although Salafism in different part of the world displays variations and adaptions to local contexts, certain themes are recurring, such as strict literalism in relation to the scriptures, a limitation set to the use of human reason in interpreting these scriptures, and an stress on the duty to imitate the example of the Prophet Muhammad and the “pious forefathers” in everyday life. The panel, however, focus another, also recurring trait: that of explicit othering. Salafis define themselves in opposition to diverse “others”, which include both non-Muslims and Muslims considered to be deviants from the “straight path”. The papers in the panel address different aspects of this othering, its causes and its effects, in texts, in discourse and in the ritualization of everyday life.

Jonas Svensson

The other festival – Salafi hostility towards Mawlid

While celebrations of Muhammad’s birthday are common among Muslims worldwide the festival has come under attack during the last century. It holds a prominent place as a negative “other” in Salafi activism. The main emic reason given for Salafi hostility is that mawlid constitutes a bida‘, i.e. and illegitimate innovation, without support in the practice of the first generations of Muslims. The academic study of Salafism tends to accept this stated reason at face value. This paper, however, aims to move a bit beyond. It argues that celebrating mawlid becomes particularly problematic for Salafis not only because it constitutes an innovation, but also because it provides a potential context for religious innovation. In addition, mawlid becomes particularly provocative because the celebration’s traditional religious justification entails a way of relating to the divine that is a direct challenge to a Salafi ideal of absolute deference.

Emin Poljarevic

Clash of religious interpretations in Muslim Bosnia

This paper presents a case study of the dynamics of religious disagreement within the Muslim community in contemporary Bosnia. Since the Bosnian war (1992–1995), we have witnessed growing tensions between the traditional Muslim religious establishment, Islamska Zajednica (Islamic Community), and Salafi groups’ (for the region) non-traditional religious beliefs and practices. These tensions are manifested on several levels, ranging from verbal and physical disputes in local mosques (several resulting in individuals being murdered) to public disagreements concerning the "correct" interpretation of religious scriptures. The dynamics of disagreement are nevertheless rooted in a more profound process of social change. The paper will discuss the most relevant social changes in relation to the expressed religious tensions. The ambition here is to outline the prospects of the development of a sustainable pluralistic Muslim community in Bosnia.

Egdūnas Račius

De-naturalization: mental and physical hijrah of Lithuanian converts to Islam

Though the number of adherents of Islam in Lithuania does not exceed 0.1 % of the population, the share of converts in the Muslim community, according to official census, is almost 15 %. Converts form a specific component both in the Muslim community and the wider society – they are often either perceived or even perceive themselves as strangers. They are often “othered” by others, and that they also tend to “other” the rest, be it Muslim-borns or non-Muslim Lithuanians. The result is that many converts in effect build borders around themselves by consciously dissociating themselves from the wider society, but they also distance themselves from other Muslims (both autochthonous and of immigrant background) considered not enough Islamic. This paper will show that one effect is that many converts perform a kind of mental hijrah, which is often followed by a physical one, thus completing the process of de-naturalization.

Susanne Olsson

The relevance of Medieval Islamic Sources in contemporary “re-Hanbalization”

The paper pursues an analysis of contemporary Hanbali oriented interpretations, with the thematic focus being “othering”, concerning how people are categorized into “us” and “them”. More specifically, the paper addresses how medieval sources are used in order to authenticate contemporary interpretations of othering. The paper probes into the question of how such sources are used, what is selected from them and rejected (reinterpreted), and it will also address the question why such sources are considered relevant to use instead of returning straight to Scripture (the Qur’an or Sunnah). One aspect of the paper is thus to investigate into reasons why and how medieval sources have such an impact on contemporary interpretations. This will be analyzed as a part of an increasing “Hanbalization” on behalf of many contemporary fundamentalist inclined interpreters.


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