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II. Positive Aspects of Salafism
Salafism, in representing a methodology espousing the aspiration toward a pristine Islam, has been a positive force. There was a time in the 90s when the Salafī methodology, as represented by popular international English-speaking clerics, attracted large segments of Western youth.
Some positives of the Salafī movement are:
1) Primacy of the Sacred Texts. The Salafī methodology of taking recourse to the Qur’an and Sunnah challenges Muslims to approach the Sacred Texts for guidance and understanding, and not just spiritual blessings. This is in stark contrast to some other traditionalist schools that discourage their adherents from deriving any meanings or rulings for fear of misunderstanding them, so much so that some Muslim sects claim that ḥadīth books should never be read except by specialists and perhaps even discourage an active and academic study of the Qur’an.
2) Encourages critical engagement with modern customs and cultures in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, with a marked emphasis on solid evidence, as opposed to what Shaykh so-and-so said or what one’s forefathers practiced. As such, Salafism appears to be liberating from the confines of ‘cultural Islam’, offering an avenue toward an unadulterated universal Islam that transcends time and place, and is true to that practiced at the time of revelation.
3) It eschews the syncretism of superstitious practices prevalent in folk-versions of Islam, such as the unfounded veneration of saints or the invoking of other than God for one’s needs. In this regard, it can be said that Salafism aims to offer a pristine, unmolested framework within which the rituals of Islam ought to be practiced.
4) Ḥadīth authentication. An undeniable effect that Salafism has had across most Islamic movements is an awareness of the necessity to verify the authenticity of ḥadīth. Even those who oppose Salafism are now more precise and exact when quoting ḥadīths in their books, and verifying them with verdicts of classical and medieval scholars. This is an extremely positive contribution, and one that can be credited as a legacy of Shaykh al-Albānī and his writings.
5) A general and more comprehensive awareness of the branches of academic Islam. An average Salafī would be cognizant of the role of uṣūl al-fiqh, the importance of muṣtalaḥ al-ḥadīth, the basic structure and scope of ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, and so forth. It is safe to say that an average follower of Salafism is more aware of the academic disciplines underpinning Islam than an average follower of any other tradition.
6) Salafīs have an enviably pure theology. Any objective researcher will find that the Atharī creed is the earliest documented Sunnī creed, pre-dating the kalām-based creeds of the Ashāʿirah and Māṭūrīdiyah. This is manifested in numerous theological treatises that still exist from the late second and early third Islamic centuries (some of which predate ʿAqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwīyyah). The Atharī creed was the dominant strand of Sunnī Islam in the fourth and fifth Islamic centuries, and although it came to be limited to the Ḥanbalī School of the sixth century as a result of political changes, it received a reviving boost from the ever-phenomenal Ibn Taymiyya, from whom it still continues to receive vigor.
7) Dispersal of Islamic knowledge and the revitalization of the Islamic libraries. Salafism has contributed immensely to research via the mass printing of thousands of edited manuscript works, on all sciences of Islam. Even detractors of Salafism take recourse to books printed at Salafī publishing houses, and academics continue to benefit from their online Islamic search engines, electronic repositories, and forums. Any Islamic library in the world today will have a good percentage of works edited and printed by Salafīs because Salafism concerns itself with the classical tradition of Islam.
8) Avoidance of most shirk and innovations in rituals. No matter what its faults, as a whole, the Salafī movement has avoided falling into most categories of shirk, and its over-cautious vigilance against innovations has safeguarded for it an enviable purity in the rituals of Islamic worship. Erring on the side of extreme caution (while no doubt problematic in its own light) saves the Salafī creed from the more egregious examples of heresies that most other movements suffer from.
In all of this, Salafism is a dynamically oriented movement that aims to empower individual Muslims via direct access to the Qur’an and Sunnah, and thus equips its adherents with knowledge to challenge authoritarianism, question blind-allegiance, and correct the corruption of cult-leaders. No wonder then that Salafism, as a methodology, appeals to the rational and inquisitive mind, and sits comfortably with the human fiṭrah.
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