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By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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The major إتجاه (itijah) directions of Islamism are سلفي‎ Salafi and الإخوان Ikhwani, the latter being a transliteration of الإخوان, meaning Brotherhood.

They both endeavor to transform society and government, establishing an Islamic state with Sharia law (drawn from the Koran and Sunnah) as the basis of all legislation, and both share a longing for the glory days of early Islam. However, the الإخوان Ikhwani (founded in Egypt) focus on politics, even establishing Brotherhood political parties. The سلفي‎ Salafi (founded in Saudi Arabia) focus on aqida (faith) and societal purification. They take a literal interpretation of the Koran, and have a stronger revivalist idealization of the time of محمد Mohammed.

Both سلفي‎ Salafi and الإخوان Ikhwani usually spread in mosques and schools -- if repressed, by discreet word of mouth -- and in failed states, sometimes by influential Islamist regimes and organizations.

الإخوان Ikhwani and Salafi are not mutually exclusive, and international and regional splinter groups have arisen.

الإخوان Ikhwani and Salafists can unite against a shared enemy; scholars may influence both; and when locally adapted to regional cultures, they may become quite similar. Mohammed Ayoob classifies the draws of Islamism as either inherent or external to Islam and Islamism. Of the former, there is the simplicity of the Islamist message, with ready explanations for the Muslim world's decline and a roadmap for recovery; and also the familiarity of the Koran and Islam.

Of the latter, there is the failure and authoritarianism of secular leadership, the underdevelopment of the Muslim world, the failure of the Muslim world to keep up with advances in the West, and the West's interference with local affairs, including support for hated dictatorships and Israel.

FigureFounded / LivedDescription


Late 18th century

Sheikh Mohamed Abdulwahab founded Salafism. It originally focused on better understanding Islam. Abdulwahab rejected excesses and eschewed many Muslim superstitions, including veneration of the deceased by prayer and graveyard visitation. His major work is Book of Unity of Allah, and also Three Fundamental Principles. Another work used by Salafists is The Creed of People of Moderation by Sheikh Ibn Taymiya. The ultra-conservative branch of Salafism practiced in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi (Abdulwahab) but Wahhabi and Salafi are often used interchangeably, as the former is the predominant sect of the latter.


19th century

Jamal-al-din al-Afghani (1838-1897) is credited with founding the Islamic Awakening, out of concern that Occidental imperialists and colonialists were eclipsing and diluting the Muslim world.


Mohamed Abdouh, a student of Jamal-al-din al-Afghani, developed the Awakening further. He was a revivalist, calling on Muslims to return to Islam as a way of life and solution to regional issues. Rashid Rida, editor of Al-Manar newspaper, gave a mouthpiece to the Awakening. Another issue that precipitated the Awakening was the underdevelopment of Muslim nations.

The Brotherhood


The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt.

Islamist groups



Meaning The Base, القاعدة al-Qaeda is an internation organization of Islamic radicals and terrorists led by بن لادن Bin Laden until his death in 2011.


One of Al Qaeda's most prominent offshoots, the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). (link)

The Brotherhood

Most modern Islamists can be traced to الإخوان The Brotherhood.

Islamic Kuwait

Kuwaiti Islamist site which supports the ideology and activities of the Afghan Taliban and Usama Bin Laden.

Road to Jihad

Web site advocating the use of violence in promoting Islamist ideology and provides points of contact for would-be mujahideen.



Located in the Khyber, Lashkar-e-Islam is headed by Manghal Bagh. Its rival is Ansar-ul-Islam, headed by Qazi Mohib. Both groups fight against Pakistani military forces operating a crackdown begun in 2009 in the Khyber.

Contestation of language

Naming the emerging phenomenon that combines religion and politics in the Muslim world is highly contested. Some call it 'Islamic fundamentalism'. Others call it 'Islamic-fascism' (Islamofascism), while many more describe this phenomenon as 'Islamism' or 'political Islam'. Elmi 2010, p 51


Islamic Fundamentalism

As Bobby Sayyid argues, fundamentalism is not the appropriate term when one wants to make sense of modern Islamic movements in the Muslim world. The concept of fundamentalism was coined to understand a movement that appeared in a different context and in a different era. ... Sayyid takes a critical look and examines the factors that are associated with the concept of fundamentalism: control of women's bodies and the mixing of religion and politics. He concludes that the concept of fundamentalism that has often been associated with Protestant movements in the nineteenth century cannot explain modern Islamic movements. Elmi 2010, p 51 - 52


Popularized by the liberal/libertarian author Stephen Schwartz (link) and the conservative author David Horowitz.

President George W. Bush added his voice in openly using this terminology when speaking of alleged terrorists from Great Britain in [an August 10 press release from] 2006: 'The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.' Many Muslims and non-Muslims condemn the use of this term and argue that it unfairly equates Islam with fascism. Elmi, p 52 CNN coverage of the release

Political Islam

There is some disagreement among experts as to the definition of 'Islamism' or 'political Islam'. Graham Fuller argues that Islamists are those who believe that 'Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered'. Guilain Denoeux defines 'Islamism' as a 'form of instrumentalization of Islam by individuals, groups and organizations that pursue political objectives'. Elmi 2010, p 52

Islamic Awakening

The labels so far fail to grasp that Islamism is not just about politics, but faith, Sharia and religion. Islamic Awakening reflects this, and also is better suited to persons from outside the Muslim world who become part of the movement. In practice, though, all these terms are used interchangeably.


Elmi, Afyare Abdi. 2010. Understanding the Somali Conflagration. New York: Pluto Press. (Google Books)