Salafi Tendencies in Pakistan

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pir Mohammad Mollazehi


The fact that Salafi tendencies in Pakistan do not have profound ideological root is now a topic for debates in that country. Salafi tendencies were introduced in Pakistan when Afghan mujahedeen were fighting Soviet occupiers. Although Dewbandi school of thought is dominant in Pakistan, Salafi and Wahhabi tendencies are also influential in that county. The question is how such tendencies came into being and what grounds invigorated them. The following paper tries to give a realistic answer to this question.


Although Salafi tendencies have longstanding roots as a theoretical current, they are not specific to the Muslim world or a specific religious sect. There is one form or another of Salafi-like tendencies in most theoretical schools of thought and religious sectors which can be identified although they may not be judged in the same manner.

 If, in general terms, Salafi tendencies were taken to mean a kind of retrospective look at the past history of a nation or followers of a school of thought, then it would follow that such tendencies are much diversified. In this approach to Salafi tendencies, it is assumed that various nations have experienced periods of powerful influence on their own and other nations’ destiny in the course of their history. Such historical experiences have been followed in later times with a kind of decline and those nations have always aspired to get back to their past glory and power.

Therefore, in their broad sense, Salafi tendencies cannot be taken as a positive or negative phenomenon. In other words, Salafi tendencies constitute a phenomenon, like other phenomena, which emerge at times that a nation or society is grappling with domestic and foreign crises. Such ideas are theorized by a thinker and are accepted by the society in crisis. Therefore, impartial scholars maintain that this theoretical approach is the result of a crisis-ridden and extremist way of thinking [1].

This phenomenon can be identified in almost all human societies. Nations which have been a superior power in junctures of their life due to any reason, but have lost that political, theoretical or ideological supremacy in later periods of time, take refuge in their glorious past. It seems that this phenomenon is closely related to historical mental complexes of human beings. Human mind gives prominence to a certain juncture of the past history in order to focus on pleasant memories. The same is true about historical mentalities of nations.

This reality explains why, apart from its current meaning in the Muslim world as a religious sect and a theoretical school of thought, Salafi tendencies can be traced in all modern societies. Of course, the appearance, expression and expectations that result from Salafi tendencies for followers of a school of thought or religion would be different from other schools of thought, but in terms of content and approach to Salafi tendencies in different societies, similar signs could be found. When it comes to religion, since this phenomenon deals with religious ideas, it is more profound and this has caused judging about Salafi thought very difficult. Salafi thought is construed as pure good and the sole way of salvation for its followers who consider any other thought and idea outside its worldview as absolute evil.

More interesting is the fact that Salafi thought tells its followers to use every means to guide a mislead person or to exterminate them if they cannot be guided. Therefore, any measure is allowed to be taken provided that it serves the purpose which is considered by followers of that school of thought as the peak of salvation in this world and the Hereafter.  Any phenomenon or social movement which can create such a powerful motivation among its followers can be taken as Salafi tendency in its broad sense even if that movement tries to deny this. If we wanted to bring examples to shed more light on the meaning of Salafi tendencies in modern societies, we would provide evidence to existence of such ideas among all religions. There is a form of Zionism among Christians, which despite its differences with its Jewish version, seeks to revive past glory of religion. Among the Jews, although Zionism is tied to politics and is more understandable for Muslims because of what is has done to Palestinians, it is a return to the past which is thought by Jews to be ideal in all material and spiritual aspects. Rightist currents in Europe and the United States, which stress on Christian civilization and culture, are a special form of Salafi thought, which is not very different from Salafi thoughts among Jews in nature. The same is true about followers of Hinduism who seem to revive the glorious times of Ashuka as the sole way of salvation in this world and Hereafter.

In the Muslim world, most emphasis on return to the glorious past has been put by Ibn Teimiyeh who has written more than 300 books to explain his thoughts. The grounds for these tendencies had been provided by religious teachings of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who had presented a more deterministic reading of Islam. Hanbali jurisprudence along with Hanafi, Shafii, and Maliki schools of through led to theoretical changes in the world of Islam which finally gave rise to Salafi ideas. Hanafi jurisprudence rose from the present day Saudi Arabia which was inhabited by Sunni Muslims. A return to the glorious period of early years after the advent of Islam was very attractive to them.

“Ibn Teimiyeh is a famous Islamic figure who was an ardent foe of logic and mysticism. Such people usually are not deep thinkers and most of them are fighting ideas whose nature is not even clear to them. Some simplistic persons, who are not familiar with logical sciences, mysticism and theosophy, consider him an independent thinker who was opposed to imitation and a staunch enemy of innovation in religion. They have described him as a social reformer and reviver of religion; one who recommended people to go back to Quran and fight Greek philosophy and Aristotle’s ideas.”[2] This clearly shows the impact of Ibn Teimiyeh in the world of Islam. Major coordinates which differentiated Salafi thought of Ibn Teimiyeh from Shiism and which were later reconstructed by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in the 12th century after Hegira, have caused Salafi thought to be antagonist to Shiism in many aspects. If we accepted that the original differences resulted from different interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, not that politics is involved, Salafi thought is, in fact, a return to the past and its followers maintain that the past contains everything that is needed to solve the present problems [3].

Jihad, common denominator of Salafi and Dewbandi thoughts

Two theoretical schools of thought; that is, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Salafi thought in Saudi Arabia, did not remain to the Arab world and affected other Islamic countries too. Jama’at ul-Islami which was founded by Mowlana Abulala Mawdudi in the Indian Subcontinent was inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Dewbandi school of thought was created under similar circumstances, under pressure from foreign colonialism which tried to eliminate Muslims from India. In fact, both schools of thought, which have their roots in the Sunni world, were reactions to dominance of superior military power of the West over Muslims and both of them sought to rebuild the shattered power of the Muslim world.

Although the destiny and situation of Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world and its influence in other countries is clear, there are ambiguities about Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought in the Indian Subcontinent and this paper is trying to dispel them. The most important question is whether what is currently going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan or among Muslims in India is Salafi thought which arose from Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia or Dewbandi is a separate school of thought? The dominant feature of the present Salafi thought is a form of jihadist Salafi tendency which has arisen out of the early Salafi thought.

If we wanted to assess Salafi tendencies on the basis of its present positions, the division made by Le Monde Diplomatique seems to be more acceptable. The newspaper has divided Salafi movement into three major tendencies [4], which include reformists, traditionalists, and jihadists.

The main factor which is common between Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought is the third and jihadist aspect of them. Although reformists and traditionalists are present both in India and among Southeast Asian Muslims and both stem from traditions of Hanafi demonization and are not very much different from Hanbali or Shafii Sunnism in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, since none of them are very powerful, they have given way to supporters of jihad who have attracted most attention to their ideas both within the framework of Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought. Apart from that, some maintain that followers of Dewbandi school of thought are more similar to Wahabis. Like Wahabis, they show extreme sensitivity toward other Islamic schools of thought and offer a special interpretation of monotheism and polytheism [5].

In one sense, Muslims have been trying to revive their past glory and have extracted jihad out of their ideological texts as a means for reconstruction of their past power. Therefore, “the philosophy of jihad” is common denominator of Dewbandi and Wahhabi schools of thought. The question is can we rely on this commonalty and consider Dewbandi school of thought as being equal to Salafi thought, ignoring their differences? In reality, there is no consensus in this regard. If we took the similarity as a basis for that equation, then the question is that since the principle of jihad can be found in other schools of thought, can we take it as a reason that those schools of thought are the same as Wahhabism or Salafi thought? I don’t think so.

The external development that brought jihadist forces in two schools of thought close together was the invasion of Afghanistan by communist Russians. Pakistan is important in that it was the place where those two schools of thought met and led to developments the likes of which never existed before. The Pashtu ethnicity in Pakistan and Afghanistan was the main axis around which the union took place. Dewbandi and Wahhabi schools of thought found Pashtu ethnicity as a good ground for progress, but the two ways of thinking cannot be taken the same. This means that they have impressed each other, but they are not totally the same. Dewbandi was founded by Indian Muslims which was an answer to domination of the British colonialism which was established after the uprising by Muslims was defeated in India in 1857 and the Mughal Empire came to its end in India after exile of Bahador Shah, the last Muslim Mughal emperor. At that time, two major Indian ulema established a madrasa at Dewband village of India where the main topic of discussion included jihad [6].

In reality, Dewbandi madrasa gave rise to a school of thought which had great impact on Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent and beyond in later years. Two characteristics of Dewbandi school of thought are notable:

  1. Special attention to jihad as a means of rebuilding Muslims’ power;
  2. Eliminating general courses which were based on human thought and were supposed to be against sharia.

The second characteristic did not conform to realities and prevented growth and development of Muslims. However, the first characteristic proved to be very powerful and later, led to independence of Pakistan from India in 1947. It also greatly helped Afghan people in their war against the Russian occupiers in 1979. Before that date, the Salafi and Wahhabi schools of thought were mostly believed to be common in Saudi Arabia and were taken to be political thoughts rather than religious ones.

However, after occupation of Afghanistan and establishment of an anti-Soviet alliance among Afghan mujahedeen, the Western world and Arabs, a totally different situation emerged in Pakistan and jihadist Salafi forces were greatly supported by Muslims.  The Arab wealth and jihadist manpower led to growth of that part of the school of thought which emphasized on jihad as explained in Sunni, and especially Hanafi, religious texts. Undoubtedly, the ideas of Shah Valiollah Dehlavi, the great Muslim thinker of the Indian Subcontinent which regretted the loss of Muslims’ power in India and domination of the British colonialism, was very influential in strengthening jihadist forces of Dewbandi school of thought besides Arab Salafi and Wahhabi jihadists forces. In 1853, Shah Abdul-Aziz, the son of Shah Valiollah Dehlavi, issued a fatwa announcing the whole Indian Subcontinent as “dar ul-harb” (place of war). His reasons were understood by Muslims. India was occupied and the power of Muslims was on the fall.

The Muslim ulema responded to that situation by issuing jihad fatwa to restore the power and position of Muslims. In 1979, Afghanistan was also occupied by a foreign “infidel” force and was considered a new place of war. Muslim ulema considered jihad has an obligation according to teachings of Dewbandi school of thought just in the same way the Wahhabi ulema considered it an obligation and encouraged Arab youth to fight in Afghanistan. This was the point where the two schools of thought met and their cooperation has thus far continued in the form of al Qaeda and Taliban organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan despite profound developments that have occurred during the past few decades [7].

Another important issue which was influential in development of Salafi thought in Pakistan, in addition to occupation of Afghanistan by Russians, was victory of the Islamic Revolution and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran according to Shiite jurisprudence. If we take the historical reality into account that Salafi thought and Shiism has been antagonists from the beginning, then it would logically follow that the victory of the Islamic Revolution (1979) was not welcomed by parts of the Arab world. In addition, the Islamic Revolution in Iran led to political rivalries in the Arab world which led to revival of rituals which were considered by Wahhabis as innovations in religion, including paying pilgrimage to shrines of the Infallible Imams, as well as resorting to souls of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and other religious dignitaries to achieve salvation. Concurrence of the Islamic Revolution with the occupation of Afghanistan alarmed Salafi jihadist forces. As a result, new sects like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were formed in Pakistan to openly fight Shiism.

An Afghan writer has paid attention to this issue in an article on “Salafi thought and terrorism in Afghanistan”. He writes: “With the advent of the Islamic Revolution and export of Shiite values by Iran to neighboring countries through supporting Shiite minorities and encouraging them as well as Ekhwani Sunnis (who were suppressed after unrests in 1960s and 1970s) to rise against governments which were not friendly to Iran, on the one hand, and occupation of Afghanistan by communist Russia, on the other hand, helped to pave the way for revival of jihadist Salafi movements by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that tried to counterbalance regional influence of Iran and rebuild their own image as those who fight against communist infidels.” [8]

It is clear that his remarks cannot be accepted, because Iran’s support for Shiite minorities in other countries is solely spiritual support and Iranian officials have never tried to export values of the Islamic Revolution as the Afghan writer has asserted. However, the viewpoint of Mr. Hirbod is interesting in that he believes that introduction of Salafi thought to the Arab world during the war in Afghanistan has also led to growth of those ideas in Pakistan. In another part of his paper, he has said that the beginning of presence of Salafi jihadists in a regular and military form dates back to 1981; that is, when Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s Frontier province became a gravitational center for supporting jihadist forces and Dr. Sheikh Abdullah Izam was assigned by the Arab world to work as coordinator of jihadist forces.

Hirbod maintains that this was the official beginning of the presence of Salafi forces in Pakistan. He writes: “Military presence of Salafi Arabs dates back to 1981 with the main protagonist being Dr. Sheikh Abdullah Izam (1940-1989) who founded Maktab al-Khadamat al-Mujahedeen. The current continued through financial support of Arabs and Osama bin Laden (1984) and theoretical backing from Dewbandi and al-Hadid schools of thought in India as well as religious circles of Pakistan, especially traditional Islamist party of Mowlana Fazl ul-Rahman as well as Qazi Hussein Ahmad’s Jama’at ul-Islami in Pakistan.” [9]

The question now is did Islamist theoretical and political currents which greatly thrived during the Afghan war in Pakistan and which were supported by Arabs and the government of Pakistan, really accept Salafi thought or similarities between Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought facilitated their cooperation? In reality, it is hard to give a convincing answer to this question. At least, Salafi Wahhabis and followers of Dewbandi school of thought had common viewpoints on the following two issues and their cooperation in Afghanistan was based on those common viewpoints: the principle of jihad as well as imamate.

The principle of jihad had been accepted by both Salafi and Dewbandi schools of thought, though they had differences as to details. Both of them maintain that jihad should continue until high-ranking Muslim ulema hold the political power and establish an Islamic government. More importantly, it should continue until all infidels are either exterminated or subdued by the Islamic government. Apparently, this principle is also extant among Shiites and all Islamic sects have relatively similar viewpoints on jihad and differences simply pertain to conditions under which jihad is an obligation and qualifications of ulema who may declare it.

The second important issue is the imamate which is an unwavering principle of Shiism but there are controversies about it among Sunni Muslims. It seems that firm belief in Islamic caliphate as the basis of political power in the world of Islam and considering imamate as an antagonist of caliphate has brought Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought close together. If jihad in Afghanistan had been based on the principle of jihad in Islam, it would have created a suitable atmosphere under which all Islamic schools of thought could have achieved a form of compromise. However, interferences of political powers and rivalries among rulers of Muslim countries do not allow this. For this reason, two different foci of support for jihad in Afghanistan took shape in Tehran and Islamabad and instead of fostering religious unity they led to more divergence among various schools of thought.

Role of Saudi Arabia in promoting Wahhabism in Pakistan

What actually happened in Pakistan was promotion of Salafi and Wahhabi ideas through calculated investments made by Saudi Arabia to strengthen Arab and Afghan jihadist forces. Hundreds of religious madrasas were established in parallel to official educational system of Pakistan in Frontier and Baluchistan provinces where Pashtu people held a majority and thousands of mostly Pashtu students studied there. More importantly, the Pakistani army seriously supported those madrasas. Since the main goals of those madrasas was to train jihadist forces for war in Afghanistan, their presence was in line with Pakistani government’s plans for intervention in Afghanistan and Central Asia. In this way, Dewbandi clerics took charge of ideological education at religious madrasas of Pakistan to train volunteers who wanted to fight in Afghanistan. The military training of students was provided by Pakistani army intelligence, which is known as ISI. Western countries provided Muslim mujahedeen with arms. Apart from that, clerical students from other Islamic countries were attracted to religious madrasas in Pakistan and later, they created the first nuclei of jihadist organizations in their own countries, which are currently known under the general label of terrorism and al Qaeda.

On the other hand, Pakistan did not suffice to Afghanistan when supporting religious madrasas, but it was eyeing that part of Kashmir which was controlled by India. Kashmiri jihadists, who later joined al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, were a fruit of that policy. Therefore, the theoretical current which was inclined toward Saudi Arabia within the framework of Salafi and Wahhabi schools of thought, pursued more diversified goals in Pakistan and was no more understandable within the framework of ideological or political goals pursued by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, undoubtedly, pursued political and ideological goals under the aegis of jihad in Afghanistan. This means that promotion of Salafi and Wahhabi schools of thought which were financially supported by Saudi Arabia was a long-term goal for that country and Saudi Arabia pursued that goal throughout the Islamic world using petrodollars.

Since Arab jihadist forces were following a mission they led ascetic life and, in this way, they greatly influenced their Pakistani and Afghan peers. This group, which is now called Arab-Afghans, joined al Qaeda organization which is led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The local product of their way of thinking was Taliban which put up a serious presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course, after terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 in the United States and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by US force, Taliban was removed from power and along with Arab Afghans as well as al Qaeda took refuge among Pashtu tribes in Pakistan which live along mountainous borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan mostly in northern and southern Waziristan provinces. In fact, both forms of Taliban, that is, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, were product of religious madrasas which combined jihadist trainings of Dewbandi school of thought with jihadist ideas of Wahhabi – Salafi school of thought in Pakistan. Therefore, the role of Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought was more pronounced that the role of Dewbandi ideas in Pakistan. However, this is not the whole truth. Dewbandi school of thought has deeper roots in the Indian Subcontinent and Dewbandi ulema of Pakistan consider a historical identity for themselves without being willing to be called Wahhabis. However, it cannot be denied that they have been supported by petrodollars from Saudi Arabia and their growth would have been impossible without jihad in Afghanistan and in the absence of financial backing from Saudi Arabia. Therefore, following regional and global developments, which have led to less emphasis on jihad and caused reduction of financial support from Saudi Arabia, Wahhabi and Salafi schools of thought are living through jihadist forces which are affiliated to al Qaeda in Pashtu areas of Pakistan. In this way, religious madrasas will be able to gradually get rid of the influence of Salafi and Wahhabi schools of thought and focus on Dewbandi ideas.

Importance of such a development in Pakistan and Afghanistan is that they can have decisive effects on viewpoints of Taliban and al Qaeda. That is, Taliban can devolve into a local group with more limited regional goals in Pakistan and Afghanistan while al Qaeda will remain as an organization with global objectives. If such a development took place even in far future, the divide between Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought, on the one side, and Dewbandi school of thought, on the other side, would deepen. It would then demonstrate that the current links between Dewbandi and Salafi – Wahhabi schools of thought in Pakistan has been nothing but a calculated move to pursue jihad in this part of the Muslim world which has been threatened by infidels. Now that conditions have changed, the two schools of thought may keep their separate identities and continue to cooperate. In this way, to the extent that Saudi Arabia and wealthy Arabs cut down their financial support for religious madrasas, Wahhabi tendencies would weaken in favor of Dewbandi ones.

Apart from this, the situation of al Qaeda and Taliban in tribal regions can also impact Salafi – Wahhabi trends in Pakistan. If Taliban, for any reason and under any conditions, is allowed to play a role in national reconciliation process of Afghanistan, it would survive as a local current and will, thus, be differentiated from al Qaeda and its global approach. In better words, as Taliban, which is considered the focus of the present Dewbandi – Salafi thought, distances from al Qaeda, it would become more inclined to Dewbandi school of thought. This would be true if we considered Taliban as the sole ideological group based on Dewbandi ideas that has the closest ties to Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought. Otherwise, official religious parties of Pakistan like Muslim Ulema Society and Jama'at al-Jihad al-Islami cannot be studied in their Salafi – Wahhabi entirety. Of course, since the onset of Dewbandi school of thought in India, they have been suspected to hold Salafi tendencies. The most objective historical example was emergence of Berilavi school of thought by Ahmad Reza Khan Berilavi, which was a form of protest to Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought. Therefore, existence of Wahhabi tendencies among followers of Dewbandi school of thought has been nothing new and dates back to early years after the emergence of the said school of thought. The remarks of Mr. Hafeznia are enlightening in this regard: “The Berilavi school of thought was established in late 19th century. It means to enlighten Muslims and prevent progress of Dewbandi school of thought, which was considered by Ahmad Reza Khan, the founder of Berilavi school of thought, has been inclined toward Wahhabism.”[10]

There is an understanding that most people of Pakistan follow Berilavi school of thought, especially in Punjab province which accounts for more than half of the country’s population, Berilavi school of thought is more influential and more conformant to ethnic characteristics and traditions of Punjabi people. At the same time, Dewbandi school of thought has more followers among Pakistani Pashtu and Baluch tribes because it is more befitting their traditional and ethnic characteristics. It should be noted that among all theoretical and religious tendencies in Pakistan, Berilavi school of thought has more commonalties with Shiism although Dewbandi school of thought has been more influential in that country. The possible reason for that is that Berilavi school of thought acts in more general terms while Dewbandi school of thought is more inclined to be influential outside Pakistani borders. Therefore, if presence of Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought is considered from this angle, it would follow that this school of thought has no influence on, at least, more than half of the 165 million Pakistanis. Only a small group called “People of Hadith” are considered to have accepted Wahhabi ideas, though it is not clear whether they consider themselves as Wahhabis or not.

Even if we accepted that “People of Hadith” are true Wahhabis, they constitute a small minority in Pakistan which is not influential as other schools of thought, including Dewbandi school of thought. In a more realistic approach, one can claim that there are schools of thought in Pakistan which are under the influence of Salafi and Wahhabi thoughts, but they can seldom be considered purely Wahhabi – Salafi. Perhaps, the viewpoint of an Afghan researcher, who has discussed the impact of Wahhabism among jihadist currents in Afghanistan, can be accepted with some oversight. He claims that the impact of Wahhabism among jihadist Afghans is somehow similar to the current situation of Salafi Wahhabi tendencies in Pakistan because emergence of Salafi tendencies in their current form was an outcome of the jihad against Russians in Afghanistan. The Afghan researcher then adds: “Although Wahhabism does not have famous followers in Afghanistan, there are tendencies among Sunni Muslims which are affected by Wahhabism. Wahhabism has no historical and social roots in Afghanistan, or among the masses. Wahhabism is the product of activities launched by foreign elements who especially come from Saudi Arabia and who entered Afghanistan taking advantage of special conditions which existed in that country during its occupation which paved the way for a sacred jihad against communist occupiers. Then they established training centers in Sunni-dominated cities and villages of Afghanistan to train Muslim youth. Although Wahhabism is a staunch opponent of Shiism, it is also at loggerheads with Sunni Islam in some points.” [11]

If we accepted that penetration of Wahhabi – Salafi tendencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been possible under similar circumstances, similar conclusions can be drawn for both countries. Therefore, if Wahhabism is not powerful in Afghanistan, it cannot be as powerful as Dewbandi school of thought in Pakistan too. The issue of being influential under special historical and political conditions which are not permanent is quite different from ideological influence, especially that Salafi – Wahhabi thought, whose embodiment is al Qaeda, is currently even threatening Saudi Arabia. Other Arab countries which sometimes supported that tendency are currently considering jihadist viewpoints of al Qaeda as fostering terrorism because the organization is planning to change the target of its jihad from infidels to present governments in Arab states which are supposed to be cooperating with infidels.

Therefore, what is currently going on in Arab states and Pakistan will have negative future consequences for the influence of Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought in Pakistan, at least, in its extremist jihadist form. This will prevent al Qaeda from growing in influence just as has happened to Taliban in Afghanistan. From time to time, there are discussions in Pakistan that the country may be conquered by Taliban ideas and lead to an Islamic revolution based on a combination of Dewbandi and Salafi – Wahhabi ideas. However, it is mostly publicity and aims to provide conditions for the presence of foreign powers in Pakistan. In fact, it is difficult to think that Pakistan is on the verge of a fundamental change which would totally alter its political orientations.

On the other hand, if we divided Salafi – Wahhabi thought in two categories of official - state-run group which is supported by Saudi Arabia, and Salafi – Wahhabi jihadist forces that make up al Qaeda, it would be possible for the official – state-run tendency to become more moderate as time goes by. This tendency may look at power as a tool for preserving Saudi kingdom and instead of opposing the dominant political ideas of the world, which are collectively known as Western liberal democracy, get along with it. However, Wahhabi – Salafi jihadist forces cannot reconcile with the West. Therefore, the more moderate Wahhabi – Salafi tendency which is supported by Saudi Arabia may be promoted in Pakistan within the framework of religious madrasas. However, Salafi – Wahhabi tendencies in the form of al Qaeda will continue their ideological opposition to Western liberal democracy and will be supported by Pashtu tribes in Pakistan.

Experiences of Muslim world in confronting the West

The historical experiences of the Muslim world, and the approach it has taken to invasive cultures and civilizations, reveal existence of both trends. At least, in the Indian Subcontinent, jihadist and reformist schools of thought came into being within the framework of Dewbandi and Qadiani schools of thought as a reaction to domination of the Western world. Two separate reactions can be identified. Apart from the school of thought which considers it to be the rightful one in the Indian Subcontinent and its impact, the thought-provoking reality is that Indian Muslims have shown two contradictory tendencies to the West. One tendency advocated reconstruction of Muslims’ power in the face of the British colonialism through returning to religious teachings about jihad and founded Dewbandi school of thought. The founders of this tendency were Mowlana Nataturi and Mowlana Kongozi. On the opposite, the second tendency maintained that Muslims should learn modern sciences from colonialist powers and accept the realities. Sir Ahmad Khan was promoter and representative of this tendency. Qadiani school of thought or Ahmadiyeh sect in Pakistan, were formed on the basis of this reconciliatory approach to the West. However, this idea was not backed by most Muslims which gave birth to Pakistan and today; Dewbandi ulema consider followers of Ahmadiyeh sect as non-Muslims.

The situation in the Middle East is not much different from India. If we accepted that Salafi and Dewbandi schools of thought were based on the necessity to respond to Western cultural invasion of the Muslim world, then it would be understandable that Wahhabism – Salafi tendencies which have been targets of the West after 9/11 terror attacks are moving within two different frameworks: one is the moderate approach which tries to save the interests of Saudi royal family with the second one being al Qaeda which is totally opposed to the first approach. From this viewpoint, powerful figures in the Arab world maintain that bolstering Salafi – Wahhabi tendencies which are less hostile to the West would be more in line with their interests. Of course, this goal would not be easy to achieve and will take a time before it is realized. However, one thing is certain: A Salafi jihadist considers Arab rulers collaborators with the enemy, thus defining confrontation with them as part of jihad and overall riddance of infidels’ domination.

Such developments will happen in Pakistan more rapidly than the Arab world and will pitch the ruling system against jihadist ideas of Salafi – Dewbandi school of thought; so that, the governmental ideology which is loyal to Western liberal democracy would have to face the jihadist tendencies. However, this is more based on foreign realities and overall interests of the Western world led by the United States than according to national interests of Pakistan. Anyway, there is no doubt that at present, the jihadist ideas of Dewbandi school of thought which stem from Salafi – Wahhabi ideas are now confronting the more conciliatory ideas pursued by secular parties and the military government in Pakistan. This confrontation can be traced in bloody face-offs which have already happened at La’al Mosque and among tribal people of northern and southern Waziristan provinces. The confrontations between the two currents are similar to what has already happened in India and are very similar to what has happened in the Islamic world during the past two centuries of confrontation with the West. Aziz Nouri has written an article on the Middle East noting that in 19th and 20th centuries and subsequent to the developments in Western countries, political thoughts of Islam have been greatly changed. After heightened influence of Western countries in Islamic nations and challenges posed to traditional political and social systems, there have been different attitudes toward Western politics and civilization among Muslim thinkers and politicians. Collapse of the Ottoman Empire, as embodiment of the Islamic government, followed by spread of nationalistic and liberal as well as Marxist tendencies subsequent to occupation of Muslim lands, have led to a serious confrontation between Islam and the West. [12]

In this way, it can be predicted that the Islamic world, in general, and Pakistan, in particular, would develop in two directions. One is total confrontation between jihadist ideas and the West. The most objective example of this alternative is Taliban – al Qaeda school of thought which is an intersection for Salafi and Dewbandi jihadist ideas and is currently resisting against Western domination along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The second alternative is moderate Islam which tries to get its share of the political power through democratic mechanisms and elections. Under these conditions, Islamic parties which already supported Salafi jihadist ideas in Afghanistan would most probably change and distance from jihadist ideas of al Qaeda to adopt a moderate approach like Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan.

However, there is no doubt that the moderate Islam sought by the West, which would totally submit to liberal and secular civilization of Western countries, is not the ultimate goal of such parties. They have reduced tensions with the West, but will never totally give in to Western influences. It is imaginable that Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan will be inclined toward both moderate as well as Salafi – Dewbandi tendencies. In this way, Salafi – Dewbandi jihadist ideas of Taliban and al Qaeda will continue to survive among Pashtu and Baluch tribes of Pakistan and these groups will represent Islamic fundamentalism among Sunni Muslims. Al Qaeda with its Salafi tendencies is considered the most radical Islamic movement in modern times which can put up bloody resistance to the influence of the West. At the same time, an important reality which should not be ignored is that Western countries will bank on their technological, financial, economic, political, and publicity superiorities to change their conflict with the radical Islam in the form of al Qaeda, Salafi, and Dewbandi ideas, into a religious conflict among Muslim countries not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in the whole Islamic world. The experience of Iraq, which has turned into a sectarian strife, can be repeated in other Muslim countries. However, this will not solve the problem the West is currently facing, but a more general goal pursued by the West is confrontation between moderate and radical Islamists is Islamic countries, which cannot be achieved that easily, at least, in Pakistan. The moderate Islam in Pakistan can reach an agreement with the state power, but cannot be pitched against the jihadist ideas of Salafi – Dewbandi school of thought.


Salafi – Wahhabi school of thought is of Arab origins which has come into being as a result of an agreement between Saudi royal family and Wahhabi traditionalist clerics and has influenced part of Sunni Muslims due to financial support it is receiving from Saudi Arabia. But the idea that a Salafi – Wahhabi thought has been totally accepted in a country like Pakistan where most people follow Hanafi school of thought cannot be a reality. Dewbandi school of thought is dominant in Pakistan. Occupation of Afghanistan by the Red Army of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and beginning of jihad in that country encouraged Salafi – Wahhabi Arab fighters who were financially supported by Arab countries to join Afghan mujahedeen in their fight against the occupiers. In this way, Peshawar city in Pakistan turned into a center for Salafi – Wahhabi Arabs who financially supported many religious madrasas where jihadist forces like Taliban were trained. Although Taliban failed in Afghanistan, its thought still remains in Pakistan and this school of thought has joined hands with al Qaeda and its jihadist ideas. However, this cooperation is not ideological, but based on common goals, which are represented by the idea of jihad. Taliban thought in Pakistan is based on teachings of Dewbandi school of thought which is not totally Salafi. At the same time, the principle of jihad is common between both Salafi and Dewbandi schools of thought.

This is why Salafi thought is considered to be powerful in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, there is no doubt that part of tribal society of Pakistan has taken sides with Taliban and al Qaeda but can this cooperation be taken as a sign that they have accepted Salafi ideas? The influence of Salafi ideas seems to be more limited than has been understood outside Pakistan. Dewbandi school of thought is still backed by Sunnis in Pakistan and after 9/11 it seems that jihadist ideas of Dewbandi school of thought are being localized in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, jihadist ideas of al Qaeda will remain global and pose a threat to materialistic civilization of Western countries. In this way, Dewbandi school of thought may assume a dominant position in Pakistan and while sympathizing with Salafi ideas of al Qaeda, get rid of its influence and try to define a separate historical identity.

At the same time, the Islamic fundamentalist ideas in Pakistan will further divide into smaller categories. Part of it will form a moderate current which will reach an agreement with the West and will use democratic mechanisms like elections to get its share of the political power. However, the jihadist part of it, which is affected by Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought, will continue its jihad with the West and the United States in Afghanistan and will be supported by segments of Pakistani society in that country. This development can be expected to take place throughout the Muslim world and it would be nothing new because it would represent the historical experience of Islam in the face of political, military, and cultural onslaught of the West.

What has happened in Pakistan during the past few decades has led to influence of Salafi jihadist ideas and due to regional and global developments that are going on, the influence of Salafi school of thought is expected to diminish with Saudi Arabia supporting a more moderate form of that thought. This modality of Salafi thought can unite with moderate Muslims in Pakistan while Taliban and Dewbandi jihadists would opt for Salafi positions of al Qaeda. However, in both cases, Wahhabi – Salafi tendencies in Pakistan do not seem to be as powerful as Dewbandi school of thought and as conditions change, followers of Dewbandi school of thought will define its boundaries with Salafi tendencies. Therefore, to the extent that jihadist thought come under pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the distance between Dewbandi and Salafi schools of thought will increase. Of course, smaller groups like “People of Hadith” may continue to represent Salafi – Wahhabi tendencies in Pakistan.

1.    “Salafis Seek to Establish Caliphate on Existing Ruins”, Mehr news agency,
2.    Homayoun Hemmati, Analysis of Wahhabism, Tehran: Islamic Publicity Center Press, 1988, p. 55
3.    Sharq daily newspaper; August 1, 2007
4.    Le Monde Diplomatique, January 2007;
5.    The Rise and Fall of the Taliban,
6.    Pakistan: An Arena for Army Generals and Political and Party Elites,
7.    The Rise and Fall of the Taliban, op. cit.
8.    Salafi Tendencies and Terrorism in Afghanistan,
9.    Ibid
10.     Mohammad Reza Hafeznia, Geopolitical Situation of Punjab in Pakistan, Tehran; al-Hoda International Press, 2000, p. 166
11.     Abdol-Qayyum Sajjadi, Political Sociology of Afghanistan: Identity of Religion and Government, Qom, Boustan Ketab Press, 2001, p. 93
12.     Middle East, the Pass of Incidents,