Extremism: A historical disease and its cure


The Salafi movement owes its origin to the literalist movement that pervaded Islam just after the inquisition instituted by the ‘Abbasid caliphate. Some of its main and famous advocates being Barbarhari, Ibn Qudamah, Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn Qayyim all of whom were followers of the Hanbali school of law. And of course you had the Dhahiri (Literalist) school whose main spokesman was Ibn Hazm of Islamic Spain. All of these scholars and movements had one thing in common, which was their literal approach to the texts of the Qur’an and prophetic narrations. Some of them went to very great extremes in propounding this doctrine.  Leading the traditional scholars to rise and refute them and set the record straight. Which gave birth to the theological schools of Abu’l Hassan al Ashari and Abu Mansur al Maturidi. These two great scholars brought balance in the theological arguments of Ahlus Sunnah. Clarifying the standpoint of the Muslims with regards to belief in God and His attributes and many other matters.


This of course only fueled the intensity of the dogmatic followers of the Literalist school which found great success in the defence of one of the most brilliant scholars, Islam has ever seen, the polymath Ibn Taymiyyah. He was one of those who defended with his life the literal interpretation of the revealed text, which landed him in jail and dispute with other scholars almost all of his life, culminating in his death in prison for one of those reasons. And this man was the one, who inspired the new age Salafi/Wahabi movement which gained momentum during the so called revival of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. The ideological head being Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab, who studied the works of Ibn Taymiyyah and his students and later concluded that most of the people in his land are deviant and should be taught the correct creed. This conviction of his led him to wage a “jihad” on practising Muslims and in the process destroyed many relics from the past Islamic civilisations. 



The eponymous Wahabi Movement of Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab found support in one of the royal families of one of the many clans of the Arabs – the Saud family. And this union gave birth to a powerful movement, which in our times has grown even more powerful, thanks to the petro billions. Which only made the spread of their ideology easier flooding the Islamic world with their literatures and offering scholarships to their learning institutions. And many of those who returned from these schools came back loathing the traditional methodology of the learned elders of their lands of birth. The very extreme elements, agitating for an “Islamic State” and destruction of the old models of following Islam.


Boko Haram and other groups in our region, as you can see from above, came from a long historical movement that have always undermined the use of reason and denied any form of esoteric knowledge in Islam, which they readily label as heretical and misguided. And ironically this is what our traditional form of approach is steeped in. So it only becomes necessary for the parting of ways between these two systems. 


So the solution to this disease of extremism and irrational dogmatism lies in returning to the traditional form of Islam which has been the path of the majority of the Muslim ummah for the past 1,400 years. To acknowledge the diversity of this faith, remembering the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) “The difference of opinion in my nation is a mercy.” We urgently need to de-radicalise our young ones. To revive the spiritual paths and go back to the text of our Islamic ancestors. The works of Shaykh Uthman dan Fadio, Ahmad Bamba, Salim Souare, Thierno Bokar Tall, Ibrahim Niasse etc. West Africa has always been a place of great learning and moderation. It should stay that way.