The term salafi is confusing in Indonesia, because it

is used in two ways. The Ministry of Religion, in

categorising Muslim educational institutions, uses it

to mean schools where only religious subjects are

taught. It does not mean that those schools have a

particularly puritanical bent or in any way follow

salafi teachings. Indeed, most are likely affiliated with

the moderate, Java-based organisation, Nahdlatul


The term is used increasingly, however -- and

throughout this report -- to describe an international

movement that seeks to return to what is seen by its

adherents as the purest form of Islam, that practiced by

the Prophet Mohammed and the two generations that

followed him.4 They cite hadith or traditions of the

Prophet in support of the view that the further away

from the time of the Prophet, the more impure Islam

became: "the best of you are those with me, and the

group that comes after, and the group that comes after

them";5 and "there is not a year or a day when the one

that follows is not worse than the one before it".6

In practical terms, this means rejection of unwarranted

innovations (bid'ah) of doctrine and practice that

Muslims brought to the religion in later years. At one

level this involves rejection of any of the four schools

of law on which mainstream Islamic orthodoxy relies

in favour of a direct and literal interpretation of the

3 ICG Asia Report N°63, Jemaah Islamiyah in South East

Asia: Damaged But Still Dangerous, 26 August 2003 left the

impression that some 7,000 of the schools registered with the

Ministry of Religion were salafi in the doctrinal sense; in fact,

they are salafi in the sense of having no secular curriculum.

4 Indonesian salafi scholars note that each generation is

calculated to have lasted 100 years, so the salafi period

covers the first three centuries after Mohammed's hijra or

flight to Medina. One tradition says that the Prophet patted

the head of an orphan and said, "May you live as long as 100

years", and indeed the child lived to be 100.

5 Hadith Riwayat Bukhary No. 2652, Hadith Riwayat Muslim

No. 2533 from Sahabat Ibnu Mas'ud in Yazid Abdul Qadir

Jawwas, Prinsip-prinsip Aqidah Ahlussunnah wal Jamaah,

Pustaka at Taqwa, 2000, p.2. The religious teachers most

respected by present-day salafis are the Prophet himself, his

companions (including the first four caliphs (Abu Bakar,

Umar ibn Khatab, Usman ibn Afan, and Ali ibn Abi Thalib)

and their followers, including the founders of the major law

schools (Syafi'i, Hambali, Malik, and Hanafi) and the hadith

compiler, Buchori.

6 Aboebakar Acheh, Salaf al-Salih Muhyi Atharis/Salafi,

Kelantan, Malaysia, 1976, p.22.

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ICG Asia Report N°83, 13 September 2004 Page 3

Quran and hadith. While the terms salifism and

Wahabism are sometimes used interchangeably, many

salafis see themselves as having taken purification of

the faith one step further. The Wahabis look to the

Hambali school of law for guidance, the most

conservative of the orthodox schools, and in the

views of some, rely too heavily on "weak" hadith, or

traditions attributed to but not proven to have

originated with the Prophet.

At another level, adherence to salafism means a rigid

code in terms of dress and personal appearance, with

men required to grow beards and head-to-toe coverage

for women in the presence of anyone outside their

immediate family. At still another, it means rejection

of some inventions and developments that strict

Quranic interpretation seems to ban, such as

photography, most forms of music, conventional

banking, and elections. Certain phenomena, like

television, radio, and the Internet, are considered

acceptable by some salafi scholars if they are used to

propagate salafi teachings.

As noted, most salafis shun any hint of formal

organisation, because devotion to an organisation and

its cause can detract from one's devotion to Islam. A

highly pejorative epithet often thrown by salafis at

fellow Muslims is hizbiyah, party-like, as in political

party. The word is used in particular to describe

followers of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan ul-

Muslimin) in Egypt and similar organisations. Not

only do members of the Brotherhood focus too much

on organisation, but in the interests of achieving their

political goals, they also embrace members who are

not strict salafis, thus tacitly accepting forbidden

practices. The term ikhwani (brotherhood-like) is thus

equally pejorative, and in Indonesia, is used by some

salafis to stigmatise members of the Prosperous

Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, PKS), many

of whose leaders were indeed inspired by the Egyptian


Such a stance obviously militates against any effort

to bring salafi groups under a single umbrella. In

Indonesia, the closest approximation of an organised

salafi network was the Forum Komunikasi

Ahlussunnah Wal Jamaah, a network of some 80

schools brought together by salafi leader Ja'far Umar

Thalib. It was under the Forum's aegis that the militia

Laskar Jihad was established in 2000 to defend

Muslims in the communal conflict in the Moluccas.7

7 For background on Laskar Jihad, see ICG Asia Report N°31,

Indonesia: The Search for Peace in Maluku, 8 February 2002.

Almost from the outset, however, the Forum was

riven by rivalries and even at its height was more a

coalition of like-minded but fully autonomous units

than a formal association.

Salafis are also characterised by a particular manhaj,

or methodology. This includes an emphasis on

tasfiyah or purifying Islam from forbidden elements

such as innovation (bid'ah); idolatry (syirik);

superstition (khurafat) and other deviations. It also

stresses tarbiyah -- training Muslims to understand

and practice the purest form of Islam.8 Education in

various forms is a critical part of salafi methodology,

starting with kindergartens, where children learn to

memorise verses of the Quran, through pesantrens

(boarding schools) to mahad ali, local Islamic

tertiary institutes; to universities or apprenticeships

to salafi teachers.

Four of the most important destinations for study

abroad by Indonesian salafis are the Islamic University

of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud in Riyadh; the Islamic

University of Medina; the Ummul Qura University in

Mecca; and Punjab University in Lahore. (More

Indonesians study at al-Azhar in Cairo than anywhere

else in the Middle East but it is not known as a salafi


The real cachet, however, comes not from attending

formal institutions but through individual study

with salafi mentors in the Middle East or Pakistan,

through a practice known as mulazamah. The

names of seven or eight salafi scholars in Saudi

Arabia are particularly golden in salafi circles, and

any Indonesian who studied with one of them can

bask in reflected glory.9

In addition, salafis frequently organise special religious

training programs (dauroh). In Indonesia, the

instructors are sometimes local, sometimes brought

from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, or elsewhere,

8 Syeikh Ali Bin Hasan bin Ali bin Abdul Hamid Al Halaby

Al Atsari, Tashfiyah dan Tarbiyah (Indonesian edition,

Muslim al Atsari, Ahmad Faiz, translators), Solo, April 2002.

9 They include, among others, the late Abdullah bin Baz,

Muhammad Nashiruddin al-Albani, and Muhmammad bin

Shalih al-Utsaimin (Uthaimin), as well as several men who

are still actively teaching: Rabi' bin Hadi al-Mudkhali;

Muhammad bin Hadi; Shalih bin Fauzan al Fauzan; and one

scholar based in Yemen, Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi'i.

Studying with the same teacher does not guarantee harmony

of views. Two Indonesians, Yazid Jawwas and Umar Sewed,

both studied with Utsaimin but ended up on opposite sides of

a major doctrinal debate within the salafi movement.

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ICG Asia Report N°83, 13 September 2004 Page 4

and they can focus on a particular target audience --

students, for example -- or subject, such as the Arabic

language or the role of women in salafi thought.

One time-honoured training method appears to be on

the wane among Indonesian salafis: the halaqah

(religious study circle). This was a means by

which religious teachers could select a handful of

the most promising students from a larger group for

advanced instruction. Among politically active salafis,

including the jihadist groups, this became a

clandestine means of selecting members and

establishing cells. Because salafis believe that

religious outreach should not be conducted in

secret, and because the halaqah is regarded by

some salafi teachers as encouraging exclusivity, it

appears to have been increasingly abandoned in

favour of regularly scheduled religious gatherings

(pengajian) open to whomever wants to come.10

A key doctrinal point separates salafis from salafi

jihadis in Indonesia, as elsewhere. It is a central tenet

of mainstream salafi thinking that it is not permissible

to revolt against a Muslim government, no matter

how oppressive or unjust.11 The penalty for rebellion

is death.12 This means that most salafis, if forced to

choose between the Saudi government and Osama bin

Laden, would choose the former.13 In Indonesia, most

salafis are opposed to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the

Darul Islam movement because they actively promote

rebellion against the Indonesian state. This does not

mean that salafis reject the idea of jihad -- quite the

opposite. But they tend to see jihad in defensive

terms, as coming to the aid of Muslims under attack,

rather than as waging war against symbolic targets,

including attacks on innocent civilians. (Many salafis

saw jihad in defense of Muslims in Ambon as

obligatory.) They see a jihad in which the enemy is

10 ICG interview, Yogyakarta, April 2004. See also Syeikh

Abdussalam Bin Barjas Abdulkarim, Wajibnya Taat Pada

Pemerintah (Malang, 2000), pp. 102-139.

11 Muhammad Umar Sewed, "Kewajiban Taat Kepada

Pemerintah", Asy-Syariah, 12 February 2004,



12 Syeikh Abdussalam Bin Barjas Abdulkarim, op. cit., pp.


13 ICG asked one salafi teacher how salafis explained

Muhammed Abdul Wahab's revolt against Arabian rulers in

the late eighteenth century.. He replied that Abdul Wahab

was only a preacher, and it was not he who led the rebellion

but rather ibn Saud, who adopted Abdul Wahab's teachings

and led the revolt that resulted in the creation of the House of


attacked first (jihad thalab or jihad hujum) as

permissible only if it is ordered by the ruler of a

Muslim government.

Strict salafis also oppose the idea of democracy on the

grounds that power rests with God, not the people,

and the only acceptable laws are those laid down by

God and the Prophet, not those created by man. While

most salafis reject the concept of elections accordingly,

some argue that if an election is likely to put in power

a government that would harm the interests of the

ummat, it is permissible to vote to prevent that

government from being elected.14 The Forum

Ahlussunnah Wal Jamaah allowed its members to

vote in Indonesia's 1999 parliamentary elections, and

Wahdah Islamiyah, a Makassar-based salafi

organisation, has given a green light to members to

participate in the elections in 2004.

14 "Fatwa Syaikh Nashiruddin Al Albani and Surat Syaikh

Kepada FIS", in Syaikh Abdul Malik Al Jazair, Haramkah

Partai, Pemilu, Parlemen? (Yogyakarta, Ramadan, 1419H),

p. 70.

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ICG Asia Report N°83, 13 September 2004 Page 5

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