Salafism against Hadith Literature The Curious Beginnings of a New Category in 1920s Algeria

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Henri Lauzière



This article examines the lexical emergence of salafiyya (used in the sense of Salafism) in the Algerian press between 1925 and 1927, which currently constitutes the earliest known use of this abstract noun in Arabic. An attentive reading of the sources reveals that, since it was a new category, it had not yet an established meaning. The task of outlining its definition and features fell to the reformers who first used it. One of them, Abū Yaʿlā al-Zawāwī (d. 1952), did so in a way that defies today’s conventional thinking: he laid claim to Salafism while disparaging the Sunna and attempting to reduce the authority of hadith literature. The article shows that the core intellectual features we routinely associate with Salafism were not necessarily embraced by the historical actors who used this term at its inception in the mid-1920s. This has implications for the proper historicization of Salafism as a category.

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