Works that Shaped the World: Salafism

Minarets in Kuwait, Molly John CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2022, the HRC’s Works that Shaped the World public lecture series focuses on religion.

Salafism has received scrutiny as one of the main ideological sources for extremist violence perpetrated by jihadi groups. There is a significant corpus of literature discussing transnational jihadi networks, especially after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. These discussions include the radicalization of Salafi thought by jihadi theoreticians.

However, Salafism is not monolithic. Besides Salafi jihadis, those who sanction violence, there are two other broad trends in Salafism: quietist and activist. Quietist Salafis endorse an apolitical tradition and find political activism in any form unacceptable. Activist Salafis advocate peaceful political change. Each stream is led by 'ulama, seen as the preservers of Salafi traditions.

This talk assesses the origins, interactions, and dynamics of the transnational networks of Salafi 'ulama in the region comprising Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait, showing how quietist and activist 'ulama work across borders to preserve and promote what they see as "authentic" Salafism. It will also examine the domestic circumstances of these ‘ulama in understanding the limits of their transnational networks. It also offers a reassessment of existing Salafi typology.


Dr Raihan Ismail is a Senior Lecturer at the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies. She was the co-recipient of the Max Crawford Medal in 2018, awarded by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and an ARC DECRA Fellow from 2019-2022. Raihan is the author of Saudi Clerics and Shia Islam (Oxford University Press, 2016) and Rethinking Salafism: The Transnational Networks of Salafi ‘Ulama in Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (Oxford University Press, 2021).


Works that Shaped the World: Salafism

Date & time

Fri 20 May 2022, 5–6pm


Online webinar


Dr Raihan Ismail (Australian National University)


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