Religious or Ethnic Group
The Salafi Movement, whose adherents are known as Salafis or Salafists, is a movement within Sunni Islam whose adherents aim to emulate the practices of the first three generations of Islam, the salaf. Salafis consider these first three generations to be exemplary Muslims.
There are different currents within Salafism with contrasting religious interpretations and practices, but the movement as a whole is characterised by a literalist approach to religious texts and a rejection of any form of innovation in religious practice, known as bid'ah in Arabic. Salafism is widespread in Gulf countries, and is dominant among the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia.
The spread of the Salafi movement in the modern era came about largely as a result of the proselytisation of the 18th century Saudi scholar Mohammed ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. He called on Muslims to reject modern innovation and return to the practices of the salaf as he interpreted them. The word 'Wahhabi' is sometimes used synonymously with 'Salafi', although most Salafis consider this offensive, maintaining that they follow the salaf, not ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab.
The term 'Salafi-Jihadi' is another term to describe the small minority of Salafis who believe that violent struggle is justified – or even required. Salafi-Jihadism is characterised by an extreme rejection of states that adopt modern political concepts such as democracy and secularism, and violence against those whom Salafi-Jihadis consider non-Muslim, often including adherents of other forms of Islam, such as Shia.
It is noteworthy that a modernist Salafi movement also developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, influenced in particular by scholars and thinkers such as Mohammed Abduh and Rashid Rida, who helped to reconcile a traditional interpretation of Islam with the modern world.