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The Salafi movement or Salafism (Arabic: سلفیة, romanized: Salafiyya) is a revival movement within Sunni Islam, that was formed as a socio-religious resistance to European imperialism during the late 19th century and has remained influential in the Islamic World for over a century. The name "Salafiyya" refers to advocacy of a return to the traditions of the "pious predecessors" (salaf), the first three generations of Muslims (the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions, the Sahabah, then the Tabi'in, and the third generation, the Taba al-Tabi'in), who are believed to exemplify the pure form of Islam. In practice, Salafis maintain that Muslims ought to rely on the Qur'an, the Sunnah and the 'Ijma (consensus) of the salaf, giving these writings precedence over later religious interpretations. The Salafi movement aimed to achieve a renewal of Muslim life and had a major influence on many Muslim thinkers and movements across the Islamic world.
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Salafi Muslims reject religious innovation or bid'ah and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic law). In its approach to politics, the Salafi movement is sometimes divided by Western academics and journalists into three categories: the largest group being the purists (or quietists), who avoid politics; the second largest group being the activists, who maintain regular involvement in politics; and the third group being the jihadists, who form a minority and advocate armed struggle to restore the early Islamic movement. In legal matters, Salafi Muslims are divided between those who, in their advocacy of independent legal judgement (ijtihad), reject adherence to the four Sunni schools of law (madhahib) and those who remain largely faithful to them, but do not restrict themselves to the "final" edicts of any specific madhhab.
The origins of Salafism is disputed, with some historians like Louis Massignon tracing its origin to the intellectual movement in the second half of the nineteenth century that opposed Westernization emanating from European imperialism (led by Al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Rashid Rida). However, Afghani and Abduh had not self-described as "Salafi" and the usage of the term to denote them has become outdated today. Abduh's more orthodox student Rashid Rida followed hardline Salafism which opposed Sufism, Shi'ism and incorporated traditional madh'hab system. Rida eventually became a champion of the Wahhabi movement and would influence another strand of conservative Salafis. In the modern academia, Salafism is commonly used to refer to a cluster of contemporary Sunni renewal and reform movements inspired by the teachings of classical theologians—in particular Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328 CE/661–728 AH). These Salafis dismiss the 19th century reformers as rationalists who failed to interpret scripture in the most literal, traditional sense.
Conservative Salafis regard Syrian scholars like Rashid Rida (d. 1935 CE/ 1354 AH) and Muhibb al-Khatib (d. 1969 CE/ 1389 AH) as revivalists of Salafi thought in the Arab World. Rida's religious orientation was shaped by his association with Syrian Hanbali and Salafi scholars who preserved the tradition of Ibn Taymiyya. These ideas would be popularised by Rida and his disciples, immensely influencing numerous Salafi organisations in the Arab world. Some of the major Salafi reform movements in the Islamic world today include the Ahl-i Hadith movement, inspired by the teachings of Shah Waliullah Dehlawi and galvanized through the South Asian jihad of Sayyid Ahmad Shahid; the Wahhabi movement in Arabia; the Padri movement of Indonesia; Algerian Salafism spearheaded by Abdelhamid Ben Badis; and others.