Difference Between Wahhabism and Salafism

Wahhabism and Salafism are both reform and revivalist movements in the history of Islamic movements.


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The followers of these movements somewhat follow and practice the same beliefs as they strictly follow the teachings of the Quran.

These cultural movements have many similarities and; one is considered to be the offspring of the latter but, this is where the similarities end and the differences arise.

Key Takeaways

  1. Wahhabism emphasizes strict adherence to a specific interpretation of Islamic law and theology, whereas Salafism promotes returning to the practices of early Islamic generations.
  2. Wahhabism originated in the 18th century in the Arabian Peninsula, while Salafism has roots in various Islamic regions and periods.
  3. Salafism has a broader scope and includes multiple ideological streams, but Wahhabism is a more exclusive and rigid form of Salafism.

Wahhabism v/s Salafism

The difference between Wahhabism and Salafism is that Wahhabism is the cultural movement of the people known as Wahhabis, where they follow the teachings of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab. Salafism on the other hand is an idea that believes that the purest and true form of Islam is found in the ethical generations of Muslims that lived in the early days, who were known as Salafs.

Wahhabism vs Salafism

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Wahhabism properly refers to the reforming movements that started in the 18th century in the region of Najid, now known as Saudi Arabia.

The Wahhabism movement was started by Abdul Wahhab, an Islamic religious and legal scholar.

The distinctive feature of the teachings of Abdul Wahhab was his emphasis on monotheism, shrink opposition, and self-return to Quran.

The term Salafism is referred to a revivalist movement among Sunni Islam. Salafism is also known as the salafi movement, salafist movement and salafiyyah.

The name is derived from promoting the return to the Salaf traditions. The Salafs were the three generations of Muslims believed to illustrate Islam’s genuine and purest form.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonWahhabismSalafism
OverviewIt is a reforming movement.It is a revivalist movement.
FounderMuhammad bin Abdul Wahhab.Muhammad Abduh.
Madhhab and kalamHanbali madhhab.Disavow all madhhab.
BeliefIslam should get rid of the impurities.Imitation of the Salafs.
Name for their respective followersPeople following the Salafism movement are labelled as Salafi.People following the Salafism movement are labeled as Salafi.
Nature of the movementMore violent and intolerant.Strict, puritanical, and literalist.

What is Wahhabism?

Wahhabism refers to the cultural movement of Islamic revivalists inside the Sunni Islam branch.

This movement is named after Abdul Wahhab, the founder of this Wahhabism movement, born in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century.

Abdul Wahhab supported the return to the “purer” Islam’s form, concentrating on the origin of Islam and complete surrender to God, which means a true Muslim has to ban the cult of saints, forbid the consumption of tobacco and alcohol and give up shaving.

The mosques are ordinary and public prayers are strictly mandatory.

In Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism is practised on a large scale.

Wahhabism is often thought of as slanderous, but it survived in the modern days only by getting support from the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

This movement has existed with the family since 1744 and helped find the first state of S.

This movement found its new life in the 20th century when Abdulaziz ibn Saud seized it to unite the tribes that were drifting.

Later on, this movement was termed the aggressive form of Islam by the Muslims and outsiders.

Wahhabism was a violent act from the beginning, as Abdul Wahhab was thrown out of his hometown for attacking the tomb of the Muslims in his time.

Muslims and others stated that the followers of this movement misinterpreted the true meaning of Islam.

What is Salafism?

The term Salafism is referred to a reform movement among Sunni Islam. Salafism is also known as the Salafi movement, Salafist movement and Salafiyyah.

The name is derived from promoting the return to the Salaf traditions. The Salafs were the people of the three generations of Muslims who were believed to illustrate Islam’s most accurate and purest form.

Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, was among those generations, along with the Sahabah whom he taught, the Tabi’un, who were their successors, and Taba Tabi’in, who were the successors of Tabi’un.

Practically, the Salafs asserted that Muslims must depend on the Quran, the Sunnah, and Ijma of the Salaf and gave them priority over the religious interpretations made later.

The main focus of this movement was to provide new life to the Muslims and enforce massive influence on numerous Muslim thinkers and movements like them across the Islamic World.

Since the beginning of the movement, Salafism has evolved a lot due to the efforts of many reformers of Islam, whose practice reaches out to many regions.

During the contemporary era, Salafism was referred to as a group of various Sunni renewal and reforming movements and has maintained its glory in the thoughts of Islam for centuries.

Main Differences Between Wahhabism and Salafism

  1. The movement of Wahhabism originated in the 18th Century in Nejd, Arabia. On the other hand, the Salafism movement originated in the 7th century in Hejaz, Arabia.
  2. The founder of the Wahhabism movement is Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab, while the founder of the Salafism movement is Muhammad Abduh.
  3. The Wahhabism movement is a reforming movement. Salafism, on the other hand, is a revivalist movement.
  4. The label given to the Muslims who followed the teachings of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab is Wahhabi while the name given to the Muslims who followed the teachings of Salafs is Salafi.
  5. The main beliefs of the Wahhabi in the Wahhabism movement were to make Islam free from any impurities. The Salafi in the Salafism movement should imitate the Salafs of the three generations.
  6. Wahhabism was termed as the intolerant and violent form of Islam whereas, Salafism is a strict and moralistic form of Islam.
  1. https://oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-255
  2. https://www.fssp.uaic.ro/argumentum/Numarul%2010/11_Ungureanu_tehno.pdf
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