Difference Between Wahhabism and Salafism

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

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.

Wahhabism v/s Salafism

The main 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

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

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

The distinctive feature of the teachings of Abdul Wahhab was his emphasis on monotheism, shrik 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 who were believed to illustrate the true and purest form of Islam.

Comparison Table Between Wahhabism and Salafism

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 Wahhabism movement are labeled as Wahhabi.People following the Salafism movement are labeled as Salafi.
Nature of the movementMore violent and intolerant.Strict, puritanical, and literalist.

What is Wahhabism?

The term Wahhabism is referred to the cultural movement of Islamic revivalists inside the Sunni Islam branch.

This movement is named after Abdul Wahhab, who was 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 practiced on a large scale.

The term 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 been existing with the family back to 1744 and helped find the first state of S.

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

Later on, this movement was termed as the aggressive form of Islam by the Muslims themselves 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 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 the truest and purest form of Islam.

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 the Muslims must depend on the Quran, the sunnah, and Ijma of the salaf and gave them priority over the religious interpretations that were made later.

The main focus of this movement was to provide new life to the Muslims and enforce huge 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. 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. Whereas; 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.


In conclusion, both the sects are similar forms of Islamic movement where the Wahhabism movement is considered to be the offspring of the Salafism movement sharing the same beliefs of the Quran.

Wahhabism came into being in the 18th century which is way after the emergence of the Salafism movement which was in the 7th century.

Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab was the founder of Wahhabism and this movement gained temporary heights at the beginning of the 18th century but soon went down as the Muslims themselves stated this as the misinterpreted practice of true and pure Islam.

Salafism was the cultural movement to renew the lives of people through the teachings of Salafs of the three generations but later Wahhabism acclaimed the title of Salafism and became successful.


  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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