International Journal of Middle East Studies

Islamic Discourse on the Arabian Peninsula

SALAFI TRANSFORMATIONS: ADEN AND THE CHANGING VOICES OF RELIGIOUS REFORM IN THE INTERWAR INDIAN OCEAN

Scott S. Reese c1

Abstract

The Islamic reformist movement known as Salafism is generally portrayed as a relentlessly literalist and rigid school of religious thought. This article pursues a more nuanced picture of a historical Salafism that is less a movement with a single, linear origin than a dynamic intellectual milieu continually shaped by local contexts. Using 1930s Aden as a case study, the article examines how a transregional reformist discourse could be vulnerable to local interpretation and begins to unpack the transformation of Salafi activism from a broad, doctrinaire, and, above all, foreign ideology to an integral part of local religious discourse. It situates reform within an evolving Islamic discursive tradition that in part developed as a result of its own theological logic but was equally shaped by local and historically contingent institutions, social practices, and power structures. It thus explores Salafism as a dynamic tradition that could be adapted by local intellectuals to engage the problems facing their own communities.

(Online publication January 27 2012)

Correspondence

c1 Scott S. Reese is an Associate Professor in the Department of History, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Ariz.; e-mail: scott.reese@nau.edu

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