Salafis’ Social Networking in Lebanon

Bilal Y. Saab
Bilal Y. Saab Senior Research Assistant, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

February 19, 2009


  • Salafis in Lebanon are a legitimate and officially recognised part of the domestic social fabric.
  • Salafis do not want to establish an Islamic state in Lebanon through the use of force and do not pose a challenge to the Lebanese secular way of life.
  • Although an important part of the Lebanese Sunni Islamist scene, the Salafi movement is not the biggest or the most politically mature.

Salafis in Lebanon are a legitimate and officially recognised part of the domestic social fabric. They are Sunni Muslims who believe that the imitation of the behaviour of Prophet Muhammad’s closest companions, which for salafis constitutes the purest form of Islam, should be the basis of the social order.

Salafism in Lebanon and elsewhere in Arab-Islamic environments is neither inherently synonymous with terrorism nor with militancy. It also comes in many different forms and degrees of orthodoxy or militancy. Therefore, Salafis are not necessarily followers of Al-Qaeda. While they are doctrinally rigid and adopt a Manichean view of the world, Salafis largely renounce violence as a means to attain their goals. It is not that they reject the struggle of the sword out of hand but rather they argue the prioritised necessity to propagate through dawa (call to Islam) to achieve the right societal conditions for establishing an Islamic state. In Lebanon, Salafis have been described as revolutionaries, terrorists or powerful actors who possess considerable regional support and an exponentially growing political capital. These allegations are largely false.

Salafis are not a direct challenge to the secular way of life that is shared by the majority of Lebanese people or a security threat to Lebanon’s political order. They are relatively small and essentially non-violent, despite the fact that a few elements inside the movement espouse jihadi ideology. Moreover, the movement’s leadership is divided, with one smaller faction (Hassan al Shahal’s Belief and Justice Movement) supporting the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah and its political agenda, while the larger group (headed by Dai al Islam al Shahal, the son of the founder of the Salafi movement in Lebanon) vehemently opposes the Shia party and still regards it and its constituencies as infidels.

Unlike the quietist sufis in Lebanon, Salafis are involved in politics. As Sunni Muslims, they are naturally inclined to side on political matters with leaders from the Lebanese Sunni community such as Saad Hariri (current parliament majority leader and son of former prime minister Rafik Hariri) and on religious matters with Dar al Fatwa, the highest official religious body for Lebanese Sunnis.

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