Salafiya Drives Yemen Back into History [Archives:1998/32/Law & Diplomacy]

August 10 1998

Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Assistant Managing Editor,
Yemen Times
Generally speaking, the Salafia refers to a group of people who claim to follow heart and soul the full and literal teachings of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) and trace the track of his khalifs who absorbed the inner nature and origins of Islam. I am not trying here to trace this movement back in history; rather I will try to focus on the current situation in Yemen and its perspectives on the affairs of the world as relevant from the salafiya movement.
Generally translated, the salafiya movement is a puritanical effort to purify Islam from the distortions that have fallen on it.
The salafia in Yemen was part of the whole Islamic movement. It evolved first as a branch of the Islah party. But after the Yemeni unification in 1998, some differences began to take place among the groups of the Islamic movement. Some dogmatic figures opposed the policy of the Islah party, notably in matters of political affairs like democracy, elections, political plurality, etc. The gulf between them is actually widening gradually. However, they occasionally come together and join hands to combat a common enemy.
The salafia faction has its own leaders and theorists. Sheikh Moqbil Al-Wadi’ey, living in Sadaa, is now considered to be the leading theoretician of the movement in Yemen.
The Teachings:
The movement has polarized our society. Many people visit him in Sadaa to learn from his knowledge. And when they go back to their villages and cities, they spread his teachings among people. In this way, they have enlarged the ground of their movement throughout Yemen. The economic hardships and overall disappointments have led people to an utter despair and frustration. Religious salvation is offered as the only way-out for they give them some relief and make them live for the hereafter thus forfeiting this world. In other words, fatalism.
This is nothing wrong with being religious or keeping in touch with God. But the salafiya preachers try to convince their followers of the idea of the angry God. They tell them that our world has been gripped by the devil. Everything is under the guidance of evil, and accordingly, we are all sinners. That is an easy explanation of our sufferings and anguish. We are being punished by God.
No mercy will be shown on us. Hell is everywhere we go. In short, everything is forbidden (haram). We should all rise against this evil world, and change it, even if by violence. Even if we die doing it.
Some gullible people, due to their hard economic situations, fall easily to this logic. They become ‘willing’ followers of their sheikhs. They take everything taught to them for granted thinking this is the original purport of Islam. After this brainwashing, they are let loose on society. They go out to implement the orders of the sheikhs blindly and defend them grimly. They don’t have the right to express their views rather they advocate ideas and opinions which sometimes they themselves do not understand.
I will illustrate by using some issues and facts.
Salafia & Women
In the mind of these people, women have no place but home. It is their appropriate place as it protects their dignity and feminine nature. Women should not go to school or university. They can only expect to be taught to read and write, and even that, at home, if possible. Formal education is really haram for women, as it drives them away from morality and righteousness.
Even the voice of a woman is a shame. The rigidity goes so far that it is haram and unacceptable for a man to talk to his sister-in-law or see her face. Can one imagine this?
Women can’t walk alone in the streets. They have to be accompanied by some escort, usually a male relative, provided he is legally related to her. like a father, brother, husband, etc.
What is more disturbing is that some members of this group have started stopping women who walk streets and try to investigate their identity and that of their male escort. “Hey, show me your marriage contraction document” is their demand; as if you were in the departure lounge of an airport.
Of course, the puritans do not even think of career women. Women are better off at home, and they, of course, know what is good for women.
Salafieen & Education
I have mentioned that the Salafia movement does not attach much importance to female formal education. Actually it doesn’t attach any importance to formal education, in general. They believe the most important thing to learn is the Quran. In other words, we should ignore other fields of knowledge and expertise. It is not necessary for us to study physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, computer science, etc.
Indeed we have nothing to do with scientific matters for they are all futile, meaningless and earthly. Religion is the bedrock and key of our salvation. Other fields are of mundane and worldly value. I still remember what a teacher once said to his students. “On Judgement Day, we wouldn’t be asked about our lives in English.” Thus, it is of no purpose to learn English or any other language.
‘Thou Art Kafer!’
If one opposes their puritanical dogmatic beliefs and views, he or she is classed as an infidel (kafer). I don’t have any personal prejudice against this group, and it is up to them what they believe. The problem starts when they try to impose their vision on others. But I see them doing worries me about the future of our country. Let me report a true story.
Some young men in a suburb of Taiz were not favorable to their views. They are well-educated and were able to refute their allegations and bring truth to people about different religious affairs. Feeling their position jeopardized, the salafieen issued a decree sentencing these young men to death charging them with apostasy.
Let me give another example. The puritanical leaders even forbid watching TV, listening to music, reading newspapers and magazine. All sorts of games are haram too. They are devilish instruments aimed to deviate people of the right path. The real reason is that these media offer alternatives to the salafia.
Another more serious point is the recent heated competition for control over mosques between the salafia and followers of the Islah. Clashes and conflicts between the two groups took place in many places all over the country. The salafia also push for destroying the shrines of former religious leaders.
This narrow-minded movement is a danger. It is now an embryo, but it could grow to become a big problem. Indeed, it is frightening for it could Afghanize Yemen and push the country into turmoil.
The government and opinion makers of this country should work together to help them, and minimize their danger. Will we wake up before it is too late.